|Bill Belichick on S&H: ‘Our team has shown consistently that they’ll keep fighting’||12.10.13 at 10:33 am ET|
Patriots coach Bill Belichick checked in with Salk & Holley on Monday afternoon to discuss New England’s thrilling 27-26 comeback victory over the Browns on Sunday, as well as Rob Gronkowski‘s season-ending injury.
The Patriots once again got off to a slow start against Cleveland, as New England entered halftime trailing 6-0. New England’s offense could not get anything going over the first two quarters, as the Patriots only ran three plays within Cleveland territory in the first half. Over the last five games, the Patriots have been outscored by a 67-34 margin over the first two quarters.
“I wish there was something magical that would take that away,” Belichick said. “We certainly talked about it, but we’ve looked at some things, we did a couple of things, but obviously that wasn’t the answer, it was still an issue yesterday. We’ll keep looking at from the coaching end, and hopefully we can find something that will improve it.”
While New England executed better in the second half, the Patriots still trailed the Browns by a score of 26-14 late in the fourth quarter. However, the Patriots would make it a 26-21 game with just over a minute remaining thanks to an 11-play, 82-yard drive.
After recovering an onside kick, the Patriots once again made it into the end zone, as Tom Brady found Danny Amendola for a 1-yard touchdown pass to give New England the lead.
“Our team has shown consistently that they’ll keep fighting, no matter what the situation is, that they’ll just keep playing hard. Once we understand what it is that we need to do, whether that’s score, stop them, block a kick, make a kick, whatever that happens to be, we’ll try to do it. That’s all you can ask for.”
Despite the incredible ending to Sunday’s game, it was a bittersweet day for New England, as Gronkowski tore both his ACL and MCL after taking a direct hit to his knee from Browns safety T.J. Ward in the third quarter and will miss the rest of the season. After missing the first six games of the year, Gronkowski returned for Week 7 and immediately made an impact on New England’s offense, catching 37 passes for 560 yards and four touchdowns over the next six games.
Gronkowski’s upcoming surgery on his knee will be the sixth surgery that the Pro Bowl tight end has undergone since Nov. 19, 2012.
“I think they’re still doing some more tests on it today,” Belichick said. “Obviously it’s a concern. I don’t know if it looks real good, but we’ll wait until we have a little more definite information before we say anything. … Rob really wasn’t with us at training camp, either, so we had a lot of practice and some games unfortunately without his services in there, but it was great to have him back.
“He’s a good player, a guy that everyone wants to see out there on the team. When he’s not there, if he’s not there, whoever’s out there, we expect them to do the best they can — do a good job.”
|Shane Vereen’s record day leads Patriots to thrilling win over Browns||12.08.13 at 8:11 pm ET|
FOXBORO – With the Patriots losing tight end Rob Gronksowski midway through the third quarter with a serious right knee injury after just two catches for 32 yards and the Browns limiting Danny Amendola to four catches for 36 yards, the team needed someone to step up in the passing game.
The spark they needed came from running back Shane Vereen, whose 12 catches for 153 yards set team records for a running back in the Patriots’ wild, come-from-behind, 27-26 win over the Browns.
The third-year running back out of California has made a significant comeback after playing sparingly in his first two seasons.
In Vereen’s four games since returning from a broken wrist, quarterback Tom Brady has targeted him 45 times and has been successful on 33 of them (73 percent), clearly demonstrating an increase in chemistry. In his five games overall this season, Vereen is averaging 7.2 yards per touch and is currently two rushes away from being the third running back in Bill Belichick‘s tenure in New England to reach the 40-rush/40-catch mark in a season. The other two are Danny Woodhead last year and Kevin Faulk in 2008.
“Helping the team win,” Vereen said of the biggest factor in his career-high for receiving yards. “I mean, if I had to catch the ball in order for us to win the game and make some plays throughout the year, then that’s what, hopefully, I’ll be able to do going forward. Really, it’s all about the team and it’s all about getting a victory.”
Vereen almost singlehandedly gave the Patriots a huge lift after they were seemingly knocked out late in the third quarter. After the Patriots scored their first points of the day, a 33-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with 1:37 left in the third, the Browns immediately responded with a 80-yard touchdown reception from Josh Gordon on the next play from scrimmage making it a 19-3 game.
Then, led by Vereen, the Patriots responded just 1:19 later with a 6-yard Vereen touchdown run, which was set up by a 50-yard reception from the Patriots running back up the left side, followed by another reception for 16 yards over the middle on the next play.
For Vereen, it’s been an up-and-down first few seasons in New England after being selected in the second round in 2011. After missing time due to a few injuries, he’s now getting more action of late and is making the most of his opportunities.
“Shane, the more opportunity he’s gotten, the more he’s been able to do for us,” Belichick said. “In his rookie year, in the Kansas City game, [in] limited chances he had that year, he was productive. Last year we had some depth in our backfield. When he got an opportunity to play, he did a good job. He obviously had a great game in Buffalo and then missed the next eight weeks. When he’s been in there, he’s been pretty productive for us.”
|Tom Brady: ‘That was awesome. That was awesome’||at 8:06 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Midway through the second quarter, Tom Brady had a quarterback rating of 31.7. He had completed just 7-of-19 passes for 95 yards and threw an interception to D’Qwell Jackson.
He finished 32-of-52 for 418 yards, including 153 to Shane Vereen. Brady finished with two touchdown passes and a 91.7 rating. Oh yeah, he led the Patriots to their third miraculous win at Gillette Stadium this season, this time 27-26 over the Browns.
“That was awesome. That was awesome,” Brady said after finding Danny Amendola for the game-winning touchdown with 31 seconds remaining. “What a game. I’m just proud of the guys. We fought through a lot of adversity. A lot of mental toughness. We grinded it out, so it was pretty sweet.”
Brady went from one of his worst performances of the season to one of his most clutch over the course of 30 minutes. Just like he did against New Orleans. Just like he did against Denver.
Brady was asked if he’s worried about just cutting it too close, like spotting Cleveland leads of 19-3 late in the third quarter and 26-14 with 90 seconds left.
“We’re not trying to give them those leads and certainly our execution wasn’t great, but we came through when we needed to. We’ve been playing 60 minutes all year,” Brady said. “We’re 10-3. It was a great win.”
As for the nasty injury to Rob Gronkowski, Brady, like the rest of the team, can only hope for the best but fear the worst.
“I don’t know what the circumstances are, but we’re all there with him,” Brady said. “We love him and he’s a big part of this team. We’ll see where he’s at.”
Does that temper the excitement about the win at all?
“Yeah, it hurts to see any of those guys go down,” Brady said. “Certainly with Gronk, and we’ve sustained some pretty big injuries this year with really important, critical players, so we’ve got to just keep bouncing back. No one feels sorry for the Patriots. I think we all feel sorry for Rob, but I don’t think anyone feels sorry for the Patriots. We’re with him. We support him.”
|Danny Amendola on Rob Gronkowski: ‘We’ve got his back’||at 7:12 pm ET|
FOXBORO — No matter of the result of Monday’s MRI on the right knee of Rob Gronkowski, Patriots receiver Danny Amendola says the team has his back during whatever recovery period is needed.
“We’ve got his back, that’s for sure. Gronk’s a leader on the team. He’s one of the best. We’ve got his back whenever he comes back. It’s frustrating to see him go down. You feel for him.”
The very next play after Gronk’s injury in the third quarter, with the Patriots already trailing 12-0, Tom Brady was strip-sacked and lost the ball. The Patriots, understandably, seemed to have the emotional wind knocked out of them.
“You feel for a guy that gets injured,” Amendola said. “You play the game hard and you fight for four quarters. Unfortunately, it’s a physical game and stuff like that happens but he’ll bounce back and I’m sure he’ll be great again as soon as possible.”
One way to get a teammate’s back is to make plays and pick up the slack. That’s exactly what Amendola did on, getting open for the 1-yard TD pass reception on a Brady rollout to his right.
“It’s a play we work on every day in practice, actually,” Amendola said. “They manned it up, and we did a good job of executing. It was a good play.
“We found ourselves behind, and all we wanted to do was focus on executing the plays at hand, and one play at a time, and that’s all you can do at that time. You try to make as many plays as you can, try to stack them up and put a drive together.”
If nothing else, the Patriots showed – for one game – they have the mental toughness to overcome the loss of one of the best offensive weapons in the game, digging out of a 12-point hole in the final 61 seconds.
“We just tried to execute the plays we work on in practice and tried to make as many plays as we could,” Amendola said. “Situational football, get out of bounds and stop the clock, move the ball, try to get in the end zone.”
Another player who had Gronk’s back was kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who executed the first successful onside kick by the Patriots since 1995, when Bill Parcells‘ Patriots turned the trick against Bill Belichick‘s Browns. The kick with under a minute left set up Amendola’s game-winning touchdown.
“It was fantastic,” Amendola said of Gostkowski’s kick. “Those specialists work so hard on their craft and kicks, and I’m sure Gost [Stephen Gostkowski] was really excited about it. It was a big play – play of the game.”
|Quick Hits: Mike Petraglia and Chris Price break down another miracle for the Patriots||at 6:14 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Rob Gronkowski had to be carted off the field Sunday midway through the third quarter after taking a vicious shot to his lower right leg. Pro Football Talk reports that an MRI is scheduled for Monday but the initial reports are “not looking good” on his right knee. Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports (via twitter) cited a source in claiming that the tight end “suffered what’s believed to be a torn ACL.”
Gronkowski caught a 21-yard seam route pass to the Cleveland 34. Cleveland strong safety T.J. Ward came in low and drilled him in the right knee area and Gronkowski went down immediately and did not move.
Patriots training staff raced onto the field to examine the knee before a cart was called onto the field after a delay of several minutes.
Gronkowski, who had two catches for 32 yards on five targets, left the game on the cart, accompanied by team medical director Tom Gill. Since coming back from his back and forearm surgeries against the Jets on Oct. 13, Gronkowski has 39 catches for 592 yards and four touchdowns.
The Patriots announced several minutes later that Gronkowski had suffered a leg injury and would not return.
MRI tomorrow for Rob Gronkowski (knee) but initial testing “not encouraging,” per source. “Not looking good,” source said.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 8, 2013
|Setting the scene: Patriots look for playoff berth at Gillette, Stevan Ridley expected to play||at 10:06 am ET|
FOXBORO — Cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-30s are expected for kickoff as the Patriots look to win their 10th game of the season for an 11th straight season.
Winds should not be a factor as there will be a breeze out of the northwest at just three miles an hour.
The heavy winter precipitation headed for New England is expected to hold off until well after the game. The weather should not be a factor as Stevan Ridley is expected to be active after getting benched last Sunday in Houston. Before last week, Ridley had fumbled in each of his last three games. He has four overall, losing all four to the opposition.
The Patriots will clinch their fifth straight AFC East title with a win and a Miami loss in Pittsburgh. They will clinch the playoffs with a win and a loss by Baltimore at home to Minnesota.
The 9-3 Patriots have won the AFC East in each of the last four seasons and nine of the last 10 seasons. They will look to extend Bill Belichick‘s NFL record of at least 10 wins in a season to 11 straight seasons. In 2011, Belichick became the first coach in history with nine straight seasons of double-digit wins.
The Patriots own the NFL’s best December record since 2001 with a 46-6 mark, improving on that with last week’s 34-31 come-from-behind win over Houston. The Patriots are also 22-2 at home in December since Gillette opened in 2002, with the last loss coming against San Francisco last season.
The Patriots are the first team to win more than half their games in 13 straight seasons since free agency began in 1993 and just the third overall since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The 49ers (1983-1998) and Cowboys (1970-1985) share the record at 16 straight.
The 4-8 Browns have one win against a winning team this season, when they beat Cincinnati, 17-6, at home on Sept. 29. Overall, they are 1-3 overall this season against teams with a winning record.
Belichick not only started his head coaching career in Cleveland in 1991 but knows their GM quite well as Michael Lombardi worked with Belichick during their days in Cleveland in the early 90s. Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski is in the same position Belichick was in 1991, in his first year as head coach of the Browns, trying to turn around years of losing.
“I definitely remember what some of my experiences were that year,” Belichick said this week. “But as it relates to the Browns right now, we really can’t be too concerned about that. We have a job to do here. They’re a good football team. They have a lot of good players and they work hard and they’ve improved a lot. I don’t want to get caught up in all that. Obviously I’ve talked about this before, I remember the first game. I remember Jimmy Johnson telling me years later that they didn’t even have a scouting report for us in the first game because they were worried about Washington the next week. They didn’t feel like they could dedicate too much time to us, which was about right. So, you remember a few of those things. But I would say, just looking at the Browns organization, overall, separately, it’s obvious they have a plan. Jimmy Haslam, the owner and [President] Joe Banner and then they’ve implemented [General Manager] Mike [Lombardi] and Chud [Head Coach Rob Chudzinski] to go through with it.
“But they definitely have a plan of what they want to do. They have a lot of young players. They’re young on defense, they have a lot of young offensive linemen that aren’t playing who I’m sure they must like. They have a lot of skill players and a lot of good players on defense period. They’ve put a lot of young players into the kicking game. They obviously have a plan – they way they handled the draft last year and so forth. It’s a team that’s young, they’re talented, they’re getting better and it looks like they definitely have a vision that Jimmy and Joe have a definite vision for where they want the team to go and they’ve had Mike and Rob implement it. They have a very experienced coaching staff. Their strength and conditioning staff has obviously done a good job because they have very few injuries, other than at the quarterback position, they’ve remained remarkably healthy throughout the course of the year and they’re a tough, physical team so it’s not like they don’t bang it around in there. Obviously their strength staff has done a great job there. Those are some of the things that I see with the Browns. But really all that’s sort of not really very much in focus because we’re concentrating on what they do, what their tendencies are, what the matchups are going to be, how we’re going to game plan and so forth. That’s really the target for us right now.”
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