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Patriots searching for identity going into Sunday’s matchup with Cincinnati 10.01.14 at 6:06 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There is a sense of unknown with the Patriots following the first four weeks of the season.

Last year the team was as mentally tough of any team in the Bill Belichick era, coming from a 24-0 halftime deficit against the Broncos to win in overtime, scoring with five seconds left to beat the Saints, 30-27 and also scoring two touchdowns in the final 61 seconds to beat the Browns, 27-26.

This season, following one of the worst losses in the Belichick-Tom Brady tenure –€“ a 41-14 shellacking by the Chiefs on Monday Night Football — the Patriots go into this Sunday night’€™s game with the Bengals not really knowing how it will respond as they have yet to build an identity.

“We’€™ll find out,”€ said special teams captain Matthew Slater. “€œI feel confident we’€™ll be a resilient group and be able to bounce back, but time will tell. It’€™s easy to sit here and talk about it, but hopefully we’€™ll go out there and do something about it.”

For the most part this year’s team is the same as the one last year with a few exceptions — most notably Darrelle Revis on defense and rookies Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming on the offense line, along with the departures of Aqib Talib and Logan Mankins.

Even with a couple of younger players being mixed in, there is still a veteran presence, which can only help at a time like this.

“Every guy in this locker room has been in a situation where they haven’€™t played well or been on a good team and coming off a bad loss,”€ safety Devin McCourty said. “I think as football players we go through that — maybe not yet in the NFL — but throughout their college or high school careers. Your character or confidence as a individual player isn’€™t changed by that. I think we have good leadership so those young guys can look to us as the older guys in the locker room and see some of us played bad and we’€™ll be ready to go.”

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Read More: Bengals, Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater,
Rodney Harrison on MFB: NFL ‘trying to get it right’ 09.09.14 at 12:39 pm ET
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NBC Sports analyst Rodney Harrison made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Tuesday to talk about the Ray Rice situation and the Patriots’ season-opening loss to the Dolphins. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

“I think everybody could be in agreement that the NFL got it wrong,” Harrison said. “When I saw the video … I was just mind-boggled by what Ray Rice did. And I think the biggest mistake he made was he didn’t admit to it, he didn’t come out and just flat-out say to the NFL and the commissioner, ‘Hey, I punched her.’ Now I don’t know if he said he pushed her or if he was defending himself. But in a situation like that zero tolerance is needed, and there’s no reason why you ever put your hands on a female, point-blank, period.

“I think the Ravens did the right thing. I think the National Football League did the right thing. It’s just one of those things where it makes me a little nervous, it makes me a little unhappy, just very, very disappointed even talking about it.”

Roger Goodell is facing heavy criticism for the league’s initial two-game suspension. Many have speculated his job in his jeopardy, especially if he had viewed the damning video that TMZ released Monday.

“I don’t know [how Goodell comes out of this]. I don’t know right now,” Harrison said. “I think he’s done some really good things with his term in office. I think just like anytime a new person comes in, he’s in charge of the National Football League or a business, there’s a lot of pressure, there’s a lot of expectation. And he hasn’t been the most popular among a lot of the players as well as the fans.

“I dealt with him one-on-one in a couple of situations, and I think he’s still the right man for the job. … It’s one of those situations where you’re not going to always be the most popular because you hold one of the toughest jobs in football, if not the toughest. But it’s one thing he’s learning, and I think he finally got it right. The indefinite suspension of Ray Rice, I think that was something that was needed. I think it sends a message across the league, just like the new domestic policy. And I think it’s one of those things where as a fan you have to look at the league and say at least they’re trying to get it right.”

As for the question of if Goodell or the NFL investigators viewed the video, Harrison said: “It’s just hard for anyone to tell me that the league couldn’t get access to that video. It’s just very hard. I don’t know if they just dropped the ball, didn’t think about it, if they just didn’t want the video. I don’t know what the situation was.

“It’s just one of those things where when you saw the video, it just made you sick.”

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Read More: Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, ray rice, Rodney Harrison
‘No panic’ for Patriots after season-opening loss to Dolphins at 6:00 am ET
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The Patriots have turned the page on Sunday's loss and are now focused on Minnesota.  (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Patriots have turned the page on Sunday’s loss and are now focused on Minnesota. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — The Patriots locker room was a quiet, empty place late Monday afternoon as the players had just wrapped up their day reviewing the ugly game film from Sunday’€™s 33-20 loss to the Dolphins.

Many of the players walked to their lockers, grabbed their belongings and left without much interaction. The Patriots had not lost a season-opener since 2003, so it was an unusual feeling for the players this early in the season as they went 4-0 during the opening month of last season.

“€œIt’€™s never a happy meeting room after a loss,”€ safety Devin McCourty said. “There’€™s no panic — watch the film, correct what we need to correct and try and move on. It’€™s the first game of the season. We can’€™t let that affect the rest of the season. We still have a lot of football left to be played. We have to keep improving and the focus is to go out there and win on Sunday.”

It was the Patriots’€™ first loss by more than one possession in the regular season since Nov. 7, 2010 when they lost 34-14 to the Browns.

Instead of dwelling on the loss and kicking themselves for their mistakes, the sentiment among all the players was they have already turned the page on Sunday and are now focused on correcting the miscues for Week 2 against Minnesota.

“I think the biggest thing for us this week is going back to square one and focusing on the fundamentals,” said special teams captain Matthew Slater. “I think fundamentally we need to do a number of things better and it wasn’€™t for a lack of effort or anything like that. We just need to go back to the basics and try and improve.”

The team is full of veteran players who have won in the league before and know one loss isn’€™t going to make or break the entire season. Therefore, the confidence level among players hasn’€™t changed after one rough game.

“Confidence is fine,” safety Duron Harmon said. “€œWe know it’€™s a long season and we just need to fix it and keep moving in the right direction.”

Read More: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Matthew Slater, Patriots
Patriots credit Dolphins running attack, but mistakes ‘fixable’ 09.08.14 at 6:37 pm ET
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Knowshon Moreno ran all over the Patriots defense in the second half. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Knowshon Moreno ran all over the Patriots defense in the second half. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — The Patriots went into the locker room with their heads held high Sunday as they led the Dolphins 20-10 in Miami, but rather than come home winners of their 11th straight season-opener, the team was outscored 23-0 in the second half and fell to the Dolphins, 33-20.

It was one of the worst second halves the Patriots have played in the Bill Belichick era as they hadn’€™t been outscored by that many points since Nov. 30, 2008 when the Steelers also outscored them 23-0 — a game played at Gillette Stadium and Matt Cassell was the Patriots quarterback.

The biggest issue for the Patriots in the second half was stopping the Dolphins rushing attack as they ran for 126 yards in the second half alone, including 91 from Knowshon Moreno.

“They did a great job running the ball and we didn’€™t do a great job in stopping the run,” defensive lineman Sealver Siliga said Monday. “€œI give it up to them, they came out and ran the ball in the second half.”€

Moreno has had the Patriots’€™ number of late as he ran for 224 yards when he played against the Patriots last year with Denver during the regular season. He and the Dolphins controlled the line of scrimmage and were able to take control of the game in the second half with 191 of their 360 total yards of offense in the game coming on the ground.

“We just have to stop it,” safety Devin McCourty said. “There’€™s some technique things we’€™ll fix, but it comes down to fundamentals –€“ being up there, defeating blockers, tackling guys and that’€™s what it’s about stopping the run.”

Being outscored by 23 points in the second half, there are bound to be questions raised about the team’€™s effort, but McCourty said that absolutely wasn’€™t the case and pointed to the final Miami possession of the game before their kneel down, where the Dolphins started at the Patriots’€™ 14-yard line and they held them to a field goal.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Devin McCourty, dolphins, Duron Harmon
Attacking Miami heat in September isn’t issue it used to be for Patriots 09.02.14 at 5:17 pm ET
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Tom Brady and the Patriots have apparently gotten over any sort of early-season issues they've had with playing the Dolphins in Miami. (Getty Images)

Tom Brady and the Patriots have apparently gotten over any sort of early-season issues they’ve had with playing the Dolphins in Miami. (Getty Images)

In the spring, veteran safety Devin McCourty joked about building a “big sauna” at Gillette Stadium to try and replicate the sweaty conditions they’ll face when they head south for the regular season opener Sunday against the Dolphins.

But in truth, the early-season Florida weather doesn’t vex the Patriots like it once did — New England has won its last four early-season meetings in Miami, coming away with victories in September/October games in 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2011.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday on a conference call with the media that he actually prefers playing in South Florida early in the season because it’s easy to prepare, especially coming off some of the occasionally steamy August days in training camp.

“Personally, I would rather play in a warm climate at the beginning of the year than at the end of the year, because at least we’€™ve been practicing in it,” he said.

“We’€™ve had some hot days here at the beginning of the season,” Belichick added. “I think you can get a hot day pretty much anywhere. It really comes back to the conditioning of your team. Whether it’€™s hot or not, it’€™s the same for both teams and the player’€™s conditioning level and his ability to perform at a high level is going to be reflected later in the game based on his physical conditioning.”

It’€™€™s easy to forget now, but not so long ago, the Patriots had serious early-season struggles when faced with the prospect of playing in Miami in August and September. The Dolphins used to be without peer when it came to playing in the South Florida heat early in the season ‘€” from 1994 to 2002 Miami won 16 consecutive home games in August and September.

In that same stretch, several former Patriots confessed to being befuddled about how to beat the warm temps, and admitted that the whole thing got in their heads. (On one occasion, the Patriots tried to tape garbage bags over the air conditioning systems in the locker room for fear of getting too comfortable at halftime.)

It’s never easy in Miami ‘€” the Patriots stumbled late in the 2009 and 2013 seasons against the Dolphins in South Florida ‘€” but it appears as though the Patriots are over any early-season phobias with the Miami heat.

“I don’€™t think this game is going to be decided on the heat or the weather, just like I don’€™t think the ones at the end of the year are decided by the cold,” Belichick said. “It’€™s a little bit of a factor in the game, but we’€™re playing a good football team. If we play well, we’€™ll be competitive and we’€™ll have a chance. If we don’€™t play well, it won’€™t make a difference what the conditions are, we’€™ll be in a lot of trouble. That’€™s where most of the emphasis is going to be this week, and where it should be.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Devin McCourty,
Devin McCourty on Logan Mankins: ‘Don’t know if [you] get that type of teammate ever again’ 08.26.14 at 6:23 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For those Patriots who played with Logan Mankins, Tuesday was harder than any offseason or training camp practice they’ve had this season.

After their first practice without the six-time Pro Bowl left guard, they came off the field and had to face the reality that the business side of the NFL and the Patriots had hit home. Mankins’ locker was in tact along with some team equipment but his teammates were left to answer questions about his sudden departure to Tampa Bay.

“He’s the type of guy you don’t know if get that type of teammate ever again,” safety Devin McCourty said. “He’s a tough guy. The different injuries he’s played through, being out there every snap, every chance he could get. When I got here, he wasn’t at here at first because he was home and he missed first couple of games. He came back and you could see the difference up front in how everybody played. He went to the Pro Bowl in a half-year. I think that just spoke volumes about a guy who you just see his leadership stand out as soon as he steps on the field.

“Since I’ve been here, he’s a guy you look up to, and I’m a defensive back and that’s watching the offensive line. Tampa is going to get one helluva player, and guy.”

McCourty the player then spoke like McCourty a team captain.

“There are some things you can’t control. You just accept,” he added. “It’s tough, it’s tough. You just tell yourself, and it starts the older guys on the team, you have to go out there and play. You can’t just sit there and sulk or be disappointed in your mind. You just have to go out there and play and make sure the younger and go about it and play and follow your lead. That’s the way I looked at today.

“This time of year is difficult. When we have 90 guys, whether it’s a guy like Travis Hawkins, in my room every day asking me a bunch of questions, working his tail off. Coach says it every year, this is a tough time for everybody. Coaches don’t like making these decisions. This one felt a little bit more because of the type of player Logan was and how long he’s been here.”

Mankins is gone to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright and a 2015 fourth-round pick. Matthew Slater is another Patriots player who, like Mankins, has served as a captain before. He admitted that once the team was informed by Bill Belichick of the trade before practice Tuesday, it was tough going about business.

“It is difficult,” Slater said. “You know a guy for a number of years, you get to know his family, his kids, and that makes it tough. There is always a human element involved. We signed up to do a job here, and we understand what that job entails, and we understand what comes along with that, but at the same time, you can’t separate yourself from the human element, and the emotions and feelings that come along with it.

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Read More: Devin McCourty, Logan Mankins, Matthew Slater, Nate Solder
5 most important Patriots not named Tom Brady at 12:00 am ET
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There’€™s no need to debate who is the most important member of the Patriots. Quarterback Tom Brady has been the single most integral part of New England’€™s football success on a week-in, week-out basis for the last decade-plus. But who makes up the rest of the nucleus? With the 2014 regular season looming, here are the five most important Patriots not named Brady — in no particular order.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman — Edelman has emerged as Brady’€™s go-to target of choice over the last year-plus. The former college quarterback topped the 100-catch mark last season, becoming just the third pass-catcher of the Brady era to come away with at least 100 catches in a season (Troy Brown and Wes Welker are the other two.) Over the course of the summer, he displayed an almost creepy level of chemistry with the quarterback. In two preseason games, Edelman has showed that regardless of what happens with Rob Gronkowski‘€™s health in 2014, he will be one of the fundamental elements of the New England passing game. In two preseason games Brady targeted Edelman 10 times, and the receiver caught all 10 passes.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski — Gronkowski is the difference-maker, the sort of offensive option who can help New England get to its ultimately goal. The only question is his health — the big tight end played in his first 46 straight games in the NFL, but since his forearm snapped blocking on an extra point against the Colts in 2012, he’€™s only played in nine of a possible 26 games. It’€™s important to note that the Patriots looked like they learned to survive without him down the stretch and into the postseason last year. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots averaged 32 points per game and 5.94 yards per play with Gronkowski in the lineup from Weeks 7-14. Without Gronkowski (from Week 15 through the end of their postseason run), New England averaged 30.8 points per game and 5.82 yards per play. It was a drop-off, but not the dramatic dip that some may have anticipated. At the same time, the real struggles in other areas (red zone presence, blocking) have created an environment where it’€™s simply not sustainable to think the Patriots could hope to win a Super Bowl without him.

Cornerback Darrelle Revis — Revis has only been a part of the New England roster for a few months, but he already figures to be a vital part of any success the Patriots have in 2014. Even for a future Hall of Famer it can be an occasionally dicey proposition joining a new team, but he’€™s managed to fit in seamlessly. As a new face, he has managed to walk a fine line between being deferential to the established veterans who were already on the roster, but at the same time he’€™s managed to carve out a leadership position of his own. He was the guy who led a group of defensive backs out to Arizona for offseason workouts with his trainer, and the younger defensive backs (including Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon) have confessed to picking his brain on more than one occasion. He hasn’t played a ton in the preseason (we had him at 36 snaps — with penalties — through the first three games of the preseason, and has one pass completed in his direction in that time), but it certainly appears he’€™s not hampered by any of the knee woes that managed to keep him sidelined for almost the entire duration of the 2012 season.
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Read More: Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski
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