AFC East: New England Patriots

Patriots vs. Packers preview

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
8:00
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video When: 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: Lambeau Field; Green Bay, Wisconsin. TV: CBS.

In the quarterback world, they don't come much better than Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. And because Brady's New England Patriots and Rodgers' Green Bay Packers play in different conferences, they don't often cross paths on the field.

That makes Sunday's matchup at Lambeau Field one of the most highly anticipated games of the season.

The quarterback matchup is so intriguing that ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky devoted a separate, double coverage-style preview just to them earlier this week.

However, there's still much to discuss about the Patriots (9-2) and the Packers (8-3).

Reiss: We touched on the quarterbacks earlier in the week, so let's go deeper. The Packers' offense has looked unstoppable at home. Where is the deficiency on offense, if there is any?

Demovsky: There's probably two of them, Mike, but they both might be minor. One is at tight end, where the Packers still haven't found anyone who can do what Jermichael Finley used to do, and that's stretch the field and draw multiple defenders down the seam. Andrew Quarless and rookie Richard Rodgers have made some plays in short areas, but that's about it. The other might be the depth behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The Packers have been fortunate that both have stayed healthy this season, but it might serve them well to develop some other weapons. A team like the Patriots, with two shutdown corners, could expose that.

A lot of teams have one cornerback who can shut down a receiver, but it looks like the Patriots are one of those rare teams with a pair. How do you think they'll use them against Rodgers' primary targets, Cobb and Nelson?

Reiss: They played a lot of man coverage last Sunday against the Lions and had Darrelle Revis on Golden Tate and Brandon Browner on Calvin Johnson, often with safety Devin McCourty helping over the top. The week before in Indianapolis, they put Revis on Reggie Wayne and had Browner on tight end Coby Fleener, with cornerback Kyle Arrington on T.Y. Hilton (and often with safety help over the top). They can do a lot of different things and it's been fun to watch the plan unfold each week. My educated guess early in the week would be Revis on Cobb and then Browner on Nelson, with the safety help from McCourty over the top. They'll obviously mix up their looks between man and zone, as is the norm.

The Patriots have struggled to draft and develop receivers in Bill Belichick's tenure, with 2013 second-round draft choice Aaron Dobson the latest example. This seems to be a strength of the Packers. Any sense of why they've been so successful in that area?

Demovsky: You're right; the Packers rarely miss on a receiver drafted in the first few rounds, and the latest one – rookie second-round pick Davante Adams – looks like he has a chance to be the next in line following the likes of Cobb, Nelson, James Jones and Greg Jennings. General manager Ted Thompson and his staff have done well identifying receivers who fit their system. Jennings and now Cobb were tailor-made for the inside routes in coach Mike McCarthy's version of the West Coast offense, while Jones and Nelson had the size to play on the outside.

From the outside, the Patriots' offense looked rather ordinary until Rob Gronkowski got going in that blowout of the Bengals. What happened to spark him and why does he make this offense so much better?

Reiss: It was strictly health-related as he was coming off his torn right ACL from Dec. 8. Gronkowski hadn't played in the preseason despite practicing from Day 1 of training camp, so there was a process of easing him back into the game-day mix and him getting comfortable – both physically and mentally. Gronkowski averaged 35 snaps per game through the first four weeks, and he's been averaging 63 per game in the seven games since. So the first four games were really his preseason in a sense. As for why he makes the offense better, he’s 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, has a large catch radius, runs well and can throw people out of the club in the blocking game. He's a complete tight end who is extremely difficult to match up with – safeties get overpowered and linebackers often can’t run with him -- and draws significant attention in the red zone to often open things up for others. Based on the aforementioned factors, I believe he has a strong candidacy for MVP consideration. I know it almost always goes to quarterbacks, and one can't go wrong with Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but my vote right now would go to Gronkowski, based on what I've seen.

Where do you see potential weaknesses on defense?

Demovsky: It's the run defense, hands down. There should be real concern this week if the Patriots come out the way they did against the Colts, when they were intent on running the ball. It could be a real problem for the Packers. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said this week that he believes he has enough bulk up front to handle that, but there's no denying the Packers' smaller defensive front (that got even smaller than expected after B.J. Raji was lost for the season in training camp) has struggled against the run all season. When the Packers have been decent against the run, they've gotten great tackling games from their linebackers and defensive backs. They're going to need that again.

The run defense has been a little better of late, but it's still the biggest question mark on this team. Whom should they expect to see the bulk of the carries this week and how committed are the Patriots to the run game?

Reiss: The Patriots are as committed to the run as they want to be, depending on the week and if they believe it gives them the best chance to win. Two weeks ago in Indianapolis, for example, they ran it 44 times (against 30 pass attempts) and had a sixth offensive lineman in the game on 37 of those snaps. So they basically declared their intentions before the snap and still powered through the Colts. But then this past week against the Lions, who entered as the NFL's No. 1-ranked run defense, they ran it only 20 times and threw it 53. So this is the essence of what they refer to as the "game-plan offense" – an attack that morphs into something new every week based on what they perceive the opponent's weakness to be. I'd expect to see plenty of power backs LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray against the Packers, in addition to smaller back Shane Vereen. They're going to want to run the ball, at the least to set up play-action possibilities, but also because the matchup looks favorable.

What type of impact has free-agent signing Julius Peppers made on the defense?

Demovsky: It's been two-fold: It has given the Packers another pass-rushing threat. In the past, it was Clay Matthews, Clay Matthews, Clay Matthews. Peppers leads the team with five sacks, and he's also returned two interceptions for touchdowns, so he has delivered in the big-play area. But perhaps just as important, he has allowed Capers to be more creative with Matthews, who has played inside, outside, on the line of scrimmage and off the line of scrimmage this season. Oh, and here's one other thing: Peppers has captured the locker room much in the way veteran Charles Woodson did when he was here. The younger players seem to respect and look up to him.

There's something we didn't hit on with the quarterbacks earlier in the week, and it’s this: Rodgers has talked many times about the possibility that he'll play his whole career as a starter with one head coach, Mike McCarthy, which makes that coach-QB relationship so important. Brady is in the same boat. How do he and Bill Belichick work together?

Reiss: They meet multiple times per week and both have talked extensively about how they value their partnership. Brady has said how fortunate he's been to play in one offensive system over his entire career and Belichick has talked about Brady as a challenging player to coach because he’s always so prepared, which means coaches always have to try to stay a step ahead. Jackie MacMullan, columnist for ESPNBoston.com, wrote a piece about this subject this past January that is timely to revisit here.

This is the type of game in which special teams could be a big factor. Tell us more about the Packers' special-teams units and some of the key players.

Demovsky: Some people (myself included) think McCarthy is crazy for still using Cobb on punt returns, but at least the Packers are platooning him with safety Micah Hyde, who returned a punt for a touchdown against the Eagles. But that tells you how much value they place on the return game. Special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum calls those the first offensive plays of a series. Their kicking game is solid with punter Tim Masthay and place-kicker Mason Crosby, but they've had issues protecting on punts. The Patriots would be wise to go after Masthay, who has had two punts blocked this season. Slocum needs cornerback Jarrett Bush, who missed last Sunday's game against the Vikings because of a groin injury. He's been the Packers' best special-teams cover man and blocker for nearly a decade.

One more Belichick-related question. Packers fans don't get to see him up close very often, and what they do see is probably just his grumpy, news-conference persona. What's he really like?

Reiss: That's a tough one to answer, Rob, because much like the players we cover, we aren't around him much more than a short period of time each day. Obviously, that adds up over time, so I guess I'd say the main thing about Belichick is that this is what he lives for – the football. That's my impression of him; he's the football coach and teacher through and through and if what you're bringing to the table doesn't have anything to do with that – or doesn't align with his goal of winning the next game – it's probably not going to produce much fruit. That's one of the things I've come to appreciate about covering his teams – there are no bells and whistles and perception is reality. It's all ball with him.
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Patriots' injury report: Chandler Jones, eight others limited

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Defensive end Chandler Jones (hip) was a limited participant in the New England Patriots' walk-through practice on Wednesday.

Jones
Jones
This is the first time Jones has participated in a practice since injuring his hip during Week 7 against the New York Jets. It is a good sign to see Jones edging closer to a return with his first practice, even if it was just a walk-through.

Long snapper Danny Aiken (concussion) is a new addition to the injury report, as he was limited on Wednesday. Aiken’s injury status coincides with the signing of long snapper Charley Hughlett to the practice squad. Hughlett could provide an option if Aiken is unable to play on Sunday against the Packers.

The other new additions to the injury report who were limited at practice are starting left guard Dan Connolly (ankle), wide receiver Brandon LaFell (shoulder) and running back Shane Vereen (ankle).

Rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (ankle/finger) was limited at the walk-through, but a good sign is that he was no longer wearing his walking boot in the locker room.

Reserve offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (hip), rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley (knee) and core special-teamer Nate Ebner (finger) were also limited participants.

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) and wide receiver Julian Edelman (thigh) were full participants for the walk-through.

Quick hits from Patriots' locker room

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some quick hits from the media-access period in the New England Patriots' locker room on Wednesday:

Fleming sheds walking boot. Rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming, who wore a protective boot over his sprained left ankle last week, was present and walking without the boot today. That appears to be a sign of progress for him.

Slater
Slater appreciative of extended contract. Special teams captain Matthew Slater drew a large media crowd, and he mostly deflected talk of his contract extension through 2016. He said he didn't really want to get into it because his focus was on the Packers, but he allowed this: "I'm just so thankful for what the lord has done in my life and my career, [to] develop me here as a player and as a man. I'm thankful for an opportunity to continue that development -- to the coaching staff, Bill Belichick and this organization for believing in me and appreciating a player like me."

McCourty concurs with Revis on secondary. After Sunday's win against the Lions, cornerback Darrelle Revis said, "This is probably the best group of guys I've been around, secondary-wise, where everyone is just talented. We can do so many versatile things in our defense." Asked Wednesday if he agrees with Revis' viewpoint, safety Devin McCourty replied: “I would say that's a pretty fair opinion. This group has worked really hard each week of trying to be prepared and trying to be on point to the matchups we have. It hasn't been easy. ...I think our coaching staff does a good job each week coming up with whatever they think gives us the best chance to win. Here, we take it as a challenge to be ready for that. It's not easy when you do different things throughout the week."

Revis: Rodgers the biggest test yet. Revis called Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers the team's biggest test to date. Asked where he seems to hurt defenses most, he said, "Scrambling, when you watch film, that's what you see a lot of -- they extend a lot of plays." Revis added that it's his first time playing at Lambeau Field, which is something he's looking forward to.

Extra points. Receiver Danny Amendola was among the other players drawing a larger media crowd, with his work as a kickoff returner drawing much of the attention. ...New practice squad players Charley Hughlett and tight end Xavier Grimble will wear jersey numbers 53 and 86, respectively.

Patriots RB Jonas Gray's very bad day

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
11:15
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Everyone knows New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray had a tough day on the field this past Sunday, as he did not receive any snaps during the Patriots’ win over the Lions.

Gray went from AFC Offensive Player of the Week with 37 carries for 201 yards and four touchdowns the previous week to sideline fixture, apparently for showing up late to practice Nov. 21.

But Gray also had a tough day off the field. On Sunday, his car was towed. Check out this Facebook post from the towing company.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was at the tail end of his Wednesday morning news conference as there was a call for one last question.

Brady
Rodgers
Turns out Belichick saved his best answer for last.

When asked if he sees any similarities between quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, Belichick was quick with the response.

"They both wear number 12," he deadpanned, before walking off.

In the words of "NFL Live" host Trey Wingo, that's Bill Belichick for the win.

Earlier in the news conference, Belichick was asked about Rodgers having never started a game against his teams, and if he likes that dynamic from a game-planning standpoint entering Sunday's game.

Belichick's response: "It is what it is. Whatever hasn't happened, hasn't happened. I don't really worry about it."

And now we'll get back to our regularly scheduled Patriots programming.

Bill Belichick praises Rob Ninkovich, Patrick Chung, Ryan Allen

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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Quick-hits from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s conference call Monday morning:

An impressive run. The Patriots are riding a seven-game win streak since their loss to the Chiefs in Week 4, but Belichick is always focused on the next matchup and doesn’t read into the past. “Nobody is happier than I am when we win,” Belichick said. “But right now that doesn’t really mean anything going into Green Bay. Great team, well coached. I don’t know how relevant last week or some other week is to this game. This is all about being prepared to play well in Green Bay against a great football team.”

Rodgers
Belichick’s high rating for Rodgers. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is regarded as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, and Belichick agrees. “I think Aaron is a great quarterback who does everything well,” Belichick said. “He’s very smart and does a great job with his team in situations. He’s a great passer, very good with his feet, hard to sack, hard guy to take down, has good awareness. I just think pretty much everything with his game is excellent to outstanding.”

Impressed by Ironman Ninkovich. Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich played wire to wire in Sunday’s win over the Lions, which has become a staple for the Patriots. Belichick places the highest of value on that ability. “Rob is a tough Croatian kid," Belichick said, touching home close to his own roots. "He’s strong, he’s strong for his size. He’s durable, athletic, plays on his feet, runs well. He’s definitely able to take care of himself out there."

Chung shining in coverage. Patriots safety Patrick Chung may have had some issues in coverage during his last stint in New England, but he is now looking like a solid coverage safety in addition to his ability to play inside the box. Belichick says Chung’s coverage skills have always been there. “I’d say Patrick has always been a pretty good coverage player,” Belichick said. “That’s one of his strengths. There were times where we actually used him as the nickelback instead of a third corner. Pat works hard at that.”

Allen’s booming punt. After a poor snap from long snapper Danny Aiken, Patriots punter Ryan Allen corralled the football and fired a booming punt that went 78 yards in the air. Belichick said bad snaps and rebounding from mishaps are something he has his players work on in practice. “Obviously like to always have a good, clean operation, but this is the National Football League and players at every position in this league are highly skilled,” Belichick said. “We work on bad snaps every week and those kind of things. Sometimes as a punter something that’s a little off the norm -- high snap, low snap -- helps you to really focus and make it a really good punt.”
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Much was said after the New England Patriots' 34-9 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, but it was hard to find a more decisive statement than what was delivered by cornerback Darrelle Revis.

"This is probably the best group of guys I've been around, secondary-wise, where everyone is just talented," he said. "We can do so many versatile things in our defense."

Revis, now in his eighth NFL season, is the centerpiece of it all, with Sunday's victory another reminder of this.

With the Patriots mostly matching him up against Lions leading receiver Golden Tate, which left fellow cornerback Brandon Browner to check Calvin Johnson with safety help often over the top, the Patriots blanketed the Lions as quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 39.1 percent of his passes, the lowest mark of his six-year career.

Revis had four pass breakups, two coming on third down, as Stafford completed just one pass on him. Unlike some other teams, the Lions didn't shy away from throwing at Revis, but they paid a price in doing so.

[+] EnlargeDarrelle Revis
Stephan Savoia/AP PhotoCornerback Darrelle Revis credits the Patriots' coaching staff with planning what proved to be a great matchup for him on Lions WR Golden Tate.
Revis Island, in case anyone was wondering, is alive and well.

What stands out is how Revis gives coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia such flexibility with their game plans. He's the queen piece on the Patriots' chessboard, a player who sometimes seems to be effortlessly running the route before the receiver himself because his anticipation is simply elite.

Revis lined up across from Tate on 59 of his snaps Sunday, as charted by Kyle Brasseur of ESPNBoston.com.

"He's still, in my mind, one of the best to play the game," Tate said. "They had a great game plan to limit myself and CJ."

One example of how the Patriots utilized Revis as their queen piece came early in the second quarter when the Lions were at the Patriots' 2-yard line. That was one of just two plays all game that Revis switched his assignment to cover Johnson, and he broke up a pass intended to him in the corner of the end zone.

The play highlighted part of what impresses Belichick about the five-time Pro Bowler.

"Revis is really good at his focus, concentration, technique, playing the ball -- with his back to the ball or his back not to the ball," Belichick said. "He has a real good sense of timing and does a good job of keeping his hands off the receivers even though he's really very close to them. When he's making a play on the ball, he does a good job of not getting very many penalties because he's good with that off-hand and doesn't use it to grab or pull or tug on the receiver. He's very disciplined, very focused and has great concentration."

But as is the case in football, it takes more than one player to produce a strong defense, and Revis and Browner give the Patriots a potent one-two punch on the outside.

"I don't know if there's a group of corners playing better than our group right now," marveled safety Devin McCourty.


Revis goes even deeper than that, pointing out the contributions of nickelback Kyle Arrington and another top reserve, Logan Ryan, who had the unit's lone turnover Sunday.

"I feel our coaches do a great job using the talent we have and to match up with other offenses, and match up with them well," he said, adding that the Patriots were motivated by the Lions referring to themselves as the best defense in the NFL during the days leading into the game. "If you look at our roster, we have talent across the board everywhere. I think Bill and them really dial in -- if it is matchups, what guy is the best for that matchup, I think we really do a great job of that."

Belichick explained after the game how the Patriots go through the process of putting together game plans, and how sometimes there are multiple scenarios they work through before coming to a final decision. Then there are other situations where, "it's obvious, we all look at it and it takes about five minutes to all say, 'OK, this is how we want to play this game.'"

The plan against the Lions seemed to fall into the first category, and it turned out to be another winner, highlighted by Revis' work on Tate.

"It's a different plan every week," Revis said. "It's a tough job but at the same time I'm the man they call for to do it sometimes -- to play inside, to play outside, to do whatever, to help the team. The big goal is to help the team. I call us hybrids. We're all interchangeable."

Revis is right, but there's only one player in the group who's also irreplaceable.

That's the one who called this the best group he's been around, secondary-wise, in his career.

O-line continues to protect Tom Brady

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
8:35
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FOXBORUGH, Mass. -- Even against the league's top defense on Sunday, the New England Patriots' offense couldn't be stopped.

In putting together yet another blowout win with a 34-9 result over the Lions, Tom Brady seemingly led the charge once again. The quarterback led an aerial assault against Detroit's defense, totaling 349 passing yards and two touchdowns on 53 pass attempts (38 completions).

Sure, it was another strong game in what's become an MVP-caliber season for Brady. However, much of the credit should go to the Patriots' offensive line, which kept disruptive tackle Ndamukong Suh and the Lions' top-ranked pass rush from being able to register a single sack against their quarterback.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Steven SenneGiven time to operate by his offensive line, Tom Brady picked apart the Lions for 349 yards.
In fact, you have to go back three weeks to find the last time Brady was sacked, late in the first quarter by DeMarcus Ware of the Denver Broncos on Nov. 2.

"You can't take [anything] away from them," Lions defensive end George Johnson said. "We couldn't get to the quarterback, so they did a real good job on us today."

It wasn't long ago that the offensive line was being pointed to as the team's biggest weakness. Through the first four games of the season, the unit allowed Brady to be sacked nine times, a fact often pointed to as the reason for his early struggles this season.

In the seven games following the Patriots' last loss, a 41-14 disaster against the Kansas City Chiefs that seems nothing more than a blip in the radar now, the offensive line has allowed only five sacks total.

ESPN Stats & Information took a further look at the matter. In the Patriots' first four games, Brady was sacked on 6.2 percent of his 146 dropbacks, tied for 23rd in the league. The last four games? Brady has been sacked only once in 172 dropbacks, good for 0.6 precent. That's the best rate in the league over that time.

On Sunday, Brady was pressured on just 9.4 percent of his dropbacks, the lowest percentage for any quarterback facing the Lions this season.

"[Getting to Brady] just didn't happen," Lions' defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said.

As a result, it isn't much of a surprise that 34 points were the most the Lions have allowed to any offense this season.

"They just up-tempo'd us," Lions safety James Ihedigbo said. "We were trying to get in the best call possible for each situation. We had a few communication breakdowns there."

A lot of credit for that goes to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for the drastic shift he provided from last week's game plan. After leaning heavily on the run against the Indianapolis Colts, racking up 246 yards on the ground, the Patriots were relentless through the air this time out. However, only two of Brady's 38 completed passes went for more than 20 yards.

"They knew that they wouldn't be able to run the ball as well because of our front up there," Ihedigbo said. "They prepared for us. It wasn't really downfield passing that they did, it was just nickel and dime us.

"We knew that was a part of their offense, but we thought they'd actually try to run the ball. You run for 200 yards, you think you'll kind of stick to it. But when you have a quarterback like Tom Brady, you can do whatever you want."

When Brady has the time to throw he did on Sunday, he truly can do whatever he wants. Although Detroit registered four hits on him, the quintet of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer pretty much shut down the Detroit pass rush. Even after Connolly left with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter, Josh Kline came in and filled in admirably.

It's what they've done throughout the Patriots' seven-game winning streak. And while Brady continues to draw attention as top candidate for league MVP, it goes without saying that the offensive line has been the team's most valuable component in getting him to that point.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
4:20
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the New England Patriots' 34-9 victory over the Detroit Lions:

What it means: The Patriots showed they can continue to win in different ways -- they played suffocating pass defense and aired it out on offense -- in recording their seventh straight victory. They improve to 9-2, the best record in the AFC.

No snaps for Gray: One week after earning AFC Player of the Week honors when he totaled 201 rushing yards and four touchdowns against the Colts, running back Jonas Gray didn't have a single offensive snap. Part of that was likely due to his oversleeping on Friday and being sent home for being late, per Bill Belichick's long-standing team rule. But this was also a pass-first approach by the Patriots, and the projection all along was that "passing back" Shane Vereen would get the majority of snaps at running back against the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense. Our unofficial count of snaps, including penalties, looked like this: Vereen (62), LeGarrette Blount (17), Brandon Bolden (2) and Gray (0).

Game ball: Darrelle Revis. One of the questions leading up to the game was whether Revis would cover Calvin Johnson for the third time in his career or instead match up with Golden Tate, who entered the day leading the Lions with 68 catches. Revis mostly lined up across from Tate, and this was arguably his best game as a Patriot -- with four pass breakups and blanket coverage that served as a reminder that Revis Island is alive and well.

Wright steps up at tight end. Tight end Tim Wright's previous season high for snaps played was 21, which he hit twice (at Miami on Sept. 7 and vs. Chicago on Oct. 26). He shattered that total in this game with 60 (including penalties), as the Patriots favored a pass-first approach out of their two-receiver/two-tight end/one-running back package with Rob Gronkowski and Wright as the tight ends. With Wright known as more of a receiving tight end, it set him up for his most extended opportunities of the season. He delivered with two touchdown receptions, giving him six this season.

Special teams come up big: Ryan Allen's 66-yard punt in the first quarter was one of the most underrated plays of the game for the Patriots. First, Allen had to scoop up a low, rolling snap. Second, the Patriots trailed 3-0 at the time and were punting from their own 14, so the Lions were set up to have good field position. But the booming punt shifted field position, the Patriots' defense held, and after the offense scored on the next possession, the Patriots never trailed again. In the second quarter, Danny Amendola's 81-yard kickoff return set up a touchdown. Those were two big plays by special-teams units.

Injuries to monitor: Starting left guard Dan Connolly left the game in the fourth quarter and had his left foot/ankle looked at on the sideline by the athletic training staff. He headed to the locker room under his own power and did not return. Also, cornerback Kyle Arrington left the game in the third quarter with a head injury and returned to play on special teams but not on defense. The head injury was a result of a hit from teammate Duron Harmon. The game was also stopped late in the fourth quarter for receiver Brandon LaFell after he made a diving catch, but he walked off under his own power (and did not return). He had his left shoulder looked at on the sideline.

Stat of note: The Patriots have won 14 straight games against NFC North opponents, a streak extending back to 2002.

What's next: The Patriots visit the Packers next Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET) in a highly anticipated meeting between two teams viewed by some as the NFL's best.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
2:35
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing some New England Patriots halftime thoughts as they lead the Detroit Lions, 24-6:

Allen
Allen's work can't be overlooked. Ryan Allen's 66-yard punt in the first quarter, in which he scooped up a low-rolling snap before blasting a high-arching punt, can't be overlooked in any analysis. That was one of the plays of the first half, coming as the Lions led 3-0 and were set up to have good field position with New England punting from its own 14. Instead, the Lions took over at their own 21, the Patriots' defense delivered a three-and-out, and New England scored on its next drive and never looked back.

Revis making his presence felt. How good is cornerback Darrelle Revis? He's mostly matched up against receiver Golden Tate (this has left Brandon Browner on Calvin Johnson) and there have been times when he's run the route before Tate. He had one notable pass breakup on third down early and also played big on one pass attempt in the end zone when he was matched up on Johnson. That has been a big part of the Patriots' defensive success, but Revis is far from the only player excelling in coverage (safety Patrick Chung, for one, has stood out). Kyle Brasseur of ESPNNBoston.com charted Revis across from Tate on 34 of 41 snaps.

Amendola contributes with kickoff return. With the signing of running back LeGarrette Blount, and the possibility that Blount could take over kick returning duties, Danny Amendola stated his case to keep the job with an 81-yard return in the second quarter. Outside of his 19-yard touchdown catch in the clutch to help beat the Jets on Oct. 19, that was arguably the biggest play Amendola has made for the Patriots this season. It set up a touchdown.

Gray
No snaps for Gray. First-year running back Jonas Gray, who was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week after his 201-yard, four-touchdown performance last Sunday, hasn't played in the first half. This hasn't been a big power running approach for the Patriots, so Gray wasn't expected to play a lot. But it's still notable when looking at the snap breakdown for running backs: 31 for Shane Vereen six for Blount and zero for Gray.

Wright ringing up touchdowns. With the Patriots favoring a pass-first approach out of their 2-WR, 2-TE, 1-RB grouping -- and using Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright as the tight ends for the most part -- it has led to Wright being on the field for a season-high 27 snaps. He has two touchdown catches, giving him six on the season. That stacks up well on the NFL tight-end touchdown leaderboard: Julius Thomas (12), Gronkowski (9), Antonio Gates (9), Jimmy Graham (7), Dwayne Allen (7), Larry Donnell (6) and Wright (6).

Stealing three points at end of half. The Patriots put on a clinic in situational football at the end of the half, driving for a 35-yard field goal after getting the ball back with 35 seconds left at their own 43-yard line.

Patriots get ball to start second half. The Patriots get the ball to open the second half after deferring the choice when winning the opening toss.

Sealver Siliga back at practice for Patriots after IR stint

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
1:48
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots defensive lineman Sealver Siliga participated in the team’s walk-through practice Wednesday. It was the first time we have seen Siliga since Sept. 21 against the Raiders before being placed on the Patriots’ injured reserve list with a designation to return.

Siliga had not practiced since Week 3 of the season.

The fact that Siliga was made visible during a walk-through practice is a promising sign he is nearing a return to the team.

Once a player participates in a practice, it starts the 21-day window to activate that player on the 53-man roster. So, until his activation, the Patriots do not have to make a roster move to make room for Siliga.

Based on the rules for players with a designation to return, Siliga was eligible to start practicing last week.

Rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming was not spotted at the walk-through after suffering an injury late in Sunday's win over the Colts. Defensive end Chandler Jones was also not in attendance.

The Patriots held the walk-through inside Dana-Farber Field House.

No joke: Jonas Gray is a real stand-up guy

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
6:15
PM ET
Gray/ScreechGetty ImagesLong before he torched the Colts, Jonas Gray did stand-up comedy on the same bill as "Screech" (aka Dustin Diamond).
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Word is quickly spreading that the New England Patriots have a player with experience in comedy, and it just so happens he also was the star of Sunday night's 42-20 win against the Indianapolis Colts.

Running back Jonas Gray isn't just a rumbling, power runner who stampeded all over the Colts' defense for 199 yards and four touchdowns. He is also a stand-up comic.

Fullback James Develin, who was Gray's lead blocker throughout the night, said he just found out about Gray's hidden talent.

"One little thing I found out today is that he used to be a comic," Develin said. "I guess he opened up for 'Screech' back in college or something like that."

Yes, Gray opened up for "Screech," who was played by Dustin Diamond in "Saved by the Bell."

"I mean, I feel better about him," Develin said. "It's opening up for somebody. It doesn't matter who it is."

In the locker room on Monday, Gray was asked about his stand-up comedy.

"No comment," Gray said. "No, I'm joking. Back in the day, I called myself a funny guy and did a little stand-up. I was pretty successful at it here and there. Booed off stage a few times."

Gray talked about the experience of opening for "Screech" and whether Gray may have stolen the spotlight from the more famous comedian.

"I think it was a reverse. No, no, no, I'm just joking," Gray said. "It was an honor. He did a good job."

Gray hasn't tried out his routines on his teammates yet, but Develin wasn't surprised to hear Gray is also a comedian.

"No, he's actually a pretty fun guy just around the locker room," Develin said. "It doesn't surprise me at all."

Team captain and safety Devin McCourty isn't ready to give out his critique of Gray the comedian.

"I haven't seen it so I don't want to get on him too bad before I actually get to view it," McCourty said.

One reporter asked Gray if he could provide an example of one of his jokes.

"No, no. I don't want anybody to steal them," Gray said. "You never know when they might come in handy."

Gray compared his comedic style to that of Kevin James, who is best known as Doug Heffernan on "King of Queens," because he gets the crowd involved. Gray expects his teammates to request some jokes now that his once-previously hidden talents have come to light.

"They will probably want me to tell a few jokes here and there," Gray said. "I'll give them a few good one-liners and [my teammates] will be OK."

Gray was asked about what his coach, Bill Belichick, will have to say about his comedy. Naturally, Gray cracked a joke about his coach, who isn't exactly known for his sense of humor.

"He would probably say, 'We are on to Detroit,'" Gray said.

Even with a career in comedy that Gray called successful, he isn't ready to quit his real job as an NFL running back, especially after the breakout performance he has worked his entire life for. Gray hasn't had the easiest journey after tearing his ACL during his senior year at Notre Dame, rehabbing it in Miami, playing on Baltimore's practice squad and then emerging with the Patriots this season.

Gray, who carries himself with confidence, a genuine passion for football and exceptional work ethic, said he never thought about going into comedy if football didn't work out.

In fact, he is all business at practice and in games.

"I'm a different player on the field," Gray said. "There's not a whole lot of room for laughing and comedy especially when I'm on the field. Maybe on the sideline a few times."

Arrington the right call against T.Y. Hilton

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
11:38
AM ET
New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington has had his share of ups and downs throughout his career in New England, but on Sunday night Arrington excelled defensively.

In a rather unforeseen move, the Patriots opted to match Arrington up with Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, a speedster who has been lighting up defenses this season.

The results paid off for the Patriots, as Hilton was held to three receptions for a mere 24 yards.

One of Arrington's key plays was a physical pass breakup on a pass intended for Hilton in the end zone on a third-and-8 on the Colts' second offensive possession.

Head coach Bill Belichick explained the decision to use Arrington in that role.

[+] EnlargeCoby Fleener
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesPatriots CB Kyle Arrington (No. 25) covered Colts TE Coby Fleener, as well as receiver T.Y. Hilton, in their Week 11 game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I don't know if it's so much that one guy is the perfect guy to cover somebody," Belichick said during his Monday morning conference call. "But when you look at your team and look at their team, you have to figure out what's the best for us to play this team particularly in man-to-man situations. You try to do it in a way that gives you the best chance.

"And that covers a lot of things -- where players are and how they line up and the skills they have and where our help would be on the majority of our plays. Those are all factors. And you just have to combine them all and try to figure it out."

Belichick and his staff clearly figured it out, as the Patriots eliminated the Colts' top receiver from being a factor in the game. Tight end Coby Fleener had a breakout game and wide receiver Reggie Wayne played a role as well, but limiting Hilton was important for the Patriots.

"The Colts were a bit of a challenge there because of all of the personnel and the different personnel groups that they use -- four receivers, two tight ends," Belichick said. "I know Allen got hurt in the game, but when he was in there, they had their two-tight-end groups with Fleener and the three-receiver groups with and without Fleener. So those are all the different matchups, and Coach Patricia and Coach Boyer and Coach Flores had to sort and coach who were relative to the receivers and our defensive backs."

Belichick talked about Arrington's athleticism and dependability, which make him a valuable all-around defensive player.

"Kyle has done a good job for us," Belichick said. "He's very athletic and physical and is a good tackler. I think we saw that on the kickoff return. That was one of the bigger plays in the game. We really had poor coverage on that play and he was able to come inside and make a great open-field tackle there at the five-yard-line.

"Those are some of things that Kyle does well and very dependably. He can run. He can tackle. He's a physical player."

Offensive line pushes Patriots over the top

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
1:30
AM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- After the New England Patriots played musical chairs with their offensive line in the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs six games ago, they have settled on a winning combination up front.

With the interior trio of left guard Dan Connolly, rookie center Bryan Stork and right guard Ryan Wendell, the Patriots drastically turned it around in the trenches, especially with pass protection.

But in Sunday night’s 42-20 win over the Colts, the Patriots’ offensive line established itself as a true force in the run game.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesTom Brady said he likes the toughness the Patriots showed on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Tom Brady was proud of his offensive linemen.

“I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage, which was huge, and Jonas [Gray] ran great,” Brady said during his postgame news conference. “But it all starts with the big guys up front and they played a great game.

“We had great protection. I thought they played really well up front, so that’s what we are going to need.”

Brady said the offense will do whatever it takes to win, but when the offensive line is able to create that amount of push, it makes winning a lot easier.

“There are games where you go in and we are not sure how well we are going to run it, but when it is going well you just want to keep giving it to him,” Brady said. “They were creating holes, and Jonas was finding yards whether it was cutting back or staying with his blocks. He just had great vision tonight. He almost ran for 200 yards, so it was a pretty sweet night for a running back to be able to do that.”

Behind the Patriots’ big guys, Gray rushed for 199 yards and four touchdowns, a franchise regular-season record. The line kept opening up holes and getting to the second level with blocks.

Rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming played a major role as a blocking tight end who helped provide an extra boost in the run game.

After the loss to the Chiefs, which seems like a distant memory now, Brady said it would take weeks or months to see where this team is. After Sunday night’s win, he again was asked where the team stands; he answered by citing the Patriots’ toughness.

“You have to be able to find different ways to win,” Brady said. “It depends on the matchup that you get, and you have to devise a game plan that you think is going to work. Once you get in there, you see if it works and if it’s going good you stay with it, but you have to be able to adjust to not be one-dimensional.

“I thought tonight we showed great toughness certainly on both sides of the football.”

Brady noted that one of the keys to winning outside of the strong performance by the offensive line and the run game was the offense’s effectiveness on third down. The Colts came into the game as the NFL’s top defense on third down by stopping teams 30.2 percent of the time.

“This is a team that gave up like three third downs in their last 33 attempts,” Brady said. “So I thought we did a pretty good job.”

Even with a huge performance from his offensive line and Gray, and a key road victory that sets the Patriots on course for home-field advantage in the playoffs, Brady is right back to work after the win.

“It was a great win on the road against a damn good football team,” Brady said. “They all get bigger from here and we will enjoy it, but it’s back to work tomorrow.”

W2W4: Patriots' key areas vs. Colts

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
5:30
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots visit the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, and here are some of the key areas to watch:

Protecting against the deep ball. This is a matchup of strength against strength when it comes to the Colts' passing game and the Patriots' secondary. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck wants to push the ball down the field, as his 22 completions on passes that travel 20 yards or more is tied for the NFL lead. But the Patriots have done a good job against the long ball this season, sparked in recent weeks by cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and with Devin McCourty playing a center-field type role at safety. Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton, in particular, is a big-play threat as he averages 16.7 yards per catch.

How do the Colts match Gronkowski? The Colts are known for their man coverage on the outside against receivers and then pressuring up front with a steady diet of blitzes (offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said they blitz as much as any team the Patriots have faced). That potentially could create openings in the middle of the field for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has been a matchup nightmare for teams as he's rounded into form health-wise. Gronkowski has feasted off some free releases at the line of scrimmage, so we want to see if the Colts try to get more physical with him.

Stopping the run with the lighter box. The Patriots project to be in sub packages for most of the game, based on the viewpoint from here that they will treat Coby Fleener as more of a receiver than a tight end (the position in which he is listed on the roster). When that is the case, it often falls on the lighter box up front to be able to limit the running game, unless the Patriots bring a safety down for support. So getting an exemplary effort out of Vince Wilfork, as we saw Nov. 2 against Denver, figures to be critical; he was like two players in one that day.

Front-line awareness on onside kicks. Bill Belichick made the point that the Colts are a "surprise" onside kick team, as they've recovered three this season, two which were of the surprise variety. So this shines the spotlight on some of the lesser-known players on the Patriots' roster who play on the front line of the kickoff return team -- safeties Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner, linebackers Chris White and Jonathan Casillas; running back Brandon Bolden and cornerback Logan Ryan. The Patriots might even consider altering their alignment at times with this in mind.

Gostkowski could move into second place for all-time Patriots points. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski is 35 points away from becoming the Patriots' all-time points leader, a record currently held by current Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (1,158). Gostkowski has 1,124 points and could move ahead of Gino Cappelletti (1,130) on Sunday night. The kicking conditions, with the roof likely to be closed at Lucas Oil Stadium, figure to be ideal.

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