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Trags Take… Pregame Chargers 10.11.08 at 9:11 am ET
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If last week showed nothing else, the Patriots seemed to have found their equilibrium without Tom Brady.

That’s not to say they are riding a wave of momentum or pounding opponents into submission. It’s just pointing out the fact that these Patriots seem to understand that even when times get rough during a game, they have what it takes to come back.

The same may not be said for their opponents this Sunday night at the place forever known as “The Murph”

The 2-3 Chargers have allowed 129 points. Only six teams have allowed more this season, but ironically, one of them sits atop their division, the AFC West, the Denver Broncos.

San Diego has yet to fully recover from losing on the last play of the game to Jake Delhomme and the Carolina Panthers in their season opener at home, followed up by the ‘Open Hand’ call by referee Ed Hochuli that cost them the game in Denver the following week. Jay Cutler had appeared to fumble the ball at the San Diego 10 with the Chargers recovering and about to ice the game. But Hocuhli blew the play dead before he could cite instant replay, which clearly showed the ball coming loose out of the open hand.

Charger fans don’t want to hear this but… Dems da breaks.

And with the Patriots on the horizon this weekend in Southern California, another loss and their season could be fading more quickly than the sunset.

So, here’s what to look for:

1. Get to know Darren Sproles really, really well. He is the small running back with a huge impact on a game. LaDainain Tomlinson (toe) clearly isn’t what he has been in the last three seasons and the Chargers will look to No. 43 to try and create separation with a Patriots defense that has had its problems this year with speed.

2. Keep an eye on Antonio Gates. He has just three touchdowns but is averaging over 13 yards a catch on 16 catches this season. He has become Philip Rivers favorite target on third down, and for good reason. The Pats might have Adalius Thomas make a run at covering him close to the line of scrimmage and even downfield for that matter. Remember last year on Sunday night at Gillette when Thomas sprinted 65 yards for a TD when he dropped off in coverage?

3. Get vertical with passing game. Matt Cassel began to show glimpses of that last week with Randy Moss. This week, they face the team dead LAST in passing defense. The Chargers are allowing over 265 yards through the air each game.

4. Contain Chris Chambers. He is averaging 20 yards/catch and has five touchdowns this season. But a bum ankle may be the best defense against the deep threat and might keep him on the sidelines.

5. Both teams play the 3-4 and love to get to the quarterback. If Gates isn’t chewing up huge pieces of real estate, Thomas could pin his ears back and get to Rivers. But Shaun Phillips likes to do the same. The Chargers don’t have Shawne Merriman (knee) this season but Phillips can pick up the slack if he’s allowed to do so.

Final Cuts:

Bill Belichick on facing the Chargers for the third time in two years: “It almost seems like this is a division game. We’€™ve played them so many times it is to the point now that we have so many games on them just against us, that’€™s enough to really do a scouting report and a game plan, even [without] getting into all of their other games. Of course we have seen them. This is a very explosive team that average 30 points a game. They have lost a couple of close games, three by ten points. They’€™ve been able to do a good job of getting the ball down the field, leading the league in yards per catch. We know they are very good on third down. We know they are a very physical defense, very good on special teams both coverage and their return game is extremely dangerous. They are a big play passing team with a lot of good receivers. Vincent Jackson is becoming a go to guy for them and of course Antonio Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles – all his kickoff returns, he is very dangerous with the ball in his hands. We have to do a good job offensively of taking care of the ball. They are a good pass rush team and good turnover team in the secondary.”

Matt Cassel on concerns of facing a desperate 2-3 Chargers team: “Not really. We approach every game the same. We go out with the intention of winning each and every game. We’€™re not going to be surprised if they come out with intensity, we expect them to come out with intensity whether they were 5-0 or 2-3. We have to come out and play our best game in order to win. This is the NFL, week in and week out every team should come out and be eager. Whether they’€™re undefeated or they haven’€™t won a game and that’€™s just how it is. That’€™s how the NFL is if you don’€™t come out, you don’€™t perform and you don’€™t play well more than likely you’€™re going to lose that game. We’€™re expecting them to come out with a lot of fire and a lot of intensity and we have to match that.”

Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels on how Pats will attack the 32nd ranked pass defense in the NFL: “Every week we try to attack all three levels. Some weeks we end up throwing more down the field than others but that’€™s a product of the defense. If the defense gives us the opportunity to attack that third level down the field, than that’€™s what we would instruct our quarterbacks to do every week, not just last week. They gave us a few opportunities to go ahead and attack down the field and try to gain significant yardage or create field position for our offense. He is coached to try and take the big play if they give it to you and if not you have to find someone at the second level or use the backs at the check down. We always try to have enough of those in the game plan. It just so happened that last week we had a few of them.”

Final take: Chargers 31, Patriots 28

And if you’re having a hard time getting charged up for Sunday night’s tilt may I suggest the following tunes. For those of you, who like me, are stuck in the 70s, there’s the classic…


And for those of you who happen to be big Pink fans…


Read More: Darren Sproles, Jay Cutler, LaDainain Tomlinson, New England Patriots
Will Lightning strike twice? 10.10.08 at 1:10 pm ET
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The San Diego Chargers have been here before.

They stand a disappointing 2-3 on the season, one year after starting 1-3 and rebounding to win the AFC West and make it to the AFC title game, only to lose to the team they’re playing this weekend at Qualcomm Stadium. Will they have what it takes to turn the trick again? It will be tougher, that’s for sure. They have lost perennial pro bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman to knee surgery. Their defense has yet to gel and is giving up points at an alarming rate. And, oh yeah, perennial MVP candidate and star running back LaDainain Tomlinson has been battling a toe ailment since the season began.

Chargers general manager A.J. Smith was a part-time scout with the Patriots from 1978-80. He is originally from Warwick, Rhode Island and played wide receiver for the semi-pro Attleboro Kings of the Eastern Football League.

I had the chance to talk one-on-one with Smith, the man who has built the Chargers into a perennial AFC power. His comments on what was learned from Gillette Stadium last January and about injuries are eerily telling of what is tormenting the team this season.

The following is an excerpt from the interview that will appear this month in San Diego Sport magazine:

How has Philip Rivers matured as a quarterback, physically and mentally?

‘€œTo me, I just think he’€™s a great student of the game, studies the game year-round and has got all the physical tools to be successful. No one’€™s going to compare him with Steve Young or Fran Tarkenton regarding his scrambling ability but he does have a knack of moving in the pocket at the right moment with his eyes down field. Really, a great feel for pocket pressure.’€

‘€œHe has always reminded me of Dan Marino because of all my years, 14 years in Buffalo watching Dan Marino with the Dolphins, regarding his quick release like Dan had and Marino’€™s ability to shuffle and avoid in the pocket. He’€™s always had that quality and, of course, Dan Marino didn’€™t have any 40-yard time and neither does Philip. I really, really like him. I think he’€™s grown as a leader by his performance and also his interaction with his teammates. We’€™re really, really pleased with him.’€

‘€œWith him, we always knew that he was a great competitor and a tough guy. We’€™ve known that throughout his career here. But in particular, to put on the line what he did, and because he is the quarterback and makes it go, was unbelievable through the process.’€

‘€œWe knew it while it was happening, but when the season ended is really when it took on a life of its own within our organization and moved throughout the country. There’€™s a little bond going on with this guy. He’€™s almost like the defensive linemen and offensive linemen by nature but he is the quarterback.

What has the team learned about toughness from its performance in New England last January?

‘€œWe went into Foxboro with the walking wounded against one of the best teams of all-time on their turf and we fought to the bitter end before coming up a little short. I believe now that they really think they have the capabilities of beating outstanding Super Bowl-type teams, teams like the New England Patriots and the week before the Indianapolis Colts, defending Super Bowl champions in their house.  You’€™ve got to be talented and perform well but you also must be strong mentally and tough-minded to accomplish great things. I think we gained experience during that tough playoff run. There’€™s no question in my mind.’€

What keeps LaDainain Tomlinson ticking?

‘€œI’€™ve talked to him about that. We know this, everybody, all organizations, their goal is to build a team to win a championship. And all the players dream about this, as well as GMs and coaches. All that he’€™s accomplished and people now saying he’€™s a hall of famer that’€™s now playing, there’€™s only one thing that he wants, like the rest of us. He’€™s a great player, a future Hall of Famer and he wants to be the very best. His goal is to get that ring. He is doing everything he possibly can to help this football team make that happen. There’€™s nothing more he can do. He’€™s a great talent and a great competitor. The guy trains and thinks football all year long and a lot of our guys feed off that. The way he practices. If you’€™ve ever been to practice to see him in practice take a ball, either simulate a move or not, and burst down the field 50 yards and come back time and time again is unbelievable to see. We’€™re a very, very fortunate team to have him in our backfield, no question about that.’€

What will it take for the Chargers to reach the next level?

‘€œWe’€™ve been growing and growing toward this. It takes three things to make a championship happen. It’€™s being good, being lucky and being injury-free. Those three things are what I consider to be the winning formula. We will continue to work hard here and work to be consistent in all three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams. I do think we’€™re balanced in those areas. I do believe we have the talent to make a real hard run at the Super Bowl. I really do. I think we’€™re confident going in. We’€™ll all find that out in about six months. Being good, we’€™re working on that. Being lucky, Marv Levy used to tell me, ‘€˜You want to be lucky, make your own luck with good hard play.’€™’€

‘€œBut the injury-free is the one that torments me the most and all of us because you have no control over it and it can affect you tremendously in your quest to win a world championship. Case in point, last year we got hurt with superstars at the wrong time and there was nothing we could do about that. We did the best we could. But that’€™s over with. I hope we can keep our guys healthy and work hard because it will obviously help us achieve our goals.’€

How has Norv Turner gained the confidence of the team and how has the team has embraced his philosophies?

‘€œI’€™m a big believer in Norv Turner and pretty much on record for that over the years. And then I was in a position to bring him in here as our head coach. Coach Turner’€™s professionalism and leadership really grew as the season moved along last year (2007). He took the team through an early, very difficult four-game stretch in which we were 1-3. A change was made and he never blinked. He is a very steady and confident guy. His message is always direct and very brief. When the winning started for us, when it turned, the players started to see for themselves.

How does the organization deal with expectations?

‘€œWe break it down this way. Everybody wants to win a Super Bowl but how are you going to make it happen? First of all, you have to have ownership with full support and they have to back you with your plan and be there. I’€™ve got that here with (owner) Dean Spanos. He’€™s always been there. He said, ‘€˜What do you need to win, what do you need to be successful? Just tell me, and I’€™ll be there.’€™ And he has. The second phase is to get the best players you can by any means, and that means thought the trades, drafting, street free agents, unrestricted signings, any way and get them quickly because time is of the essence to prove you’€™re heading in the right direction. And the third thing for me was to find yourself an outstanding, smart head coach that can operate under extreme pressure, a coach that can manage a game and make the critical decisions with sound judgment that’€™s going to enhance the team’€™s chance to be successful. To me, that was imperative for us. Norv Turner is the right guy at the right time. And No. 4 is win enough games to get the playoffs. Win your division is what we all want to do because you get a free bid to the tournament. But if you fall short because you’€™re in a battle, make sure you’€™re in line to get a wild card. Case in point, and I made this point to the team, the New York Giants. They did not win the division, Dallas did with 13 wins. New York fought down the stretch to get into the playoffs and they did and the rest is history. The fifth part for me is you want a playoff-caliber team each and every year. Keep going to postseason, if you do, maybe one of those years will be special one when our team will achieve its goal.’€

‘€œOur players know the plan. When I think back five years ago, we were the worst team in the league with the worst players and we had no future. We’€™ve come a long way in a short period of time. We’€™re very, very proud of that but we have accomplished nothing. We haven’€™t won anything yet. But we’€™re moving in that direction.’€

Read More: A.J. Smith, Gillette Stadium, LaDainain Tomlinson, New England Patriots
When Randy speaks… 10.01.08 at 10:49 am ET
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We were all gathered around Randy Moss‘ locker at about 11:45 Wednesday morning, about 10 minutes before the media access portion ended.

We were all hoping that the wide receiver would come out and talk about everything from being a leader as a captain in his second year with the team to Al Davis charging that the Patriots tampered by working Moss out before pulling off the April 2007 trade that brought him to New England for a fourth round pick.

And to our very pleasant surprise, Moss made the jobs of those holding recorders very easy by articulating his views on almost everything in a session that timed out to three minutes, 26 seconds.

Here are the five most interesting things he had to say:

On being called a leader by head coach Bill Belichick: “I think it’s just believing in what coach is selling. When you have everybody on the same page, it’s easier to lead a team. I think everybody is buying into what he’s selling. I don’t think it’s me being a leader. I think it’s everybody being on the same page.”

On believing in Matt Cassel: “I think first of all, he has to believe in himself and then it will trickle on down to the whole offense. I think we’ve seen Matt progress in these last couple of weeks quicker than we expected him to.”

On the load that Cassel is bearing: “We just have to put guys around him and luckily he’s the quarterback. He gets the good and the bad. With the 10 guys we put around him, we have to make it happen. It’s not that everything is on him or on his shoulders, he has to be smart and distribute the ball. We like what we’re doing as an offensive unit and hopefully, we can keep it going.”

On the importance of this game: “We really have to turn things around. We have to go out with a great week of practice because this is going to be a long road trip but I think we’re up for the challenge and hopefully, we’ll get it done.”

On reaction to Al Davis on Tuesday: “Ha, no not at all.”

Speaking of the Raiders man who does it his own way, Albert Breer says despite what you may think about Al Davis, he can still find coaching talent. It’s just the holding onto it part that gives him fits.

Read More: Al Davis, Matt Cassel, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders
GameDay… 09.21.08 at 7:24 am ET
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The Patriots apparently paid their bill to Mother Nature. For the second straight home game and the third straight game overall, they have a perfect day on which to play football.

Temperatures are expected to hit 70 for kickoff with sunshine and just a slight breeze out of the north.

About the only negative to this is that it’s not 20 degrees and windy for the visitors from South Florida.

But the Patriots certainly would appear not to need any help from the climatologists to improve to 3-0 today for the eighth time in team history.

It’s been pounded into the ground as much as the foundation for the new Hall at Patriot Place but this bears repeating… the Miami Dolphins, once perfect in 1972 (did you know that?) have gone 1-20 since beating New England 21-0 on Dec. 10, 2006. One and 20. Not even the Bengals or Lions can boast of that kind of misery, though based on the start of those two teams this season, they may give it a run.

Your cover of Patriots GAMEDAY is Ben Coates, who Saturday became the 13th inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame in the team’s first induction ceremony at the new Hall at Patriot Place. Coates is in the foreground while the 12 players who were re-inducted Saturday are on panels that mimic the ones inside the new Patriots museum and pro shop.

Read More: Beatles, Good Day Sunshine, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots
Trags Take… Pregame Chiefs 09.06.08 at 8:57 am ET
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What the Pats need to do to win:

1. Keep Brady upright. With his right foot and no preseason games as warmup, ’nuff said.

2. Dominate an inferior team early and give them ZERO confidence.

3. Make Brodie Croyle feel the wrath of of the Pats defense so that Kansas City’s big and talented receivers Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe don’t have the time to get open for Croyle.

4. Don’t let Larry Johnson get more than four yards on first and second down. K.C. will try to play keepaway as will most Patriot opponents, so make sure they don’t.

5. Offensive line needs to establish itself early and often and stay away from third and long. Kansas City, with Gunther Cunningham as its defensive guru, was the best in the NFL in third-down defense last year at (30.2 percent) and negative plays forced.

Bill Belichick has already touched on these points several times during his sessions with the media. Obviously, the same is true in the locker room.

Enemy Edge: “He’s been fine. We anticipate he’s going to be a good football player for us. He’s played in the last couple of preseason games for us and he’s ready to go.”  —  Kansas City head coach Herm Edwards on first-round pick DT Glenn Dorsey out of LSU.

Opposing View: For a look at the Kansas City perspective here’s a story from Kansas City Star reporter Kent Babb on their desire to stop New England’s running game and and the pregame notes from the Chiefs.

This and that: The Pats named their eight team captains for 2008 on Friday. On offense, no surprise that Tom Brady, for the seventh straight season, leads the list along with Randy Moss and Matt Light. On defense, Tedy Bruschi joins Brady as serving as captain for the seventh straight season, along with Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison and Vince Wilfork. Special Teams captain Larry Izzo rounds out the list.

Read More: Gunther Cunningham, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Patriots preview
Remember when?… 08.20.08 at 10:35 am ET
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Tom Brady was a lanky, sixth-round pick out of Michigan and he was, like Kevin O’Connell, way down the Patriots depth chart at quarterback.

Going back to Tampa Bay on Sunday night had John Lynch remembering the 2000 season opener at old Foxboro Stadium. While with Bucs, defensive guru Monte Kiffin told him about that skinny kid in the No. 12 jersey across the way.

“I was telling (Brady) that I remember his first year, being the fourth quarterback, and Monty Kiffin saying, ‘Hey, they kind of like this kid. But don’t worry about. I’m sure we won’t see him.’ And to think all these years later about what he’s gone onto to do,” Lynch said. “That’s pretty impressive.”

John Lynch on his talk with Brady

Don’t expect to see Brady this week as he continues to get treatment on his reportedly sore right foot.

Old friend (and Ohio State alum) Albert Breer has an interesting read on what it takes to be a back-up quarterback.

Many New Englanders will recall Breer’s terrific work with MetroWest Daily News and the Boston Herald while on the Patriots beat.

After a stint covering the T.O. circus for the Dallas Morning News, he’s back in the Boston area, Sudbury to be exact, but working as the national football writer for The Sporting News on-line.

Why the praise? Because he’s an Ohio State Buckeye, through and through and he knows the pain of playing an SEC school when the national title is on the line.

Read More: John Lynch, Kevin O'Connell, Monty Kiffin, New England Patriots
Darrelle Revis thanks Patriots fans but declares ‘I’m coming home’ to New York 03.10.00 at 10:38 am ET
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It didn’t take Darrelle Revis to acknowledge his newfound fortune and new home.

Less than an hour after his agents tweeted his departure to the Jets, Revis took to social media Tuesday night to acknowledge the special season he had in New England, where he earned his first Super Bowl ring.

Read More: Darrelle Revis, free agency 2015, Ike Taylor, New England Patriots
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