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Jon Gruden on Patriots-Texans: ‘This game has all the makings of a shootout’ 12.06.12 at 4:45 pm ET
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Jon Gruden (AP)

The folks at ESPN have whipped up a Q&A regarding Monday’s Patriots-Texans game with analyst Jon Gruden, who will call the contest with Mike Tirico. Here’s a sampling of some of the highlights:

What are your thoughts on this week’s Texans-Patriots game?
“You obviously have two of the most high-potent offenses in the NFL. You have two great defensive coaches. I’m excited about Tom Brady going up against Wade Phillips and the Houston Texans defense. The idea of seeing Matt Schaub and the balanced Texans offense going up against Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and the Patriots makes me want to get to Foxborough tonight.”

What are keys to the game for both teams?
“For the Texans, they possess the ball almost 36 minutes a game with their running game and high-percentage pass offense. I think keeping Tom Brady off the field and doing what they do on offense – protecting the ball, moving the ball and scoring points – is the recipe for success for the Texans. For the Patriots, they’re going to have to rely on Tom Brady once again – his ability to recognize, audible and attack. The Texans injuries in the secondary and at linebacker are going to make things difficult for Houston. This game has all the makings of a shootout.

“I also think how the Patriots offensive line can handle the fierce front of the Texans is going to be something to watch. Houston has the best inside pass-rush that I’ve seen with Antonio Smith, J.J. Watt and Jared Crick coming in as the third tackle. They’ve got some real energy and playmaking inside.”

What have you seen from quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Schaub this season?
“Tom Brady’s expertise and clutch playmaking, talent and work ethic has been well-documented where Matt Schaub’s probably hasn’t. Schaub has won 15 out of 16. What he’s done behind the scenes in Houston rivals what Tom Brady does in New England. These are two very intelligent, highly motivated CEOs of their teams. They unify their football teams and epitomize everything you want in a quarterback. I kind of put them on the same level in terms of preparation, leadership and dominating the game from the neck up.”

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What might have been: Bill Belichick, Oakland Raider? 09.27.11 at 7:50 pm ET
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Al Davis had his eye on Bill Belichick as a possible coach of the Raiders, but it never came to pass. (AP)

Bill Belichick and Al Davis, together with the Raiders? The mind reels at the possibilities.

After being let go by the Browns following the 1995 season and prior to being named the head coach of the Patriots in January 2000, Belichick spent time working as an assistant with the Jets and Patriots. But it that same span, he also had interviews with the Cardinals and Raiders for their top jobs. And while he was one of six finalists for the Arizona job in 1990 that ended up going to Joe Bugel, the courtship from the Raiders appeared to run deeper.

Oakland actually took two runs at Belichick as a head coach in the 1990s. The first time came in early 1997 as the Patriots were in the midst of a Super Bowl run. Belichick was an assistant on that New England team — he was an assistant head coach and defensive backs coach — but was coveted by a handful of teams who were looking to fill coaching vacancies. Davis and the Raiders were forced to wait on Belichick — NFL rules at the time prohibited a team from even expressing interest in a coach still involved in the postseason. (That rule has since changed.) But Belichick finally get a chance to sit down with the legendary Oakland owner after New England’s season ended.

“It was a pretty interesting interview to be talking X’s and O’s with an owner,” Belichick told reporters in 2008 prior to the last regular meeting between the Patriots and Oakland. “Al’s had six decades in the NFL, so he has as much history and knowledge about the game, what he wants, and what’s going on in the game during that time as anybody. We talked a lot about strategic football, X’s and O’s, as well as overall organizational stuff, and personnel and philosophy.

“It was great to sit down and talk with him,” Belichick added. “We shared some views and conversations on different aspects of technical football. It wasn’t a big social interview. It was much more detailed and specific to football.”

The Raiders went with Bugel, but came calling again in 1998 after they fired him after just one season (this story says Belichick’s two-part interview concluded on Jan. 14, 1998). As the process continued, Belichick’s name was leaked one of three finalists, a group that included Jon Gruden and Art Shell. According to reports, Raiders CEO Amy Trask pushed for Oakland to hire Belichick, but Davis ended up going to Gruden, who spent four seasons in Oakland. Meanwhile, Belichick would spend three seasons as an assistant with the Jets before eventually taking the head coach job with the Patriots in January 2000.

It’s fun to speculate about what might have happened to the Raiders’ franchise if Belichick had landed by the Bay: Would Davis have yielded personnel decisions to Belichick? Could Belichick have delivered the same sort of dynasty with Oakland that he helped create in New England? And what would have happened to the Patriots?

Both sides made their decisions, but those conversations between Belichick and Davis may have paved the way for a working relationship that continues to this day — the Patriots and Raiders are frequent trade partners, including blockbuster deals over the years between the two teams that have seen stars like Randy Moss and Richard Seymour swap New England for Oakland and vice versa.

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Adam Schefter on D&C: ‘I think Rex [Ryan] just talks. He doesn’t care’ 01.07.11 at 10:20 am ET
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Adam Schefter

ESPN’s Adam Schefter made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Friday, and he started off by taking questions about Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. When asked if he was sick of hearing about Harbaugh, Schefter responded by sharing an anecdote about his wife.

“I will just say this,” Schefter began, “the great philosopher wife that I’m married to, last night, she’s an uninterested football fan, she looked at me at one point and she said, ‘So, is this Jim Harbaugh guy the new Brett Favre?’ ”

Schefter went on to discuss where he thinks Harbaugh will be coaching next year.

“My guess is Stanford,” he said. “But again, my guess every single day in this process has been wrong. So if I’m saying Stanford, that probably means he winds up as the 49ers head coach. But I would guess Stanford.”

Schefter said he thinks Harbaugh has lost his leverage when it comes to negotiating with NFL teams, and he pointed out that the Dolphins never made an offer to him, contrary to some reports. He said the Dolphins were not in compliance with the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates, and therefore could not make an offer even if they wanted to.

Below is more on Harbaugh, as well as Schefter’s thoughts on Andrew Luck, Rex Ryan and which team could challenge the Patriots. To listen to the interview, check the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Is it possible Harbaugh told the Dolphins he did not want the job because the general manager and defensive coordinator are both staying?

It’s possible, yeah. I could see that. The way that it was explained to me throughout the day yesterday by various people is the Dolphins went out there, they rushed out there. … They rushed out there to try to see if they could get this guy, but the calls I got yesterday that seemed to be consistent were that the Dolphins were not in a decision mode, they were in an exploratory mode. And they were trying to figure out whether they wanted to go out and hire Jim Harbaugh.

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The Big Nickel: A shot at redemption for Darius Butler and what the loss of Jim Leonhard means for the Patriots 12.03.10 at 4:50 pm ET
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Darius Butler. (AP)

The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Friday:

1. The official game status won’t be released until Sunday, but based on how things have gone for the last week or so, it’s a safe bet the Patriots will be without cornerback Jonathan Wilhite (hip) and defensive linemen Myron Pryor (back) and Mike Wright (neck/concussion) on Monday night. As was the case for the last week or so, all three missed practice again on Friday, and with the absence coming so late in the week (even for a Monday game), it means New England will be without all three.

Without Pryor and Wright, the Patriots will lose some depth along their defensive line, as well as some good interior pass rush — Wright leads the team in sacks with 5.5 sacks. Look for more responsibility on the shoulders of starters like Vince Wilfork, Gerard Warren, Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace, as well as backup Kyle Love.

And presuming Wilhite is a no-go for Monday night, that means New England will likely turn to Darius Butler at corner. It’ll be a shot at redemption for the UConn product, who was roasted badly by Braylon Edwards in the Week 2 matchup between the Patriots and Jets and was relegated to backup duty after that. (In fact, if the Patriots use Kyle Arrington as an outside linebacker/defensive end, as they have done the last couple of weeks, Butler could see some time on the exterior against the likes of Edwards.)

2. The loss of Jim Leonhard for the Jets means New York has fewer options when it comes to defending the Patriots, particularly in the passing game. Jets coach Rex Ryan told reporters that New York would go with Eric Smith in Leonhard’s place, but the dropoff is sizable. Another area where Leonhard’s difference could be felt is in special teams, where he’s the Jets No. 1 punt returner. Rookie Kyle Wilson has also been returning punts this season for the Jets — however, putting a rookie into the position of having to catch a key punt in a game at windy Gillette Stadium could be an awful tall order. (According to special teams coach Mike Westhoff, that role will likely fall to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery.)

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Ron Jaworski on D&C: ‘Nothing ruffles’ Tom Brady at 7:33 am ET
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Ron Jaworski

Ron Jaworski

ESPN NFL analyst and former quarterback Ron Jaworski checked in with the Dennis & Callahan show Thursday morning and talked about Monday’s showdown between the Patriots and Jets. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Jaworski said the Patriots defense should be OK Monday, as the Jets are a more conservative, run-oriented offense. However, New England’s defensive issues are an obvious concern in the long run.

“When you watch this defense giving up close to 400 yards, it’s not typical of a New England Patriots defense,” Jaworski said. “As I say, this is a defense continuing to be tinkered with by Bill [Belichick] and his entire defense staff. I’m looking at tape this week and I see just all kinds of rotations. It is somewhat amazing what I see as far as personnel packages and who is on the field. I don’t think they have found themselves yet. So, I think yes, it will be a problem as you move into the playoffs, where you’re going to see some juggernaut offenses. I know they make turnovers at opportune times, they make plays at opportune times. But I don’t think in this league you can give up 400 yards on the average in games and be a playoff and Super Bowl contender.”

On the other side of the ball, Jaworski said he could see the Patriots offense developing as far back as the draft, when New England selected a couple of tight ends in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski who now are contributing. “Bill knows what he’s doing,” Jaworski said. “I would say he’s always got a vision of where his team is going to be down the road. And you could see the evolution of this football team, what was going on. They had fast, speedy tight ends, as well as guys that could block. So, you could see where this team was going.

“I thought that the acquisition of Deion Branch was really a stroke of brilliance, to bring him back,” Jaworski continued. “This is now a possession style of offense. Yeah, you’re going to get some plays down the field with [Brandon] Tate, and he’ll stretch the field. But Tom [Brady] is so good at spreading the field sideline to sideline. Sometimes we think of the spacing of offenses, and people think of the vertical game all the time. But where the Patriots are so good is sideline to sideline and finding the voids between people rather than over the top of people.”

Jaworski spent some time handing out compliments to Brady, especially for his mental toughness. “What I notice about Tom is nothing ruffles him,” Jaworski said. “There’s been a lot of player changes on that offense this year, and nothing seems to bother him. He’s like Father Time and just keeps moving along very smoothly.” Jaworski added that he rates Drew Brees as the third-best quarterback in the NFL, behind Brady and Peyton Manning.

Jaworski said he’s happy that Jon Gruden will remain with the network after rumors that the University of Miami was pursuing him for its coaching vacancy. However, Jaworski said he expects Gruden will eventually return to the sideline. “I think somewhere down the road, Jon will get involved in coaching, because he’s that good,” Jaworski said. “Working with Jon for three or four days every week now for the last couple of years, I realize now what an amazing talent he is as a coach, and way beyond that, what a motivator he is, what a hard-worker he is, how he prepares. … Jon is a teacher, and he loves that part of the game.”

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Are there really 20 players better than Tom Brady? 11.05.10 at 3:34 pm ET
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FOXBORO — In the this day and age of immediate analysis and opinion, the mere mention of trying to rank the top 100 players in NFL history generates endless hours of discussion and debate.

Putting together a series interviewing players and coaches and having special “presenters” of each player is brilliant. Enter NFL Films.

The top 10 was announced on Thursday night and there was no Tom Brady (No. 21) but rather Peyton Manning ranked No. 8. Every Patriots fan will tell you the difference. Three titles for Brady, two Super Bowl MVPs, four Super Bowl appearances, the greatest single statistical season for a quarterback in NFL history (2007), an undefeated regular season and the second-best postseason record (14-4) in NFL history.

But Manning was rated 13 places higher with one Super Bowl title and a slew of offensive records since his breakthrough in 1999. Perhaps the strongest mark in Manning’s column is the remarkable run of winning regular seasons – at least 12 wins in seven straight seasons entering this year – with five already in 2010.

But Manning 8th, Brett Favre 20th and Brady 21st? Really? Bill Belichick offered the following perspective:

“Well when you get into the Hall of Fame conversations, what’s the criteria? Is it an outstanding season? Is it the longevity of the career? Is it a stat thing, which a lot of times it is versus what some players do that aren’t in stats. They are hitting values. Just how do you want to measure it? Probably all those 20 guys, you can probably take more than that and make a case for a lot of them. It just depends on what your criteria is, which I don’t even know what it was.”

All of which begs the following: What would be Belichick’s criteria? Read the rest of this entry »

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