|4 thoughts on Patriots, free agency, who’s still out there at WR||03.17.14 at 6:30 am ET|
Fletcher isn’t a tremendous loss — he was a backup who provided defensive depth at the position, as well as some special teams value. (His shining moment in 2013 likely came in the regular-season win over the Broncos, when he stepped in for a struggling Dont’a Hightower and played significant snaps down the stretch and into overtime.) But from a personnel standpoint, that means a new generation of linebackers likely will be given the chance to step into the void, a group that includes Steve Beauharnais.
Even with a few guys capable of stepping into that spot, there’s the likelihood that New England tries to go out and acquire one more linebacker/special teamer, either in the draft or free agency. The Patriots tried to go after former Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, but he ended up signing with the Titans.
From this viewpoint, South Dakota linebacker Tyler Starr could be a late-round possibility in the draft. (For more on why he might be a fit with the Patriots, check out our story here.)
It’s not a colossal priority at this point, but it’s a personnel question that needs to be addressed between now and the start of offseason workouts.
2. The last few seasons, the Patriots have made a habit of adding veteran free agent wide receivers in free agency — not household names, but relatively anonymous guys who might be a fit in Foxboro. Last year, that group included LaVelle Hawkins, Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones, none of them ultimately worked out.
And so, on the surface, there might be inclination to link them to Brandon LaFell — who was acquired Saturday as a free agent — to last year’s group. But taking a look at LaFell’s work, he might be a step up from that group. LaFell has some positional versatility, having worked on the inside, in the slot and split wide, and his versatility, combined with his surprising size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), likely puts him a step ahead of veteran wide receivers acquired in year’s past.
|Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Special teams||01.27.14 at 7:00 am ET|
With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We kick off the series with a look at the special teams.
Overview: It was a good year for the specialists. Gostkowski emerged as a legitimate Pro Bowler, ending the year with several clutch field goals, including game-winners to beat the Bills and Broncos and big late kicks against the Jets and Texans. He also successfully executed an onside kick in the dramatic win over the Browns. (He finished the year 35-of-38 on field-goal attempts, as well as 65 touchbacks.) Ryan Allen had a good rookie year as a punter and holder for Gostkowski, finishing the regular-season with 29 punts landing inside the 20 (good for 10th in the league) and a 45.9 average, good for 14th in the NFL. (He was also one of the best things about the Patriots in the AFC title game, dropping three first-half punts inside the 20 and doing his part to help tilt the field for New England in the early going.) Blount was slow to get started as a kick returner but he finished with a flourish — he had two returns in the regular-season finale against the Bills for 145 yards. Meanwhile, Edelman was one of the more consistent punt returners in the league all season — he was 12th in the league in average yards per return with 10.7. This year he also became one of the best punt returners in history, as his 12.3 career average is now tied for seventh on the all-time list. While there’s some question about the futures of Blount and Edelman — both are free agents — figure on Gostkowski, Allen and Aiken all coming back in 2014. While there were guys who drew an exemption because of *ahem* injury, it’s worth noting that special teams was the only area where the Patriots had two Pro Bowlers (Slater, Gostkowski).
Best moment: Blount’s 83-yard kick return in the regular-season finale against the Bills was probably the one that stands out the most, but you could also make a case for Gostkowski’s game-winners against the Broncos (in overtime) and Bills (in the regular-season opener), or his kick to force overtime against the Jets, as well as his career-best 54-yarder against the Saints. And while Edelman didn’t take one all the way back to the house this season, he did have a nifty 43-yard return against the Steelers in November, his longest of the year.
Worst moment: It wasn’t on one of the specialists, but the penalty at the end of the Oct. 20 game against the Jets when Chris Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on a late field goal attempt from Nick Folk likely was the worst moment of the year for the special teams. Regardless of what you might think of the penalty, it allowed the Jets an extra chance to win the game in the extra session, and they took advantage. One more — Gostkowski’s performance down the stretch in the loss to the Dolphins in Miami was also probably the roughest outing for him on the season. He missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter and also booted a kickoff out of bounds in the fourth quarter to help set up Miami with terrific field position on what would be its game-winning drive.
By the numbers: 229 — The number of points the Patriots received in the annual special teams rankings compiled by Dallas Morning News football writer Rick Gosselin. That was good enough to land New England at the top of the list. (Gosselin’s rankings, which are held in high regard by NFL front offices, are compiled by ranking all 32 teams in 22 categories and assigning points according to their standing — one for best, 32 for worst. For more on this year’s list, click here.)
Money quote: “Matt is one of the best in the league [at working as a gunner on punt coverage]. I think he has a lot of the qualities that we were talking about. Sure, any time they have to double somebody, that makes it one less guy they can use somewhere else in the return. He almost always draws two guys out there, unless they’re in an eight-man rush. Most of the time there’s two guys out there ‘ fourth-and-short, where they’re trying to protect the box ‘ but he draws a lot of double teams and deservedly so. He does an outstanding job of covering punts. As I said, it’s a tough position to play, but he’s got all the qualities that we talked about to be good. He does a good job for us.” — Bill Belichick on the work of special teams captain Matthew Slater
|Matthew Slater on M&M: Patriots receivers taught to run pick play, but ‘we’re always going to play within the rules of the game’||01.20.14 at 1:07 pm ET|
Patriots receiver and special teams Pro Bowler Matthew Slater checked in with Mut & Merloni on Monday to offer his take on Sunday’s loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game and the controversy surrounding Wes Welker‘s off-the-ball hit on Aqib Talib. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Said Slater: “Obviously Aqib is so important to this football team, what he brings to the table. So for us to lose him in that type of situation was tough. Obviously coach saw something on the film that he didn’t deem fair, and I’m sure he had just reason to feel that way. I haven’t seen the play. If he felt that way, I’m sure that that’s what it was. But there’s nothing that we can do about it now.
“I hope Aqib is OK and on the mend and we can get him healthy and have a healthy offseason. That happens in football and there’s nothing that we can do about it now.”
With the Patriots losing so many key starters this season, Slater said Talib’s injury was just another challenge to overcome.
“We’ve been put in that position so many times this year that we didn’t give it a lot of thought,” he said of the team’s initial reaction. “We just thought we’ve got to continue to play on. But obviously, just like those other guys, looking back in hindsight, when you lose a guy like that it’s going to have an impact, especially in a game like that. But during the time, we didn’t think about it.”
The hit happened while Welker appeared to be running a pick play to free up a teammate, and he collided with Talib as the ball was arriving in Demaryius Thomas‘ hands (Thomas dropped the pass).
“With a lot of man coverage being played in the league, there’s certain things that you have to do to be creative to get your guys open. But you’ve got to do it within the rules and regulations,” Slater said. “When we’re taught to run those routes, we’re taught to still run to get open, not just go in there and set a basketball pick. You’ve got an attempt to get open and make it look like you’re getting open, because the rules state that you have to do that. So, we’re taught to do that, obviously, but within the rules of the game. We’re always going to play within the rules of the game.”
|Tom Brady and Aqib Talib among four Patriots selected to Pro Bowl||12.27.13 at 9:13 pm ET|
Four members of the Patriots were selected to the 2014 NFL Pro Bowl, the league announced Friday: Quarterback Tom Brady, guard Logan Mankins, wide receiver Matthew Slater (special teams) and cornerback Aqib Talib have been selected to represent the team in the 2014 NFL Pro Bowl on Jan. 26, 2014 at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii.
Here’s a portion of the press release issued by the team:
Brady was named to the Pro Bowl for the ninth time, tying John Hannah (9) for the most Pro Bowls in Patriots history. It is his fifth consecutive selection to the all-star game. He was voted to the Pro Bowl after each of the following seasons: 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Brady heads into the final week of the season with 4,221 yards and 24 touchdown passes. He joined Dan Marino (6), Brett Favre (6), Drew Brees (8) and Peyton Manning (13) as the only NFL players to have at least six seasons with 4,000 passing yards. Brady also guided the Patriots to their 11th division title in 2013, the most division titles among any NFL quarterback.
Mankins was voted to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl, as well, and his sixth overall. He went to his first Pro Bowl in 2007 when he became the first Patriots guard to earn a Pro Bowl selection since 1985 when Pro Football Hall of Famer John Hannah went to his ninth career Pro Bowl. The Fresno State product is in his ninth season with the Patriots since being selected in the first round (32nd overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft. Since entering the starting lineup in 2005, Mankins has helped New England finish in the top 10 on offense seven times. That mark will improve to eight, as the Patriots enter the final week ranked seventh in offense.
Slater earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl selection. A productive member of the Patriots special teams units since joining the squad as a fifth-round draft pick out of UCLA in 2008, Slater has become a leader after being voted special teams captain each of the last three years. He led the Patriots in special teams tackles for the past three seasons with 21 in 2010, 17 in 2011 and 20 in 2012. He enters the final week of the 2013 season ranked second on the team with 13 special teams tackles, despite missing four games due to injury.
Talib earned his first Pro Bowl selection this year. Talib forced three turnovers, including a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, to help seal the Patriots 13-10 win over the AFC East rival New York Jets on Sept. 12. He defended a pass in the end zone on a fourth-down attempt in the final minute to secure the Patriots 30-23 win at Atlanta on Sept. 29. Talib also played a major role in holding New Orleans tight end Graham without a catch in the Patriots 30-27 win on Oct. 13. Graham entered that game averaging 118.6 receiving yards per game.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|Matthew Slater: ‘It was a perfect kick by Stephen Gostkowski’||12.08.13 at 11:20 pm ET|
FOXBORO ‘ With already two miraculous comebacks at home this season, the Patriots may have outdone themselves Sunday afternoon in their 27-26 win over the Browns.
Trailing by 12 with just over two minutes to play in the game, Julian Edelman hauled in a two-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady making it 26-21 with 1:01 remaining and then the Patriots recovered a Stephen Gostkowski onside kick, setting up Danny Amendola‘s game-winning one-yard touchdown catch with 31 seconds left in regulation sending what was left of the Gillette Stadium crowd into jubilation.
The most significant play of their two touchdowns in 30 seconds outburst was Kyle Arrington‘s onside kick recovery.
According to author Bob Hyldburg, it was the first time in Patriots history that the team recovered an onside kick and then converted the ensuing possession into a game-winning score. The last time the Patriots recovered an onside kick was 1995 in a Wild Card game against the Browns where Bill Belichick was on the opposing sideline, but even with the recovery the Patriots fell 20-13 — this time it was a much sweeter outcome for the Patriots.
Gostkowski’s kick went to the middle of the field where it was touched by Cleveland’s Fozzy Whitaker and then Arrington alertly pounced on the ball giving the Patriots possession at the Browns’ 40-yard line.
‘It was a perfect kick by Stephen [Gostkowski],’ special teams captain Matthew Slater said. ‘I don’t think he could have kicked that any better. The way we practiced it, I don’t think he’s ever kicked it that good. What can you say about Stephen and the year that he’s had? He’s been so reliable for us game in and game out, so I’m really not surprised that he executed like that because of the year he is having. Kyle [Arrington] did a great job of being alert and getting on the ball and we executed the ball the way we ideally drew it up.’
For Gostkowski and all kickers for that matter, it’s something they practice a lot, but very rarely does it come up in live game situations.
|Matthew Slater on M&M: ‘They decided not to make the call, and it is what it is’||11.19.13 at 12:55 pm ET|
Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater checked in with Mut & Merloni on Tuesday afternoon to discuss Monday’s 24-20 loss to the Panthers that ended in controversy.
“It’s obviously disappointing when the game doesn’t work out in your favor, especially when you don’t feel like you played as well as you could have. But it is what it is,” Slater said. “They made more plays than we did at the end of the day, and they won the game. We’ve got to be able to turn the page and move on to Denver, because we’ve got a short week ahead of us.”
On the game’s final play, Rob Gronkowski was held by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly as Tom Brady‘s pass was intercepted in the end zone. A flag was thrown but then picked up, with the officials ruling the pass was not catchable.
“It’s obviously tough to end the game that way,” Slater said. “I’m still not really sure what happened and what the explanation was behind the picking up of the flag. But like I said, it is what it is. Us losing that game doesn’t come down to that final play. There were several plays over the course of the game that maybe we could have executed better on and we wouldn’t have left ourselves in that position.
“No football game comes down to one play. It’s just unfortunate that the game ended in that manner. But it is what it is.”
Added Slater: “It really doesn’t matter. They decided not to make the call, and it is what it is.”
Slater said that despite the frustration in letting a game slip away, there were some good things to take from the loss.
“The positive thing that we can look at is, obviously we didn’t start the game very fast, we didn’t come out the way we would have wanted to, but we were able to play ourselves back into the game,” he said. “I think that shows a tremendous amount of mental toughness, being that that environment was electric last night and that was a tough place to play. But obviously we do see a lot of areas that we can improve on, and I’m sure we’ll have a chance to look at the tape a little as we move on to Denver. But we understand that down the stretch, we’re going to have to play a lot better going against these opponents we have coming up.”
|Tom Brady, Logan Mankins talk locker room culture and knowing how far is ‘too far’||11.06.13 at 3:12 pm ET|
Several of the Patriots were Tuesday asked about the situation in Miami. We already covered the comments from special teams captain Matthew Slater, but here are some of the responses from Tom Brady and Logan Mankins.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the situation in Miami. As a captain of this team and a leader, what kind of responsibility do you have to create a respectful atmosphere and not go over the line? “We’ve never dealt with ‘ we have our own locker room and every locker room is different I’m sure. I don’t know really anything that happened down there.”
But I’m asking about your locker room. “We’ve got a great locker room. We’ve got a lot of great guys. Everyone is just trying to do the best they can for the team. We take Coach [Bill] Belichick‘s cue and try to go from there. But everyone has a role to play and everybody’s role is important. You can’t do someone else’s job. You show up every day trying to figure out what you can do to help the team win. That’s the most important thing for anybody in our locker room.”
When you look at the camaraderie of your locker room, it seems like a mature group with a simple way of doing things, this is a workplace. Why is it that some places are different? “It’s a tough question, but I think it always starts at the top. When the guy at the top lets you know it’s a business and we’re here to work and everything like that. We have tons of time in there where we’re doing a lot of joking around, messing around. We have a lot of fun with each other, too, but I don’t think it’s ever taken too far.”
Is that something you learned ‘ not to go over a certain line? “Yeah, I think it’s human nature not to take it too far.”
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