|Bill Belichick thinks Wes Welker is going to be a good coach because ‘Wes is a football guy’||02.01.17 at 11:06 pm ET|
HOUSTON — Some eyebrows were raised this week when the hometown Texans announced that Wes Welker would be returning to the NFL – as a coach.
Welker was hired as an offensive and special-teams assistant coach. Welker played in the NFL for 12 seasons, including six with the Patriots. Welker played for New England when current Texans coach Bill O’Brien served as an offensive coach and coordinator for the Patriots.
O’Brien left after the 2011 season and Welker departed New England after 2012. Welker, who battled with concussions for much of the second-half of his career, stopped playing after the 2015 season, finishing with 903 catches, 9,924 yards and 50 touchdowns. He had more than 100 catches in five seasons.
Asked about his prospects as an NFL coach, Bill Belichick didn’t hesitate in heaping praise, pointing to a time when Welker was a placekicker for the Dolphins before the Patriots signed him in 2007.
“Nobody worked harder than Wes. Wes loved football. He was the first one in, last one out type of guy,” Belichick said. “Very instinctive player. Wes was a great player for us as a receiver but also as a returner and he was actually our backup kicker. He actually kicked in a game against us with the (Miami) Dolphins when they had an injury in pregame warmups. Wes is a football guy. He is into football.
“Whatever we asked him to do, block, run routes, return kicks, help us out in any way possible. Wes was a good football player, is a great football mind, works extremely hard and is a very instinctive player. He always seemed to do the right thing whether it was the slowdown, speed up, go under a linebacker, go over him, stop, keep going or pull up. He just had a great feel for where a quarterback wanted to throw him the ball and where he should be in the passing game relative to where other people were.”
Welker often talked about how he battled concussions, working through no fewer than six documented cases, including three in nine months and two in four weeks during the 2013 season.
Belichick and Welker did have some tension to overcome. There was the time in Jan. 2011, as the Patriots were preparing to play the Jets in the AFC divisional round, Belichick warned players not to say anything about Jets coach Rex Ryan. Welker then, while addressing reporters, made several foot references, a clear jab at Ryan’s reported foot fetish proclivities with his wife. And during a trip to Western New York, Welker reportedly joked around with Belichick before a team meeting.
All of that is now water on the bridge and Belichick was sincere in his support on Wednesday.
“I am sure Coach O’Brien recognized that as well from coaching him. I am sure he will do a great job in whatever they ask him to do,” Belichick added. “He did a great job for us as a receiver, as a blocker and as a returner.”
|Devin McCourty says ‘angry’ Patriots defense rallied with 3 interceptions||01.15.17 at 3:04 am ET|
FOXBORO — Sometimes you have to give yourself a kick in the backside to get going.
That’s apparently all it took for the Patriots trio of Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon to pick it up after what they felt was a less-than stellar first half Saturday.
Leading just 17-13 at the half, the three Rutgers products each had a second-half interception of Brock Osweiler and helped to shut down the Texans in New England’s 34-16 win Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
What was the key to the turnaround in the second half?
“Really, we were angry with ourselves,” McCourty said. “The first three points they got was a penalty on us that extended a drive on a third-down stop. Then, even in the red area, we held them to three on a sudden change, and then the touchdown, myself and Duron [Harmon], we could have got ourselves in a better defense.
“Going into halftime, we just looked at each other like, ‘We’ve just got to play better. Do what we’re supposed to do and make them earn it.’ We did that, we did a better job of that, but they came and they fought hard. I think they came and tried to play a complete game as a team and we had to battle through some ups and down. But that’s what the playoffs are about, finding a way to win.”
Osweiler was actually quite effective if not spectacular in the first half, completing eight of his first 10 passes before the Patriots pressure started getting to him. He finished the first half 13-of-20 for 83 yards. He was sacked twice but did throw a touchdown – and did not turn it over.
In the second half, the Rutgers trio flipped that script. McCourty had the first pick in the third quarter in front of the Texans sideline on a ball for DeAndre Hopkins.
“That was just a little bit of what we do coverage-wise,” McCourty explained. “I knew I had to get on him tight. He’s a go-to guy in that situation, third or second, I think it was third down. I just tried to stay tight on him and was able to make a play on the ball.”
In the fourth quarter, Ryan picked off an Osweiler pass over the middle and returned it to the Houston 6. Two plays later, Dion Lewis ran it in. And then, with the game in hand, Harmon stepped in front of a pass for tight end Ryan Griffin at the Patriots 3 with three minutes left.
“In the end we were able to take the ball away and play good in the red-area defensively,” Bill Belichick said. “That was helpful, and able to come away with more points. A big day for Rutgers, a big day for Rutgers. They all had interceptions. We love to see that, love to see them for anybody but especially when we get three of them. That was big.”
The Patriots defense may not have faced the stiffest test in the world Saturday but they started to feast on a quarterback that was wilting under their pressure in the second half and they were able to seal the deal late. That’s a good formula in the playoffs.
“Those guys have been getting after the quarterback,” McCourty said of the pressure from Ryan, Malcom Brown and Rob Ninkovich, all of whom recorded sacks. “A lot of people have said how bad we are rushing the passer, so I guess they’ll evaluate this and they’ll probably still say we’re bad at it, but we know what we can do up front, and I think it’s the back end talking to the front end, the front end talking to us, and we just keep everybody going. When they’re able to get after the quarterback and we feel that, we’re getting after it and trying to make good plays in the back end.
“Really, my interception was a ball that was behind, Logan’s was a high ball. That comes from the front. That’s the front causing pressure, making sure the quarterback’s not just back there and feeling comfortable, that’s them. That’s always – when you’re playing good in the secondary and getting interceptions, that’s usually because those front four, the front seven are doing a good job. Complementary football – that’s the way we’ve been winning and we’ve got to continue to do that.”
|In wake of 18-point win, Bill Belichick sounds alarm for his staff: ‘We have to coach better than we did tonight’||at 2:41 am ET|
FOXBORO — In some ways, it was the perfect scenario for Bill Belichick following his team’s 34-16 win over the overmatched Texans Saturday night at Gillette.
The Patriots won to advance to their sixth straight AFC title game and even covered in the process. They got a key part of their offense on track in Dion Lewis. Julian Edelman moved up the ladder among all-time great NFL receivers with eight catches and 137 yards.
But then there were the three turnovers, the inability to score a touchdown before the half from inside the five yard line three times and allowing Tom Brady to get hit time after time by the Texans pass rush. There were – as they say – plenty of teaching points for Belichick to harp on this week as they get ready for the AFC championship at Gillette on Jan. 22.
“We’re going to have to play better, coach better,” Belichick said. “I don’t think the coaching was all that good tonight, either. We have to play better, we have to coach better than we did tonight, or there won’t be much left in our season. Hopefully we can do that and up our level of performance next week. Again, give the Texans credit. They did a good job. Defensively they gave us a lot of problems. We had six first-downs in the first half. We threw up a couple of prayers and came down with them, made a couple of good catches with Chris [Hogan] and Julian. We just didn’t have any consistency at all offensively, couldn’t run it or throw it very well.”
The Patriots were actually reeling before the half, leading just 14-13 and sensing the crowd at Gillette get a bit more nervous than anyone expected coming in. The Patriots were able to get three points to take a 17-13 halftime lead on a 19-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski.
“Well, it was good to be able to get the last opportunity there,” Belichick said. “We drove it down. We got the ball to the one-inch line but couldn’t get it in. I might’ve thought about going for it on fourth-down, but when we lost yards there on third-down, the ball was on about the – I don’t know, one, one and a half, whatever it was – instead of on the one-inch line, then I didn’t really think very much about going for it at that point. It’s good to get the three points. We had the ball to start the second half because we deferred to start the game.
“But it would’ve been nice to get seven. We had a couple of good chances. We just didn’t get it done. Again, like a lot of things tonight, if we don’t improve in those situations the next time we play then it’ll probably be the last time we play. We’ve got to take advantage of our opportunities. We’ve got to coach and execute better. Hopefully we’ll be able to get that done this week.
How extraordinary is it to be in the position to go to six straight AFC Championship games?
“I mean it’s great to be playing at this time of year,” Belichick conceded. “You’re one of four teams that’s left after the weekend, but again, I mean I don’t really care about the other five years right now, or however many years it’s been. The only thing that matters is this year, this team, and what we have an opportunity to do, what we need to do to move on to play again.
“We can talk about all of that other stuff some other time. For right now, it’s just this team and getting to the AFC Championship Game and playing our best game next weekend. That’s what we’re going to need to do. We’re going to need to play our best game, better than we played tonight.”
|Mike Petraglia, Ryan Hannable recap historic night as Patriots clinch 6th straight AFC title appearance, Vince Wilfork’s last game||at 12:52 am ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots, thanks to Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman, made some NFL playoff history Saturday night in what will likely be Vince Wilfork’s final game in the NFL. The Patriots advance to their 6th straight AFC championship with a 34-16 win over the Texans. Mike Petraglia and Ryan Hannable have the details inside Gillette Stadium.
|Snap Judgments: Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman lift Patriots to record 6th straight AFC championship||01.14.17 at 11:27 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The little men came up big and as a result, the Patriots are headed to uncharted and historic waters.
Lewis notched his first three touchdowns of the season and Julian Edelman caught seven passes for 137 yards as the Patriots fought off a sloppy first half and beat the Texans, 34-16, at a blustery Gillette Stadium.
Lewis became the first player in NFL playoff history with a receiving, rushing and return touchdown in one game. Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill also accomplished the feat in this regular season. Before Lewis and Hill, it had not been done since 1965.
Edelman finished with eight catches on 13 targets while Tom Brady was 18-of-38 for 287 yards and two touchdowns.
The Patriots advance to host either the Chiefs or Steelers next Sunday, Jan. 22, at Gillette Stadium in their sixth straight AFC championship appearance. The six straight championship games is a new record in the Super Bowl era.
The Patriots survived a pair of Brady interceptions and a Lewis lost fumble on a kickoff return to draw within a game of what would be a record ninth Super Bowl appearance.
Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon intercepted Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler in the second half to seal the win.
After the teams exchanged a pair of three-and-outs to start the game, the Patriots took advantage of a big penalty to set up their first score of the game.
On the first play of their second series, Tom Brady lofted a pass down the left sideline for Chris Hogan. The Patriots receiver was tugged on by defensive back A.J. Bouye. The 30-yard penalty set the Patriots up at the Texans 35. Brady went to Hogan on the next play as well, connecting for 22 yards down to the Houston 13. On the next play, Brady hit Lewis in the left flat with a swing pass and Lewis outraced Bernardrick McKinney to the sideline and made a cut and ran parallel to the sideline for the game’s first touchdown. It was also Lewis’ first touchdown of any kind since a receiving touchdown against the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 29, 2015.
The Patriots were on the verge of forcing another 3-and-out on Brock Osweiler when a bizarre and rarely called personal foul gave the Texans new life. After Malcolm Butler and DeAndre Hopkins got into a scuffle at the bottom of the pile, Eric Rowe came over and pulled off a player. Rowe was assessed a 15-yard personal foul extended the Texans’ drive and gave them their first first down of the game.
The Texans then started putting plays together and chewed up over eight minutes. The drive was capped off by a 33-yard Nick Novak field goal, bringing the Texans within four, 7-3.
But on the ensuing kickoff by Novak, Dion Lewis fielded the ball at the Patriots’ 2 near the left sideline and made a beeline up the middle before cutting to his right. Once he got past the first line of coverage, he easily beat Novak and the rest of the until down the right sideline for the first postseason kickoff return for a touchdown in Patriots’ history.
It also marked just the third time in NFL playoff history that a player had a kickoff return and pass reception for a touchdown in a game.
With Gillette Stadium shaking with the anticipation of the expected blowout, the tone of the game suddenly changed.
After the Texans punted to the Patriots, Brady led Michael Floyd with a pass a bit too much and it deflected off Floyd’s hands and into the arms of Bouye. The Texans were not able to do much after being given the ball at the Patriots 27. They settled for a 27-yard Novak to make it 14-6.
On the ensuing kick, Lewis experienced the flip side of the joy he felt in the first quarter. He made it to the 15-yard line before being drilled by Akeem Dent, who recovered for the Texans at the Patriots’ 12. Two plays later, Osweiler rolled out to the right and hit a wide-open C.J. Fiedorowicz for a 10-yard touchdown, cutting the Patriots lead down to one, 14-13.
The Patriots were having major issues on their interior line, with second-year center David Andrews getting beaten twice by Whitney Mercilus on rushes up the middle that resulted in sacks and once by Jadeveon Clowney. After a pressure from Mercilus, Brady dropped back and heaved a pass down the middle for Chris Hogan, who hauled it in for 45 yards. But the drive stalled on a Mercilus sack.
Brady got lucky on the next series, the final one before the half. After Clowney blew past Andrews on the previous play to force third-and-9 at the Patriots 34, Brady dropped back and heaved another pass down the left sideline to Edelman. He brought it in for 48 yards at the Houston 18. But after James Develin and LeGarrette Blount were stuffed at the goal line, the Patriots settled for a 19-yard Gostkowski field goal and a surprisingly slim 17-13 lead at the half.
After going 3-and-out on their first drive of the second half, Brady took over. Pinned back at his own 10, Brady dropped back and took a massive hit in the end zone but not before lobbing a perfect pass to the left sideline to Julian Edelman for 26 yards to the 36. That got Brady going. He was 6-for-7 on the drive for 94 yards, including completions of 26, 14, 7 and 7 to Edelman and 21 yards to Hogan before Brady lofted a perfect pass on a wheel route to James White for a 19-yard touchdown with 9:09 left in the third.
That touchdown put the Patriots up, 24-13, and gave Brady his 18th career postseason game with at least two touchdown passes, extending his NFL record over Brett Favre (15).
[For a full box score and stats, click here.]
FOXBORO — The time has finally come for the Patriots to get about their business of making playoff history.
The Patriots will host the Texans in seasonably cold conditions at Gillette Stadium in their seventh straight AFC Divisional home game.
Temperatures are expected in the mid-to-upper 20s for the 8:15 p.m. kick and then drop into the low 20s by the end of the game. There is a slight chance of flurries around 8 p.m. but otherwise, there is little chance of precipitation. There will be a wind out of the south at 7 MPH making it feel like 18-to-20 degrees throughout the game.
The Patriots enter the game having won their previous five AFC divisional round games. Their last loss came in Jan. 2011 when they were stunned by the Jets, 28-21, at Gillette, one of just three home playoff losses in the history of the building.
Overall, the Patriots are 14-3 in home playoff games at Gillette and 18-4 overall at home in Foxboro.
Should the Patriots, who are 17-point favorites in some places, advance, they will become the first team in the Super Bowl era to advance to six straight AFC Championship games. They are tied with the Raiders, who also played in five straight between 1973 and 1977.
A win against the Texans will also give the Patriots 30 playoff win in their franchise history. They will join the Steelers, Cowboys, Packers and 49ers as the only five to have reached that plateau.
The Patriots will get back the services of wide receiver and punt returner Danny Amendola, who injured his ankle against the Rams on Dec. 4 and missed the last four games. Malcolm Mitchell is not expected to play, as he was limited all week in practice with a knee injury.
Commissioner Roger Goodell will not attend the game in Foxboro Saturday night.
The Texans have never won a road playoff game in three tries. One of those losses was to the Patriots in Jan. 2013, when the Patriots beat Matt Schaub, 41-28, at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots were the No. 2 seed that year and lost to the Ravens the following week in the AFC Championship.
|Bill Belichick reminds his entire to roster to be ready at a moment’s notice Saturday||01.12.17 at 11:06 am ET|
FOXBORO — Bill Belichick is someone who never leaves anything to chance.
That’s why he’s reminding every player on his active roster and practice squad to be ready in the event they’re called upon in the playoffs.
Last year, with Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount unavailable in the playoffs, the team turned to James White as not only a running back but their primary target in the passing game in the AFC championship.
In 2014, it was Michael Hoomanawanui playing a key role as an “ineligible receiver” against the Ravens.
In 2011, Julian Edelman played defensive back when the Patriots were short-handed in the secondary.
In other words, it’s all hands on deck in a win-or-go home scenario Saturday night.
“Absolutely. Every player that’s on our roster, including the practice squad players,” Belichick said Thursday in his final press conference before Saturday’s divisional game. And we’ve had guys on injured reserve like Jacoby [Brissett] who wasn’t on the roster but could come back to the roster, and did, absolutely, those guys are all important and their role and their development is critical.
“They’ve been told that plenty of times and we spent a lot of time with those players.”
The practice reps are that much more important this week to make sure if anyone gets called on, they’re ready to go.
“You don’t know when. You never know which guy or when it’s going to be,” Belichick added. “We can go back and look at lots of examples of players who have impacted our team that were in that role. Absolutely, we’ve talked about that ad nausea. I’m sure they’re sick of hearing about it but it’s the truth.”
Speaking of Edelman, Belichick spent some time at the start Thursday talking about the growth of Julian Edelman, a seventh-round pick in 2009 who has known nothing but playoffs in his career with the Patriots. In his first season, after catching 37 passes but just one touchdown in his rookie year, Edelman caught six passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns in his playoff debut, a 33-14 loss to the Ravens in Jan. 2010.
“It’s definitely evolved,” Belichick said of Edelman, who caught just 11 passes total in his next two seasons. “You know, he had a productive rookie year and then his second and third years, he caught less passes in those years than he did his first year. Yeah, it’s been a process.”
Michael Floyd, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Martellus Bennett are all players making their Patriots playoff debut Saturday night.
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