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NFL free agency update: Patriots reportedly interested in Chargers DE Vaughn Martin 03.22.13 at 11:10 am ET
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Vaughn Martin

Vaughn Martin

The Patriots are interested in Chargers defensive end Vaughn Martin, according to CBS’s Jason La Canfora.

Martin has spent the first four years of his NFL career with San Diego, appearing in 48 games since the Chargers drafted him in the fourth round in 2009. He made 19 tackles and one sack in 12 games last year, and has 78 tackles and three sacks in his career.

He suffered a season-ending groin injury during a pregame warmup in Pittsburgh on Dec. 9, but the injury did not require surgery.

La Canfora reports that Martin — who was born in Jamaica and landed in the NFL via Canadian college football — also has drawn interest from the Eagles, Lions and Saints, and that the Chargers also hope to retain him.

• Linebacker Brian Urlacher wants another chance in the NFL, although he knows it won’t be with the Bears.

“I really don’t think they wanted me back,” Urlacher said, adding that he thinks the team’s one-year, $2 million offer to him is now off the table.

Urlacher said his agents have spoken to the Vikings, Cowboys and Cardinals, and that he thinks more teams haven’t shown interest because they weren’t sure he would leave the Bears.

Replacing Ray Lewis in Baltimore isn’t a possibility, Urlacher said, but he’s not tied to playing in a 4-3 defense and says he could learn a 3-4 — just as long as he lands with a competitive team.

“I’m an old fart, so I want to go in there and win,” Urlacher said on The Dan Patrick Show.

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Is Tom Brady having the most efficient year of his career? 11.26.12 at 3:50 pm ET
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Tom Brady - shown here on Thanksgiving - has been feasting on the competition again. (AP)

FOXBORO — After 24 touchdowns in 11 games, and just three interceptions thrown in, you could certainly make the argument that Tom Brady has never been more careful with the ball. Certainly, he’s making a run at his remarkable 2010 campaign, when he threw 35 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

For all of the video-game passing stats he’s posted, like 52 300-yard passing games and being just one of five NFL QBs with a career average of 250 yards passing per game, there’s one NFL mark he’ll probably tell you he’s most proud of: Throwing at least two touchdowns without an interception in each of his last nine games of 2010.

It’s a big reason the Patriots have committed an NFL-low eight turnovers while taking away the ball 32 times, for an +24 ratio, 11 better than the next-closest team (Bears +13).

And that makes Bill Belichick a very happy man. Belichick was asked during Monday’s conference call if he could have ever wished for a more skillful quarterback who takes care of the ball.

“I think we all know the importance of the turnovers and the turnover ratio, and it’s a goal for us every week,” Belichick said. “Tom has done a great job of it and has always made that a high priority of his personal execution as a quarterback. He handles the ball on virtually every play; even if he hands it off, there’s still a certain degree of ball handling and ball security involved up until the point he gives it to somebody else. He works hard at that, he works hard at his mechanics, his technique and certainly decision making. He does a very good job at all those things.

“That being said, each week is its own challenge and just because things have been a certain way in previous weeks, they could always change. I think you have to continue to work on those things on a weekly basis, which he has and which I’m sure he’ll continue to do to make sure each game we go into, our goal is always to play turnover free and to get them on the other side, whether it’s on special teams or defense. Each week, it’s a renewed goal but it’s one that has to be reached or attempted to reach again. There’s really no carryover from anything that’s happened in the past that’s going to affect it in the next game. As good as it’s been, which is nice and probably has quite a bit to do with our record, going forward we’re going to have to continue to work at it and probably work harder than we have in the past to make sure that we do take good care of the ball when we have it. And we’re always looking for those opportunities when we can be disruptive on defense and special teams.

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Brandon Spikes: ‘I want to be the best at my position’ 11.01.12 at 3:59 pm ET
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Brandon Spikes is on a mission to be the best inside linebacker in the NFL. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — The way Brandon Spikes sees it, the bye week is just another week for him to refine the skills that have made him one of the most feared linebackers in the game today.

Entering the bye, Spikes has 50 tackles in eight games, with three forced fumbles and one sack. With 19 tackles in his last two games, he is playing inside linebacker with a consistency not seen in his previous two seasons. This is what the Patriots saw in him when they drafted him in the second round out of Florida in 2010.

“I just think we have a ways to go,” Spikes said Thursday. “It’s just like a roller coaster, and I’m just like every professional, I want to play well every game. If we can just stay on point, and just keep trying to attack and get better each week, I think we have a chance to get good. We’re young but still, we have some things to get done.”

Spikes has learned a great deal playing next to Jerod Mayo and rookie Dont’a Hightower. He is clearly on his way to becoming an “every down” linebacker but before he gets there he knows he has to still work on his pass coverage reads. But listen to him, and you get the impression he’s doing everything in his power to speed up that process, even during the bye.

“Me personally, I’m still going to be working,” Spikes said. “I’m not just saying that to you guys. Honestly, I just want to be a professional. I want to be the best at my position. I can’t let a day get by. I’m definitely going to enjoy my family but at the same time, I’m still trying to get the edge.”

Sporting a red hat with yellow lettering that read “I (heart) haters,” Spikes said Thursday that he models his game after Bears hall of famer Dick Butkus, who told him to keep hitting people hard.

Asked if the bye might help him rejuvenate since he plays the game with such fury, Spikes said he’s felt as good as he’s felt in his career, a career that was interrupted by knee issues in the first two seasons, including a strained MCL last year.

“Honestly, this is the best I’ve ever felt in my life,” Spikes said with a huge smile. “I feel like I’m 18. I can go places, I feel great. Seriously, I’m a physical guy, I’m a big-boned guy, I don’t really feel any of it. It’s the bye, I may enjoy it but like I said, I’m still trying to get the edge.”

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Bill Belichick breaks down one of the great defenses of all time 10.19.12 at 8:11 pm ET
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Buddy Ryan was the toast of the NFL when he created the '46' defense for the Bears. (AP)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick went into his teaching mode Friday and offered a PhD-worthy five-minute breakdown of one of the great defenses in history – the ’46′ Bears defense of Buddy Ryan, who starred as defensive coordinator of the Bears in the mid-80s before moving on to his job as head coach of the Eagles.

What was particularly fascinating was Belichick breaking down when the blitzing scheme worked – and when it didn’t. In short, the defense was designed to stop two-back offenses while one-back sets with two tight ends were very successful.

“A lot of the success that Buddy had with the 46 defense came in the ‘80s when there was a lot of two-back offense,” Belichick began. “It was one of the things that probably drove the two-back offense out. If you remember back in the ‘80s when Buddy was in Philadelphia, he had a lot of trouble with the Redskins and their one-back offense, a lot of trouble. There were a lot of mismatches of Art Monk and Gary Clark on the middle linebacker and stuff like that. I think the 46 was really originally built for two-back offenses, whether it be the red, brown, blue and the flat-back type offenses and eventually even the I-formation. I think it still has a lot of good application; a lot of teams use it in goal-line situations.”

In fact, those Redskins teams of the late-80s and early-90s won a pair of Super Bowls, going through Buddy Ryan’s Eagles in the NFC East on their way to beating the Broncos and Bills, respectively.

Belichick also got an up close and personal look at those Ryan defenses when the Giants had their wars with the Bears and, later, the Eagles in the NFC East.

“They either use a version of it like a 5-3 or cover the guards and the center and however you want to fit the rest of it, but that principle you see a lot in goal-line, short yardage situations,” Belichick said. “You see it and some teams have it as part of their two-back defensive package. As it has gone to one-back and it’s gotten more spread out, if you’re playing that, it kind of forces you defensively to be in a one-linebacker set. You lose that second linebacker and depending on where the back lines up and what coverage you’re playing, then there’s some issues with that. If you’re in a one linebacker defense and you move the back over and the linebacker moves over then you’re kind of out-leveraged to the back side. If you don’t move him over, then you’re kind of out-leveraged when the back releases and that kind of thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Buddy Ryan, Chicago Bears, Dan Hampton Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Report: Roy Williams signing with Bears 07.29.11 at 2:48 pm ET
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Roy Williams

Roy Williams is headed back to the NFC North.

The former Cowboys wide receiver will sign with the Bears, according to a report by NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora. The move will hook him up with Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who coached Williams under the same position during the latter’s time in Detroit.

Williams was a disappointment in Dallas following a 2008 trade in which the Cowboys shipped four draft pick to the Lions in exchange for the wideout. He caught only 94 passes in 40 games during his 2½-year stay in Dallas, including just 37 in 2010.

The Bears could certainly use Williams’  performance to return to form as it only had two receivers with more than 40 receptions last season.

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Turnovers taste great this time of year to Vince Wilfork and the Pats’ D 12.16.10 at 2:38 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Forget the offensive comparisons to 2007. It’s the defense – and more specifically – the turnovers that are leading this Patriots team down a path that is looking more and more like a Texas trail with every game.

The Patriots lead the NFL in turnover ratio with a plus-18, led by an AFC-best 20 interceptions. The only team with more in the NFL is Philadelphia with a secondary that includes a cornerback by the name of Asante Samuel.

More to the point, the Patriots have had the ability to score off those turnovers, something Bill Belichick has preached to his team beginning with the Super Bowl run in 2001. Remember Super Bowl XXXVI? Ty Law picked off Kurt Warner and raced down the sideline with a momentum-turning pick-6 before halftime. Another unforgettable pick-6 was Tedy Bruschi‘s in the snow against Jay Fieldler and Miami in Dec. 2003 in a 12-0 Patriots win. That season also ended with a Lombardi trophy landing in Foxboro.

This year, Gary Guyton set the tone against Carson Palmer on Opening Day when he came off the edge and picked off the Bengals QB and ran it 59 yards back for six as the Patriots raced out to a 24-3 halftime lead. Those turnovers don’t happen by accident.

“That’s something we’re proud of,” defensive captain Vince Wilfork said. “We preach it every day in practice. Guys make plays all the time in practice and I’m telling you, it sounds like I’m saying this a lot, but I’m going to tell you that you can’t get enough practice. The more you do in practice, the more plays you make in practice, the more consistent you are in practice, you have a good chance of bringing that out on game day.

“And it’s been working for us. And I think that’s the best thing, because everybody is starting to see what we do in practice, we can carry that over into the games. And if we do carry it over into games, we’ll be OK. So we always talk about turnovers, getting ahead in the turnover game.”

It was Guyton again last Sunday in the snow when he picked up a Johnny Knox fumble forced by Devin McCourty and returned it 35 yards for a TD. So the turnovers are tasty but taking them to the house are downright delicious.

“That’s even bigger,” Vince Wilfork said. “We’ll try to continue to do that, so … I love giving Tom Brady a short field to work with. The best quarterback in the game. Our job is to keep him in those situations. The more we do in practice and the more plays you make in practice, we just have to have confidence in the game that we’ll have the same success.”

Ever since the Miami game on Oct. 4 at Dolphins Stadium, the Patriots have been a turnover machine. That night, during a 41-14 romp over the Dolphins, Rob Ninkovich had the first two interceptions of his career while safety Patrick Chung returned an interception 51 yards for a clinching touchdown late.

“In practice, we do certain drills to emphasize that stuff,” Ninkovich said. “That’s one of the things with our defense, we’ve had a lot of turnovers. Running to the ball has a lot to do with it and also having good awareness of where the ball is at all times.

“There’s always a high emphasis on it with every team because it’s such a big factor in the game. Turnovers, they’re a big deal.”

That night, the Patriots had four interceptions, the second of six games this season the defense has had multiple interceptions in a game. In fact the Patriots have had at least two picks in their last four games, contributing to a total of 12 turnovers forced over the span. The Patriots, meantime, have not committed a single turnover.

“As a defense you’re always looking to create turnovers,” said safety Jarrad Page, who is still waiting to collect his first. “We’re not doing anything special; we’re not going outside the defense when we’re supposed to be in a certain zone, running down there and trying to make plays. We’re just focused on when we get opportunities to intercept the ball, catch the ball, opportunities to strip the ball, strip the ball. Yeah, we’ve been very focused on things like that.

“But it seems like the reason why we’re getting all these [turnovers] we’re just being consistent and doing what we’re supposed to do, being where we’re supposed to be and the ball is coming to us.”

Read More: Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Devin McCourty, Gary Guyton Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Tom Brady to Deion Branch: A super ring to it 12.12.10 at 9:32 pm ET
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Tom Brady to Deion Branch for 59 yards and a touchdown to end the first half had more than just a familiar ring to it. Funny how – after Sunday’s 36-7 romp over the Bears – reporters were asking Brady and Branch how this team compared to the Patriots of 2007 and that record-setting offense.

Funny because Branch wasn’t even on that team. “I think they’re some similarities,” Branch began, before remembering, “I wasn’t around. I wish I was.”

He was on the 2004 team and what’s more amusing to Patriots fans is that this 2010 team is looking more and more like that bunch that went 14-2 in winning their second straight Super Bowl.

Remember how that season ended? Brady to Branch 11 times for 133 yards in a 24-21 Super Bowl win over the Eagles in Jacksonville.

Brady continued his incredible late-season run on Sunday at Soldier Field with 369 yards passing and two touchdowns. He has now thrown 268 passes without an interception, the third-best streak in NFL history. How long can Brady keep up this fierce pace?

“You all been saying that the last five or six weeks,” Branch laughed. “This guy, it starts in the classroom and he takes it from there.”

But what makes Brady truly remarkable is his ferocious intensity and drive for perfection. The Patriots were up 14-0 after drives of 85 and 87 yards. Then Gary Guyton returned a fumble 35 yards and it was 21-0. The Patriots got a strip sack of Jay Cutler and short field on a bad punt but could only manage field goals before the hook-up with Branch.

“I thought it was great to get out to a lead today, to play from ahead, that was really important,” Brady said. “We took advantage of some opportunities we got on offense. We also didn’t take advantage of some other opportunities. It was a fun day. We’ll remember that one.

“Some were ones we’ve done quite a bit and some were probably new ones out of the playbook,” Brady said of the play-calling. “I wish we’d gotten the ball into the red area a little bit more. We kicked too many field goals I thought. But other than that, it was a pretty good day.”

A good day if you were a Patriots fan in a warm, dry place to watch the game.

“It was one of those days, one of those days where people would be cozied up next to the fire place drinking hot chocolate but we work on Sundays and all of us are pretty committed to coming out here and playing well, and executing well in pretty tough conditions, and for the most part, I thought we did that,” Brady said.

“We’ve been pretty good in snow over the years for whatever reason. I think because we practice in it, to tell you the truth. We don’t go in our bubble (field house) very often. If it’s windy out there, we practice out there. If it’s snowy, we practice in the snow. If it’s raining, we practice in the rain.”

Brady was underwhelmed with the news the Patriots clinched a playoff berth with the win. His goal are just a little bit higher.

“There’s a long way to go I don’t think anything’s been accomplished yet. We don’t sit here and think we’ve got it all figured out.”

For Brady, that feeling won’t come until February.

Read More: Chicago Bears, Deion Branch, New England Patriots, nfl Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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