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T.J. Ward hasn’t reached out to Rob Gronkowski following season-ending hit 10.29.14 at 4:16 pm ET
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FOXBORO — One of the many storylines in Sunday’s Broncos-Patriots game is Rob Gronkowski facing Broncos safety T.J. Ward for the first time since last December when Ward was his the Browns and he hit Gronkowski low on his right knee, tearing his ACL in the process and ending his season.

Gronkowski was asked if he has any hard feelings towards Ward for the hit, but the tight end sidestepped the question.

“Just going out there playing like I play every day,” he said. “Just going out there trying to make some plays and do my job out there on the field and play to my max ability.”

He was later asked directly if Ward ever reached out following the season-ending hit.

“No,” Gronkowski said.

Gronkowski had a monster game last Sunday against the Bears, catching nine passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns, before leaving with dehydration after catching his third touchdown pass at the beginning of the third quarter. He echoed what he said after the game, saying he’s just fine and could have returned if he had to.

“Very well,” he said of his health. “Like I said, I could have come back into the game very easily.”

As for this Sunday, Gronkowski is expecting a great atmosphere at Gillette Stadium going against the 6-1 Broncos, who like the Patriots, come in riding a four-game winning streak.

“The atmosphere is going to be unbelievable especially playing at home in front of the home crowd,” said Gronkowski. “It’€™s going to be a great game. The Denver Broncos are a very, very, very good team. One of the best in the league, if not the best team in the league.”

Obviously the biggest storyline, among many in the game, is the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning matchup and is something Gronkowski is looking forward to being part of.

“It’€™s honor to be out there with both of them,” said Gronkowski. “Brady versus Manning can’€™t get any better. [They are] two great quarterbacks and two legendary quarterbacks. It’€™s an honor to be a part of it. And I definitely want to be on the winning side.”

Read More: Peyton Manning, Rob Gronkowski, T.J. Ward, Tom Brady
5 things you have to know about the Broncos 10.28.14 at 10:57 pm ET
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Peyton Manning will lead the Broncos into Foxboro this weekend. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Peyton Manning will lead the Broncos into Foxboro this weekend. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Here are five things you have to know about the Broncos, who will travel to Foxboro this weekend for a game against the Patriots.

1. Their receiving depth will present the greatest challenge of the season for the Patriots

No team New England will face all season will feature the sort of depth in the passing game that the Broncos do. Denver has three legitimate threats in wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (47 catches, 767 yards, six TDs) and Emmanuel Sanders (47 catches, 634 yards and four TDs), as well as tight end Julius Thomas (30 catches, 327 yards and nine TDs). If you’€™re doling out defensive assignments for the Patriots — with the understanding that it won’€™t be purely man coverage all afternoon — it might come down to Demaryius Thomas-Darrelle Revis and Sanders-Alfonzo Dennard (if healthy), while the bigger Brandon Browner could be assigned to try and slow down the sizable tight end Julius Thomas. (Linebacker Jamie Collins has struggled in coverage for much of the year, and had plenty of issues trying to slow down Thomas in last year’€™s AFC title game.) Everyone knows Peyton Manning‘€™s greatness (2,134 passing yards, 69 percent completion rate, 22 TDs and only 3 picks through seven games), but on the flip side, if there’€™s a pass defense in the AFC that can slow down the Broncos, it just might be this one. This year, through eight games, the Patriots remain the only team that has yet to allow a pass play of 40-plus yards. They’€™ve allowed 210.9 yards per game passing this year (second-fewest in the NFL) compared to 239.0 (18th in the NFL) last year. Also, passes of 20-plus yards are down significantly — 74 in 2012 (worst in NFL), 55 last year (tied for 20th), 23 this year (tied for 15th). Simply put, the Patriots went out and got Revis and Browner for games like this. They are difference makers, and need to play as much on Sunday. (One more idle thought: Will we see the Patriots try and imitate Seattle’€™s Cover 3 approach on Sunday, going with press coverage off the line and a single safety deep? Food for thought.)

2. They are really good against the run

The best way to beat Manning is to keep him off the field, and New England can accomplish that with some extended drives. At the same time, don’€™t expect anything like the 15-play scoring sequence it had last week against the Bears, the longest scoring drive of the season, because when you’€™re talking about the Patriots trying to control the tempo against the Broncos, it’€™s easier said than done. New England has lead back Stevan Ridley sidelined for the season, while the Broncos are the No. 1 run defense in the league, having yielded an average of 72.4 rushing yards per game. (Over the last four games, Denver has allowed 191 yards on 67 carries in that stretch — 2.9 yards per attempt.) It’€™s understandable that the Patriots probably don’€™t want to go toe to toe with the likes of Terrence “Pit Roast” Knighton, so there could be some misdirection when they try and run the ball with a cast that will include Shane Vereen, Jonas Gray and Brandon Bolden. There’€™s also the possibility the possibility of utilizing the short passing game, trying screens and quick outs with short and intermediate routes. It would help Brady get the ball out as fast as possible, keep the tone and tempo in the hands of the Patriots and keep Manning and the Denver offense on the sidelines as long as possible.

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Read More: Bryan Stork, Darrelle Revis, DeMarcus Ware, Demaryius Thomas
Rodney Harrison on MFB: Next month will show how ‘fierce’ Patriots are at 12:37 pm ET
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NBC Sports NFL analyst Rodney Harrison made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss the Patriots’€™ upcoming game against the Broncos and also Tuesday’s trade deadline. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The Patriots will have their toughest test of the season in Peyton Manning and the Broncos Sunday afternoon. It will also give their second-ranked pass defense a chance to go against an above average quarterback for arguably the first time this season.

“When I look at this team, they’€™ve played against Ryan Tannehill, the Oakland Raiders and Derek Carr –€“ I mean they haven’€™t played against a lot of great quarterbacks,” Harrison said. “I look at this next month in the season and they are going to play against some pretty quality quarterbacks so we’€™ll see how fierce the Patriots are, but if they want to get to the Super Bowl — I know that is their goal and aspirations, obviously they are not looking at it right now, but long-term that is your goal — you’€™re going to have to beat Peyton Manning. Not just compete with him, but you’€™re going to have to beat Denver.”

As for Tuesday’s trade deadline, there has been speculation the Patriots have expressed interest in wide receiver Vincent Jackson, but Harrison doesn’t see that as a fit.

“I wouldn’€™t say they have to go out and panic and get a guy like Vincent Jackson or someone like that because he still has to come in, learn the offense — and then who knows what kind of chemistry that messes up with Brandon LaFell,” said Harrison. “I think they are OK at the wide receiver spot. If they can stay healthy and have that offensive line protection — and Tom, he looks like he’€™s getting better. He looks like he’€™s getting more confident behind that offensive line, but I don’€™t think they need to panic and spend that type of money on Vincent Jackson.”

Harrison has been impressed with LaFell of late as he has 19 catches and three touchdowns in his last three games, including catching 11 passes on 11 targets in Sunday’s win over the Bears.

“I just love what Brandon LaFell has done,” Harrison said. “I love the confidence they are putting in him and it seems like each and every week the energy level, the route running, just the confidence and catching the ball — he looks like he is a legit wide receiver now.”

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Read More: Brandon LaFell, Peyton Manning, Rob Gronkowski, Rodney Harrison
Tedy Bruschi on D&H: ‘Don’t think [a Vincent Jackson trade] is the right move at all’ for Patriots 10.27.14 at 4:11 pm ET
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ESPN NFL analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, in his weekly interview with WEEI’s Dale & Holley show, offered his view on New England’s blowout victory over the Bears, the challenge that lies ahead in game-planning for Peyton Manning and the Broncos and the embarrassing season-ending injury for Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston, among other topics.

Bruschi noted that the Patriots offense appears to be in a tremendous rhythm, with the performance of the offensive line in combination with the return to full Gronkitude by Rob Gronkowski combining with the emergence of wide receiver Brandon LaFell to give Tom Brady a tremendous number of weapons. That being the case, Bruschi suggested that pursuing Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson in a trade would be an ill-advised course.

“I think you look down the road and consider if it would help. I think you consider it for a moment because that’s what a good general manager would do. But in terms of this situation right here with the New England Patriots, I don’t think it’s the right move at all, especially with the development of Brandon LaFell,” said Bruschi. “You see the development. You see the progression. Ever since that first drive of the Cincinnati Bengals game is when I think this offense truly woke up and said, OK, let’s go. From that point, they started rolling and rolling.

“I just don’t think you want to put in another element into it that you may have to spoon-feed things to. You can’t give him the entire plate right now because he couldn’t handle it right now. He probably couldn’t digest the entire plan right now. So you spoon-feed him a little. But when you do that to one player, it has a trickle-down effect to others along the line,” added Bruschi. “Jobs are going to be different for other people down the road. Say Vincent Jackson comes in and you say you can only play this position. It messes up this offense. You’ve got to know how to play every single receiver’s spot along the front so they can have that flexibility that they want. You wouldn’t have that off the bat with him. Would you have some growing pains along the line to develop that? I think you would. I think you roll with what you’ve got right now.”

To listen to the complete interview, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page. Here are other highlights of Bruschi’s interview:

On whether Sunday against the Bears was as well as Bruschi had seen Brady play: “No, I don’t think that’s the best I’ve seen him play just because of the quality of competition he was going up against yesterday. There were some young defensive linemen who really didn’t know what they were doing for the Bears. The linebackers, oh my gosh, they looked lost at times. I’m still waiting for them to read play-action. They still can’t find it. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: lamar houston, Peyton Manning, Rob Gronkowski, Rob Ninkovich
Tim Wright on MFB: Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson ‘a great person, great player’ at 1:35 pm ET
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Tim Wright

Tim Wright

Patriots tight end Tim Wright checked in with Middays with MFB on Monday, after catching seven passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s 51-23 victory over the Bears. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The Patriots acquired Wright from the Buccaneers right before the start of the season. Now there is speculation that New England might inquire about another Bucs player: wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

“He’s a great player, I learned a lot while I was under him,” Wright said, adding: “Just details and route-running, things that the defensive backs look for. Different body controls — him being a bigger wideout, it was easy for me to see what he was talking about, and easy for me to go out there and try to implement those things that he was teaching me. … He’s a great person, great player, and I looked up to him while I was there.”

The Patriots were able to spread the ball around and have a lot of success against Chicago. Fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski also had a big day, with nine catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns.

“Our [position] coach Brian Daboll, he does a great job of instilling the mentality in the tight end room to go out there and just be the spark of the offense. Regardless of how things are going, when our number is called we’ve got to answer the bell. We just went in there, we really didn’t know we’re going to get this many catches [for] this guy, this many catches [for] that guy. But our offensive coordinator [Josh McDaniels], he definitely explained throughout the week and he displayed it to us that it’s going to be spacing and it’s going to be winning your man-to-man battle that’s going to definitely contribute to the win and contribute to our success on Sunday, and that’s what we did.”

Asked about the toughest part of adjusting to the Patriots offense, Wright said, “I would say just playing at a fast tempo mentally, going through the checks and all the nuances that Tom Brady goes through at the line, the checks and stuff like that. You’ve got to be on top of the game, you’ve got to be alert, just be locked in, just be focused.”

For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Rob Gronkowski, Tim Wright, Vincent Jackson,
Julian Edelman on MFB: ‘We’re building up for the backstretch’ by getting more players involved at 12:04 pm ET
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Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Monday, one day after Sunday’s rout of the Bears. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

While Edelman was the standout through the first few weeks — without much support from the rest of receiving corps — Tom Brady has been spreading out the passes the last couple of weeks. Rob Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell combined to make 20 catches for 173 yards and four touchdowns Sunday.

“You’re getting production out of a lot of guys,” Edelman said. “[Jonas Gray] came up again and had a big game. Timmy [Wright] comes in and has his touchdown. Gronk, Shane [Vereen] having some big plays. The more you have a lot more guys doing things, we’re building up for the backstretch.”

Added Edelman: “[LaFell is] playing lights out. He’s making plays and scoring touchdowns. It’s great for the offense.”

Meanwhile, Edelman’s production has declined. He had just one reception Sunday. He said it isn’t a matter of defenses adjusting to him.

“I think it’s more just: One week it’s this guy, the next week it’s that guy,” he said. “Hopefully it comes back.”

Added Edelman: “The offense has been doing well. You don’t want to do anything differently to disrupt that. I’m sure I’ll be getting targets my way or something like that. It’s the flows of the game. You’re going to be hot sometimes, and sometimes you’re going to be playing a different role. As long as the team’s winning, that’s all it’s about.”

Next up for the Patriots is a game against the AFC-leading Broncos.

“I’ve played in a few of these now, so you’re kind of used to it,” Edelman said, adding: “It’s a conference game. There’s some meaning behind this game, because the winner can put themselves a foot forward in the standings. Its Denver, they’re a good team. They’ve obviously been on TV a bunch. You’ve got Peyton Manning. But I don’t necessarily play against Peyton Manning. I play against the defense.”

Sunday will feature a matchup of Edelman against former teammate Aqib Talib, now a member of the Broncos defensive secondary.

“It’s going to be fun, because I loved Talib when he was here,” Edelman said. “We got along real well. I thought he was a great teammate and I enjoyed playing with him. So it’s going to be fun. I also know T.J. Ward a little bit. We train in the offseason together. It will be fun to go out there and play against premier competition.”

For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Aqib Talib, Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski
Tom Brady on D&C: Sunday’s rout of Bears ‘one of the most fun days we’ve ever had on the football field’ at 8:00 am ET
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Coming off his best game of the season, Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to discuss Sunday’s rout of the Bears and preview next Sunday’s showdown against the Broncos. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Brady completed 30-of-35 passes for 354 yards and five touchdowns in Sunday’s 51-23 dismantling of the Bears.

“I think there’s always room for improvement,” he said. “But truthfully, the guys make it easy for the quarterback when all those guys play the way they did yesterday. It makes it easy for me — not to say playing the Bears defense is easy, because it’s not — but when the guys around you play the way they did, it makes it easy for the quarterback.

“I’m proud of the way those guys — all of them, Julian [Edelman] and Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] and Danny [Amendola] and the offensive line especially, Tim Wright played great, we got off to a great start in the run game. All those things, they all have a cumulative effect on the offense. You’re trying to move the ball down the field, score points, and when the guys around you are playing at the level they played at, for me, then I just read the defense and make the throw and those guys are making all the plays. It was a great day for us.”

The oft-injured Gronkowski appears to have returned to form, as he finished with nine receptions for 149 yards and three touchdowns.

“He was phenomenal,” Brady said. “He’s been such a great player for our offense and our team. I love playing with him. He brings such an energy to the team. He’s a great player. He certainly played as well as he’s ever played yesterday — three touchdowns through 2 1/2 quarters was pretty awesome. He’s making all the catches, making all the catch-and-runs. He’s just playing fearlessly. The guys really take a cue from him. He’s just a great player.

“When he plays like that — and like I said, [Brandon] LaFell plays like that, Julian’s been one of our most consistent players for the last two years, he’s just been phenomenal for us. Danny made a couple of plays, Tim Wright, the offensive line, the run game. When one guy’s doing well it just helps another guy do well and then helps another guy do well. You see some of the great offenses around the league week in and week out, it’s those types of performances that lead to team success.

“It’s been good, we’ve made some great improvements here from what we talked about over a month ago. But look, we’ve still got to get better. Our whole season’s in front of us. We’ve got to get back to work today and we’ve got obviously the biggest game of the year coming up.”

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Read More: Julian Edelman, Peyton Manning, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady
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