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These unheralded players might steal spotlight in Brady-Manning XVI 10.30.14 at 8:03 pm ET
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Tim Wright has been a valuable red-zone presence this season for the Patriots. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tim Wright has been a valuable red zone presence this season for the Patriots. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — With the 16th showdown between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning looming Sunday in Foxboro, it makes sense that most of the focus has been on the matchup between the two legendary quarterbacks. And while their performances ultimately will tell the story as to which team will win, in their previous matchups there’€™s almost always an under-the-radar performer who helps swing the balance of power. With that in mind, here are eight candidates — four on each side, plus two more who might not be relatively anonymous but could still surprise — who could have a sizable impact in Sunday’€™s game between the Patriots and Broncos.

PATRIOTS

Running back Jonas Gray — The Notre Dame product got his chance to shine Sunday against the Bears and took advantage, amassing 86 yards on 17 carries. The 5-foot-10, 225-pounder might not get the same amount of action this week against the Broncos — one of the reasons Shane Vereen might have been limited last week against the Bears was because he had the flu, but he apparently is better now — but he has earned the right to be part of the mix and certainly will be a part of the action in some form or fashion on Sunday afternoon.

Fullback James Develin — The Broncos defense is threatening on a couple of levels. Denver is capable of doing damage when it comes to getting after the passer with rushers like Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, but it also is stout against the run with a league-best 72.4 rushing yards per game. That means if the Patriots are going to try to move the chains on the ground (or even do their due diligence when it comes to slowing the Denver pass rush), look for Develin, who routinely has been caving in defenders all season as a blocker.

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Read More: Brandon Marshall, Brandon McManus, Chris Harris Jr., Danny Amendola
Time check: Tom Brady getting more time to throw leading to Patriots success last 3 games 10.22.14 at 12:41 pm ET
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Tom Brady has seen an increased amount of time to throw the last three games, leading to better numbers. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady has seen an increased amount of time to throw the last three games, leading to better numbers. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Tom Brady has had his best three games of the season the last three weeks, and a major reason why is improved protection.

While sacks can occasionally be overrated, Brady has been sacked just four times in the last three games, compared to nine times over the first four games.

“They’€™re doing a great job. I’€™ve got confidence in all those guys,” Brady said following Thursday’s win over the Jets. “€œThey do a great job. I’€™ve got a lot of trust in all those guys.”

Despite using three different starting offensive lines the past three games, the quarterback has had an increasing amount of time in the pocket to throw each of the last three weeks. By our count, against Cincinnati he had an average of 2.16 seconds from snap to release, then 2.24 against Buffalo, and finally a season-high 2.58 seconds last Thursday against the Jets.

According to Pro Football Focus, last Thursday was the most time from snap-to-attempt Brady has had since Thanksgiving of 2012 in the “€œButt Fumble”€ game.

To this point, Brady has had his three statistically best games of the season the past three weeks — throwing for 292 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals, 361 yards and four touchdowns against the Bills and 261 yards and three touchdowns against the Jets.

The increased amount of time is coming following the blowout loss in Kansas City when Brady had an average of just 1.96 seconds to throw by our count, and had 17 of 24 plays (71 percent) where he took less than two seconds to release the ball. In comparison, against the Jets he had 12 of 37 plays (32 percent) where he took less than two seconds.

Keep in mind a lot of the release time numbers are based on scheme and game planning against certain opponents with quick wide receivers screens, etc. skewing the numbers a bit, but there is no question having more time to throw has led to Brady’s better performances of late.

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Read More: Danny Amendola, Tom Brady,
Josh McDaniels: Danny Amendola’s smarts were big part of late TD Thursday against Jets 10.20.14 at 8:31 pm ET
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On what turned out to be the play that produced the game-winning touchdown pass last Thursday against the Jets, one of the key moments came when wide receiver Danny Amendola recognized the fact that the play had started to break down and was able to scramble to get open. That helped quarterback Tom Brady find the receiver for the touchdown.

On Monday, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels praised Amendola for his ability to not only recognize what was going on, but lean on his experience with the “scramble drill” in an important moment.

“I think the big key for us is to try to always come back to the ball or come towards the quarterback — the direction that he’s scrambling — because throwing away from where the quarterback is going is always a difficult proposition,” McDaniels said. “So, we try to teach them to be friendly to the quarterback in terms of trying to give him an opportunity to make a throw that he can make. And then the guys that are deep, certainly if you’re deep and you go deeper you might get out of his range, so the deep guys may end up coming a little bit shorter.

“In this case, Danny was the short guy. And again, you have two choices, you could either kind of try to get away from your guy going towards the direction the quarterback is rolling to or running, or in the case of what Danny did, he turned and went in the other direction because he was a short receiver that ended up turning his route into a deeper play.”

For a receiver, it’s all about trying to do whatever he can to help out the quarterback.

“It’s not a perfect science,” acknowledged McDaniels. “But what we do try to tell them is, ‘Look, you can’t stand there and be covered, and you don’t want to run out of the quarterback’s potential window to throw you the ball.’ So, they want to stay active, they want to try to mirror the quarterback as best as we can and try to create some separation from the defender that’s closest to you. I thought Danny did a great job — we had a couple guys do a really good job on that play — and Danny ended up with the ball on it.”

Read More: Danny Amendola, Josh McDaniels,
Tom Brady: ‘It feels good to be where we’re at’ 10.17.14 at 3:01 am ET
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Tom Brady and Shane Vereen connected for two touchdowns Thursday night. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady and Shane Vereen connected for two touchdowns Thursday night. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — What a difference 18 days makes.

Following the Patriots’€™ Week 4, 43-17 loss to Kansas City on Monday Night Football they were 2-2 and not trending in the right direction. Fast forward to Thursday night, New England now has reeled off three straight wins — outscoring opponents 107-64 — and is looking like the team many thought it would be entering the season.

“We started the year off 0-1, so 5-1 since is not bad considering where we’€™re at,”€ Tom Brady said. “€œHopefully we can be a lot better. We’ve got to make the plays, got to make the improvements, got to execute it when it matters. But, it feels good to be where we’€™re at.”

Brady had another strong game against the Jets Thursday going 20-for-37 passing for 261 yards and three touchdowns, while not throwing an interception. He has now thrown 372 touchdown passes, which ties Drew Brees for the fourth-most in NFL history. Thursday’€™s win also marked his 41st straight regular season home win over an AFC opponent.

The offense got off to a good start as they scored just 1:29 into the game on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Shane Vereen. Vereen ran right past the defenders and was wide open on the right side by the goal line and Brady found him for an easy score. It was the second time this year the Patriots have scored on the opening drive of the game.

Following the opening drive, the Patriots went three-and-out on their next two possessions as the Jets dominated time of possession in the first half, as the Patriots held the ball for just 7:57.

“We scored quick and hen we got crushed on time of possession,”€ Brady said. “€œWe’ve got to do a better job staying on the field, making the plays, executing the plays on first down, second down, third down so we can stay on the field and keep our defense off the field. If the defense is out there as much as they were tonight, it’€™s going to be tough for them. We’ve got to help them out by playing a lot better offense.”

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Read More: Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, Tom Brady,
Mike Petraglia, Chris Price detail Patriots’ great escape against Jets at 2:30 am ET
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FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price break down how the Patriots escaped with a 27-25 win over the Jets on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. Chris Jones blocked a potential 58-yard field goal by Nick Folk to hang on for the win and improve to 5-2 in the AFC East.

Read More: Chris Jones, Chris Price, Danny Amendola, Mike Petraglia
What we learned: Patriots escape with narrow win over Jets 10.16.14 at 11:29 pm ET
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Tom Brady and the Patriots held on down the stretch for the win over New York. (Getty Images)

Tom Brady and the Patriots held on down the stretch for the win over New York. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — The Patriots held on down the stretch Thursday night to pick up a 27-25 win over the Jets at Gillette Stadium. Chris Jones blocked what would have been a game-winning 58-yard field goal as time expired.

It wasn’t a pretty game, but in the end, New England did enough to hold on down the stretch. The Patriots took the lead for good on a 36-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with 4:10 left in the third and held on late, building what proved to be a decisive advantage with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Danny Amendola with 7:49 left in the fourth to make it 27-19.

The Jets added a late touchdown, but missed out on the two-point conversion when quarterback Geno Smith’s throw for Jace Amaro was off the target.

Brady finished the game 20-for-37 for 261 yards with three touchdowns. Shane Vereen added 12 carries for 47 yards. He also had five catches for 71 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

On the other side of the ball, Smith was 15-for-27 for 178 and one touchdown, while Jets running back Chris Ivory came away with 21 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Here’s what we learned about the Patriots on Thursday night:

Tom Brady was a mixed bag against the Jets defense

The quarterback hit on some nice throws early, including a 24-yarder to Brandon LaFell and a 20-yarder to Gronkowski. His deep ball on the first touchdown of the night — a 49-yard scoring strike to Shane Vereen — would have been overthrown if Vereen didn’t do a terrific job laying out for the pass. There were a few others that were off the mark, including the 19-yarder to Amendola in the fourth quarter, a ball where the receiver made a great play on the ball. In the end, he did enough to pick up the win in his 200th career regular-season game, finding Vereen twice and Amendola once for touchdown passes. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Brandon Browner, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, Tom Brady
Tim Hasselbeck on D&C: ‘You can’t count on’ Danny Amendola 10.13.14 at 9:45 am ET
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ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday to discuss the Patriots’€™ win Sunday over the Bills. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Tom Brady had a strong second-half performance, starting with a 43-yard touchdown pass to Brian Tyms. Two late touchdowns to Brandon LaFell closed out the win and a strong performance over the Bills.

Hasselbeck said he wasn’t all that surprised by Brady’€™s second half.

Said Hasselbeck: “[Brady is] too good at so many different things that all of those skills are not leaving him at once. Whether it’€™s some of the physical traits in terms of how he throws the football, his accuracy, his arm strength, that type of stuff. Whether it’€™s the knowledge that he’€™s able to get out of the pre-snap, whether it’€™s his ability process things quickly post-snap, all of the things he does well aren’t going to leave him all at once.

“Players of his caliber don’€™t just fall off a cliff, other guys do. Jake Delhomme, not the same type of player. Matt Schaub, not the same type of player. It happens to other guys, but when you’€™re as good as he is — or take Peyton Manning. When you’€™re as good as Peyton Manning is, when the arm strength leaves you, it’€™s OK. There are other aspects of your game that are so good that you can make up for it by anticipating better. In terms of did I think he was going to throw for over 350 yards against what had been a previously good defense, I can’€™t say I thought that would happen.”

While Brady had one of the best games of his season, receiver Danny Amendola was nowhere to be found. The wideout had no catches on a day in which 10 different Patriots collected at least one reception.

“You can’€™t count on him because you don’€™t know if he’€™s going to be available,” Hasselbeck said of Amendola. “One of the things you do is on Tuesday is you start putting your plan together for the opponents that you’€™re about to face. And you break it down — first and second down. And the next day you work on your third-down passes, your work on short yardage and goal line, you work on your red zone stuff and you put a plan in place. … You do that, and you start to scheme things. You watch film, you find out where weaknesses are and how you’€™re going to attack it and who you’€™re going to attack it with. If I’€™m Josh McDaniels, the last guy I’€™m designing stuff for is Danny Amendola. I just don’€™t know if he’€™s going to be available to me, I really don’€™t.”

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Read More: Danny Amendola, Tim Hasselbeck, Tom Brady,
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