|Free Agent Snapshot: Charles Clay||02.13.15 at 11:59 am ET|
When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller, Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith and Pernell McPhee. Here is a look at tight end Charles Clay:
Position: Tight end/Fullback
Age: 26 (Feb. 13, 1989)
Weight: 250 pounds
The skinny: In the words of Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, Clay “has size and can run.” The versatile Clay is also one of the best receiving “H-backs” in the game, proving to be a very reliable catching tight end and an effective blocking fullback when he is kept in to for extra pass protection. Clay, who has transitioned to more of a traditional tight end role, is regarded so highly around the NFL that he earned a spot at No. 89 among the NFL’s best players on a recent NFL.com poll. Two years ago he had a career year with 69 receptions for 759 yards and six touchdowns. That was when Clay’s value was at his highest. However, Clay battled through knee and hamstring injuries last season. In addition, under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Clay’s numbers dropped as he wasn’t featured as much in the play-calling. If the Dolphins go with the cheaper in-house option of backup Dion Sims, Clay could hit the open market.
By the numbers: Clay’s best season came in 2013 when he had career highs in receptions (69), yards (759) and touchdowns (6). This past season, he had one game where he showed that kind of explosiveness and production, grabbing six catches for 114 yards in a Week 16 37-35 win over the Vikings.
Why it would work: If the Patriots feel they could make a significant upgrade over James Develin and/or Michael Hoomanawanui. Hooman is signed through 2015 and is due to make $800,000 with a $1.58 million cap hit for next season. Clay is coming off a down year where he fought through a season-long knee injury. It should help lower his price on the open market if the Dolphins let him get there. Clay is one of the more versatile tight ends in the league with the ability to line up in the backfield.
|Tom Brady is tired of close calls vs. Jets, wants to see Pats play 60 minutes ‘for once’||12.17.14 at 12:42 pm ET|
FOXBORO — He understands the records are what they are heading into Sunday’s Week 16 showdown, but Tom Brady doesn’t want to see the Patriots biting their nails heading into the final minute if they can help it. Brady recalls, of course, the 27-25 escape against the Jets on Oct. 16 at Gillette Stadium, when Chris Jones saved the day with a blocked field goal at the end.
He also recalls last year at MetLife Stadium when the Patriots raced out to a 21-10 halftime lead, only to allow the Jets back in the game and lose in overtime when Jones was called for an illegal play at the line of scrimmage on a field goal attempt.
This year, Brady is hoping for something a little different. More like the “Butt Fumble” game of Thanksgiving 2012 when the Patriots feasted on Rex Ryan‘s Jets, 49-19.
Brady is taking no comfort in New York’s 3-11 record or the fact they’ve lost by two touchdowns in five of their 11 losses.
“I don’t know why those scores go the way they do against other teams,” Brady said. “Against us, they always seem to be close. You just don’t want to go down there and have a bunch of poor execution like we’ve done in the past. I think we really have to focus on our execution and try to go out there and play good for once. I think that’s kind of what we’ve been talking about, playing our style of football for 60 minutes and see what that looks like because we haven’t done a great job against the Jets doing that.
“It’s a great rivalry. We’ve always had some pretty interesting games against them. A lot of them come down to the wire, especially recently. They’ve got a real good defense. They’re good up front, do a great job against the run. We’re going to have to go out and play really well. I know the records are what they are but we don’t look at it like that. I think it’s a good challenge for us. We lost going to the Meadowlands last year. So, we’re anticipating getting their best game.”
The Patriots, of course, are 11-3 and looking for the top seed in the AFC, which they will get with a win over the Jets and a Denver loss in Cincinnati Monday night. But the Patriots QB knows the offense needs to get back to getting off to fast starts, a trademark during their seven-game win streak.
“It’s frustrating for all of us when we’re not scoring the type of points we’re capable of doing,” Brady said of the struggles against the Dolphins in the first half last Sunday. “I just have to focus on what I’ve got to do better, and I can certainly do better in that area, making better decisions, better throws. We’re going to need it this week against this team because they challenge you in a lot of ways. They’ve got a multitude of things that they do. They’ve always done that. They really test your communication. Certainly, execution is something that we look at all the past games we’ve played against them and think, ‘God, our execution just wasn’t very sharp.’ We have to be very sharp this week.”
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|Rob Gronkowski suffers ‘nothing more than a charley horse’ in running over Dolphins||12.14.14 at 11:22 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It was a hit that brought back many horrible memories for Patriots fans.
On second-and-4 at the Miami 41, Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on his third big seam route of the second half, good for 35 yards down to the Dolphins 6. But the bigger hit on the play came from Dolphins safety Jimmy Wilson. He came in like T.J. Ward did in Nov. 2013 and hit Gronkowski just above his surgically repaired right knee.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft was one of the first to visit Gronk after the game at his locker. Gronk assured the concerned owner, “It’s just a charley horse,” Gronkowski said in a smiling, assuring manner.
Later, the tight end added to WEEI.com, “it was just a stinger on the thigh. Get them all the time.”
Brady opened the second half with a 34-yard connection to Gronkowski on a seam route. The play was big for several reasons. It was Gronkowski’s first catch. It put Gronkowski over 1,000 yards on the season and it was a play that appeared to finally give the Patriots some offensive rhythm. Gronkowski was held without a catch on just two targets in the first half.
“Just got to start off with just one play, just one play to get the drive going and get the first down and get going and start clicking from there,” Gronkowski said. “It just takes one play at a time, do what you got to do, and just keep on going from there.”
The first offensive play after a interception by Patrick Chung, it was Brady again on a seam to Gronkowski for 27 yards and a touchdown.
“It was a good throw by Tom, good protection, and just a little play action and I just had a seam route, so I just ran up the seam and Tom had a nice pass and we just completed [it] and scored,” Gronkowski said. “It was just good execution as a whole on offense.”
Gronkowski, like everyone else on the field, had an opinion on Brady’s 17-yard scramble on third-and-11 on the first drive of the second half.
“I kind of saw it. I was out there,” Gronk said. “It was a nice run, so you got to give props to him and he made a very nice play to get the first down and we eventually scored on that drive, so huge props to Brady on that run, it was huge.”
Gronkowski said he doesn’t often see Brady take off, even in practice, but he’ll take it.
“Whatever it comes down to win he’ll do, so he saw the opening, he ran, and, what was it for ‘ 17 ‘yards and a first down? That was huge,” Gronkowski said. “Huge props to him and he does anything to win.”
Gronkowski finished with those three catches on eight targets for a touchdown and 96 yards in the 41-13 AFC East-clinching win. It wasn’t a monster game but Robert Kraft and the rest of the Patriots will take the tight end getting through the game healthy as a nice tradeoff.
“It’s always fun to see the Clydesdale run,” Edelman said. “He’s been working hard on his little mobility stuff. He takes that to heart. It always fun to see him get fired up after a run. I call him Brady-Vick. He’s always had unbelievable pocket awareness. It’s always great to seeing the big dog out there moving the chains.”
Told the third-and-11 run was 17 yards, Edelman was incredulous.
“It was 17 yards? That was the slowest 17 yards I’ve ever seen in my life,” Edelman said.
Of course, the first half was no laughing matter. The Patriots were spinning their wheels. They led 14-13 over the Dolphins but couldn’t put a lot of plays together.
“I can’t answer that question, ‘Why it didn’t work in the first half?'” Edelman said. “But I can answer that it was a little better in the second half. We definitely have to go out and work on starting it faster, plain and simple, because now each and every game has a little more value. We’ll definitely have to work on that and I’m sure that’ll be a focus with our coaches.
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|Mike Petraglia, Chris Price detail how Patriots flipped the switch to beat Dolphins, clinch 6th straight AFC East||at 7:23 pm ET|
FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price detail how the Patriots were able to flip the switch and beat the Miami Dolphins, 41-13, Sunday at Gillette Stadium, clinching their sixth straight AFC East title. The Patriots led by only a point, 14-13, at the half before outscoring the Dolphins, 27-0, in the second half.
FOXBORO — What a difference 14 weeks makes. After the Dolphins took it to the Patriots in the second half in Week 1 in South Florida, the Patriots returned the favor Sunday in Foxboro.
The Dolphins were feeling pretty good at halftime, entering the locker room trailing the Patriots 14-13, after scoring 10 points in the last 4:26 of the first half, including a touchdown with five seconds left.
Unfortunately, that those were the final points the Dolphins would score, as the Patriots took it to the Dolphins, outscoring them 27-0 in the second half, as the Patriots earned their sixth straight AFC East title with a 41-13 win.
This comes after Week 1 when the roles were reversed, as the Patriots were the ones who fell in the second half with Miami outscoring them, 23-0 for a 33-20 win in South Florida.
“They kicked our ass in the second half,” said Miami center/guard Mike Pouncey. “It felt like we had so much momentum going into halftime. Halftime speech was great. Guys were ready to go. They just beat us up in the second half. That simple.”
After totaling 271 yards of total offense in the first half, the Dolphins only had 113 in the second half. Over their first three drives — all in the third quarter — Miami totaled seven plays and 15 yards, including an interception. The Patriots scored 24 third quarter points, a franchise record, including 17 in the first 10:50 to blow the Dolphins right out of the water.
“Awful. It was an awful half, we didn’t come out to play,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “They whooped us from the first play to the last play. Bad. They dominated us in the second half, totally.”
|Setting the scene: Patriots look for hat, t-shirt against Dolphins at Gillette Stadium||at 9:52 am ET|
FOXBORO — Sunny skies and temperatures in the low 40s are expected for the 1 p.m. kickoff between the Patriots and Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.
There is no precipitation in the forecast but a breeze out of the northwest at 8 MPH will put a bite in air, making it feel like 33.
That will be roughly 50 degrees cooler than it was on Sept. 7 when the Patriots traveled to South Florida and lost the season opener, 33-20, to the Dolphins. Adding to the difficult conditions, relative humidity registered at 60 percent, making it feel like 95.
With a win or tie, the Patriots will clinch their sixth straight AFC East crown, joining the Steelers (6, 1974-79), Vikings (6, 1973-78) and Rams (7, 1973-79) as teams to win at least six straight divisions since the 1970 merger.
Tedy Bruschi famously termed the game, “a hat and t-shirt game” as each player would have a hat and t-shirt waiting for them at their locker after the division-clinching win.
The Patriots have another streak on the line. A win would ensure not being swept in the division for a 14th straight season. The Patriots haven’t been swept in the AFC East since 2000 when the Dolphins and Jets turned the trick. That season, the Patriots went just 1-5 in the division. Since then, the Patriots have won 11 division titles and would clinch their 12th with a win today.
The Patriots are also looking for their 14th division title in the Robert Kraft era that began in 1994. The Steelers and Packers are next with 10 division titles apiece.
Since 2001, the Patriots are 65-18 (.783) in the division, the best intra-division mark in the NFL. The Patriots have also won 16 straight home games against the AFC East and are 32-5 against the division since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002.
Bill Belichick enters the game with 228 career wins. One more would tie him with Green Bay legend Curly Lambeau for fourth place on the all-time list.