|Mr. Consistency: TE Tim Wright setting new standard for reliability in Patriots passing game||11.26.14 at 10:26 am ET|
FOXBORO — Tim Wright is in some rarefied air.
In his first season with the Patriots, the tight end has proven himself to be an eminently reliable part of the passing game — he has 23 catches on 26 targets. Even with the understanding that one of the targets was a throwaway by quarterback Tom Brady (an uncatchable ball), that’s an 88 percent catch rate, the best on the New England roster when it comes to players who have been targeted by Brady at least 20 times.
If he continues at his current rate, he’ll set a new standard for the Patriots. Since 2006, no member of the Patriots who has been targeted at least 20 times has a reception rate of better than 80 percent.
Of course, none of this is particularly new for Wright — last season with the Buccaneers, he proved equally sure-handed, as he caught 71 percent of the passes (54 receptions on 76 targets) that were thrown his way. But his target numbers this year — combined with his six receiving touchdowns (second on the team to fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski), have made him one of the surprise success stories when you’re talking about the 2014 Patriots offense.
Part of Wright’s success is rooted in the fact that most teams are solely focused on stopping Gronkowski, and have usually dedicated at least two defenders per play in hopes of trying to slow down the big fella. But it’s another thing altogether to take advantage of the opportunities when they’re presented to you, and Wright has done just that.
“Every time we throw to him it’s a touchdown — we’ll try to find him more down there,” Brady said after Wright’s two-touchdown performance against the Lions. “He does a great job in the coverage and finds the open spots.”
While the touchdown ratio is impressive — more than one-quarter of his catches have resulted in touchdowns — his work as a reliable target has really distinguished him from the rest of the field. Since 2006 — when targets were first tallied, on five different occasions, a New England pass catcher who was targeted at least 20 times caught 77 percent of the passes that were thrown in his direction. The latest high-level connection came in 2010 when running back Danny Woodhead caught 34 of the 44 passes that were thrown his way.
Prior to that, veteran running back Kevin Faulk did it three times: Faulk caught 58 of the 75 passes thrown his way in 2008, while both wide receiver Wes Welker (112-of-145) and Faulk (47-of-61) hit the 77 percent mark in 2007. And Faulk caught 43 of the 56 passes thrown his way in 2006 to reach the same plateau. (While Welker was targeted more than any other receiver between 2007 and 2012 and was consistently over 70 percent between 2007 and 2011, he never topped the 77 percent mark.)
According to Wright, the key to being a good target is simple.
|Tom Brady to Randy Moss on early season media criticism: ‘Great opportunity for me to dig deep’||11.25.14 at 6:00 am ET|
What a difference two months makes.
Obviously a lot has changed since that Sept. 29 game, led by Brady’s play, as the Patriots have rallied with seven straight wins to now have the best record in the AFC at 9-2.
In an interview with old friend Randy Moss on the FOX pregame show prior to last Sunday’s game, Brady spoke of the criticism — acknowledging it may have been the first time he was criticized during his 15-year pro career.
“Really for my career I’ve never had a lot of criticism,” Brady told Moss. “We won the first year that I played and then we won two more shortly after that. This was really the first time people came down on me. I took it in stride and I thought it was really a great opportunity for me to dig deep. I think I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder and there probably always will be because I was a sixth-round draft pick — that never goes away. I was the one no one really wanted in college. They really didn’t want me in the pros. Now I am always like, ‘Why do they want me to go away so quick?, Why do they want me to go away so quick?’ I just have fun playing.”
Brady is now 37 years old and in his 15th season in the league. Moss, who is now retired, asked Brady how much longer he has left playing and why he has a desire to play for as long as he can.
“I think there is nothing I’d rather do,” said Brady. “I don’t have a lot of hobbies. There’s something in my DNA that loves this game because I feel like I am 27. I just want to keep doing it. I’m having a lot of fun. We get to play football for a living and what would be any better than that?”
|Tom Brady on winning big with different offensive approaches: ‘Whatever it takes’||11.23.14 at 8:26 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Last week the Patriots ran for 246 yards on the ground. This week the Patriots threw for 349 yards in the air.
Despite the different styles, the results were the virtually the same — a 42-20 win over the Colts last week and a 34-9 win over the Lions on Sunday.
The ability to win different ways and play a different style of football each week depending on the opponent could go a long way as the Patriots close out the regular-season and gear up for the likely postseason.
“We did a decent job so it was good to — I thought we got off to a good start and then played from ahead,” Brady said. “We struggled a little bit there in the third quarter, but rallied there in the fourth. It was a good win. I thought a lot of guys made a lot of great plays. Some penalties really held us back from being a little bit more consistent, but it was a good game. Whatever it takes, we’re going to try to figure out, whatever it takes.”
Brady had another strong game Sunday, going 38-for-53 passing for 349 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. It was Brady’s 63rd 300-yard passing game of his career, which ties him with Dan Marino for third on the all-time NFL list.
The quarterback also did a tremendous job of spreading the ball around, as he has the majority of the seven-game win streak, as he completed five or more passes to five different receivers in Sunday’s win.
FOXBORO — Pick your poison. The Lions chose to double Rob Gronkowski often on Sunday in the red zone. That part worked but the Patriots killed the Lions with a heavy dose of Tim Wright, who caught a pair of touchdowns, including one where Tom Brady had no choice to but to throw it to him.
Wright caught a 4-yard TD pass over the middle in the first quarter as the Patriots took the lead for good. In the second quarter, Wright caught a pass in the end zone when there wasn’t a Lion within 10 yards of him.
Wright admitted after the Patriots’ 34-9 win Sunday that he was grateful for the attention Gronk drew, leaving him in single coverage or no coverage at all.
“We both work hard and try to play off of each other,” Wright said. “However the dice may fall, however the defense plays it, who doubles who, the other guy just has to be ready for the opportunity. That’s what we pride ourselves on.”
Wright caught three more passes in the second half but none for touchdowns and finished with just 36 yards receiving. But it was the red zone where Wright made it matter most.
“The Lions have a great defense all around,” Wright said. “We knew going into that game that whatever that role is, we had to stick to it and that’s what we had to utilize for that game. We did a great job. The [offensive] line held up great. Tom delivered. He does what he does all the time, and just the receivers getting open and doing their job.”
This was particularly important going in since the Lions fearsome front seven figured to rush the quarterback at all costs.
“We knew timing was critical going into it and the offensive line did a great job all week of sticking together and creating a scheme to defeat their d-line, defeat the pass rush. Give Tom time to deliver the ball, that’s what he did, and the receivers on the perimeter ran great routes and we got it done.”
Wright caught his fifth and sixth touchdowns of the season, a new career best, making that trade of Logan Mankins look better and better as the season goes on.
“It’s definitely rewarding,” Wright said. “Like I said, every phase of the ball is important to this game that we play. As long as everyone works hard during the week, it will pay off on Sunday.”
|Rob Gronkowski fined $8,268 for block on Sergio Brown||11.21.14 at 4:09 pm ET|
That wasn’t his only penalty coming from the play.
Gronkowski was fined $8,268 by the NFL on Friday for unnecessary roughness after the whistle.
“He was just yappin’ at me the whole time,” Gronkowski told NBCSN after the Patriots beat the Colts, 42-20. “So I took him and threw him out of the club.”
Gronkowski and the Patriots will host the Lions Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
1. In stark contrast to the nasty words that were coming out of the Pittsburgh locker room in the wake of what happened with LeGarrette Blount over the last week, on Thursday, the vibe around the Patriots was all good when it came to the newest Patriot. Special teams captain Matthew Slater called him a “great teammate,” while fullback James Develin said it was “good” to have him back. Meanwhile, Jonas Gray — who likely will see his role shrink some with the addition of Blount — said he had no problem with the move, adding that the veteran is is a “great guy to learn from.” As for what sort of role awaits him, it’s likely he’ll split duties with Gray as the primary between-the-tackles back, as well as serve as some sort of insurance policy if the stage gets too big for the youngster, or if he puts the ball on the ground at some point. It’s also possible he sees time as a part-time kick returner — with the occasional exception of Danny Amendola, no one has really done much to distinguish themselves in the position. With his background last year, it certainly makes sense for the Patriots to give him a shot back there.
2. Few teams have seen the type of turnover at the running back position as New England. With the injury to Ridley, if form holds, the Patriots will have their sixth different back lead the team in rushing in 2014 over the last decade — only four other teams (Saints, Browns, Broncos and Cardinals) have had more. Corey Dillon (2004-2006), Laurence Maroney (2007, 2009), Sammy Morris (2008), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2010-2011) and Stevan Ridley (2012-2013). And now, with Ridley on the shelf the rest of the year, this season it figures to be either Vereen, Gray or Blount. That could change again next year, as Brandon Bolden, Ridley and Shane Vereen are all in the final year of their contracts, while Blount, Gray and rookie James White are all under contract for 2015. (In addition, Tyler Gaffney, who was claimed by the Patriots this summer but is spending the year on injured reserve because of a knee issue, is still a possibility to be a part of the mix next season.) Regardless, even with all the changes, things could still change between now and the start of next season.
3. As forward thinking as the Patriots offense — and the passing game in particular — has been the last few years, there’s something impressively retro about what New England might be able to do this season. If we operate with the idea that a “running back by committee” includes a team with four backs with at least 40 carries, it appears that for the second straight season, the Patriots will attempt to be the first team to win a Super Bowl using the “running back by committee” approach since the 1987 Redskins, who won Super Bowl. Right now, the Patriots three different backs reach with at least 69 carries (Ridley with 94, Vereen with 70 and Gray with 69). While some of those numbers are borne out of necessarily since Ridley went down, if Blount is able to click down the stretch for New England — and it’s entirely possible he can hit the 40-carry mark, given his experience in the system — he would be a fourth. If the Patriots could take the title, it would represent the greatest cross-section of work for running backs for any Super Bowl champion since that Washington team emerged with a win in Super Bowl XXII. (Of course, that Redskins team could be discounted on a penalty, as that was a strike year and one of the backs was a scab who rushed 80 times in three strike games but never played another down. If you disqualify them on a technicality, them the last true RBBC team to win a Super Bowl in a non-strike year was the 1981 Niners, a team that had five different backs finish with 40 carries or more: Ricky Patton, Earl Cooper, Johnny Davis, Walt Easley and Paul Hofer.)
|Jim Caldwell on Rob Gronkowski: ‘Very, very unusual gifts that he has’||11.19.14 at 5:31 pm ET|
Christmas is more than a month away, but Lions head coach Jim Caldwell is already talking about gifts.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been on a tear the past six games with 40 catches for 587 yards and six touchdowns. Over that span Gronkowski has been able to showcase his pass catching abilities, as well being able to run after the catch — no bigger example than his 26-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over the Colts.
“He’s obviously a great talent, just an incredible run, particularly when you look at the one he had against Indianapolis,” Caldwell said on a conference call Wednesday. “He can catch the ball, and not only is he a fine pass catcher, but he can also run with it after he gets it. Very, very unusual gifts that he has.”
Gronkowski isn’t the only player Caldwell and the Lions are worried about, as he also spoke on quarterback Tom Brady.
“Obviously, he’s been doing some great things like he always does,” he said. “They are a very surgical sort of a procedure, where he’s throwing the ball accurately, getting it to all of his playmakers and putting points on the board.”
Sunday’s game will feature the Patriots offense, which is averaging 45.3 points in its last three games, against a Lions defense who comes in allowing an NFL-low 15.6 points per game. Caldwell, in his first season with Detroit, knows it will be a challenge.