|Tony Carter on fateful punt: ‘One of those freakish things that happened’||11.25.13 at 2:18 am ET|
FOXBORO – After 72 minutes and 62 points in another instant classic between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, it appeared the Patriots and Broncos were going to play to the dreaded tie.
Following both teams not doing anything with their first two possessions in the overtime period, with just over three minutes left, Patriots punter Ryan Allen booted one inside the Patriots 20-yard line towards Broncos return man Wes Welker. Of the 170 total plays ran in the game, this particular one, thought as of the simplest ones became the play that ultimately decided the final outcome.
Instead of coming up and making the catch, Welker did not, which allowed the ball to bounce in front of him. On most occasions the ball would seemingly bounce harmlessly dead, but on this particular one it skipped into Broncos cornerback Tony Carter’s leg and Patriots backup safety Nate Ebner pounced on the loose ball, recovering it for the Patriots, which set up Stephen Gostkowski’s game-winning, 31-yard field goal in the Patriots’ 34-31 win over the Broncos.
“I felt like there was a lot of traffic, high ball, and basically I didn’t want to get into a situation where someone is running into me or anything else and we ended up with a situation that I didn’t want to happen in the first place,” Welker said. “I have to do a better job of getting up there and getting those guys out of the way and making sure it doesn’t hit them.”
Welker noted the call to alert his teammates to get out of the way of the ball, as they cannot see the punt since they are blocking and setting up a potential return, is “Peter, Peter” and acknowledged he may have been a bit indecisive when making the call, leading to the ball hitting Carter.
“I have to get to him earlier and tell him,” Welker said. “I need to get those guys out of the way if I am not going to make the catch. I was a bit in between and you can’t be that way.”
For Carter, who is in his fifth season and evidently played for the Patriots in 2010, he heard the call but everything happened so fast there wasn’t much he could do.
|Bill Belichick: We’re getting solid, productive play out of all our safeties||11.13.13 at 9:07 pm ET|
While there’s been plenty of attention paid to the work of Devin McCourty — who is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season through the first nine games of 2013 — Bill Belichick wants to make sure that the rest of the safeties get their fair share of attention.
On a conference call with the media on Tuesday, Belichick noted that it hasn’t only been McCourty who has stepped his game up. According to the coach, Steve Gregory, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson have all been “productive” to this point in the season.
“I think overall that we’ve had pretty solid play out of the five guys,” Belichick said. “Tavon and Nate have both missed a little bit of time during the season, but they’ve been good contributors for us in the kicking game and they’ve played a solid role for us there, and continue to, I’d say, work and get reps for us defensively, even though they haven’t had a lot of opportunity there.
“I think they’ve all been productive,” Belichick added. “Harmon has made a few plays on the ball, Devin, I think is having a real good year, Steve has been productive for us. I think that those guys have all worked hard, when they’ve been on the field they’ve all been solid contributors, and we’ve certainly had a lot less problems this year than we had last year, even the last couple of years, with balls getting thrown over our head in the middle of the field and things like that.”
Gregory suffered a thumb injury in the recent win over the Steelers, and was replaced in the lineup by the rookie Harmon. The Rutgers product responded with his second pick of the season.
“It was fun. Just going into the game in that type of atmosphere with the win on the line — it was a very close game when I went in — it was a great feeling,” Harmon said of his first extended taste of NFL game action. “And then to go out there and be prepared to play those types of minutes made it even better. Not going out there scared or nervous because I didn’t prepare, but going out there with confidence because I prepared like I was the starter.”
With several reports indicating that Gregory could be on the shelf for a few weeks — he was the only player not present at the start of practice on Tuesday — it’s likely more responsibility will fall on Harmon’s shoulders at the strong safety position going forward. He said he’s not changing his approach.
“It stays the same, because over the last nine games I’ve been preparing like I was a starter,” he said. “That’s something our coaches do a good job in doing, making sure I know all the checks and all the tendencies — doing all those little things so I can have a fresh mind and a confident mind going out there if Steve were to go down and not nervous and scared.
“At the end of the day this organization, the coaching staff does a great job of preparing everybody like they’re the starter. Coach (Brian) Flores has done a great job with me, telling me, ‘You’re always one play away,’ quizzing me and asking me questions. I think it really paid off last week and I’m just going to continue to do what I’ve been doing and continue to get better and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
|Inactive analysis: What does it mean for offense without Gronkowski, Bolden and Dobson?||09.07.13 at 11:23 pm ET|
BUFFALO — The Patriots announced Saturday night that the following players have ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Bills: tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Aaron Dobson, running back Brandon Bolden and safeties Nate Ebner and Duron Harmon. No shockers here, as the five were all listed as questionable (or, in the case of Gronkowski, doubtful) over the course of the week. (In addition, offensive lineman Will Svitek was ruled out on Friday.)
Gronkowski’s absence should not be taken as a surprise. Even though the big tight end practiced in pads this week, it is likely too much to ask — given his surgery-filled offseason — to have him ready for the first week of the regular season. In his absence, expect plenty of snaps for Zach Sudfeld and Michael Hoomanawanui.
Dobson has struggled with a hamstring issue over the course of the last week or so, and has been on the injury report as limited this week as a result. Without Dobson, the Patriots could utilize fellow rookie Josh Boyce in his spot. In addition, expect more snaps to fall to the likes of Julian Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins.
It also stands to reason that the Saturday signing of Leon Washington is in some way connected with the fact that Bolden is out for this game. While Bolden and Washington don’t necessarily fill the same role — Washington is more of a third-down option, while Bolden is more of a traditional between the tackles back — depth is needed. (It’s worth noting that last September against the Bills, Bolden had the finest game of his career, finishing with 16 carries for 137 yards and a touchdown.) The same is true when it comes to the case of Svitek, as the elevation of Josh Kline from the practice squad was a pretty good indication something was in the offing regarding Svitek.
Meanwhile, the fact that the two young safeties will be out leaves the Patriots a little thin along the back line, as they were projected to serve as backups. Tavon Wilson could be thrust into an important role if New England loses one of their starters, while Marquice Cole does have some positional versatility, and could slider over there in a pinch. In the context of this conversation, it’s also important to remember that Edelman and Matthew Slater have experience as defensive backs, and could also chip in in case of emergency.
Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) was listed as doubtful on Friday’s initial injury report, and on Saturday he was officially ruled out for Sunday’s season opener against the Bills.
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), defensive back Duron Harmon (hamstring) and defensive back Nate Ebner (ankle) were all ruled out as well. Those four were all listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report.
Offensive lineman Will Svitek (knee) had already been ruled out prior to Saturday. Wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin) was listed as probable on Friday and is expected to play.
|Resetting the depth chart in Patriots secondary||03.17.13 at 1:24 pm ET|
There have been some notable moves so far this offseason for the New England secondary. With free agency continuing and the draft now just over a month away, the Patriots can still add to the defensive back spot. But right now — with the addition of veteran safety Adrian Wilson, the re-signing of cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington and the departure of Patrick Chung — here’s a quick look at how the depth chart for the Patriots’ secondary shakes out at this point:
Talib: The 27-year-old, who will return for his first full season with the Patriots, projects as the No. 1 corner for New England in 2013.
Alfonzo Dennard: The Nebraska product, who played very well as a rookie last season in New England, faces something of a murky future, but if he’s available, he should go into the 2013 season as a starting corner.
Ras-I Dowling: The injury-plagued Dowling enters his third season in New England with a lot to prove. When he’s been healthy, he’s been an important part of the secondary — the problem is he hasn’t been healthy all that often. He’s played just nine games in two years.
Slot cornerbacks/special teamers
Arrington: After the acquisition of Talib, Arrington moved back inside to the slot — his more natural position — and flourished. Should start 2013 as the leader in the clubhouse for this spot once again.
Malcolm Williams: Primarily a special teamer, Williams provides depth at the defensive back position.
Devin McCourty: The lead dog in the secondary. He admitted late last season the transition from young guy to leader took some time, but he goes into 2013 as the No. 1 free safety on the team.
Steve Gregory: Gregory started slow and had issues staying on the field early in the season, but he and McCourty played well together at the end of the season.
Adrian Wilson: A bigger safety who can contribute down in the box, one of the early position battles worth watching could be between Wilson and Gregory. While Gregory and McCourty played well together, Wilson (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) is more of a big, strong safety when it comes to overall body type than Gregory (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) and could swipe some snaps from Gregory as a result, depending on the defensive game plans.
Tavon Wilson: Wilson started strong as a rookie — four interceptions in his first 10 games — but the acquisition of Aqib Talib affected his playing time maybe more than anyone else — the trade for Talib meant the Patriots moved Devin McCourty from corner to safety, and left Wilson on the sidelines. He projects as a backup right now.
Nate Ebner: Ebner did see some significant snaps on defense at the start of the season, but made his niche as a special teamer. Currently figures as someone who can provide depth at the strong safety spot, not unlike Matthew Slater.
|Revisiting Patriots’ rookies: Measuring overall impact of this year’s group||01.22.13 at 9:04 pm ET|
This year’s group of Patriots’ rookies collectively made more of an impact in their first season than any other group of first-year players since the 2003 class. (While the 2010 draft class will likely have a greater long-term impact, the 2012 and 2003 groups were asked to do more in their first full season in the NFL — for more on that breakdown, check out the comparison I did on each draft class here.) With their first season now done, let’s take a player-by-player look at how each one of them did.
Chandler Jones: The 6-foot-5, 220-pound defensive end — the first of two first-round picks made by the Patriots last spring — started out on a great note. With eight games in the books, the Syracuse product was leading the team with six sacks (including two in a loss to the Seahawks) and 11 quarterback hits. He also had three forced fumbles (including one in the first quarter of his first game as a professional), and was named AFC Rookie of the Month and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. (We wrote about him as a possible candidate for the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award because of his fast start.) But over the last eight regular-season games, Jones had no sacks, no forced fumbles and one quarterback hit. A sizable portion of that was likely due to an ankle injury he suffered in November that left him on the shelf for a stretch, and probably caused a dip in his play when he did return. (While he wasn’t overwhelming statistically in the regular-season finale against Miami, he did play very well against the Dolphins, looking aggressive while doing a good job setting the edge.) He indicated Monday that he could be facing offseason surgery for his ankle issues.
Dont’a Hightower: After being slowed by a hamstring problem in September and October, the Alabama product became a steady and dependable member of New England defense, and ended his rookie season with 75 tackles (51 solo), four sacks, nine quarterback hits and three passes defensed. He managed to grow into a complimentary piece at linebacker, alongside veterans Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. No reason to think that the 6-foot-2, 270-pound defender won’t be a consistent presence at linebacker for the Patriots for years to come.
Tavon Wilson: The 6-foot, 210-pounder out of Illinois started strong, with four interceptions in his first 10 games, as well as a 10-tackle performance in an October win over Denver that likely marked the high-water mark of the season for the defensive back, who certainly surpassed the expectations of many who initially called him a second-round reach. However, the acquisition of Aqib Talib affected his playing time maybe more than anyone else — the trade for Talib meant the Patriots moved Devin McCourty from corner to safety, and left Wilson on the sidelines. (Wilson was still part of an occasional rotation in sub packages, but his overall snap count drastically decreased.) Overall, he finished the regular-season with 48 tackles (32 solo), but one of the most impressive things you can say about Wilson and what he brought to the field was a nose for the ball: in addition to his four picks, he had six passes defensed and a pair of fumble recoveries.
|Zoltan Mesko: ‘Really what I see is the ball’||09.16.12 at 9:26 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Zoltan Mesko knew the Cardinals were a good punt-blocking team. He didn’t have to have his first career blocked punt in a critical part of the game to reaffirm this.
But as Quentin Groves blew past Nate Ebner with 9:48 left in the third quarter Sunday, Mesko suffered the worst thing a punter can experience – the sound of a ball hitting the hands of a defender in the shadow of his own goal post. That blocked punt led to Arizona’s first touchdown of the day, a 2-yard strike from Kevin Kolb to Andre Roberts, putting Arizona up, 13-9.
“Really what I see is the ball. I concentrate on the ball,” Mesko said. “There’s things I can control – the punting part – and there are things I can’t. I felt like the operation, the rhythm, the protection just broke down on the left side.
“It’s kind of like a peripheral thing where you have to have trust in your teammates to get them out of the way because, just like Tom [Tom Brady] has to wait till the last second sometimes, and then [teammates] will wash them out.”
“It was just something we take pride in,” Groves said of his block. “We just go in and watch films, and we noticed he was a bit soft on the edge.”
Even before getting a punt blocked for the first time in his career in the third quarter Sunday, the Cardinals actually got close enough to the point earlier in the game where one of his punts hit the shoulder pad of Cardinals rusher Justin Bethel.
“That ball was actually touched by his shoulder pads. I don’t know how it got out,” Mesko said of his first punt of the day, a 38-yard punt to the Cardinals 13.
Mesko was also at the scene of the crime when Stephen Gostkowski hooked his potential game-winning 42-yard field goal wide left.
“I thought we had a good operation,” Mesko said. “Steve put it best. We wouldn’t be out there if we didn’t know we risk failure every time we go out there. It’s on us and how we handle it. It’s our job.”
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