|Jonathan Kraft: Patriots are going to push off a return to mediocrity ‘for as long as we can’||12.04.16 at 1:13 pm ET|
That’s why, with 2001 Patriots back in town for a reunion, the team president says he and his father are going to do everything in their power to make sure they don’t fall back there anytime soon.
The 2001 Patriots have been honored all season in the 15th anniversary of the Super Bowl win over the Rams. Several members were are in town this weekend for the festivities. On Saturday night, there was a gala dinner of sorts where everyone got together to reminisce.
“Bill made a very emotional speech about that [Saturday] night,” Kraft said on the team’s pregame radio show.
“When we saw we were playing the Rams and noticed it was a multiple-of-5 [years], it was a special time in the country, the last time a team played in Foxboro Stadium. We gathered 35-40, guys just relaxed and a handful of other people. A lot of reminiscing and story-telling. It was really fun to listen to. There were a bunch of guys that had been with us since the mid-90s on, and that really started the cultural change. Guys like Willie [McGinest] and guys like Drew [Bledsoe] and Ty [Law], Lawyer [Milloy] and Tedy Bruschi.
“As Teddy Johnson said to me, ‘I remember when I started playing here, no one cared about pro football in this town. It feels really good when I come back here now, the place pro football has. It was fun to celebrate it.
“I remember sitting on a lot of empty days at [Foxboro] Stadium and watching a lot of losing football There are cycles in the NFL and teams win and lose but it felt like… nothing ever really went all that right. That’s not to criticize anybody. That’s not directed at anybody. I do remember what that’s like and we do think about that all the time here and if you’re on edge, you can get back there pretty quick. It’s a not a place you want to revisit. You want to push it off. Eventually, you might have to but we’re going to avoid it for as long as we can.”
Kraft also sent out his best wishes to Rob Gronkowski and insisted the team considers the tight end a vital part of their future.
“You’re not happy,” Kraft said of the injury news this week. “Rob works as hard as anybody as we’ve talked about before. You really feel for Rob. it’s terrible. He loves football. It’s awesome to watch him play and he’s just a bigger than life personality, on and off the field, and you feel for him. He’s gone through a lot physically and you just feel for him.”
Kraft said there was a specific reason the team and the Gronkowski family issued a joint statement.
“I think for both sides, sometimes there’s this misperception in the public about what the relationship is,” Kraft said. “The relationship is between Rob and his family and Drew Rosenhaus [and the team] is a very strong relationship but when you’re a player of Rob’s caliber and stature, not just in New England but across the NFL, there’s a different level of attention and the conspiracy theories. Both sides remained in communication the whole time.
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FOXBORO — It figures to be a festive day at Gillette Stadium.
The matchup between the 9-2 Patriots and the 4-7 Rams will feature a 15th anniversary tribute to the first Patriots’ Super Bowl-winning team. Several members of the team will be on the field for a halftime celebration. The reunion is the culmination of a season-long celebration of the 2001 Patriots.
Among those expected on the field are Drew Bledsoe, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Antowain Smith.
As for the game itself, the Patriots will be playing their first game following the season-ending back surgery to Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots will have the services of Tom Brady, Chris Hogan, Martellus Bennett and Julian Edelman, all of whom were questionable but are expected to play. Alan Branch will be available to play after his four-game suspension for marijuana use was thrown out on Saturday by the league after it was determined that his positive finding came from a earlier test and not his most-recent submission.
For the Rams, they are likely to be without two key pieces. On the defensive line, defensive end Robert Quinn is in concussion protocol and not expected to be cleared for the game. Offensively, wide receiver Tavon Austin is doubtful with a chest injury after not practicing this week.
The weather will be seasonably cold for the first Sunday of December. Temperatures are expected to be in the lower 40s with little wind for the 1 p.m. kickoff with no chance of precipitation.
With a win, the Patriots will clinch their 14th consecutive season of double-digit wins.
Before the game, it was reported that embattled Rams coach Jeff Fisher was given a two-year contract extension. Earlier in the week, it was Fisher, a 22-year veteran NFL head coach (Titans, Rams) who was chided on social media for not being able to name New England’s active running backs. Fisher, who also caught grief for kicking hall of fame running back Eric Dickerson off the Rams’ sideline, is three losses away from passing Dan Reeves for most losses as an NFL head coach.
The Patriots are playing the Los Angeles Rams for the first time since losing 14-0 in Anaheim on Sept. 13, 1992. Since then, the Patriots have beaten the Rams of St. Louis four times in six meetings, including Super Bowl XXXVI.
|Dion Lewis has a secret to his success (and survival): Make them miss me||12.03.16 at 6:10 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Dion Lewis is ready to show everybody he’s back for real.
In two games back, the running back who led the 2015 Patriots in yards from scrimmage before his ACL tear on Nov. 8, 2015, has eased his way back into the rhythm of the Patriots offense. Now with Rob Gronkowski out for the season following back surgery, it’s Lewis who might be called upon to finally get up to speed and pick up some of the slack.
Against San Francisco, he played 21 offensive snaps. Last week against the Jets, he played 23. Against the Niners, he carried the ball five times for 23 yards. In the passing game, he was targeted five times, caught three passes for 26 yards.
Last week, he carried the ball six times for 24 yards. He was targeted by Tom Brady seven times, catching four passes for 34 yards. Perhaps most telling is how Lewis has been used in the red zone. Inside the 20, he ran three times. He’s been targeted in the passing game in the red zone once each against San Francisco and the Jets.
“I think Dion has gotten better progressively each practice, each week,” Bill Belichick said. “Based on watching him practice for a couple weeks before we activated him, we felt comfortable playing him, and that’s part of his game, obviously, is his quickness, his change of direction, his acceleration. I think all of those things were evident. I think they’ve gotten better, but I think they were all evident when he returned to practice after the original – I’d say the initial break-in period.”
Lewis jokes about his 5-foot-8 stature and his ability to take the hits in the NFL game.
“I wouldn’t say survival. I would say survival for them,” Lewis joked this week. “Nah, I don’t mind getting hit but I’m not going to let somebody get me. If I can avoid getting hit, I’m definitely going to try and do that. I try to use my lower center of gravity to my advantage.”
Ironically, it wasn’t a hit that ended his 2015 season. He made a cut back to the inside on a run to the right edge against the Redskins in the first half. His left knee gave and he went down. A year later, he’s ready to finally pick up where he left off.
|Tom Brady says Rob Gronkowski injury ‘tough news for everybody’ but train doesn’t ‘stop for anybody’||12.02.16 at 2:33 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Tom Brady has been down this road before.
He’s lost his favorite tight end target to injury in 2012, 2013, last season and even one time already this season. So when the news that Rob Gronkowski would be lost for the rest of the regular season and likely until the Super Bowl, Brady tried to keep a philosophical “next-man-up” attitude.
“That was tough news to hear for everybody because he’s such a big part of our team and what we do and his enthusiasm and energy for the game and what he means to us on the field because he’s such a great player and the kind of leader he is off the field and in the locker room,” Brady said Friday. “It’s a tough loss but we’ve still got a big challenge ahead and we’re going to try to do the best we can do. We’ve got a lot of good players and we’ll be focused on what our job is, which this week is a big test playing the Rams, their defense and what they can do. Everyone is going to have to step their game up.”
Brady admitted that seeing Gronkowski need a third back surgery hits him as a person first and then a teammate.
“He’s been through a lot over the years and he always comes back strong with a great attitude and a great mindset,” Brady said. “I think that’s what everybody expects from him. He’s a great guy. He’s a great teammate. He’s a great friend. He’s a tough guy. He always battles back. And we’ll keep battling without him. We’ve got a lot of tough guys in the locker room, still. See if we can make it a season. We’re off to a good start. We’ve got to keep it going. This is the time of year where we have to play our best football.”
Now Brady must turn to the likes of Martellus Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and running backs Dion Lewis and James White to pick up the slack in the passing game.
FOXBORO — What’s the very latest on the Rob Gronkowski injury? How are the Patriots responding? WEEI’s Mike Petraglia and Ryan Hannable have the very latest inside Gillette Stadium.
|Bill Belichick sheds little light on Rob Gronkowski: ‘We’ve talked about everything we can talk about here’||at 10:34 am ET|
FOXBORO — When the Patriots and the family of Rob Gronkowski issued a joint statement Thursday night about the status of the star tight end, it was the document that gave Bill Belichick the reference point he needed to answer all questions.
In his weekly Friday morning press conference at Gillette, Belichick made the most of it.
“Obviously, we’re all disappointed,” Belichick noted in his opening remarks before taking questions. “Nobody’s worked harder than Rob and been a better teammate and all that. So hopefully things will work out positively as possible with him. All the information we gave you, really that’s all we have for now. I’m sure there’ll be more coming in as we go through the next few days. Just take it as it comes. It’s an unfortunate situation for him. That being said, we’re turning our attention to the Rams.”
Then the questions began:
Are you fortunate to have Martellus Bennett to help fill the void? “Happy to have all the players we have.”
With the loss of Gronkowski and his contributions, how big a blow is this to the team? “Again, we appreciate all our players.”
But Gronkowski has meant so much: “You want to rank them. They’re all important. They’re all important. Rob’s a great player. They’re all important.”
Might the Patriots look outside the organization for depth? “We’ll always do what we feel is best for the football team.”
|Jeff Fisher reminds everyone he had the foresight to sign LeGarrette Blount: ‘I gave him a start’||11.30.16 at 4:23 pm ET|
Jeff Fisher may not know all the names of the Patriots running backs but he knows one for sure.
In running down the list of Patriots running backs Wednesday, the Rams head coach referred to a Danny and a Brandon. Danny Woodhead is on the Chargers and has been out of New England since 2012 while Brandon Bolden is almost exclusively on special teams.
But he also mentioned LeGarrette Blount. There’s good reason Fisher would remember him beyond the fact he’s on pace for 1,300 yards this season.
“I have a place in my heart for LeGarrette, because I gave him a start, and I have great respect for him,” Fisher said. “He’s a big back, and he’s hard to get down. And as they rotate through, different guys play in different situations, and they do a good job with it. He knows where the ball’s going to go, and the guys are very, very disciplined.”
His history with the Patriots power running back is a fascinating one.
Because of his discipline issues at Oregon – including the infamous punch he threw in the game against Boise State – Blount was not drafted in 2010. He did agreed in principle to a free agent contract with the 49ers following the draft. However, after a meeting with then-Titans coach Jeff Fisher, Blount decided to sign as an undrafted free agent with the Titans. That August, Blount was involved in another incident in which he threw a punch, this time with a Titans teammate, defensive end Eric Bakhtiari, a few moments after having his own helmet ripped off in practice.
The play ended with some pushing and shoving, Blount threw a right fist, contacting Bakhtiari’s facemask. Blount quickly talked to Fisher, who explained away Blount’s behavior.
“He apologized, and I said he didn’t have to apologize,” Fisher told reporters. “It’s football. It’s training camp. His past is his past. Is that the first punch you’ve seen in camp this year? No. I’m not disappointed whatsoever. I have great confidence in the young man that he learned from his mistake, and he’s very competitive. That’s why we brought him in here is to watch him run the football like that.”
Blount survived the final roster cut and was placed on the Titans’ 53-man roster. But there was one more twist. Blount was then waived to make room for veteran linebackers Tim Shaw (signed from the Bears) and Patrick Bailey (Steelers). Titans officials told Fisher Blount could be signed to the rookie practice squad once he cleared waivers. Blount was waived and almost immediately claimed by Tampa Bay, a moment Fisher recalled Wednesday.
“We signed LeGarrette as a college free agent in Tennessee so I had him throughout the offseason through the end of training camp,” Fisher said. “Just his athletic ability, his strength and his run instincts and his dedication. He just was that guy just wanted to be a real pro. We got in a situation right at the final cut-down where the roster was tight and got bad advice and thought he would probably, potentially clear [waivers] and I could get him back to practice for a week or two and we would go from there. And he was claimed by Tampa.
“Disappointed that we lost him but very, very excited about him and the career he’s had.”
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