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Broncos sign former Patriots defensive back Marquice Cole 01.14.14 at 5:25 pm ET
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Marquice Cole

Marquice Cole

Time for more gamesmanship.

One week after the Colts picked up ex-Patriots receiver Deion Branch in the days leading up to the AFC divisional playoffs, the Broncos announced Tuesday afternoon they have signed former New England defensive back Marquice Cole.

The 30-year-old Cole has spent most of the last two years with the Patriots as a cornerback and special teamer. In his NFL career, the 5-foot-10, 195-pounder has played 64 career games and totaled 36 tackles with four interceptions and 14 pass breakups to go with 51 special-teams stops. New England released the veteran cornerback on Dec. 26.

Cole figures to help shore up a depleted secondary that recently suffered the loss of cornerback Chris Harris, who tore his ACL in the recent playoff win over the Chargers.

From a defensive perspective, Cole had been relegated to a rotational spot behind Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan this year, so it’s debatable how much he can still bring to the field when it comes to pass defense. However, he remained a fairly regular face on New England’s special teams, and could provide depth for Denver at that spot as well.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Patriots Friday injury report: Aaron Dobson (foot) ruled out Saturday, Alfonzo Dennard, Kenbrell Thompkins questionable 01.10.14 at 3:48 pm ET
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Aaron Dobson had a rough start, but has shown improvement over the last few weeks. (AP)

Aaron Dobson had a rough start, but has shown improvement over the last few weeks. (AP)

FOXBORO — The Patriots officially ruled out deep threat Aaron Dobson for Saturday night’s AFC divisional game against the Colts at Gillette Stadium. Dobson re-injured his left foot in the season finale against the Bills.

Another receiver, Kenbrell Thompkins is one of two Patriots listed as questionable for the game. Thompkins has been battling a sore hip. Also questionable is cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with a sore knee and shoulder.

Logan Mankins was one of nine players officially “probable” for the game. Mankins injured his left ankle in the season finale against the Bills and returned to practice this week, but was limited in the full practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Patriots only conducted a walkthrough on Friday at Gillette Stadium, customary for the day before a game.

Aqib Talib (hip), Marcus Cannon (ankle), Rob Ninkovich (ankle) Josh Boyce (ankle) and Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) were not on the injury report at all during the week after appearing on the last injury report before the game against the Bills.

Devin McCourty is still listed as limited with a concussion but is officially probable for the game. McCourty missed the season finale after sustaining a concussion in the win over the Ravens on Dec. 22.

For the Colts, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) has been ruled out. With Reggie Wayne also out on injured reserve recovering from a torn ACL, Andrew Luck will be forced to find different ways to get the ball to receiver T.Y. Hilton among others in the passing game, including former Patriots receiver Deion Branch, who was signed on Monday by the Colts.

Here is Friday’s complete report:

Did Not Practice
WR Aaron Dobson (foot) OUT

Limited Participation
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) QUESTIONABLE
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder) QUESTIONABLE

CB Kyle Arrington (groin) PROBABLE
S Devin McCourty (concussion) PROBABLE
LB Dane Fletcher (groin) PROBABLE
S Steve Gregory (finger/knee) PROBABLE
OL Logan Mankins (ankle) PROBABLE
OT Will Svitek (ankle) PROBABLE
RB Shane Vereen (groin) PROBABLE

Full Participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin) PROBABLE
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder) PROBABLE

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Heath Evans on Mut & Merloni: If Patriots are in close game vs. Colts in fourth quarter, ‘I’d be nervous’ 01.08.14 at 2:44 pm ET
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Former Patriots running back Heath Evans, now an NFL Network analyst, joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday to preview Saturday’s Patriots-Colts playoff game and discuss other NFL news. To listen to the interview, visit the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Evans cautioned the Patriots need to be wary of Andrew Luck‘s ability to run with the football, and he said the Colts have a chance to pull out a win if they can keep the game close entering the final period.

“I go back to the Carolina game for New England,” Evans said. “Cam Newton didn’t beat you guys with his arm. He beat you guys with three or four opportunistic runs. Well, Andrew Luck can dice you guys up with his arm if your coverages aren’t sound. Then he can pop off for those two or three opportunistic runs as well.

“We’ve seen the Patriots play great defense; we’ve seen them play average defense. Brandon Spikes, you’re missing a thumper. We know this Indianapolis team hasn’t been able to run the ball consistently this year in any way. But golly, you talk about Vince [Wilfork] and [Jerod] Mayo and now Spikes — all the different lumps this team has taken along the way. I’ve never second-guessed Bill [Belichick], but you kind of keep asking yourself, how long can Bill and Matt Patricia find these game plans to cover for these huge missing parts.

“So, Andrew Luck, if they’re in it in the fourth quarter, I’d be nervous, I’ll just say that.”

Added Evans: “I know Bill well enough to know [Coby] Fleener‘s not going to be open, there’s going to be a game plan for T.Y. Hilton. It’s going to be other guys that have to step up and make plays. And that’s just where Luck has shown that ability for these last two seasons, just to make things happen. Is he [Tom] Brady yet? No. Is he [Aaron] Rodgers yet? No. But doggone, this guy just finds a way to get it done.

“If they can get the ball rolling in the ground game, that’s going to take focus away from T.Y. Hilton where you might slip in one of those deep shots that break your back late in the game. I just think it’s ball-control offense on the Patriots’ side of things. Brady and his boys are going to have to be spot on. You can’t see the young mistakes from young players. I think this will be — as Bill’s probably been preaching all week — it will be a turnover-driven game. Who’s giving the ball up, who’s getting extra possessions and then who’s not?”

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Bill Belichick isn’t buying ‘way overrated’ intel impact of Indianpolis Colts WR Deion Branch at 11:38 am ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick isn’t worried about Deion Branch giving away trade secrets this week prior to the Patriots’ showdown with the Colts at Gillette Stadium.

The Colts signed Branch on Monday and the natural question was raised: Could Branch, who played several stints in New England, provide valuable Patriots-based information that helps in game planning?

“I think that’€™s way overrated,’€ Belichick said. “A lot of time the information in those situations is misinformation, because things have changed from whenever that person [played for the opposing team]. I’€™m not saying that in any particular circumstance, I’€™m just saying in general, a lot of times a player who has been with another team tells you, ‘€˜This is what they do, this is their call, this is this, this is that,’€™ and then it turns out that’€™s really not what it is.

“€œSo, honestly, we have enough trouble doing all the things we do and getting them right and getting everybody to do them well. I’€™m sure they have the same thing with the amount of volume that you have in your different systems, and the amount of volume that you face on the other side of the ball. To be able to not only know everything you’€™re doing but also be able to figure out everything they’€™re doing, it’€™s pretty overrated.”

In baseball, they change the signs. In Foxboro, will Belichick do the same?

“€œWe’€™ll do whatever we think is best,” Belichick said.

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Colts coach Chuck Pagano: Just made sense to sign ex-Patriots WR Deion Branch 01.07.14 at 3:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Tuesday that there was no ulterior motive when it came to signing former Patriots receiver Deion Branch.

In a conference call with the New England media, Pagano said that there were several factors in play when it came to adding Branch, including the fact that they had brought him in for a workout last month, he was local, and he has a track record of success.

“We had worked out Deion three or four weeks ago,” Pagano said of the 34-year-old Branch. “[General Manager] Ryan [Grigson] and his staff bring in guys every week to work out and have guys that you know about and give physicals to in case you have an injury here or there, and we were a little bit short at the wide receiver position, and we had worked out Deion.

“He came in and had a great workout for us, he was in shape, he’€™s local, he’€™s right in our backyard, so we knew about him and knew who he was from a physical standpoint. Again, every decision we make is based on two things: what’€™s best for the team and what helps us win, and we feel like we got a guy that’€™s a former Super Bowl MVP that’€™s played a lot of good football at a high level, so he can help us.”

It’s debatable how much impact Branch will have on Saturday night — he only has a handful of days to try and get up to speed in a new system. But Indy quarterback Andrew Luck said he was looking forward to connecting with Branch.

“€œI definitely will pick his brain,’€ Luck said in a conference call with the media. ‘”œHe’€™s going to be a great addition to our team. I haven’€™t had a chance to sit down yet. We’€™ve been rolling in and out of meetings.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise of Branch Tuesday.

“Deion had a great career here — I think he was here for seven years or north thereof,” Belichick said. “Very smart, professional player. Great leader. One of the top guys we’€™ve had here in terms of off the field work ethic, leadership, intelligence, preparation, all those things. He had some very productive seasons here. He’€™s a tremendous person. He’€™s had a great career.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Analysis: Closer look at Colts’ addition of Deion Branch, Patriots’ decision to place Brandon Spikes on IR 01.06.14 at 5:06 pm ET
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Deion Branch spent the better part of seven seasons in New England, but is now a member of the Colts. (AP)

Deion Branch spent the better part of seven seasons in New England, but he now is a member of the Colts. (AP)

Even though the Patriots were off on Monday, it still was an eventful afternoon around Gillette Stadium.

First, it was announced the Colts signed former New England wide receiver Deion Branch. The veteran pass catcher, who made his bones for the better part of seven years with the Patriots, did have a tryout with the Colts earlier this season, so it wasn’t all that big a surprise, but the move still adds some juice to an already interesting divisional playoff showdown between New England and Indy this weekend.

It remains to be seen how much Branch still has left in the tank. The 34-year-old was on the shelf all year after ending the 2012 season with the Patriots — a year when he had 16 catches for 145 yards — and the fact that he’s coming into a new system likely means the learning curve is steep. Even armed with his smarts, it’s not likely he’ll have that much of an impact when New England and Indy take the field this weekend.

Where Branch could help is as an unofficial sounding board for the Indianapolis coaching staff and players when it comes to New England’s offensive tendencies. It’s always debatable about what sort of impact a player like that could have — it’s important to remember that the play calls, schemes and packages vary from week-to-week, let alone year to year. However, Branch was one of quarterback Tom Brady‘s closest and most trusted teammates when the receiver was in New England — the Colts believe he may have some minor knowledge of Brady’s style, however minute, that could help Indy gain a small edge when it comes to this weekend’s action.

Second, the Patriots placed linebacker Brandon Spikes on season-ending injured reserve later Monday afternoon with a knee injury. The 26-year-old, who was a second-round pick out of Florida in the 2010 draft, was accorded as one of the best run-stoppers in the league — the analytical site Pro Football Focus had him rated as one of the best defenders against the run over the last two years, giving him a +11.6 grade as a run defender in 2013. This season Spikes played in all 16 games with 12 starts in the regular season and finished with 134 total tackles. Overall, the 6-foot-2, 255-pounder has played in 51 games with 40 starts during his NFL career and has registered 384 total tackles. He has also played in six postseason games with five starts and accumulated 45 total tackles.

However, he has been battling a knee injury all year, and in an interview with Shalise Manza-Young of The Boston Globe earlier this season, Spikes announced that he would have to undergo knee surgery at the end of the year to deal with the issue. Spikes, who’s contract is up at the end of the 2013 season, now heads into free agency as one of the great debates of the offseason — when healthy, he’s been one of the best run-stoppers in the league. At the same time, he has struggled in coverage and has yet to display the needed consistency when it comes to health. (The 2013 season marked the first time in his four-year career he was able to play all 16 regular-season games.)

For the defense as a group, it’s yet another blow to a squad that already is dealing with the loss of several impact players, including defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly and linebacker Jerod Mayo. It’s expected that more responsibility will be placed on the shoulders of rookie Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher and Dont’a Hightower the rest of the way.

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Former Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch signs with Colts at 4:01 pm ET
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The Colts announced Monday they have signed former Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch.

Branch, who played most of seven seasons in New England, recently had a workout with Indy, so the signing didn’t come completely out of the blue. But it certainly adds some spice to this weekend’s divisional playoff game between the Patriots and Colts.

Here’s a portion of the press release from the Colts on the signing:

Branch, 5-9, 195 pounds, holds career totals of 518 receptions for 6,644 yards and 39 touchdowns in 140 regular season games (111 starts). He has also recorded 64 receptions for 948 yards and four touchdowns in 17 postseason games (13 starts). Branch is a two-time Super Bowl winner and was awarded the Pete Rozelle Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXIX. His 11 receptions in the game tied the Super Bowl record, also achieved by Jerry Rice, Dan Ross and Wes Welker. Branch also led all receivers in Super Bowl XXXVIII and has totaled a combined 21 receptions in three Super Bowl appearances, which ranks third all-time, trailing only Jerry Rice (33) and Andre Reed (27).

Branch set a team playoff record with 153 receiving yards on eight catches in the Patriots’€™ 2005 Divisional Playoff game at Denver. He also grabbed a 73-yard completion in the game, establishing the longest reception in Patriots playoff history. Branch was the NFL’€™s leading receiver in the 2004 playoffs, pacing the league in receptions (16) and receiving yards (264). In addition to being named Super Bowl XXXIX MVP, he was selected as the NFL’€™s Offensive Player of the Week following the AFC Championship Game (1/23/05), when he led all receivers with 116 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown grab.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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