|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.
FOXBORO – With the Patriots losing tight end Rob Gronksowski midway through the third quarter with a serious right knee injury after just two catches for 32 yards and the Browns limiting Danny Amendola to four catches for 36 yards, the team needed someone to step up in the passing game.
The spark they needed came from running back Shane Vereen, whose 12 catches for 153 yards set team records for a running back in the Patriots’ wild, come-from-behind, 27-26 win over the Browns.
The third-year running back out of California has made a significant comeback after playing sparingly in his first two seasons.
In Vereen’s four games since returning from a broken wrist, quarterback Tom Brady has targeted him 45 times and has been successful on 33 of them (73 percent), clearly demonstrating an increase in chemistry. In his five games overall this season, Vereen is averaging 7.2 yards per touch and is currently two rushes away from being the third running back in Bill Belichick‘s tenure in New England to reach the 40-rush/40-catch mark in a season. The other two are Danny Woodhead last year and Kevin Faulk in 2008.
“Helping the team win,” Vereen said of the biggest factor in his career-high for receiving yards. “I mean, if I had to catch the ball in order for us to win the game and make some plays throughout the year, then that’s what, hopefully, I’ll be able to do going forward. Really, it’s all about the team and it’s all about getting a victory.”
Vereen almost singlehandedly gave the Patriots a huge lift after they were seemingly knocked out late in the third quarter. After the Patriots scored their first points of the day, a 33-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with 1:37 left in the third, the Browns immediately responded with a 80-yard touchdown reception from Josh Gordon on the next play from scrimmage making it a 19-3 game.
Then, led by Vereen, the Patriots responded just 1:19 later with a 6-yard Vereen touchdown run, which was set up by a 50-yard reception from the Patriots running back up the left side, followed by another reception for 16 yards over the middle on the next play.
For Vereen, it’s been an up-and-down first few seasons in New England after being selected in the second round in 2011. After missing time due to a few injuries, he’s now getting more action of late and is making the most of his opportunities.
“Shane, the more opportunity he’s gotten, the more he’s been able to do for us,” Belichick said. “In his rookie year, in the Kansas City game, [in] limited chances he had that year, he was productive. Last year we had some depth in our backfield. When he got an opportunity to play, he did a good job. He obviously had a great game in Buffalo and then missed the next eight weeks. When he’s been in there, he’s been pretty productive for us.”
|T.J. Ward: I didn’t intend to injure Rob Gronkowski||at 6:35 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Standing at his locker following a shocking 27-26 loss to the Patriots — a game the Browns led by 12 with less than two minutes to play — Cleveland safety T.J. Ward stood in discouragement not only about the loss, but also because of his hit on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in the third quarter.
After Gronkowski hauled in a pass from quarterback Tom Brady and scampered up the left side, Ward came in from his safety position and hit the tight end low and hard, striking him in the right knee. Gronkowski was unable to get up on his own and was taken off the field in a cart with what is believed to be a serious right knee injury.
With the way the rules have been altered in the last few years and number of fines handed out due to hits targeting the head, defensive players now are more conscious of that when making tackles and therefore are attacking players’ lower bodies when making tackles.
“I think they ran a seam route and it was a decision I made just to make a tackle on a big man and unfortunately he got hurt,” Ward said of the play. “If I would have hit him up high, there was a chance I would have been fined and all that other stuff, so I’m just being safe.”
Ward also noted that with him being 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, and Gronkowski being 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, no matter what he did he was likely going to have to hit the tight end low, especially only having a split second to make a decision.
“It’s not a decision where I am going to go low on every player — no it’s not — but actually, it has kind of turned into that in that split-second decisions where I have a guy running down the field who is 280 [pounds] and I am 200,” he said. “And the fact that if you do even it him in the chest and he even decides to hunch down or flinch, or lower his head then I have the chance of being fined.”
The four-year veteran acknowledged he and other defenders are put into a tough spot when going to make tackles because of the increased number of fines for hits to the head.
“Yeah, it’s being caught between a rock and a hard place,” Ward said. “It is a decision you have to make, but you have to follow the rules at the same time. Gronk is a big dude, he is not small by any means, so already he has that height where it just makes it difficult. I mean, I made a tackle and unfortunately he got hurt. If he would’ve got up there would be no discussion about this right now.”
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 14: Patriots jump to No. 3||12.03.13 at 10:44 am ET|
The dominance continues. Seattle’s reign atop the WEEI NFL Power Rankings has reached its seventh straight week. The Seahawks look like a lock to play in New Jersey in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Panthers (2), Patriots (3) and Broncos (4) all inch one spot closer while the Saints drop out of the top five after being absolutely dismantled in Seattle. New Orleans won’t have much time to think about the loss because the red-hot Panthers are next on the schedule in a battle for the NFC South.
As the regular season draws closer to an end, we’ll see more teams officially eliminated from the playoffs. It looks like at least five playoff teams from 2012 won’t make a return trip in 2013. The Packers (20), Vikings (27), Redskins (28, already eliminated) Falcons (29) and Texans (32) have not lived up to expectations.
1. (1) Seahawks (11-1) – Good luck to any NFC team that has to go through Seattle to reach the Super Bowl. Russell Wilson hasn’t lost at CenturyLink Field and is 22-6 since becoming the starting QB last year.
2. (3) Panthers (9-3) — Owners of eight straight wins, the Panthers and their highly ranked defense will take on the Saints on Sunday night.
3. (4) Patriots (9-3) — As usual, the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady-led Patriots get stronger and better as the season shifts to November and December. They are one win and one Miami loss away from wrapping up their 11th division title in 13 seasons.
4. (5) Broncos (10-2) — The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will go through Denver. The Broncos’ remaining opponents have a combined 16-32 record. None of the four teams they will face have a record over .500.
5. (6) 49ers (8-4) — The injuries on the offensive line combined with the inconsistency of the run game over the past two weeks are a concern heading into Sunday’s game against the Seahawks.
|Jason Cole on M&M: ‘[Tom] Brady outplayed [Peyton Manning] by a large margin’ on Sunday||11.26.13 at 3:40 pm ET|
Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole joined Mut & Merloni on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the play of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in New England’s 34-31 victory over Denver on Sunday night, as well as the status of the AFC and Super Bowl XLVIII.
One of the top story lines of Sunday’s game was, of course, the matchup between Brady and Manning. Brady once again seemed to have the advantage in the contest, as he finished the night with three touchdown passes, a 107.4 quarterback rating and the win, while Manning only managed 150 passing yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a 70.4 QBR.
“I thought Brady outplayed him by a large margin, and I thought Peyton looked really uncomfortable, and not because he was getting rushed,” Cole said. “He just didn’t look comfortable throwing the ball, he didn’t throw with much authority. I think that because of the way New England disrupted his receivers, similar to what they did against New Orleans earlier this season, he never had his timing down, and perhaps that’s because they had to throw so little in the first half and didn’t throw much in the third quarter.”
Added Cole: “[Manning] just never seemed to get into a groove, so the doubts about him in big games, particularly cold-weather big games, persists. He’s not answered that, and makes me really concerned about [Denver] going in the playoffs.”
While the Broncos (9-2) and Patriots (8-3) are in line for the top two seeds in the AFC at the moment, the Chiefs (9-2) are a worthy competitor in the conference, despite losing two straight games to Denver and San Diego.
“Kansas City, when they are healthy, in a playoff situation [can be a threat]. That’s similar to what we saw on Sunday night between the Patriots and the Broncos, which is if you allow defenses to bump receivers and knock them off their routes, hold them up at the line, I think that helps the defense so much, and I think Kansas City will be able to do more of that when they get into the postseason,” Cole said. “To me, they have a chance to get their defense back in line and be competitive in the postseason. But that’s the only other team, I think, that can challenge New England or Denver at this point and time.”
|Bill Belichick on S&H: ‘I don’t think [Tom Brady] is mentally affected by the conditions’||at 10:41 am ET|
Patriots coach Bill Belichick joined Salk & Holley on Monday afternoon to discuss New England’s thrilling 34-31 comeback victory against the Broncos, as well as the performance of Tom Brady in cold-weather conditions and Stevan Ridley‘s fumbling issues.
The Patriots got off to a rough start in Sunday night’s game, as New England trailed 24-0 at halftime after fumbling the ball away three times.
“The good things that we were doing were overwritten by the bad things that were much worse than the good things,” Belichick said. “We just didn’t play very consistently in any phase of the game. … I was a lot more disappointed in the way we played in the first half in Carolina than I was [Sunday], even though we had plenty of problems [Sunday], but we just made mistakes that really hurt ourselves that I felt like we could overcome if we just got those straightened out.”
New England responded in the second half, outscoring Denver by a 31-7 margin to force the game to overtime. At the start of the extra 15 minutes of play, the Patriots won the coin toss but decided to give the ball to the Broncos and take the wind. It was a controversial call for Belichick, as he was giving the ball to a high-powered Denver offense that currently ranks first in the NFL in yards per game (451.5) and points per game (39.0).
“I met with the captains for a couple of seconds before they went out there and explained to them what we wanted to do,” Belichick said. “There were a couple of questions to make sure that it was right, but I think we got it right. … I just feel like as head coach, you’ve got to do what you feel is best for your football team. It doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, and there’s criticism when it doesn’t. I understand that.”
Brady was superb in the game, throwing for 344 yards and three touchdowns despite playing in one of the coldest games at Foxboro in years. Brady has excelled in cold-weather conditions throughout his career, as he boasts a 24-5 record with a 62.7 completion percentage in outdoor games with below-freezing temperatures.
“No. 1, he’s mentally tough,” Belichick said. I don’t think he’s affected by the conditions from a mental standpoint. No. 2, he has big hands. He can grip the ball. His hands aren’t small. It doesn’t slide off. He can get around the ball, and No. 3, he throws a tight spiral. His ball is very tight, always has been. … Of course, the wind is going to affect any throw, but it doesn’t affect a tight spiral like it does the balls that aren’t tight. … I don’t think he is mentally affected by the conditions.”
Despite the win, there is concern over the play of Ridley, who fumbled during New England’s first drive on Sunday, allowing Von Miller to scoop up the loose ball and return it 60 yards for a Denver touchdown. Despite his obvious talents, Ridley has struggled mightily with protecting the ball, as he’s lost seven fumbles since the end of the 2011 season.
“I don’t think any of our backs have an issue that I would say would prevent them from being a productive player,” Belichick said. “Look, there are some plays that happen in football that are plays that happen in football. Then there are other plays that are caused by a lack of discipline, a lack of technique, just carelessness. Those are the ones we have to eliminate.”
|Patriots cornerbacks rise to occasion in win over Broncos||11.25.13 at 3:47 am ET|
FOXBORO – Going into Sunday night’s game against Peyton Manning and the explosive Denver offense, much of the talk was about if the Patriots would be able to stop the Broncos passing attack with a depleted defense, especially in the secondary.
The Patriots already were without four starters on defense, and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonso Dennard were banged up. Talib returned last week against Carolina after missing a month with a hip injury but didn’t look the same as he did earlier in the year, and Dennard had minor surgery on his meniscus just over a week ago, forcing him to miss the Carolina game. Both players were listed as questionable and were game-time decisions, but they did play and were part of a secondary that played a major role in the Patriots’ 34-31 overtime win.
The Broncos entered Sunday averaging an NFL-best 350.4 passing yards per game, but that didn’t mean anything to the Patriots, as they limited Manning to 150 yards on 19-of-36 passing with two touchdown passes and forced a crucial interception in the second half. It was Manning’s fewest passing yards as a member of the Broncos.
“They’re a tough offense to play against. It’s hard to hold them down yardage wise, hold them down point-wise, but I thought we hung in there and battled,” coach Bill Belichick said. “I thought our corners, they deserve a ton of credit. Talib, [Kyle] Arrington, Alfonso, they’re all, nobody is 100 percent in that locker room, they’re all banged up, they fought through it, just wanted to go out there and complete. Devin [McCourty], Duron [Harmon], then we have Marquice [Cole] at the end, jumped in there, Logan Ryan. Those guys, they just went out there and competed against a great group of receivers.”
The corners had challenging matchups, as Arrington lined up across from Wes Welker in the slot and Talib shadowed Demaryius Thomas the entire night. Arrington held Welker to just four catches for 31 yards, while Thomas finished with four receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown but didn’t make his first catch until the fourth quarter.
“We just tried to go out and make plays,” Talib said. “We tried to take it one play at a time, man. We take it from practice to the game, just one play at a time. [If you] mess up, just forget about it, on to the next play. That’s just how we try to play.”