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Crimson Tide QB A.J. McCarron: ‘New England is like the Alabama of pro football’ 02.21.14 at 2:26 pm ET
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Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron sounds like someone who would love playing in New England. (AP)

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron sounds like someone who would love playing in New England. (AP)

INDIANAPOLIS — Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron made an interesting analogy on Friday.

Asked about the chance to be drafted by the Patriots, McCarron, who two national championships while with the Crimson Tide, sounded eager when asked about the possibility.

“It’s almost like New England is the Alabama of pro football,” McCarron said. “Coach [Nick] Saban learned under coach [Bill] Belichick. It would be almost deja vu in a way.”

McCarron, who is projected to be a mid-round pick at this point, could certainly be a possibility for the Patriots. Current backup Ryan Mallett — who is entering the final year of his current deal — remains New England’s most tradeable asset. In addition, McCarron does have the advantage of having worked with one of Belichick’s most trusted confidants while as a collegian.

McCarron was asked if he patterned his game after anyone in the league.

“When it comes to similarities, from body build, to how we were talked about coming out of college, I think Tom Brady,” McCarron said, who has spoken with Brady in the past. “I think we play the game the same way. He still moves in the pocket pretty well to get away from blitzes. Everyone doubted his arm strength coming out. It’s turned out pretty good so far.”

McCarron was cautious when asked who he had met with at this point, but certainly sounded enthusiastic about the prospect of playing in New England.

“I love the Patriots organization,” McCarron said. “If I had the chance to go there and sit behind Brady for however long and learn from one of the best to ever play the game, that would be an awesome experience.”

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Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Quarterback 02.01.14 at 11:08 am ET
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Tom Brady led the Patriots to the AFC championship game for the third consecutive year. (AP)

Tom Brady led the Patriots to the AFC championship game for the third consecutive year. (AP)

With the Patriots done for the year, we’€™ve got an end of the year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams, wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. Now, it’s time for the quarterback.

Depth chart: Tom Brady (380-for-628, 61 percent, 4,343 passing yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs), Ryan Mallett.

Overview: It was perhaps the singular most complicated and complex season for Brady in his professional career, as the New England offense went through multiple looks and different schemes. Wave after wave of different personnel were shuffled through, and some were incredibly important one week and completely irrelevant the next. As a result, it stands to reason why Brady may have had an uneven year — few quarterbacks could have handled the constant rotation, series of injuries and flat-out different looks as well as he did. Because of injuries, week-to-week game-planning, weather conditions and the surprise emergence of some new faces, the Patriots went from an offense seeking an identity to a pass-first group to a run-heavy set, and the quarterback was able to handle it better than most.

There are a lot of reasons why this New England team was able to overachieve on a fairly consistent basis over the course of the year, but if Brady’s not there, there’s no way this team gets as far as it did. There were sizable stretches over the course of the season where he was dominant — November 2013 was one of the finest months of his career — and it’s a tribute to his skills that he was constantly in the MVP discussion despite a relatively subpar statistical year. He had just as many late-game comebacks as he had at any point in his career, and even as he entered his late thirties, he proved his flair for the dramatic was just as keen as it was a decade before.

That being said, there were also large portions of the season where the frustration got to him. No one outside of Gillette Stadium is completely sure how much of the issues were tied to the quarterback, or rookie receivers doing the wrong thing. But stripped of so many of the offensive options he had grown accustomed to over the course of previous year, there were times where he was easily flustered, and other times where he appeared overwhelmed as he was unable to jumpstart an occasionally sluggish New England offense that had a nasty habit of slow starts. And when the team needed him to lift his game to the next level in the AFC title game, he was inconsistent, missing key throws early to Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater and Austin Collie. That led to an early deficit the Patriots were unable to bounce back from.

Brady leaves a mixed legacy when it comes to the 2013 season. Was it his best year statistically? Certainly not, at least when it comes to his own occasionally ridiculous standards. And there were fits of Marinoesque rage that made him appear small and petty. But at the same time, he was truly great for several key stretches, showing an ability to lift his team through key moments. And despite all the personnel changes, he was able to work the controls of an offense that actually outscored the Broncos over the second half of the regular season. In addition, he played a major role in infusing the 2013 team with a level of mental toughness that hadn’t been seen around Foxboro for the better part of the last decade.

In the end, it was a year of personal and professional growth for the quarterback, who — by his own admission — had to take on a new series of responsibilities in 2013, holding weekly film sessions with the rookie receivers and working as a mentor to several members of his own offense. (It’s odd to think that Aaron Dobson was just 10 years old when Brady and the Patriots beat the Rams at Super Bowl XXXVI.) If he and his charges can learn from the hard lessons of 2013 and apply them going forward, buoyed by the return of Rob Gronkowski, there’s no reason to think that the quarterback and the rest of the offense can’t be even more competitive in 2014.

Best moment: Brady’s four-game stretch — from Nov. 3 through Dec. 1 — was as good a period as any period (statistically) as any series of games over the course of his career. Against the Steelers, Panthers, Broncos and Texans, Brady went 115-for-164 (70 percent) for 1,443 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions — a per game average of 29-for-41 for 358 yards, 2.5 TDs and 0.5 INTs. In retrospect, it wasn’t coincidental that this was also the best four-game stretch of the season for Gronkowski.

Worst moment: The Oct. 6 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati was the statistical (and offensive) nadir for Brady and the New England offense. The quarterback was 18-for-38 for 197 yards and a pick. In the midst of a monsoon, a last-minute drive by Brady and the Patriots fells short when he misfired on a late pass attempt. The contest marked the end of Brady’s streak of games with a touchdown pass at 52.

By the numbers: 5. Per Pro Football Reference, Brady led five game-winning drives in 2013. It was tops in the league in 2013, and tied with 2001 for the tops in his career in a single season (As defined by PFR, game-winning drives are defined as an offensive scoring drive in the fourth quarter or overtime led by the quarterback that puts the team ahead for the last time.)

Money quote: ‘€œIn my opinion, [it'€™s] by far the most impressive performance in any season that Tom has had. I know the numbers are not Tom Brady-like numbers. But based on the situation, the cast around him, the fact he is more of a player-coach, which is always tough; you’€™re teaching in the huddle, at the line, getting guys lined up. It is a testament to how good he really is.’€ — Former MVP Brett Favre, speaking with NFL Network on Brady’s 2013 season

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Zoltan Mesko on M&M: Bill Belichick has ‘right to state his own opinion’ on Wes Welker hit 01.31.14 at 12:29 pm ET
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Zoltan Mesko

Zoltan Mesko

Former Patriots and current Bengals punter Zoltan Mesko joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss news related to his old team. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Mesko joined the conversation about Bill Belichick‘€™s reaction to the Wes Welker hit.

“He’€™s just stating his opinion,” Mesko said. “He’€™s got the right to state his own opinion to what level he’€™s coaching at and how much success he’€™s had. He sees things differently than anyone else does. The TV copy shows a different thing than what you get out of the end zone and sideline view that you see when you break things down at the football organizational level.

“œThe angle I saw was the TV copy, and I kind of want to revert to what Joe Montana said actually a couple of days ago on ESPN how you wouldn’t send a 5-9 receiver who has had two concussions across the middle to take someone out. The way that worked out was when you’€™re having receivers cross the field, you’€™re trying to make the cornerback always gain ground up field, so you’€™re trying to go underneath him and the cornerback has the responsibility to go underneath you. You’€™re kind of playing chicken there.

“There’€™s two sides to the story,” Mesko added, “but I would trust an opinion of a great coach.”

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Tom Brady recalls Drew Bledsoe winning 2001 AFC championship, thinks Ryan Mallett ‘certainly’ can do same 01.17.14 at 9:08 am ET
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Tom Brady says Ryan Mallett would be ready if called on Sunday in the AFC championship. (AP)

Tom Brady says Ryan Mallett would be ready if called on Sunday in the AFC championship. (AP)

FOXBORO — When Ryan Mallett took first-team snaps on Wednesday in place of the ill Tom Brady, many fans wondered, “What if?”

What if Brady couldn’t go on Sunday or what if Mallett had to fill in for the starting QB, how would the Patriots fare against the Broncos in Mile High air.

Brady heard Mallett talk confidently about taking first-team snaps on Wednesday and he liked what he heard. Then Brady attempted to provide some historical perspective.

“He told me about it. It was good for him,” Brady said. “I’€™m happy he did. He deserves it. He’€™s worked really hard over a long period of time. You never know when you’€™re going to get your opportunity. I think there was an AFC championship game that I didn’€™t get to finish in 2001 and Drew [Bledsoe] came in in the second half and threw a touchdown pass, led us to that win in order to get us to the Super Bowl.”

The big difference, obviously, is that Bledsoe was hardly a newbie to the pressure of the AFC championship game. In fact, he led the 1996 Patriots under Bill Parcells to the Super Bowl, beating the Jaguars on the way to Super Bowl XXXI. And, of course, Bledsoe started that 2001 season as the team’s No. 1 quarterback before Mo Lewis intervened. So, stepping in for Brady and his injured ankle was not as big of a deal as it might be for Mallett, who has exactly four attempted passes in three NFL seasons.

That doesn’t worry Brady.

“Everyone has to be prepared,” Brady said. “You never know when your number is going to be called. Whenever it is the guy who has to step in and do the job has to do it. We have a locker room full of guys who are able to do those things. I certainly believe if Ryan gets his opportunity he can do that too.”

As for his own stats, Brady was reminded that he’s thrown for less than 200 yards in each of his last three games. Does that bother him?

“I think it’€™s just about winning,” Brady said. “I’€™m glad we won and that’€™s what we need to do. If we need to throw for 500 yards, hopefully we can do that. If we need to throw for 50 yards, I’€™ll throw for 50 yards as long as we win and whatever it takes for us to score more points than the other team, that’€™s what we have to do.”

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Tom Brady goes home sick, Ryan Mallett takes first-team reps: ‘It was a lot of fun’ 01.15.14 at 2:31 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Following Patriots practice Wednesday at Gillette Stadium, backup quarterback Ryan Mallett acknowledged he took snaps with both the first team as well as the scout team stepping in for Tom Brady who was not present at the media portion of practice.

Multiple reports indicate that Brady was on site at Gillette Stadium early Wednesday morning but went home sick, as did long snapper Danny Aiken, who was also missing at the media portion of practice.

“€œIt was a lot of fun. I like getting to play in our offense,” Mallett said.

The 25-year-old said he was notified he’d be taking the first team snaps this morning by coach Bill Belichick, but wouldn’t elaborate any further, although he did acknowledge he spoke to Brady earlier in the day.

“This morning,” Mallett said, when asked about when he found out he’d be taking first-team reps. “You have to ask coach, I just do what I am told and do my job.”

The backup quarterback said his focus didn’t change as even when Brady is practicing, he is still mentally preparing like he is out there.

“Even when I am not taking snaps with the first team I am watching and playing the game in my head so I get my reps in case something happens and I’€™ll be going into the game,”€ said Mallett.

Mallett also simulated Peyton Manning on the other side of the ball for the Patriot defense.

“Peyton does a lot of different stuff and we do our best to emulate that and give our defense a good look,” he said. “A few Omaha’€™s.”

The exact reason for Brady’s absence at media portion of practice will be revealed in the injury report which will be released later in the afternoon.

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Patriots practice Friday: Michael Hoomanawanui absent while Brandon Spikes not in shells 11.22.13 at 11:40 am ET
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Brandon Spikes was the only Patriots player not in shells Friday at practice. (AP)

Brandon Spikes was the only Patriots player not in shells Friday at practice. (AP)

FOXBORO — The Patriots practiced in sweats and shells in the cold rain on the upper grass fields Friday morning as they made final preparations for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos this Sunday night at Gillette.

Weather could be a factor Sunday night but rain is not expected. Game time temperatures are expected to be in the low 20s and drop into the teens by the end. Wind is expected to be a factor with gusts out of the northwest expected at 25 MPH.

There were two significant absences during the media portion of practice, which including only stretching. Back-up quarterback Ryan Mallett, who has been playing the role of Manning during practice this week, was not seen. Mallett did arrive at practice as the media were escorted off the field

The only confirmed absence was tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. Running back Brandon Bolden was seen on the sidelines while the rest of the team was in running and stretching drills.

Bolden was removed this week from the injury report after dealing with a knee issue for most of the season. Mallett was not on Thursday’s injury report while Hoomanawanui injured his knee against Carolina and hasn’t practiced all week.

Linebacker Brandon Spikes was one of the very last players spotted coming out to practice and he was not in shells, only sweats, spending most of the time during stretching talking with linebackers coach Pepper Johnson. Spikes has been listed all week as limited in practice with a knee injury.

Also in attendance at Friday’s practice was the TV crew from NBC, including Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya, as the game will be on their air at 8:30 p.m.

The team will conduct a walkthrough on Saturday before taking on the Broncos Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.

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Tom Brady on D&C: Dolphins’ bullying controversy ‘their issue to deal with’ 11.12.13 at 9:40 am ET
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Tom Brady

Tom Brady

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady joined Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday morning as the team returns from its bye week to prepare for a Monday night matchup against the Panthers.

The Patriots are coming off a 55-point outburst against the Steelers, leading to widespread optimism following a slow offensive start to the season.

“Our expectations have never changed with the way that we perform offensively,” Brady said. “The reason why you score a lot of points is because you execute well. You hit the plays that are there. When you get defenses that you may expect to get and you have a great play call vs that defense, you’ve got to really take advantage of that opportunity.

“Football is about matchups and it’s about execution. When both those things come together, you can have pretty good nights offensively. And if you execute really well offensively, it’s hard for good defenses to stop you. But if you execute poorly, you could call the best play vs. the defense that you’re looking for, and if I make a bad throw, then we’re unproductive.

“We’re trying to be productive on a consistent basis. We talk about it at practice, we talk about it before the games. You always go into the games thinking that you have a really good plan of attack, and then it comes down to how well the players can go out and execute that. The last game, we scored 55 points, that was our best night of execution. We played really well.

“How we fare against Carolina, we’ve got to put the work in in practice, we’ve got to be prepared so that we can go out there and play with anticipation. You can play to 100 percent of your aggressiveness if you’re really confident in what you’re doing. There’s definitely games where you gain confidence in what we’re doing, and you think, ‘OK, man, this is what we’re capable of if it all goes well.’ That’s what we’re going to go try to do this next week.. This week we’re playing one of the best defenses in the league. So, our margin of error will be even less. But we still expect to go out there and play really well. That’s the expectation for the offense.”

The big news in football over the past week is the situation in Miami, where Jonathan Martin left the team after allegedly being harassed by Richie Incognito and other Dolphins teammates. Brady distanced himself from the controversy by noting the Patriots have avoided such issues.

“I’ve been a part of one locker room — or two, really, being in Michigan and being in the Patriot locker room,” Brady said. “We’ve got a great group of guys, we have great respect for one another. It starts with coach [Bill] Belichick and Mr. [Robert] Kraft and Jonathan [Kraft] and the leadership that they bring.

“We don’t want to do anything to misrepresent what’s going on in our locker room, we want to be good role models, we want to win football games. And I think that’s what it comes down to. We show up every day trying to do our job and really not let anything else get in the way of that. Because if there’s issues in your locker room, if there’s issues that are outside of the realm of your own opponent that you’re dealing with, it just takes away from what you’re trying to accomplish. Coach Belichick has always done a great job of keeping the players focused on our opponent, and that’s where our energy needs to go.

“It’s an unfortunate thing. There’s been a lot of awareness brought to the situation, based on what’s happened down in Miami. But that’s their issue to deal with. It’s certainly not an issue that any of us Patriots want to deal with. We’re not really concerned with that, to tell you the truth. We’re concerned with how we’re going to do our best to prepare to prepare for the biggest challenge of our year this week.”

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