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Mr. Consistency: TE Tim Wright setting new standard for reliability in Patriots passing game 11.26.14 at 10:26 am ET
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Tim Wright has caught 23 passes on 26 targets this season, the best target rate on the team. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Tim Wright has caught 23 passes on 26 targets this season, the best target rate on the team of anyone targeted at least 20 times. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

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.

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Read More: Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk, Rob Gronkowski, Tim Wright
A history of Bill Belichick’s best postgame rip jobs: ‘That’s a lot of conversation coming from a team that just lost another game’ 11.24.14 at 12:11 pm ET
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In 2007, Anthony Smith talked about the Patriots and Randy Moss before the game. Bill Belichick took a shot at Smith after the contest. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

In 2007, Anthony Smith (left) talked about the Patriots and Randy Moss before the game. Bill Belichick took a shot at Smith after the contest. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick’s shot at Dominic Raiola on Monday morning got us to thinking about the moments — and they’re few and far between — where the Patriots coach has fired back at an opposing player after the game. (That means Baltimore’s Derrick Mason doesn’t qualify for this list.) In no particular order, here’s our top four:

1) Eagles receiver Freddie Mitchell: The chatty pass catcher — who once told the media that he’d “like to thank my hands for being so great” — took plenty of shots at the New England secondary in the days leading up to Super Bowl XXXIX against the Patriots, saying he only knew the numbers and not the names of the New England defensive backs. (He added that he had “something special” for safety Rodney Harrison.) After New England beat Philly for the title, Belichick told Sports Illustrated: “All he does is talk. He’s terrible. And you can print that. I was glad when he was in the game.”

2) Steelers safety Anthony Smith: In December 2007, the Pittsburgh defensive back guaranteed a win over the Patriots, and dismissed the New England receiving corps: “They’ve got [Wes] Welker and Moss, but they’re not like Cincinnati.” During the game, Smith was targeted on several occasions by the Patriots, who rolled to a convincing 34-13 win. In his postgame press conference, Belichick was asked about Smith. “We’ve played a lot better safeties than him, I’ll tell you that,” he said.

3) Panthers defensive backs Chris Gamble and Chris Harris: In the wake of a December 2009 loss to the Patriots, the duo conveyed that Randy Moss didn’t go all-out in the game. That drew a harsh retort from Belichick, who said the day after the contest: “My response would be that’s a lot of conversation coming from a team that just lost another game,” Belichick said. The coach then proceeded to pile on Carolina, who dropped to 5-8 on the year with the defeat.  “You can say whatever you want,” Belichick said to the media. “That’s your job. I just told you. I have a lot of respect for Randy. I think he’s one of our best players. I think if you watch other teams defend him, you watch other teams play against him, they think the same way. Other than these two guys from Carolina after they lost another game. I guess they didn’t think that way. They haven’t won a lot of games now.”

4) Broncos receiver Wes Welker: In the 2013 AFC title game, Welker collided with Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib on a crossing pattern, knocking Talib out of the game on the way to a Denver win over New England. The following day, Belichick hammered Welker. “I feel badly for Aqib, the way the play turned out,”€€ Belichick said. “It was a deliberate play to take out Aqib. No attempt to get open. I’€™€™ll let the league handle the discipline on that. It’€™€™s not for me to decide, but it’€™s one of the worst plays I’ve seen. And that’€™€™s all I am going to say about that.”

Read More: Antony Smith, Bill Belichick, Chris Gamble, Chris Harris
Tom Brady on D&C: ‘We’ve always just kind of believed in each other’ 11.03.14 at 8:28 am ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning to talk about Sunday’s decisive 43-21 victory over the Broncos and discuss the team’s turnaround after the slow start to the season. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Brady played down the importance of Sunday’s game as compared to any other, although he acknowledged it was a nice win for the Patriots.

“They all count. They do. They count the same in the end,” Brady said. “When you play one of the best teams in the league, I think there’s a sense of urgency that’s created by that. Everything can cost you the game, in practice, in the week of preparation, the meetings. There’s such a heightened sense of really accountability. You’re playing a team that can score on defense, they can score on offense, they can put in the 40s and 50s in points. You’ve just got to do as well as you possibly can all week, and then you go out there and you see where you’re at.

“They’re a very good football team. They didn’t play their best yesterday, obviously. I don’t think we played our best, either. But it was a great win for our team. It was one that we really needed. When you play these games at home, you’ve really got to take advantage of it, and we really did yesterday.”

Added Brady: “We got off to a good start. We played from ahead, the way we talked about playing. And we were able to make some plays there in the second half to close it out. But they’ve got a good football team. They’ll be a force to be reckoned with down the stretch.”

Following the Monday night blowout loss to the Chiefs that left them at 2-2, the Patriots have made a dramatic turnaround. Brady credits Bill Belichick for keeping the team from getting too high or too low.

“We’ve always just kind of believed in each other and believed in what we’re doing,” Brady said. “It’s a great lesson, and coach talks about it: ‘Ignore the noise.’ And I think for a long time when he says it, it’s because we’ve won a lot of games, and people — whether it’s family or friends or people who support you and love you and watch you — they tell you how great you are and all these things that are really positive things. If you get caught up in that, then, yeah, maybe you lose your urgency.

“The other part of that is ignore the noise when things aren’t going well. That’s when people tell you you’re the worst team and you’re the worst players and the worst everything. You’ve got to ignore those things also. None of those things are going to affect the outcome of the game. What really affects the outcome is what we do on a weekly basis, showing up to work and believing that we’re doing the right things to help our team improve.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady, Wes Welker
Wes Welker gets knocked out as Patriots roll to 22-point win 11.02.14 at 11:04 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Like many of his teammates, Wes Welker wasn’€™t saying much following Denver’€™s 43-21 loss to the Patriots Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

Adding insult to injury, the Denver wide out was hit hard in the back by Devin McCourty in the third quarter following a Brandon Browner interception and he did not return to the game –€“ although the game was pretty much in doubt at that point with Denver trailing by 23 points at the time.

“I’€™m OK,”€ said a visibly worn down and beat up Welker after the game.

Welker finished the game with just three catches for 31 yards on eight targets as Kyle Arrington did a very good job defensively on him in the slot.

It was Welker’€™s second time returning to Foxboro since joining the Broncos before the 2013 season after spending six seasons in New England. He is now 0-2 as Denver fell in overtime last year — a game where Welker muffed a punt in overtime to help set up the Patriots’€™ winning score.

“Any loss is a loss,” Welker said when asked if it was a tougher loss to take having it come against his former team. “It’€™s tough, but you just have regroup and get back to work.”

The Patriots have now won 34 straight home games against AFC opponents, the longest streak against a conference in NFL history. Having spent so long in New England, Welker knows first-hand how tough it is to beat the Patriots at home.

“€œIt’€™s definitely a tough place to place,”€ said Welker. “We knew that going into it. We didn’€™t play our best.”

Denver is now 6-2 on the season and percentage points behind the Patriots for the best record in the AFC. But, at the midway point in the season there is still a lot of football left to be played and one game isn’€™t going to make or break a season.

“It’€™s a long season, we just have to regroup, get back to work and get better,”€ Welker said.

Read More: Denver Broncos, Wes Welker,
Dont’a Hightower ‘definitely wants this to be a physical game’ against Broncos 11.01.14 at 2:59 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’s about as close to knowing the game plan as your going to get when the Patriots play the Broncos.

Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower says if the Patriots are going to have a puncher’s chance Sunday against the high-powered, high-flying offense led by Peyton Manning, then the Patriots have to be physical with the Broncos, starting at the line of scrimmage.

“You definitely want this to be a physical game on our part,” said Hightower, who has assumed a good deal of leadership in the linebacker room since the loss of Jerod Mayo. “They have a lot of big, big receivers and a lot of quick guys. The one thing we can do that we’re going to have to do, and that we’re pretty good at, is being aggressive. [We could be] jamming [because] they have a lot of crosses [routes] so being aggressive and coming down on that. Peyton is going to get those guys the ball, no matter or when, whether they’re double-covered. We’re just going to have to do a real good job on the line of scrimmage and be aggressive with these guys.”

There’s a good reason for that. If Julius and Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders and Jacob Tamme get free releases off the line of scrimmage, they it could be a long day for the Patriots D chasing countless targets all over the field.

“They have a lot of great players,” Hightower said. “Obviously, you can’t double everybody. It’s just more or less about us going out there and executing. Those are great guys. They have a lot of great skill players. Jacob Tamme does a great job when he’s in there, Sanders and both Thomas guys. More or less, it’s just going to be us going out there and just wanting to have it more than they do.”

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Read More: Akeem Ayers, Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos, Dont'a Hightower
Wes Welker says he knew Tom Brady would bounce back from sluggish start 10.30.14 at 5:30 am ET
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Wes Welker hasn't been surprised old friend Tom Brady has bounced back from a rough start. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Wes Welker hasn’t been surprised old friend Tom Brady has bounced back from a rough start. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Count Wes Welker among those who haven’t been surprised by Tom Brady‘s recent renaissance.

Welker, who played with Brady and the Patriots from 2007-12 before joining the Broncos, still maintains a friendship with the New England quarterback.

“I’m not surprised at all,” the Denver receiver said Wednesday. “I’ve seen it 100 times there, where it’s one bad week and everything’s falling apart … it’s one week and you can never really judge anything off that, and you knew they were going to bounce back from it.”

Welker said he and Brady “text back and forth” on occasion during the season, but it’s never really about football. (“It’s just really how he’s doing, the family and how my wife’s doing and stuff like that,” he said.) He said there probably won’t be much communication this week.

“This isn’t really a friend week this week,” he said. “So I don’t think so.”

Welker is in the second year of a two-year contract he signed with Denver in the spring of 2013, and has 19 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown this season with the Broncos. It represents a down year for the 5-foot-9, 190-pounder, who went from 118 catches in his final season with the Patriots (2012) to 73 last year, to now being on pace for roughly 40 this season.

However, he sounds OK with it, if that means more wins for Denver.

“Yeah it’s definitely been different, for sure,” he acknowledged. “Would I want the ball more? Yes. As long as we’re winning games and we’re being productive on offense and doing those things, I’m good with however we get that done.

“It’s kind of strange being … I feel like the weak link of our offense. [But] if I’m the weak link, we’re going to be OK. I’m excited about the guys we have and the camaraderie that we have together and really pulling for each other.”

He said he’s placing no added pressure on quarterback Peyton Manning to get him the ball Sunday because he’s going up against his old team.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Wes Welker,
Bill Belichick is ‘way past’ Wes Welker’s hit on Aqib Talib 10.29.14 at 2:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Much was made of it at the time when Bill Belichick called it, “one of the worst plays [he’s] seen” when Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker hit then-Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib on an apparent pick play across the middle of the field in last year’s AFC Championship game — knocking Talib out of the game with a hip injury and the Patriots lost the game 26-16, ending their season.

But, Wednesday in advance of the Broncos-Patriots matchup this Sunday, Belichick said he’s put that in the past and actually has “a lot of respect” for Welker.

“[I am] way past that,” Belichick said on a conference call with the Denver media. “I have a lot of respect for Wes and what he did for us and what he’€™s done for the Broncos and what he’€™s done throughout his career.”

Welker was a member of the Patriots from 2007-12 before the Broncos signed him prior to the 2013 season as a free agent when Welker and New England couldn’t agree on a contract.

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Read More: Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Wes Welker,
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