Archive for September, 2013

Setting the scene: Patriots-Buccaneers from Gillette

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

FOXBORO — For the second straight week, rain could play a factor in a Patriots home game at Gillette Stadium.

Partly cloudy skies with breaks of sun and temperatures in the mid-60s are expected for the 1 p.m. kickoff between the Patriots and Buccaneers as New England looks to improve to 3-0 for the fourth time in the Bill Belichick era and the first time since 2007.

But there is a 30 percent chance of showers after halftime.

Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Leon Washington were among the seven listed as inactive for the game.

Gronkowski was listed as questionable (50-50 to play) on the team’s final official injury report on Friday.
The only player ruled out on Friday was special teams captain Matthew Slater, out 4-6 weeks with a broken wrist.

This will be the first of two straight games against the NFC South for the Patriots as they visit Atlanta for a Sunday night football encounter next week. The Patriots and Buccaneers should be very familiar with each other by now, having had three joint practices in training camp in August and having played a preseason game on Aug. 16, won by the Patriots, 25-21.

Tom Brady is 34-9 all-time against the NFC as a starter, with three of those losses coming last season as the Patriots were beaten by the Cardinals, Seahawks and 49ers. Brady will try to extend to 51 games his streak of throwing at least one touchdown pass in a game. Drew Brees has the all-time record at 54 games.

Belichick this week was asked to recall the first game of his Patriots coaching career, a 21-16 loss to Tony Dungy and the Buccaneers at old Foxboro Stadium on Sept. 3, 2000. “Yeah, it wasn’€™t a great start,” Belichick said. “We had our chances there at the end. We had some shots inside the 10-yard line, 15-yard line, whatever it was down there. We just couldn’€™t get it in. So, yeah, not a great start.”

Patriots, Jonathan Fanene reportedly reach formal settlement

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

FOXBORO — The Patriots and Jonathan Fanene have reached a settlement that will end a dispute over what the former defensive lineman is owed, according to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com.

Reiss reports the team and Fanene resolved a grievance over Fanene’€™s 2012 signing bonus, allowing Fanene to keep the $2.5 million already paid out while the team will not have to pay him the remaining $1.85 million.

After signing him in the summer of 2012, the Patriots claimed that Fanene did not disclose a knee injury. The team gave him a contract that included a $3.85 million signing bonus. The team was looking to recoup the $1.85 million and the full $2.5 million already paid.

In a counter-attack, the NFL Players Association filed a grievance in late July to have Patriots doctor Tom Gill relieved of duties as Patriots team doctor. Earlier this week, it was disclosed that the NFLPA had rescinded the grievance, likely in advance of the settlement.

Had the two sides not agreed to the settlement, a formal arbitration process would have determined the final settlement. The move also gives the Patriots a $1.85 million cap credit.

There is another likely bonus grievance on the horizon as the Patriots are looking to withhold the final $3.25 million signing installment to former tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was released in late June after being charged with the first degree murder of Odin Lloyd. The team has already paid Hernandez over $8 million of his signing bonus after a contract extension within weeks of the Fanene deal.

It’s likely that the Patriots could make a case for recouping all of the Hernandez signing bonus but it’s not clear if the two sides could negotiate a settlement similar to the Fanene case.

Final thoughts on Patriots-Bucs

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

With the Patriots and Bucs set for kickoff at 1 p.m., here are a few final notes from the week:

‘€¢ While the endgame between the Patriots and Ryan Mallett is still unclear, the 2014 draft is shaping up to be a good one for quarterbacks. Regardless of what you think of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, he’s part of a high-profile group that could includes Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Alabama’s AJ McCarron. The Patriots likely wouldn’t use a first-round pick on a quarterback, but they have gone after quarterbacks as early as the third round (Mallett was a third-rounder in 2011, as was Kevin O’Connell in 2008) and they have been long-time proponents of the idea that you need to add a quarterback every year (whether with a draft pick or as a UDFA). If one of the prospects is available when the Patriots are picking — likely late in the third round? — it could provide the Patriots with an intriguing choice.

‘€¢ One other college quarterback worth keeping an eye on is Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld. The younger brother of Patriots tight end Zach Sudfeld has had a phenomenal start to the 2013 season. Over the first four games of the season, he’s thrown for 1,146 yards and completed 65 percent of his passes while throwing 11 touchdown passes against five interceptions (he was picked off three times in Saturday’s 45-28 loss to Missouri). Of course, it’s nothing new for the Sudfeld family: Zach enjoyed great success as a collegian at Nevada before being picked up by the Patriots, while brother Matthew finished his college career at Brown with 66 receptions.

‘€¢ One of the more interesting elements of the media’s Q&A with Rob Gronkowski this week was the fact that he acknowledged that being away from the field for such an extended stretch helped him gain a new appreciation and understanding for the game. In addition, he said the perspective of watching so many practices over the course of training camp was helpful in understanding some different aspects of the game. “When you’€™re not out there, you’€™re in the film room and study room, and you’€™re with the team in every meeting,” he said. “Obviously you guys saw me in camp out there watching practice, and you do see things differently. You see how defenses move, you see how to get open with certain moves, and it’€™s a pretty cool perspective seeing it that way.”

‘€¢ One of the things that has really caught my eye over the first two weeks of the regular season has been the drastic drop in snaps for linebacker Brandon Spikes. The Florida product has been the odd man out over the first two weeks as New England has played a tremendous amount of nickel, using a 4-2-5 alignment as a base defense against the Jets and Bills and subbing an extra defensive back in for Spikes. In Week 1, per Pro Football Focus, Spikes played 16 of a possible 64 defensive snaps. Then, in Week 2 against the Jets, he saw more playing time (31 of a possible 74 snaps, per PFF). While the drop in playing time is noticeable, it’s important to remember that the Patriots fancy themselves a flexible team, and so the move could simply be a personnel shift. One of the league’s best run-stoppers, he’s entering a contract year, so some conspiracy-minded individuals might have you believe it’s Bill Belichick’s way of freezing him out. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on his snap count going forward.

‘€¢ Wrote about this a couple of times this week, but it’s worth noting that for all the pressure being put on rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, most of the rest of New England’s rookies have operated pretty much under the radar, including second-round pick Jamie Collins. The Southern Miss product has played sparingly over the first two games (just six snaps on defense), serving mostly as a special teams contributor.

‘€¢ Speaking of special teams, the Patriots have to address the question of who will be working as a gunner on the punt team with Matthew Slater on the shelf. New England’s special teams captain, who is sidelined with a wrist injury, has already been downgraded to out for Sunday’s game, and his absence marks a sizable loss for the Patriots special teams unit. One of the fastest players on the team, his strength and speed are extremely disruptive and make him tough to opposing special teams groups to deal with. (Just ask Rex Ryan, who said after last Thursday’s game, “That Slater kid is a heck of a football player.”) Tavon Wilson and Kyle Arrington are two possibilities to take over the gunners role opposite of Marquice Cole, but it will be interesting to see if the Bucs try to take advantage of Slater’s absence.

‘€¢ I had the chance to see a few moments of a feature NFL Network is running as part of its pregame show on Sunday that looks at the relationships Bill Belichick built with current and former Boston-area coaches including Doc Rivers, Terry Francona and Claude Julien. It looks like a terrific piece — definitely DVR-worthy. We’ve written about the bond between Rivers and Belichick in the past, and so it makes sense that the two would be close. And we’ve heard Belichick and Francona discuss their association over the years. But I had never heard Julien talk about Belichick, and the Bruins coach fairly gushes with praise about what he’s learned, particularly about avoiding the pitfalls that come following a championship. “That’s the one thing I was amazed with, was the support that I got from the other coaches, whether it was Bill Belichick coming to our game and even us reaching out to him at times to kind of get some feedback after we won the championship,” Julien said of Belichick. “How do you react to your team? How do you avoid the sense of entitlement? All of that made me a better coach.”

Fantasy Football live chat, 11 a.m.: Helping set Week 3 lineups

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Join WEEI.com/Rotobahn fantasy football expert Pete Davidson for a live chat starting at 11 a.m. Sunday. Let Davidson help you set you Week 3 lineups and continue domination of your fantasy league. Get your questions in now …

 

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Video: ‘4th and Goal’ breaks down Patriots-Bucs

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

In the latest edition of “4th and Goal,” WEEI.com’s Christopher Price takes a look at Sunday’s Patriots-Bucs contest, with three points of emphasis for New England.

10 things you have to know about Bucs-Patriots

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

Here’€™s everything you need to know about Sunday’€™s Patriots-Buccaneers game.

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:

1. Cornerback Aqib Talib against wide receiver Vincent Jackson Talib was not necessarily brought in to shut down the opposing team’€™s No. 1 receiver — it was more to match up in man coverage on the longest and most physical of the pass catchers — but this is one of the those occasions where Jackson fits both descriptions. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder is one of the best and most versatile receivers the Patriots have faced over the last few years. (Remember how he scalded Devin McCourty early in the 2011 season when he was with the Chargers? In that one, he had 10 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns.) Part of his brilliance comes in the fact that he can line up in multiple spots, including the slot. Earlier in the week, Talib did an excellent job breaking down Jackson’€™s vast array of talents, saying Jackson ‘€œruns routes like a smaller guy, and he runs deep balls like a 6-foot-4 guy. He has the best of both worlds as a wideout [and is] real hard to defend. He brings that quickness to the table, so he can get in the slot and still get open. He definitely brings both sides to the table.’€

2. Quarterback Tom Brady against cornerback Darrelle Revis We’€™re not going to fully commit to the idea of Revis manning up on Julian Edelman — Revis himself reportedly has voiced displeasure over the fact that the Bucs aren’€™t playing enough man-to-man — but the the all-world corner matching skills with Brady certainly will provide some compelling theatre. Since 2009, Revis has faced Brady and the Patriots on seven occasions, and according to Pro Football Focus, the quarterback has done pretty well against the corner. In all, Brady has completed 20-of-39 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns with one interception with Revis in coverage. Revis will get his shot at bettering those numbers when the two meet again Sunday.

3. The Bucs against themselves – The Buccaneers have a world of individual talent on both sides of the ball, but through the first two games of the year they’€™ve have done a good job of self-destructing. Through two games, no team had more penalties (23) and more penalty yardage assessed against it than Tampa Bay (220). The Bucs have lost a pair of field goal games at the buzzer, one in the season opener to the Jets (when a late flag — the third of three personal fouls assessed to Tampa Bay) allowed New York to get into field goal range as time expired) and last week vs. the Saints, when Drew Brees led New Orleans to a 16-14 last-second win. Toss in the various reports of team unrest, a case of MRSA, and a reported trade request made by Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman, and it’€™s shaping up to be a long year for the Bucs. Not saying they won’€™t give you everything they have, but to this point, Tampa has come up short in the biggest moments of the 2013 season.

4. Under-the-radar opponent Patriots fans need to know – He’€™s not a household name, but Dashon Goldson is one of the more underrated defensive backs out there, and he will present problems for the Patriots for several reasons, not the least of which being he’€™s developed a rep as a headhunter. Goldson, who appealed and won the decision after a one-game suspension for an incident against the Saints last week, will play on Sunday, with a track record of recklessness. He’€™s committed a whopping 15 personal fouls since the start of the 2010 season, the most in the league, and while his latest violation didn’€™t get him suspended, it was Goldson’€™s fifth for unnecessary roughness since 2011 and his second in the first two weeks of the 2013 season.

5. By the numbers: Percentage-wise, no receiver accounts for more of his team’€™s total receptions through the first two games of the season than Jackson. He’€™s caught 12 of the 24 passes Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman has completed over the course of his first two games, a 50 percent rate. The only two receivers who were close to Jackson in terms of percentage over the first two weeks were Edelman and Philly’€™s DeSean Jackson, both of whom accounted for 42 percent of their teams receptions in that same span.

(One more for good measure: through two weeks, the Patriots offense has gone no-huddle on 13 plays, or 11.8 percent of time. For comparison, the Pats went no-huddle an average of 25 percent per game over the last two years.)

6. Quote of note –
‘€œI just assume he’€™s not playing until they tell me that he’€™s going to play. We’€™ve dealt with him injured for a lot of last season too, so you just don’€™t want to ‘€¦ I think we know how to play without him. It’€™ll be a nice little influx of really rare talent when he gets back. I love having him on the field with me, I love working with him. He’€™s been great to work with since the day he got here, so whenever he’€™s back on the game field it’€™ll be exciting for all of us.’€ -- Brady on the potential return of Rob Gronkowski

After being listed as doubtful for the first two games of the regular season, the tight end was upgraded to questionable when the final injury report of the week came out on Friday.

7. Patriots fans should be worried about ‘€¦
Freeman and the Bucs hitting on the deep ball. This clearly was a talking point this week in Foxboro — by my count, no fewer than three defensive players referenced separately the fact that Tampa led the league in big plays last year. (The Bucs actually were first in the NFL in pass plays of 40-plus yards in 2012 with 16.) Another talking point that was likely referenced this week, although one not for media consumption, was GTFB. It’€™s a simple, four-word philosophy ‘€“ not repeatable in polite company — for New England defensive backs that drives home the danger of allowing the big play.

8. Bucs fans should be worried about ‘€¦
another excellent performance from the New England defense. Yes, the first two games came at the expense of rookie quarterbacks, but the numbers are undeniably impressive. The defense yielded three touchdowns on 29 offensive drives, allowed an average of 15.5 points per game, forced six turnovers and has held opponents to a 32.3 conversion rate when it comes to third down (eighth-best in the league). Again, the numbers were against occasionally ragged offenses, but still need to be singled out as exemplary.

9. One more thing –
The rookie receivers will again be in the spotlight Sunday, as the Patriots will continue to force-feed them in an attempt to see if they can join Edelman in helping move the chains. We wrote about this earlier in the week, but it certainly bears repeating: Over the first two weeks of the 2013 season, New England has relied on its rookie receivers in a way no other Tom Brady-offense has done in the past. While targets can occasionally be an imperfect stat, the fact that Kenbrell Thompkins has been targeted 21 times through two games (and is on pace for 168 targets over the course of the regular season) gives you a good idea of what’€™s going on. Thompkins is already almost halfway to the rookie receiving record for targets in New England, established by Edelman in 2009 (54). There was some marked improvement for Thompkins between Week 1 and Week 2, and Aaron Dobson was really in a no-win situation last week — he made his first start during a short week with no padded practices — and so any sort of progression this week should be taken as a good sign. The Patriots and Brady will need them to step their collective game up this week against the Bucs.

10. Prediction:

Rob Gronkowski ‘questionable’ while Danny Amendola ‘doubtful’ for Sunday vs. Buccaneers

Friday, September 20th, 2013

FOXBORO — For the first time this season, Rob Gronkowski is not doubtful to play in a game.

The Patriots tight end, who has been practicing with the team since being taken off PUP on Aug. 31, was again limited in practice on Friday but the team has officially listed him as questionable for Sunday against Tampa Bay on the official injury report. He has been limited all week and was considered to be a 50-50 proposition to play on Sunday earlier in the week.

Danny Amendola, who was also listed as limited in practice, is not as likely to play. He was categorized as “doubtful” with an ongoing groin injury.

Special teams captain Matthew Slater is the only player ruled out for Sunday with a wrist injury.

Here is Friday’s report:

Did Not Practice
ST Matthew Slater (wrist) OUT

Limited Participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin) DOUBTFUL
RB Brandon Bolden (knee) QUESTIONABLE
OL Dan Connolly (finger) QUESTIONABLE
DB Nate Ebner (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) QUESTIONABLE
OL Will Svitek (knee) QUESTIONABLE
RB Leon Washington (thigh) QUESTIONABLE

Full Participation
TE Zach Sudfeld (hamstring) PROBABLE

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.