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Belichick confirms Wilfork likely done for season

Posted by Robert Burgess September 30, 2013 04:08 PM

Patriots coach Bill Belichick confirmed on Monday afternoon that defensive tackle and five-time Pro Bowl player Vince Wilfork will likely miss the remainder of the season with an injury.

"It doesn't look too good for Vince," Belichick told WEEI's Salk & Holley on Monday. "He's got a pretty serious injury and it's probably unlikely that he'll be able to play again this year."

The Patriots announced that Wilfork had an ankle injury during the game, and he was scene leaving the Georgia Dome after the game with his lower leg in a walking boot. The Globe's Shalise Manza Young reported Wilfork tore his Achilles' tendon during the first half of the Patriots' win over the Falcons.

"We're very disappointed for Vince," Belichick said. "He's worked very hard to prepare for the season. He's a true professional. Gives us great leadership on and off the field. Great example for the younger players as well as the veteran players.

"He's got a real commitment to the team and to winning," the coach continued. "It's unfortunate. You hate to see it."

Belichick said the Patriots are exploring options to make up for the loss of Wilfork.

"Clearly there are no Vince Wilforks just standing out there on the corner looking to sign with the Patriots or some other NFL team. He's a special player. One of the very best at his position. There's no way you would replace him with one player. That's totally unrealistic."

New England rookie Joe Vellano sacked Atlanta's Matt Ryan, but New England is thin at the defensive tackle position.

Belichick unsure of extent of Wilfork injury

Posted by Staff September 30, 2013 12:06 PM
Following the Patriots’ 30-23 win in Atlanta Sunday night, the team returned home to Foxborough with the biggest question being what will happen following the loss of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.

Wilfork was injured on the Falcons' first drive of the game and had to be carted to the locker room. It was reported he had suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon and could be out for the rest of the season. Head coach Bill Belichick, in a conference call Monday morning, would not confirm any of the reports.

“I really don’t have a lot of information,” he said. “We got back late last night; I know they’re going to look at [Vince] and do some tests this morning… I really don’t know much right now, I haven’t had a chance to meet with our medical people and I don’t even know what they have done yet.”

The 10-year veteran and team captain has been a staple of the Patriots’ defense for the past decade, making the Pro Bowl five times. Wilfork is the only remaining Patriot from any of the Super Bowl championship teams besides quarterback Tom Brady.

Belichick knows what a big loss it would be if Wilfork cannot play.

“[Vince is] an outstanding player,” he said. “He gives us great leadership, is a strong contributor on and off the field, in the locker room, and everything else … Obviously if he’s not there then everybody [will have to] pull a little bit more weight on their end.”

One player who had to step in and try to fill Wilfork’s shoes was rookie Joe Vellano, who had a sack on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Vellano came in as an undrafted rookie and made the team out of training camp, getting opportunities to play in the preseason and making the most of them.

“Joe's a hard working kid,” Belichick said. “He was a productive player in college; he played a lot of spots at Maryland: he played end, he played tackle, [and] he played some on nose … He’s got good instincts, kind of has a nose for the ball and a good feel for what’s going on.

“[There are] a lot of things he has improved [upon] in terms of technique and recognition and reaction and all that. He’s still got a long way to go, but [he’s] definitely making progress. He works hard every day: he’s usually the first one on, last one off the field or close to it, [and] puts in a lot of time trying to get better at the things he needs to work on and that’s helping.”

A bright spot on the Patriots’ defense has been the play of cornerback Aqib Talib. He recorded his fourth interception of the year on Sunday, and has made many key defensive plays this season, including Sunday's breakup of an attempted touchdown pass to Roddy White on fourth and 7 from the Patriots’ 10 yard line that would have tied the game with half a minute to play.

“Aqib has done a good job for us,” Belichick said. “[He’s a] smart player, good communicator, really competes hard, [and he] really competes well every day in practice, competes well on the field [in] whatever he’s asked to do, [whether it be] man coverage, zone coverage, tacking, [or] special teams, whatever it is he really works hard and competes hard … He’s one of our offseason award winners. He’s put in a lot of work and has had some good results.”

The Patriots were given the day off on Monday, but will re-group on Tuesday to begin preparations for their Week 5 matchup against the Bengals in Cincinnati.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Falcons game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2013 07:59 AM

ATLANTA -- This isn't the bend-but-don't-break defense we're used to. No, there's something special in what the Patriots have been able to accomplish in the first four weeks of the season, capped on Sunday with a 30-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Here are our takeaways from the Patriots' win:

1. Improved efficiency -- In all the key categories of efficiency, the Patriots showed improvement. They went 7 of 13 on third down and 2 for 3 in the red zone. Sure, you want to see more of an uptick. But again, there's week over week improvement here. They'll be scary good when they start to click.

2. Fantastic defense in the red zone -- If you considered just the raw numbers, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had a great game. He threw for 421 yards and two touchdowns. But that doesn't explain why his team only managed 23 points Sunday night. While he was able to find tight end Tony Gonzalez on two TD passes, he couldn't seem to work any of that magic within the Patriots' 20-yard line. The Falcons went 1 for 6 in the red zone, thanks in large part to a Patriots defense that is extremely stingy. After a stunning stop on fourth down with less than a minute remaining, it was obvious that the defense deserved the credit for the win, which frustrated the Falcons to no end.

"We're just not executing like we need to in the red zone," Falcons coach Mike Smith lamented. "We are moving the ball between the 20s, but we're not ending with touchdowns. We've got to score touchdowns in this league."

Smith sounded like the Patriots after a week in which the team had to hear about its 32d ranked red zone efficient offense.

3. Kenbrell Thompkins had a coming-of-age game -- There may never be a perfect outing for Thompkins, who has at least one drop in each of the Patriots' four games. But after Sunday night, you can rest assured he can at least be dependable and, at times, downright exciting to watch. He caught six passes for 127 yards, including a diving 18-yard touchdown grab that proved he can put on the burners for the Patriots when need be. But his most remarkable catch was a 49-yard reception in the second quarter in which he had to come back for an underthrown pass and maneuver around a Falcons defender to make the reception. It was a phenomenal performance.

"I'm just playing football and trusting the older guys to put me in the right spot for the plays that are being called," Thompkins said. "I'm just trying to go out there and make a play for my team."

4. Injury concerns -- Late in the night, news came out that Vince Wilfork has a torn Achilles' tendon, suffered in the first quarter of the game. He was replaced by Joe Vellano, who went on to have a sack. But it's pretty obvious that losing Wilfork is a huge blow to the Patriots on defense, especially considering the high number of snaps Wilfork recorded for the team and the number of players on the current roster who can play the position. Tommy Kelly and Vellano both needed a blow from time to time Sunday, with Chandler Jones sliding over from defensive end and rookie Chris Jones seeing his first extended action. The team will likely have to make a roster move to fill some of Wilfork's snaps, but make no mistake about it, there is no replacing the big guy.

It was also concerning to see the hit on rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson, who was becoming a key player on third down. He left the game with a neck injury after a gruesome-looking hit that contorted his body. It was a wonder to see him walk off the field on his own.

5. The scent of something special -- This is the first time the Patriots have started a season 4-0 since 2007. It's also the third time the team has done so under coach Bill Belichick. … Belichick is now tied for fifth place in NFL coaching wins with 209. He is 209-109-0, tied with Chuck Noll (209-156-1). …LeGarrette Blount's 49-yard touchdown run was the team's longest since LaMont Jordan's 49-yard TD run against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 14, 2008. It was also the team's longest run since Sammy Morris broke off a 55-harder against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 27, 2009.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Watch: Bill Belichick postgame interview

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2013 07:32 AM
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Watch coach Bill Belichick's postgame comments after the Patriots improved to 4-0 with a victory over the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday.

Watch: Tom Brady postgame interview

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2013 07:26 AM
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Here's what Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has to say after the Patriots beat the Falcons, 30-23, on Sunday. Brady hit 20 of 31 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns.

Watch: Patriots-Falcons game highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2013 07:20 AM
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Watch a recap of the Patriots' 30-23 victory over the Falcons on Sunday night.

Source: Wilfork has torn Achilles' tendon

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 30, 2013 02:13 AM

ATLANTA - It wasn't good to see Vince Wilfork limp off the field in the first half of the Patriots' win over Atlanta, and the news is about as bad as it could be for New England: according to a league source, the veteran tore his right Achilles' tendon.

The Patriots announced that Wilfork had an ankle injury during the game, and he was spotted leaving the Georgia Dome after the game with his lower leg in a walking boot.

Wilfork will more than likely be placed on season-ending injured reserve.

It will be interesting to see if the Patriots try to swing a trade for a defensive tackle to take Wilfork's place - though rookie Joe Vellano had a sack of Matt Ryan, New England is very thin at the position.

A team captain, Wilfork has been the linchpin of the defense for several years, playing an impressive number of snaps for his position.

Talib leads the way on defense again

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2013 12:46 AM

ATLANTA -- When the game was on the line, Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib came through in the clutch.

Faced with a fourth down on defense and the Atlanta Falcons seven yards away from a game-tying touchdown, Talib drew Roddy White in coverage. As has been the case in this young season, the Patriots' top cornerback did not disappoint. He draped the crafty veteran receiver on a crossing route over the back of the end zone before breaking up the would-be game-tying touchdown pass. It sealed the Patriots' 30-23 victory in the Georgia Dome, propelling them to 4-0 on the season.

"Man, Roddy [White] just ran like a straight over route, crossing route, and Matt Ryan just put it up and I just had to get to it," Talib said of the final play.

The win will certainly bolster the team's confidence while it continues a tough stretch of the season.

"Definitely," Talib said. "Being up, what, 17? And let them come back and then have to stop them on fourth down to win the game, you always can go on that."

He finished with four passes defensed, including an interception while covering Julio Jones, the previous league leader in receptions and receiving yards.

"Physical game man, refs let us play," Talib said. "They did some pushing, we did some pulling. Came out with the victory."

The sixth year cornerback's play overshadowed the talented Atlanta quarterback, who lit up the stat sheet: 34 of 54 passing for 421 yards and two touchdowns. While Ryan was prolific in the Falcons' territory, he found trouble when his team got in the red zone. They finished the game 1 for 6 on the night within the Patritos' 20-yard line.

"Not our best effort in the red zone tonight," Ryan said. "We had chances, we really did. We just didn't make the plays."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has seen Talib become a solid player in his system. He's made countless plays over the course of the year and all the way back to the spring.

"Aqib played well for us all the way back to the spring and training camp," Belichick said. "He played well. He played the ball well against good receivers. He tackled well. He covered well. He's done a good job for us since he has been here."

For Talib, Sunday's win over the Falcons can be seen as a statement game.

"You got the whole league watching us, I mean the whole world watching," he said. "Everybody picked us to lose. Ya'll guys, everybody picked us to lose.

"Hey, it don't get no better than that."

Survey: Who gets game ball for win over Falcons?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 29, 2013 11:19 PM

The Patriots' offense came alive on Sunday night, producing its highest point total of the season in a 30-23 victory over the Falcons.

Which player went above and beyond to make the win happen? Cast your vote below.

Who deserves the game ball for the Patriots' win over the Falcons?

Final: Patriots 30, Falcons 23

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 29, 2013 08:16 PM

In the end, it all came down to the Patriots' defense.

Aqib Talib broke up a fourth-down pass to Roddy White in the end zone with less than a minute remaining as the Patriots held on to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 30-23.

Matt Bryant nailed a 25-yard field goal to help the Falcons pull within seven, then Atlanta got the ball back when the Patriots botched the snap on fourth-and-inches to get a final shot.

Kenbrell Thompkins caught six passes for 127 yards and a touchdown and Brady threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns as the Patriots improved to 4-0.

Review Zuri Berry's in-game updates below.

Gronkowski, Amendola, Washington inactive

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 29, 2013 07:04 PM

ATLANTA – The Patriots revealed their full list of inactive players for Sunday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons, including the previously announced Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola.

Also inactive is linebacker Steve Beauharnais, wide receiver Matthew Slater (wrist), Jake Bequette, offensive lineman Chris Barker, and running back Leon Washington (thigh).

Washington had warmed up prior to the game as if he would be ready to go.

Returning for the Patriots this week is tackle Will Svitek, who has been hampered by a knee injury. This will be his first game of the season.

What to watch for as the Patriots visit the Falcons

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 29, 2013 10:00 AM

ATLANTA -- Going into Week 4, the Patriots will have their most difficult test of the season against the Atlanta Falcons, who sport an array of offensive weapons that could spell trouble for any respectable defense.

And the team still has improvements to make, particularly on offense.

Here's what we're watching in Sunday's game:

1. How the Patriots handle Julio Jones -- The explosive receiver is tied for the NFL lead in receptions (27) with Julian Edelman and leads in receiving yards (373). This is a perfect opportunity for Aqib Talib to match up with one of the best in the league. But in doing so, there are matchup problems elsewhere. Which leads me to No. 2.

2. Roddy White's status -- White has been hobbled by an ankle injury. He was limited in practice this week and is listed as questionable for today's game. He has seven receptions this season for 56 yards, far off his normal production in a three-game span. Last season, he caught 92 balls for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns. When healthy, he is a dangerous complement to Jones, tight end Tony Gonzalez, and third receiver Harry Douglas. But will he be anywhere near 100 percent? We'll see.

3. Continued offensive improvement -- The Patriots are currently ranked dead last in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 30.8 percent of possessions within the 20-yard line. They've been working on it all week, so we'll see how much they've improved. But there's also still concerns about offensive chemistry and the team's third-down conversion rate (39.6 percent).

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Game 4 preview: Patriots at Falcons

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 29, 2013 08:00 AM

ATLANTA – The Patriots are looking to start the season with their fourth straight win and take their fourth straight game against the Atlanta Falcons, but they'll have to do so without any additional firepower Sunday night.

New England downgraded tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) and wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin) to out for Sunday night's game after both were listed as questionable on Friday's final practice report. Neither made the trip to Atlanta.

Amendola will miss his third straight game since tearing a groin muscle in Week 1, while Gronkowski has been out since Jan. 13 when he broke his forearm against the Houston Texans. Gronkowski has undergone four surgeries since then, three on his forearm and one on his back to fix a herniated disk.

The Patriots have made do without both. They're coming off a 23-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, finding more offensive rhythm as the season has progressed.

They'll have a tough challenge in the Falcons, led by quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons are tied for 12th in offense (23.7 points per game) in the league while putting up 379.0 yards per game. Ryan has been prolific through three games, throwing for 909 yards and six touchdowns while sporting a 100.4 quarterback rating.

Falcons running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) is out for Sunday's game while four of his teammates are listed as questionable: offensive tackle Sam Baker (foot/knee), wide receiver Julio Jones (knee), wide receiver Roddy White (ankle), and former Patriot cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh).

The Patriots are tied with the Falcons in their all-time series, 6-6. But New England has captured the last three games, including a 26-10 win over the Falcons in 2009.

If the Patriots win, Bill Belichick (208-109) will tie Chuck Knoll (209-156-1) for fifth place all-time for most wins by an NFL coach and Tom Brady will become the fifth quarterback to reach the 140-win milestone behind Brett Favre (186), Peyton Manning (157), John Elway (148), and Dan Marino (147).

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m.

Records: Patriots 3-0; Falcons 1-2.

TV/Radio: NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and Westwood One Sports (Kevin Kugler, James Lofton).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.

Patriots offense: WR Julian Edelman, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Marcus Cannon, TE Zach Sudfeld, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork, DT Tommy Kelly, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Falcons offense: WR Julio Jones, LT Sam Baker, LG Justin Blalock, C Peter Konz, RG Garrett Reynolds, RT Lamar Holmes, TE Tony Gonzalez, WR Roddy White, QB Matt Ryan, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, FB Patrick DiMarco.

Falcons defense: RE Osi Umenyiora, DT Corey Peters, DT Jonathan Babineaux, LE Jonathan Massaquoi, OLB Joplo Bartu, MLB Akeem Dent, OLB Stephen Nicholas, CB Desmond Trufant, CB Asante Samuel, S William Moore, S Thomas DeCoud.

Read this, watch that

- Tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola will not play against the Falcons.

- The Patriots are hoping to contain Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

- The Globe's Jim McBride provides his keys for the Patriots' win against the Falcons. (Subscription.)

- Follow today's game and comment on the action in our live blog. Updates start around 7 p.m.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Gronkowski, Amendola will not play Sunday

Posted by Robert Burgess September 28, 2013 05:00 PM

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola will not play in Sunday's matchup against the Falcons.

Globe writer Ben Volin had reported on Friday that a source said New England planned to use the two players on a limited basis during the game.

But on Saturday, Volin posted via Twitter that his source said "things changed over night," and that Gronkowski and Amendola, both recovering from injuries, did not travel to Atlanta.

ESPN's Adam Schefter was the first to report the players did not make the trip.

The two players had been listed as questionable on the latest injury report.

Earlier on Saturday, the Boston Herald reported Gronkowski's family has reservations about rushing the tight end back too quickly.

Source: Plan is for Gronkowski, Amendola to play Sunday

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 27, 2013 04:50 PM

The Patriots will likely get a boost on offense Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons with the return of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola, according to a league source.

Gronkowski, who has been rehabilitating after undergoing back and forearm surgeries, is expected to play, as is Danny Amendola, who was been hampered with a groin injury.

The source said that, as of today, the two are playing against the Falcons, but there is "a lot of time between now and Sunday night."

While the Patriots are taking it day by day, the plan is for the two to have a limited role in Atlanta.

Patriots release CB Marquice Cole

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 27, 2013 04:18 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots have released cornerback Marquice Cole, the team announced.

Cole has been battling a hamstring injury, and was listed by the team as limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday.

New England did not announce a corresponding move, though it's likely a practice squad member will be promoted for Sunday night's game in Atlanta.

Amendola joins Gronkowski as questionable for Sunday

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 27, 2013 03:55 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots and Falcons have released their final injury reports of the week. On the positive side, the Patriots have upgraded wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin) from doubtful to questionable for Sunday night's game, meaning they're officially saying there is a 50-50 chance he will play.

However, it seems unlikely that Amendola will be ready to go; he appeared to be moving better in practice this week, but there is a lot of stopping/starting/cutting involved at his position, and that requires healthy groin muscles.

The Patriots listed tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) as questionable, along with tackle Sebastian Vollmer (foot). Vollmer did not practice Wednesday or Thursday; typically, players not practicing Thursday do not play in that week's game.

The Patriots did declare special teamer Matthew Slater (wrist) as out,

The Falcons declared running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) as out, and former Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh) was added to their report as questionable.

The full report:

For the Patriots
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)

WR Danny Amendola (groin)
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
DB Nate Ebner (ankle)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm)
OL Will Svitek (knee)
OL Sebastian Vollmer (foot)
RB Leon Washington (thigh)

LB Jerod Mayo (ankle)
TE Zach Sudfeld (hamstring)
DT Vince Wilfork (foot)

For the Falcons
RB Steven Jackson (hamstring)

T Sam Baker (foot/knee)
WR Julio Jones (knee)
CB Asante Samuel (thigh)
WR Roddy White (ankle)

C Peter Konz (knee)
CB Robert McClain (knee)
G Garrett Reynolds (knee)
RB Josh Vaughan (ankle)

Chandler Jones knows heat will be on at Georgia Dome

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 27, 2013 01:33 PM
FOXBOROUGH – Defensive lineman Chandler Jones has never been to Atlanta for a football game, so he's looking forward to getting to the Georgia Dome for Sunday's contest against the Falcons.

Jones might be able to lend a hand if any of his teammates are lacking in dome experience (it's been a while since the Patriots last played a regular-season game in a dome, although the Super Bowl two seasons ago was indoors at Lucas Oil Stadium). He played his college football at Syracuse, which uses the Carrier Dome for home games.

His best dome advice?

"Be sure to hydrate. Playing at Syracuse, I felt like we had the advantage on a lot of teams because they weren’t used to playing in that atmosphere. You can always turn the heat up," Jones said. "It’s harder to breathe, so hydrate, maybe get an IV before the game, something like that. It’s a lot warmer, guys cramp up."

Wait, is Jones insinuating that Syracuse would purposely crank the heat up? Did it work?

"It definitely worked for the Orange," Jones said. "That was our 12th man right there, that hot Carrier Dome."

Jones figures to work up quite a sweat, regardless of the temperature set at the Georgia Dome. He'll be chasing Matt Ryan around, trying to apply some pressure to Atlanta's franchise quarterback. Ryan has been sacked five times in the first three games, and thrown for 909 yards and six touchdowns, completing 68 percent of his passes.

Jones and his defensive teammates are in for a challenge.

"Matt Ryan is a good quarterback, and I feel like that’s my challenge every week, to get after the quarterback, I take that as a personal challenge, to be honest with you," he said. "With a guy like Matt Ryan, you don’t want him sitting back there just picking your defense apart, you want to rattle him a little bit."

Belichick talks red zone, non-verbal communication

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 27, 2013 11:41 AM

FOXBOROUGH - It was a fairly low-key and uneventful press conference with Bill Belichick on Friday morning, held before Belichick headed to the practice field.

One of the storylines this week has been the problems the Patriots' offense in particular has been having in the red zone - their 13 trips inside the 20-yard line are second to Green Bay and Seattle, but they've come away with just four touchdowns, a 30.8 percent conversion mark that ranks last in the league.

Asked why his team has struggled and what they're trying to do to fix it, Belichick was blunt:

"Because we haven’t performed well enough. We have to coach and play better down there. What are we going to do? Coach and play better," he said flatly.

Defensively New England is faring a bit better; though they've allowed opponents to score touchdowns on half of their opportunities, the Bills, Jets and Buccaneers only made a combined six trips into the red zone. Only Kansas CIty (four) and Baltimore (five) have allowed fewer opportunities thus far.

But Belichick wants to see improvement from both sides of the ball.

"Offensively and defensively, we just need to perform better down there. We need to coach better, we need to execute better," he said. "We have to do a better job; it’s an important part of the field. Certainly, when you look at a team like Atlanta that’s been in three real tight games, you have to think that could potentially be the difference in this game, as it was in their other games. It’s a big area of emphasis for us."

Playing the Falcons in the Georgia Dome, for a prime-time game, means the volume level will be high when the Patriots' offense is on the field and that it may need to use hand signals and non-verbal communication.

Since Fridays often include football history-related questions for Belichick, he was asked about the origins of silent snap counts.

"I’d say it was really a shotgun formation. I think you could operate [verbally] with the quarterback under center. It’s loud, but you can still do it," he said. "As the stadiums have gotten bigger, we’ve gotten away from the baseball stadiums where there might be 70 or 80,000 people but in a lot of those stadiums, the fans at midfield were 40 yards from the sideline because they were pushed so far back and the majority of the people were in the end zone so a lot of times it just got loud in the end zone.

"I think there are a lot of circumstances. You have a lot of artificial crowd noise that there are different regulations on and so forth. Over the years, that’s changed. Some of that was pumped in, now there’s different rules on that. There are a lot of different forces at work here. Certainly being in the shotgun, not under center, pistol, gun, whatever you want to call it, the crowd noise situation, the stadium configuration, all that, I think, all played into it."

Belichick said Seattle has long been one of the noisiest stadiums in the league, "but you get stadiums like RFK or old Mile High, where the seats where aluminum seats and they would beat on those and it was like 60,000 sets of cymbals going off at the same time. Literally the whole stadium was sort of reverberating, particularly in Denver where they had the Mile High, they brought the third baseline in, kind of like they do in Candlestick where they bring that in to put it next to the field and so it’s not real stable to begin with. But those were some loud ones."

New England has long tried to prepare the team for a lot of noise by blasting music at practice. Although the Patriots will play in a dome this week, it doesn't appear they've spent any practice time inside their fieldhouse to try and more closely duplicate the noise they could be combating on Sunday night.

Week 4: Friday practice peek - Vollmer returns

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 27, 2013 10:32 AM

FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots are on the field for their final practice of the week before their game in Atlanta on Sunday night, with players in shells and shorts/sweats.

Tackle Sebastian Vollmer (foot) was back on the field after missing Wednesday and Thursday; however, in the past, if a player does not practice on Thursday for the Patriots, he does not play in the game. By that standard, it still seems unlikely Vollmer will suit up against the Falcons, and Marcus Cannon remains in line to make his second career start.

Vollmer's presence means that only Matthew Slater (wrist) was missing.

Winning the battle up front

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 27, 2013 10:14 AM


Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is the key to the team's defense up front. (Stephen Savoia / AP photo)

The Patriots only have a few elder statesmen. Tom Brady (2000), Vince Wilfork (2004), Logan Mankins (2005), and Stephen Gostkowski (2006); in that order.

Jerod Mayo, Matthew Slater, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell all came in 2008, followed by Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Ninkovich, Julian Edelman and Kyle Arrington in 2009.

That’s a good chunk of your core players who are respected on this team and league-wide. Take out one name, any name, and it’s an entirely different football team. And as you might suspect, each of those super veterans are at, or near, the top of their positions.

Imagine the surprise then, when the numbers come out after film review and one player in particular, who has been one of the most consistent players in the league at his position and lauded by his peers (voted the 30th best player in the Top 100), is having a pretty tough stretch in his career.

What, exactly, is up with Wilfork?


Week 4 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 26, 2013 05:29 PM

I keep wondering why it's been so hard to pick games in this young season, with three games in Week 3 determined by one point against the spread.

Readers of these posts have wondered, too. (I appreciate the e-mails. They've all been so kind despite the reminders that I'm apparently out of my league.)

But these struggles are something new to me, after seemingly a cakewalk 2012 picking straight up winners. (Need I remind you I went 169-83-1?) And then it struck me in the form of a tweet from the NFL's Brian McCarthy earlier today:

Hello Week 4. 28 of 48 games (58%) have been decided by 7 points or fewer-most in @nflhistory thru wk 3. next best- 26 in '88

— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) September 26, 2013

I'll take solace knowing I went 8-8 last week. Of course, I'm hoping the trends for close game eventually come to a stop. But I have a better chance of getting accepted to Hogwarts. Parity sucks when the odds are stacked against you.

Here's my picks for Week 4:

49ers (+4) at Rams (-4) -- On a short week, the Rams would be the smart bet here. But something about Colin Kaepernick being embarrassed against the Seattle Seahawks and then the Indianapolis Colts has me thinking the talented Red and Gold are itching to bounce back big.
My pick: 49ers


Thursday injury report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 26, 2013 03:49 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- No change to the Patriots injury report on Thursday, with right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and receiver Matthew Slater the only players not practicing.

Vollmer left Sunday's game with a foot injury, and because he has yet to practice this week, it's extremely unlikely that he'll play in Sunday night's game at Atlanta. Slater also is not expected to play; he missed last week's game with a wrist injury.

The same nine Patriots were limited: tight end Rob Gronkowski, receiver Danny Amendola, running backs Brandon Bolden and Leon Washington, defensive backs Kyle Arrington, Nate Ebner, and Marquice Cole, linebacker Jerod Mayo, and offensive lineman Will Svitek.

Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and tight end Zach Sudfeld were listed under full participation for the second straight day.

For the Falcons, receiver Roddy White (ankle) and tackle Sam Baker (foot/knee) were upgraded. They missed Wednesday's practice, but were on the field in a limited capacity for Thursday's workout. The list:

Did not practice:
RB Steven Jackson (hamstring)

Limited participation:
WR Julio Jones (knee)
WR Roddy White (ankle)
OL Peter Konz (knee)
OL Garrett Reynolds (knee)
OL Sam Baker (foot/knee)

Full participation:
CB Robert McClain (knee)
RB Josh Vaughn (ankle)

Ready to step in, Marcus Cannon?

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 26, 2013 01:44 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Marcus Cannon has appeared in 26 games since being drafted by the Patriots, starting only one, when he filled in for Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle.

With Vollmer's availability for Sunday's game at Atlanta in question -- he left last week's game with a foot injury, and has not practiced this week -- Cannon could get his second career start.

Is he ready for the opportunity?

"I don’t really know how to answer that, I just do what I’m told," Cannon said on Thursday, after the Patriots practiced. "Whatever they ask me, that’s what I’m going to do, that’s all I know."

Cannon replaced Vollmer in Sunday's win against the Buccaneers after the injury, and played well, despite drawing a false-start penalty. He's played in all three games this season, but logged the most playing time -- 37 snaps -- in the Tampa Bay game, after Vollmer went down.

He's also spent time as a reserve at guard, learning from an experienced group of linemates and from one of the best offensive line coaches in Dante Scarnecchia.

"I’m nowhere where I need to be," Cannon said. "I feel like I’m improving every day, I’m just trying to get better every day and work hard to do what’s necessary to please the team and help us win.

"Every day there’s improvement, but there’s still a lot of improvement to go. Just have to take it step by step, work harder to improve."

Thursday roll call

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 26, 2013 10:44 AM
FOXBOROUGH – Once again, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and receiver Matthew Slater were the only players not spotted at Patriots practice on Thursday. Vollmer has a foot injury, Slater a wrist injury; neither practiced on Wednesday, and their availability for Sunday night's game can be viewed now as highly unlikely.

One day after a full-pads practice, players were in shorts or sweatpants and lighter upper pads. The workout was being held on the upper grass field behind Gillette Stadium under the watchful eye of coach Bill Belichick, who was busy chatting up Cris Collinsworth, the NBC analyst who will be in the booth for Sunday's game in Atlanta against the Falcons.

Watch: Patriots begin preparing for Falcons

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 25, 2013 07:15 PM

In this week's Patriots Midweek Report, Zuri Berry has the latest from Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots are preparing for their Sunday night game at Atlanta. Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski each discussed their status.

Wilfork, Mayo, Arrington added to injury report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 25, 2013 04:10 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Three members of the Patriots defense -- Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Kyle Arrington -- were added to Wednesday's injury report, landing on the list for the first time this season.

Wilfork has a foot injury, but was not limited in practice. Mayo (ankle) and Arrington (groin) were both limited, as were seven of their teammates, including tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Danny Amendola.

Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer joined special teamer Matthew Slater in missing practice, the only two Patriots who didn't participate in the full-pads workout. Vollmer left last Sunday's game against Tampa Bay with a foot injury; Slater has a wrist injury that caused him to miss Sunday's game.

The other players who were limited: running backs Brandon Bolden (knee) and Leon Washington (thigh), defensive backs Nate Ebner (ankle) and Marquice Cole (hamstring), and offensive lineman Will Svitek (knee).

Tight end Zach Sudfeld was the only other Patriots player on the injury report, with a hamstring injury. Like Wilfork, he was not limited in practice.

For the Falcons:

Did not practice:
RB Steven Jackson (hamstring)
WR Roddy White (ankle)
OT Sam Baker (foot/knee)

Limited participation:
WR Julio Jones (knee)
OL Peter Konz (knee)
OL Garrett Reynolds (knee)

Full participation:
CB Robert McClain (knee)
RB Josh Vaughn (ankle)

Despite Patriots struggles, Falcons see same formidable opponent

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 25, 2013 03:45 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Atlanta Falcons don't seem to see the same problems with the Patriots offense that the Patriots do.

As one of only seven undefeated teams in the NFL, and with Tom Brady under center, the Patriots deserve the respect of any great team, said Falcons coach Mike Smith.

"Obviously they are doing a great job, they are 3-0," Smith said. "I don’t think you have to dissect it more than that.

"I think it is the same offense that they have run for years there. I think it is a game-plan offense and it changes each and every week. They do a great job with the tempo; they do a great job with changing personnel. I don’t see anything different."

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, a former Boston College Eagle, took it a bit further, praising the team's defense as a core to its success.

"I think they play extremely physical," Ryan said. "I think that’s one of the things when you turn on the film and you watch them, their front seven has been extremely physical. Their linebackers specifically have been really good in terms of their blitz scheme.

"They use a lot of single-man blitzes with their backers, but they’re so strong and so physical that they do a great job of creating pressure with that, as well as in the run game, shedding blocks and being able to make tackles one-on-one. I’ve been really impressed with their front seven and the way that they play."

Atlanta (1-2) is coming off a 27-23 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Ryan, despite playing at a high level and having prolific targets in Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, has run into some of the same problems the Patriots have in the red zone. The Falcons are tied for 17th inside the 20, scoring touchdowns on 50 percent of their chances.

"I think it’s been a lack of execution," said Ryan, who has a 100.4 quarterback rating and sports a 68.1 completion percentage. "We’ve had opportunities across the board to make plays, and collectively as a unit we haven’t gotten it done. I think we need to execute a little bit better and take advantage of those targets like you mentioned.

"But in order to do that, all 11 guys have to be on the same page, and we haven’t done a good enough job of that yet."

This will be the 13th time the Patriots have played the Falcons and the first time since 2009, a 26-10 win at Gillette Stadium. Bill Belichick is 3-1 against the Falcons but the team is 2-2 at the Georgia Dome.

Gronk's progress includes going from 'skinny' to 'jacked'

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 25, 2013 02:37 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Rob Gronkowski was back to being his silly self in front of his locker on Wednesday, though in between the one-liners he didn't give any indication as to whether he'll be back on the field for the Patriots this week – or when he might return.

Asked right off the bat for an update, Gronkowski, said, "There really isn’t an update. You know how we go … just improving every week. Definitely I gotta say I’m improved since last week, I’m improved since a few weeks ago, and that’s all I can ask for. Taking everything day by day, and today I went out and practiced, went to meetings, did everything normal. So just day-by-day and improving every day."

As to this Sunday and his potential availability when the Patriots travel to Atlanta, Gronkowski said, "I don’t know. As of right now we’re just focusing day by day and tomorrow’s another step forward and we’ve got to see."

And there seems to be no easy answer on when Gronkowski will know that he's ready to play for the first time in more than nine months:

"When will I know? Just when it clicks. I guess. All I can ask for is to work hard every day and do what the coaches ask me to do, do what my teammates ask me to do and do what the training staff asks me to do. If I do that at full speed, that’s all I’m really asking for, and when the time’s ready, the time’s ready," he said.

The tight end provided quite the laugh when he was asked if he felt like he was close to playing against Tampa Bay last week, or whether he knew that wasn't happening.

"I was inactive," he said, echoing coach Bill Belichick's (oft-repeated) words about his status from the coach's Monday press conference.

The gathered reporters, most of whom were present for Monday's exchange, which has gotten a good deal of attention, had a long laugh, and Gronkowski joined in, indicating that he was in on the joke as well.

Since the Patriots upgraded his status for last week's game from the "doubtful" (only a 25 percent chance of playing) it had been for Weeks 1 and 2 to "questionable" (50-50 chance), what kinds of improvements has he made that led to the change?

"I don’t even know. I don’t know how any of that works," Gronkowski said, smiling. "So … I’m still wondering how that works – doubtful, questionable. I guess, like I said, I’ve been improving every week, so whoever makes that call must have seen some improvement to put me from 'doubtful' to 'questionable.'"

After multiple surgeries on his left arm as well as back surgery in June, Gronkowski missed a great deal of time in the weight room. A big part of his recovery has been regaining the strength that's a big part of his game.

"That’s part of the whole rehab process – it’s not just rehabbing your arm and the back, I took off my whole body for a couple of months. So you’ve got to get everything going again, all muscles firing again in all parts of your body. So that’s a big process, getting back in shape, running shape, football shape, and getting your strength back. I’ve just been working on that the whole time the last few weeks also," Gronkowski said.

Does he feel his strength is back where it needs to be?

"My strength is improving, week to week and that’s all I can ask for right now. It definitely improved greatly from four weeks ago, and improving every week from when I started," Gronkowski said.

NFL Network reported last Sunday that it was Gronkowski's arm, not his back, that is keeping him off the field at this point, but Gronkowski said everything has been involved. It's not just a matter of rehabbing his arm and back, but also getting his entire body back into football-playing shape and having the conditioning level he'll need to play a full game.

Gronkowski looked lean during training camp, particularly in his upper body, which made sense given where his surgeries were.

Asked how much weight he lost, Gronkowski drew more laughs.

"Nothing really. I don’t lose weight," he said. "I can look skinny and still be the same amount of weight. It goes by ‘skinny’ or ‘looking jacked.’ So I was skinny back for a few months."

Is he now back in the "jacked" range?

"You’ve got to tell me. I’m getting there. Day by day getting bigger."

Brady takes responsibility for red zone woes

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 25, 2013 02:15 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- In a rarity, the Patriots are last in an offensive category.

Despite putting up 23 points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, including two touchdowns on five possessions within the Buccaneers' 20-yard line, the Patriots are 32d in the NFL in red zone efficiency.

The Patriots were foiled multiple times against the Bucs in the red zone when a Tom Brady pass was intercepted by safety Mark Barron in the third quarter and failed to get a first down on a 4th-and-inches in the fourth, settling for two field goals on other possessions.

Failing to get into the end zone has become a bit of a trend after the Patriots went 0 for 3 inside the 20 against the Jets, marked by a lack of offensive symmetry with the team's young wide receivers. And for that, Brady takes his share of the blame.

"We've been practicing it quite a bit," Brady said. "So we've definitely left some points on the board [last week]. Just poor execution. I've been one of the main culprits, so hopefully I try to improve that.

"I mean you got to get down there and score points, especially when you play good teams. You can't leave points out there. Like last week, we had a great opportunity. There was seven points. Not only did we not get seven, we didn't get any. You gotta be able to capitalize on scoring opportunities."

The Patriots have had 13 possessions within an opponent's 20-yard line, second in the NFL to only the Green Bay Packers (14) and Seattle Seahawks (14). The Patriots have scored only four touchdowns and have kicked five field goals, good for a 30.8 touchdown percentage and 69.2 percent scoring rate. It's a point of emphasis for the team.

Brady was asked if the return of Rob Gronkowski could possibly boost the red zone numbers, given the tight end's large frame and catch radius.

"We've played with him for a long time so you realize the caliber of player he is. But, you know, look, we're 3-0 without him out there," he said. "So we're just gonna play as long as we need to play until he's healthy enough play. Whenever that is, who knows. We're focused on trying to be a good offense no matter who is out there and whenever guys get back they'll have to deal with a different skill set. But we're just focused on the guys who have done the job for us thus far."

Danny Amendola: 'I anticipate being 100 percent shortly'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 25, 2013 01:47 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Receiver Danny Amendola spent a few minutes talking to the media after Patriots practice Wednesday, the first time he has given interviews since injuring his groin in the season-opening win at Buffalo.

Amendola has missed the past two games, but has practiced in a limited capacity since the opener against the Bills. It was apparent watching him last week that Amendola was physically not close to being able to return. He looked much better Wednesday, and said afterward that he's eager to get back.

"I anticipate being 100 percent shortly," he said. "I don’t know when, but I’m getting closer. I’m feeling a lot better, getting a lot of good treatment, running around."

Amendola gave the standard stock answer -- "I'm just going day by day," which he said a number of times -- when asked if there's a chance he'll play Sunday against the Falcons in Atlanta.

He had 10 catches for 104 yards in the Buffalo game, but aggravated his groin injury, then spent some time meeting with doctors and specialists as they decided whether surgery would be the best option.

"I got a lot of opinions from different guys," Amendola said. "Whatever got me on the field fastest and in good health, and where I can do what I can do, that's the path we're on now."

Belichick: Atlanta offense 'explosive', Gronk making progress

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 25, 2013 10:52 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Unlike the Buccaneers, who currently have the 31st-ranked offense in the NFL, the Patriots' opponent this Sunday has one of the strongest offenses in the league, and has for a couple of years.

Led by former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons are ninth in the league in total offense, including seventh in passing yards per game (289 yards).

On Wednesday, Bill Belichick called the Falcons' offense "explosive" and in particular singled out Ryan, who is by far the best quarterback the Patriots have seen thus far this season.

"(Ryan) is very good; he does a good job with his pre-snap reads, uses all of his weapons – running backs, tight ends, receivers – I wouldn’t say he’s a big scrambler, but he can run and he can hurt you scrambling if you give him the opportunity, so you have to be cognizant of that. But he doesn’t have many bad plays; he has a lot of good ones. He’s a real good quarterback."

Asked about Ryan's progress since being taken third overall in 2008, Belichick said, "He’s pretty good at everything to me. He’s got a good touch, does a good job throwing the ball down field, reads coverages well, doesn’t make many mistakes, manages the game well, he’s accurate, he’s tough – he can definitely stand in there and throw the ball and take a hit. He has very few bad plays, let’s put it that way. Very few. Consistency, I think that's the mark of any great player, he’s pretty consistent. Every play, every game, every series, he does a lot of things right."

Ryan has most often gone to star receiver Julio Jones in the passing game, but 37-year old tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is the last season of his career for the second time, has also contributed, along with running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. Roddy White has been on the field despite an ankle injury, but he's primarily been a decoy to this point.

Free agent pickup Steven Jackson was injured in Week 2 (hamstring), but last week it was Rodgers who carried the load against Miami, with 86 yards on 18 carries.

As for the Patriots, here is your (near-) daily exchange on the progress of tight end Rob Gronkowski:

Q: How much of a steady progression have you seen from Gronkowski since he started practicing? BB: He’s definitely made progress.

Q: You upgraded him from doubtful to questionable last week - what kind of steps have you seen him take recently?
BB: Just – doing better. Football conditioning.

Q: Is there a strength element for a player like him, with the arm injury and back injury and that took time away from his being able to lift weights?
BB: Well, like any player – any player that’s not able to do some things, they do what they can do. Things they can’t do, they can’t do. Things that they can do, they can do. Hardly anybody has a full-body injury – they have an injury in one part of the body, they can still train other parts of the body. The part that’s injured, that’s the part that needs to be rehabilitated. But that’s a medical thing; it’s not a coaching thing.

Q: From a playing standpoint, do you feel his strength is in a good place?
BB: It’s better than what it was.

Q: Gronkowski has been a big part of your red-zone offense in the past; you're currently ranked 32d in that category. If he were to return, what kind of boost can he give the red-zone offense?
BB: I don't know.

Asked in general about what needs to improve for the Patriots in the red zone (they've scored four touchdowns in 13 opportunities), Belichick said, "Well, No. 1, not turn the ball over, that would be No. 1."

While the New England defense has looked good in the first three games, allowing just 27 points to opposing offenses, that group was not getting any special love from Belichick. Everyone, he said, has work to do.

"It’s September – we’ve still got a long way to go, a lot of things that we can improve on individually, fundamentally, the units, collectively as an offense, defense, special teams units, and as an entire team," he said. "That’s coaches, players, all of us. I think as a coaching staff you’re trying to maximize your talent, your players, your scheme, and we’re going through that process too.

"There are some things that we’ve found out over the first three weeks that we would do a little bit differently knowing what we know now that we didn’t know then. I’m sure that will be true in some of the succeeding weeks. That’s part of our job too, is to figure out what’s best for this team, not some other team, but this group of players, and what’s our best chance to put together a good team that can win, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

"I think that’s incumbent on all of us, it’s not limited to any individual or any group or any unit, it’s the entire football team. There’s a lot of room for improvement, we need to keep working hard and gain ground on that. That’s what we’re trying to do every day."

Week 4: Wednesday practice peek

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 25, 2013 10:38 AM
FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are in full pads for their first practice as they prepare for Sunday's prime-time game in Atlanta.

Colleague Michael Whitmer reports that RT Sebastian Vollmer (foot) and WR Matthew Slater (left wrist) were the only players not spotted during the media-access window.

Vollmer was hurt early in the second half of the Patriots' win over Tampa Bay.

Danny Amendola (groin) was present and appeared to be moving much better than he was at this time a week ago; however, there is still no timetable for his return.

Patriots expect challenge from Julio Jones, Atlanta crowd noise

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 24, 2013 02:00 PM

Patriots players are off today, so the only access to the team was the weekly coaches' teleconference. Among other things, head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia discussed the team's defense, the high-powered offense they'll face this Sunday from the Atlanta Falcons, and the difficulty of playing in a loud dome.

The Falcons are 1-2, having just lost at Miami, 27-23. Still, this is a team that went to the playoffs last season, has a franchise quarterback in former Boston College star Matt Ryan, and has one of the best young receivers in the league in Julio Jones.

Belichick raved about Jones, who played his college ball at Alabama.

"I think Julio has done a great job for them, he’s an excellent football player, period," Belichick said. "As a receiver, he’s got good strength, good speed, good ball skills, he can make acrobatic catches, goes up and takes the ball away from defenders, strong after the catch, tough guy to tackle.

"He’s also very good in the running game, good blocker, a guy that will go in and get linebackers or safeties. He’s about as good as anyone in the league. It’s not just his receiving skills, although they are very good. He’s a complete football player, I know he’s a tough kid and a hard worker. I’m sure they’re very happy he’s on their team."

Through three games, Jones is tied for the league lead in receptions with Julian Edelman of the Patriots. Each has 27, but the difference is in the number of yards. Jones is much more of a vertical threat; his 27 catches have gone for 373 yards (also a league best), while Edelman has 201 yards. Each has two receiving touchdowns.

Jones figures to be a big part of the Falcons offense Sunday night, especially with running back Steven Jackson not expected to play because of a hamstring injury. If Ryan and Jones get going, it'll get loud in the Georgia Dome. Real loud. Which will make it difficult for the Patriots offense.

"I know we’ll practice with noise this week," said McDaniels. "We definitely expect it to be an exciting environment -- it always is when you play down there in Atlanta. It’s inside, and they have a really good football team, and I’m sure they’ll be excited to play.

"There’s no shortcut to that. You’ve got to do a good job of communicating during the week, you’ve got to practice well with the noise and the distraction that the noise creates. You have to eliminate all unnecessary communication as you can, so that you can just get out there, hear what you need to hear, and go execute your job.

"We’ve done it before. It was loud in Buffalo, and it’s been loud at some other places this year in the preseason for a time being. We’ll do the best we can to make sure we prepare for the noise and the atmosphere that we’re going to see on Sunday night."

Watch: Patriots-Falcons preview

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 24, 2013 12:51 PM

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter and the Globe's Ben Volin join CineSport's Noah Coslov to preview the Week 4 matchup in Atlanta between the 1-2 Falcons and 3-0 Patriots.

Watch: Bill Belichick Monday press conference

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 24, 2013 07:59 AM
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Here's what Patriots coach Bill Belichick had to say Monday. His exchange with NFL.com's Albert Breer regarding the status of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola has been a topic of conversation this morning. It begins at about the 1:42 mark of the video.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Buccaneers game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 22, 2013 08:30 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The defense had a solid showing for the Patriots, holding the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers to only three points in a 23-3 victory Sunday.

But of course, we had our eyes on so much more.

1. Brandon Bolden swoops in for the offense -- After missing the first two weeks of the season with a knee injury, Bolden returned to the lineup as the surprise starter for Sunday's game. He functioned as a pass-catching running back, filling a void left by Shane Vereen after his injury. Bolden certainly has the skill set to fill in for Vereen. He caught 76 passes for 807 yards and six touchdowns for Mississippi. So in his second-year, with no Vereen or Danny Woodhead in front of him, he had the opportunity to contribute out of the backfield once again. He responded with five receptions for 49 yards and added three rushes for 51 yards, totaling 100 yards of offense. A good chunk of his contributions came on a 46-yard run.

"To go out there and you work all week and then to see how everything turned out today was awesome, especially being the first game back," Bolden said. "It’s exciting to get back out there and play with my teammates."

His contribution was a huge boost for the offense that had trouble getting production out of the running back position in Week 2.

2. Back in the chem lab -- Receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, the focus of all eyes after a rough first two weeks of professional football, combined for 10 catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie duo only had two drops, one each. And despite some small complications, they were a successful pairing for the Patriots. Both seem to be finding their niche within the offense and have improved tremendously week over week.

"We’re trying to keep elevating and improving every week," Dobson said. "We’re not trying to backtrack. We’re trying to keep the level up and move forward."

While Sunday showed they still have improving to do, it also showed their chemistry with Tom Brady has taken significant step forward. That's a huge positive for the team.

3. The proper temperament -- There was considerable amount of attention paid to quarterback Tom Brady after he let his anger get the best of him on the sideline last week. This week, he was much less animated. That's partly because he was in better sync with his wide receivers. But it's also because he is now more conscious of his demeanor after having to face questions about it. Faced with an angry quarterback and a curious media, rookies like Dobson are in a no-win situation to respond.

"You just have to learn from it," Dobson said. "It’s going to happen. Mistakes are going to happen but you just have to learn from it, learn from the mistakes this week, and then go back out and do it right."

On Sunday, Brady was still frustrated in spurts. He was angry with himself over his interception and would love to have back a couple of throws, including a missed touchdown connection with Thompkins or Julian Edelman. But he managed to control that anger and lead his team to its third straight win. See, it works both ways.

4. Aqib Talib continues to make plays -- If you had to give a game ball to only one player on the team, Talib would be a good choice. Tasked with covering Vincent Jackson, he held the Buccaneers' top receiver to three receptions for 34 yards on six targets. He intercepted one pass and broke up another. It was one of the few times that Talib was asked to shadow a receiver around the field, getting the top assignment last year against Anquan Boldin in the AFC title game before getting injured. He was more than up to the challenge this year.

"I’m sure they missed [Jackson] when he went out, but I thought Aqib [Talib] did a good job competing against him and played him tough at the line of scrimmage," Bill Belichick said. "Jackson made a couple, but Talib made a couple. It was a good, competitive matchup."

It's been a terrific stretch for Talib, who has forced four turnovers this season and has three interceptions to lead the team. He deserves a ton of respect for his effort against one of the league's most respected receivers.

5. Efficiency creeping back up -- After a dismal offensive outing in Week 2, the Patriots made their way back to respectability against the Buccaneers. They finished 6 of 15 on third down and 2 of 5 in the red zone. Those aren't numbers you'd normally crow about, especially considering a good majority of the team returns from a 2012 squad that set the league record in first downs (444). But after the team had such a tough time against the Jets (4 of 18 on third down, 0 for 3 in the red zone), any slight improvement is a huge positive.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Patriots rookie wide receivers show improvement

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 22, 2013 06:51 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- All eyes were on the Patriots' offensive chemistry with Tom Brady and the team's young wide receivers taking center stage on Sunday.

This time, they didn't disappoint.

Kenbrell Thompkins caught three passes for 41 yards and two touchdowns, Aaron Dobson caught seven passes for 52 yards, and Brady (25 of 36 for 225 yards, 2 TDs, 1 interception, 92.9 QB rating) got through four quarters of football without blowing his top.

"Well, hopefully it stays that way," Brady said of his body language. "I thought the guys did a great job – we had a good week of practice and I think it ultimately showed up. It was a good win. It was fun to be out there, fun to see us play a little bit better, so it’s nice to be 3-0."

Of course, Thompkins and Dobson are still rookies, so Sunday's effort against the Buccaneers -- a 23-3 win for New England -- didn't come without its hiccups. Dobson and Thompkins each logged a drop. And despite catching two touchdowns, Thompkins was targeted a seven times with little reward. Some of those missed connections were on Brady and others were the result of a good Buccaneers defense.

"Yeah, they’re doing a great job," Brady said. "They’ve worked really hard to understand what we’re trying to do on a weekly basis. And it changes up a lot with our offense. It’s not like we do the same thing week to week all the time; we try to attack teams in different ways. Today we definitely made some adjustments throughout the first quarter, second quarter, and we did a good job adjusting and really trying to understand what we need to do to put drives together."

Brady has tried to impress upon these young receivers the urgency of the NFL grind. That showed up this week as the team had an extended opportunity to practice following its nationally televised game against the New York Jets on Sept.12. They had 10 days in between games, and took advantage of an extra practice session on Monday.

"That week of practice definitely helped us," Dobson said. "I feel like we definitely got on the same page with each other and it showed on the field."

The improved fortunes of the two young receivers also meant the team's efficiency was vastly better week over week. The Patriots went 6 of 15 on third down Sunday and 2 of 5 in the red zone after going 4 of 18 on third downs against the Jets and 0 for 3 in the red zone. Four of Dobson's receptions Sunday were for first downs on third or fourth down. Thompkins was just money in the red zone.

"I thought we played a good game overall, from the passing game to the running game," said Thompkins. "We’ve been preaching all week about [having] no negative plays and I thought we did a good job with positive plays. From watching the film and everything, we knew that it was going to be a split safety team and a zone team so we had been preaching all week in practice to get open and run great routes against great cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis and those guys, and get the timing down with the quarterback."

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Watch: Patriots-Buccaneers highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 22, 2013 06:21 PM
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Here's the key plays from Sunday's 23-3 Patriots victory over the Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium.

Belichick pleased with Aqib Talib, defense

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 22, 2013 05:45 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Patriots coach Bill Belichick was pleased with his defense on Sunday after holding the Buccaneers to only three points, especially after a good week of practice.

It was the first time the Patriots held an opponent to three points or fewer in September since 1997, with the Patriots coming away victorious, 23-3, against visiting Tampa Bay.

It helped that Buccaneers stars Doug Martin (20 carries, 88 yards) and Vincent Jackson (3 receptions, 34 yards) were bottled up. Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib was tasked with locking Jackson down, following the burly receiver around until he left the game with a rib injury. He intercepted a Josh Freeman pass intended for Jackson in the second quarter that helped set up one of Stephen Gostkowski's three field goals, proving to be more than competitive with one of the league's elite wide receivers.

"Speed and [his] size put together, that's a tough combination," Talib said of Jackson. "I was ready for it man, I was ready for it. He went down early. I don't know what happened to him. But I hope he's all right. But I was looking forward to that challenge."

Belichick was more flattering of them both.

"He’s a heck of a player," Belichick said of Jackson. "He made a big catch there on us early. I’m sure they missed him when he went out but I thought Aqib [Talib] did a good job competing against him and played him tough at the line of scrimmage. Jackson made a couple, but Talib made a couple. It was a good, competitive matchup.

"He’s definitely a guy, obviously him and [Doug] Martin, are two guys you have to stop on this football team," Belichick continued. "Being able to keep him out of the end zone and just limit his catches was huge for us. But Aqib did a great job, he worked hard, had a good week of preparation, he had a real good week of practice and it showed up in the game. He made that play in practice – the interception – a couple times, just the way it turned out in the game. It’s just a good example of practicing well leads to the game performance."

The Patriots defense has started the year strong, allowing the fewest points through their first three games of the season (34) since 1979.

For Talib, who has three interceptions this season and has four forced turnovers, the win was probably even sweeter because it was against his old team, although he wouldn't admit to as much.

"Naw, not at all," he said. "A win is a win.That's how you want to start. You want to start 3-0.

"We're going to be right back at work tomorrow."

Survey: Who gets game ball for win over Bucs?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 22, 2013 04:44 PM

The Patriots were booed by fans at Gillette Stadium at one point on Sunday, but then got things together for a solid victory over the Buccaneers to move to 3-0 this season.

Here's your chance to vote for who gets the game ball for going above and beyond in their contributions to the win Sunday.

Who deserves the game ball for the Patriots' win over the Buccaneers?

Final: Patriots 23, Buccaneers 3

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 22, 2013 01:11 PM
Kenbrell Thompkins caught two touchdown passes and Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals as the Patriots beat the Buccaneers, 23-3, on Sunday at Gillette Stadium to move to 3-0 on the season.

Game updates and postgame reaction are in the live feed below.

Report: Tom Brady reaches out to Deion Branch, Brandon Lloyd

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 22, 2013 12:33 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Apparently Tom Brady has been so frustrated by his young group of wide receivers, he's been making calls and sending text messages to former teammates Deion Branch and Brandon Lloyd, according to a report by the NFL Media's Mike Silver and Ian Rapoport.

According to the report, Branch has said he's ready to answer the call, but Lloyd is not.

Brady's frustration boiled over in Week 2 and he was visibly upset with Aaron Dobson after he failed to run the right route in the red zone. Between Dobson and rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, the Patriots wide receivers had four drops against the Jets in a 13-10 win. The quarterback has maintained he needs to work on chemistry and be less demonstrative on the sidelines because it can be counterproductive.

While Brady certainly has clout within the organization to force a move, members of the team, including Brady, owner Robert Kraft, and CEO Jonathan Kraft, have said numerous times that the quarterback doesn't make personnel decisions.

Update: After the game, Brady said he has not talked to Branch or Lloyd. "I love those guys, but I haven't talked to them."

Patriots, Ninkovich agree to three-year extension

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 22, 2013 11:36 AM

FOXBOROUGH - Some well-deserved news for Patriots' veteran Rob Ninkovich this morning: he has signed a three-year contract extension with the team that will keep him in New England through 2016.

Ninkovich's agent tweeted that it is a three-year, $15 million deal with $8.5 million guaranteed.

The 29-year old Ninkovich came to the Patriots during training camp in 2009, after he was released by the Saints on July 30. In New Orleans, the former fifth-round pick was trying to hang on as a long-snapper, but when he arrived in New England, he immediately began working with the defense as a linebacker, though he also remained on special teams.

But Ninkovich really began to shine in 2010, and has continued to make big plays for the Patriots in the years since. Now a defensive end, the Purdue product has a league-high 10 fumble recoveries since 2010, including one in the season-opener against the Bills.

Patriots-Buccaneers inactives: Amendola, Gronkowski out

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 22, 2013 11:30 AM

Here are the inactives for the Patriots and Buccaneers:

For New England, WR Danny Amendola, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Matthew Slater, RB Leon Washington, OL Will Svitek, LB Steve Beauharnais and LB Chris Jones.

It isn't a surprise to that see Amendola (groin) or Gronkowski (back/forearm) will not be available, and the Patriots had already declared Slater (wrist) out.

For Tampa Bay, the inactives are: QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Michael Adams, OL Gabe Carimi, TE Tom Crabtree, TE Luke Stocker, DT Derek Landri and DE Steven Means.

What to watch for as the Patriots host the Buccaneers

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 22, 2013 09:00 AM

In Week 3, much more is expected of the Patriots offense, especially coming off an extended rest, when they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today.

But there's more. Here's what we'll be watching for when the game gets going.

1. How will the special teams be affected without Matthew Slater? -- As one of the most respected gunners in the league, voted to two pro bowls in a row as a special teams player, it's hard to imagine a Patriots punt or kicking unit without Slater on it. He is as much a special teams playmaker as a special teams agitator, becoming the focus of opposing teams. He's out with a wrist injury and the Patriots will somehow have to compensate for his loss.

2. Can the Patriots get the running game going? -- While much attention has been paid to the Patriots' helter-skelter passing attack, little has been paid to its mediocre running game. Stevan Ridley, after getting benched for the second half of the team's first game, came back in Week 2 and tallied a meager 40 yards on 16 carries against the New York Jets. The team had only one first down by rushing last week. That will need to pick up to help balance a weakened offense.

3. How will Vince Wilfork perform? -- The Patriots captain and star defensive lineman had a rare off day against the Jets, getting overpowered in the running game and failing to provide any pressure on passing downs. He was graded poorly (-5.1) by Pro Football Focus for his outing. It is the worst grade he has received by the stats-centric website since its inception in 2008.

4. Will we see an improvement from the team's young wide receivers? -- Four drops against the Jets from Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, along with another string of mental mistakes, and the Patriots' young receivers found themselves in hot water with quarterback Tom Brady as well as the fan base. We'll see if they've improved with 10 days between games.

5. How will Tom Brady come off? -- Brady found himself angry, irate really, last week when he couldn't connect with Dobson in the red zone. He said it himself, he has to be less demonstrative because it can be counterproductive. We'll be watching his temperament, which we're sure is tied directly to how the offense performs.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Getting to know...Ryan Mallett

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 22, 2013 07:00 AM

After winning their first two games, played in a short, five-day span, when the Patriots returned to the practice field in earnest earlier this week, it was the first time black jerseys were spotted on players.

A Bill Belichick tradition, black jerseys are awarded the week after victories to signify the players who did the most in practice that week to help the team win; it's a way to acknowledge backups and practice-squad players who rarely or never lay in the actual games, but show them that their contributions do not go unnoticed.

Ryan Mallett was one of the recipients this week, and he immediately smiled when a reporter mentioned it. As Tom Brady's backup, Mallett gets very few chances to play in games -- last season he got just 24 snaps over four regular-season games. He tries to win a black jersey every week, he said, joking that it's his way of earning his keep.

The 25-year-old Mallett, a third-round draft pick in 2011, endured an interesting summer, becoming all but an afterthought when the Patriots signed Tim Tebow. But Mallett showed that he is the best option as the team's No. 2 quarterback, and showed improvement during the preseason games as well.

During the spring, Mallett finished up his classes at Arkansas, commuting between Foxborough and Fayetteville, and earned his degree in May.

Favorite TV show: "Dexter." I'm a big "Dexter" fan. It's close [to ending]; I'm kind of sad. I watched all the seasons in two or three weeks last year. I watch "Big Brother", but that's ended too.

First car: A '95 Dodge Ram, single cab. It was kind of a family car -- it's a long story. It was passed down, but it's been in the family for a long time. My dad still drives it.

First job: Mowing yards; started when I was seven until I graduated from high school. I did it for my parents, then the last two years of high school I worked with a contractor [mowing grass] at apartment complexes.

Favorite meal: Surf and turf -- steak and lobster sounds great. I want some right now actually. [Do they have lobster in Arkansas?] They have lobster in Arkansas. Everyone thinks it's a foreign country! [Can you cook it yourself?] I can cook a mean steak; I can't cook lobster. I'm a grill guy -- any grill food you want, I can handle.

Prized possession: My family. Besides that, not really. I'm not a very materialistic guy.

Place I want to visit but haven't yet: I've never been to the Caribbean. I think I'm going to go in the offseason. I haven't decided which island yet.

If they made a movie about my life: It would be an unfinished one. They're still working on it right now. It's in production.

In heavy rotation on my iPod: I listen to Pandora. I listen to a lot of different stations. I don't listen to music as much as I used to ... I'm busy these days (smiles).

Game 3 preview: Buccaneers at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 22, 2013 06:00 AM

If the Patriots can beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, they'll improve to 3-0 on the regular season for only the fourth time in Bill Belichick's tenure.

The team is coming off a 13-10 win over the New York Jets in Week 2 that was marred by offensive miscues, particularly from the team's young wide receivers (four drops). They'll be looking to clean up their performance Sunday against a more stringent set of defensive backs in Tampa Bay's secondary, including the universally respected Darrelle Revis and All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson.

Through two games, the Patriots have been particularly rough on third down (15 of 38) and despondent in the red zone (2 of 8).

The Buccaneers (0-2) have struggled on offense as well. They're coming off a close, 16-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints. A last-minute failed field goal attempt kept them out of the win column.

Quarterback Josh Freeman (24 of 53 for 335 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 63.0 QBB rating) has had a tough start with questions of discord surrounding him and coach Greg Schiano. The pair have said all is fine in the locker room despite reports to the contrary swirling around them. Improved chemistry, Schiano said, will be pivotal to the team's offense.

"Josh has struggled a little bit, but I don’t think it’s just Josh, it’s our whole offense," Schiano told reporters earlier this week. "We’ve been out of sync. We haven’t scored points, and in this league you need to score points. We’re working awfully hard, and Josh is working awfully hard. I think he’s got a much better grasp of what we’re doing. He’s got a better grasp on the defenses, and just the way he is handling himself. So that’s what makes it even more frustrating."

Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin (209 rushing yards, 1 TD) will be the focus of the Patriots' defense, which has allowed 265 yards rushing in the first two weeks.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Records: Patriots 2-0; Buccaneers 0-2.

TV/Radio: Fox (Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Erin Andrews); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.

Patriots offense: WR Julian Edelman, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Zach Sudfeld, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork, DT Tommy Kelly, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Buccaneers offense: WR Vincent Jackson, LT Donald Penn, LG Carl Nicks, C Jeremy Zuttah, RG Davin Joseph, RT Demar Dotson, TE Luke Stocker, WR Mike Williams, QB Josh Freeman, RB Doug Martin, FB Erik Lorig.

Buccaneers defense: LE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Akeem Spence, RE Adrian Clayborn, SLB Dekoda Watson, MLB Mason Foster, WLB Lavonte David, LCB Darrelle Revis, RCB Leonard Johnson, SS Mark Barron, FS Dashon Goldson.

Read this, watch that

- Erik Frenz breaks down a key matchup, Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib vs. Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

- Adam Kaufman pontificates on what we can learn about the Patriots against the Bucs.

- Follow today's game and comment on the action in our live blog. Updates start around noon.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Patriots, Jets players fined by NFL

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 20, 2013 11:30 PM
The Patriots and Jets drew more than $72,000 in fines from the NFL for their sideline fight late in the fourth quarter of the Week 2 matchup at Gillette Stadium.

Vince Wilfork and teammates Michael Buchanan and Alfonzo Dennard each were hit with a $7,875 fine for throwing a punch.

The Jets drew heavier punishment: guard Willie Colon was docked $34,125 — $26,250 for contact with an official, and $7,875 for punching an opponent — and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson was fined $15,000 for punching a Patriots player.

Defensive end Chandler Jones drew a separate fine by the NFL for hitting Jets quarterback Geno Smith in the head and neck area. The hit will cost Jones $15,750.

Friday injury report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 20, 2013 04:14 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Matthew Slater has been ruled out, and Danny Amendola is doubtful to play against the Buccaneers on Sunday, according to the Patriots.

Slater (wrist) has missed practice all week. Amendola has practiced, but his participation has been limited due to a groin injury.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) is questionable, as are five other Patriots: running backs Brandon Bolden (knee) and Leon Washington (thigh), offensive linemen Will Svitek (knee) and Dan Connolly (finger), and defensive back Nate Ebner (ankle).

Tight end Zach Sudfeld has practiced all week, and is listed as probable, despite a hamstring injury.

The Buccaneers also updated their injury report.
DT Derek Landri, knee
CB Michael Adams, knee
OL Gabe Carini, illness
TE Tom Crabtree, ankle
CB Rashaan Melvin, hamstring
G Carl Nicks, foot
TE Luke Stocker, hip
DE Adrian Clayborn, hip
LB Mason Foster, toe

Zach Sudfeld hopes to be back on Sunday

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 20, 2013 01:29 PM
FOXBOROUGH – Tight end Zach Sudfeld has practiced all week with no limitations, leaving him hopeful that he'll be able to play on Sunday against the Buccaneers after missing last week's game with a hamstring injury.

With Rob Gronkowski also out, it left the Patriots with just two healthy tight ends last week: Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan.

"Yeah, yeah," Sudfeld said after Friday's practice, when asked if he feels healthy. "But again, it’s kind of a day-to-day thing."

Sudfeld is still waiting for his first regular-season NFL reception. He had one pass thrown his way in the season opener against the Bills, but it deflected off him and was intercepted. He did have a good game against Tampa Bay in the preseason, catching two passes, one a 22-yard touchdown from Ryan Mallett in the second quarter of a 25-21 win.

Perhaps there will be some carryover effect for Sudfeld, assuming he's healthy enough to play?

"You hope so, but it’s completely different than the preseason. It’s the same team, but it’s a brand new experience," Sudfeld said. "It was great we got a chance to practice against them, they’re a very good team, great defense, so we just have to prepare to play them.

"They’ll do a lot of the same things, but hopefully we’ll be sharper. That was the preseason, now it’s the regular season, and so everything matters a lot more."

Belichick on running backs; educating rookies

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 20, 2013 11:45 AM

FOXBOROUGH - Bill Belichick opened his press conference on Friday morning by once again stressing how good he believes the Buccaneers are, and the challenge his Patriots face on Sunday with Tampa Bay in town.

"[I] feel like the more I’ve watched Tampa this week, the more impressed I’ve been," he said. "They’re well-coached, they’re really good on defense, and they did a good job against New Orleans running the ball, made some big plays in the passing game, a couple of plays have hurt them, but overall they’re doing a lot of things well. Good kickoff, punt return team, they do a lot of little things well, field goal rush, things like that.

"A lot for us to get ready for, we have one more day to kind of polish it up, but it’s going to be a big challenge for us this week. This is a good football team."

And here's your almost-daily update from Belichick on Rob Gronkowski: "Rob’s been out there, I think he’s getting better every day. Working hard. No question about that."

Doug Martin, the Buccaneers' second-year running back who is averaging over 100 yards per game so far this season, is, of course, a different kind of back than the Bills' Fred Jackson or other players the Patriots will see in coming weeks.

Belichick said planning for running backs is largely dependent on the type of player he is and how he's deployed by his team.

"[The approach] can change a lot, depending on who the players are and how the offense uses them. Some offenses involve their running backs a lot in the passing game, some of them use them more in protection and to run the ball and play-action and things like that, some guys, they’re go-to guys on third downs or get them the ball in space," Belichick said. "Protection’s another thing that varies from back to back - some backs can do a lot of different protections, some backs it looks like teams just use one or two protections with them so they don’t have a lot of different assignments.

"I think each week when the linebackers see who the backs are or the secondary if they’re involved, you definitely take more time to go through that scouting report with the backs: how they’re used in the passing game, what kind of skills they have, some examples of them using those skills, whether they’re deep receivers, whether they use a lot of option-type routes, whether guys can get open, whether they’re more catch-and-run players, check-down receivers, things like that. Usually the player’s skills will be complimented within the offense, so if the back’s a good route-runner they’ll probably run him on some man-to-man type routes; if the back’s more of a catch-and-run guy, then they’ll run receivers deep and let him be the check-down guy if there’s zone coverage and things like that instead of asking him to win in a lot of one-on-one situations if that’s not really one of his strengths.

"Knowing who’s in the game and what they’re capable of doing and how we want to defend them is a key, key point every week. [It's] very important."

Tampa Bay, which often employs three receiver sets, also makes a team decide when to play nickel versus when to go with a base defense in more of an effort to slow Martin.

"That’s an every-week, game plan discussion," Belichick said. "Do you want to match, do you not want to match, or what situations do you want to match in or is there some three-receiver sets you want to match, others you don’t, maybe who the tight end is, who the back is, maybe if the receiver – sometimes it’s not the same three guys, maybe a certain receiver changes how you want to match up, maybe it’s by down and distance, or whatever. That’s another key coaching decision that’s, I’d say, a weekly decision. It’s this week but it’s every week, how and when to match up with multiple receiver groups."

Another point of interest during Belichick's talk came when he was asked about talking to the Patriots' rookies. The initial question was whether he talks to the rookies about dealing with reduced playing time, especially for those players who were stars on their college team, but, he said, that is just one topic among many discussed with rookies on a regular basis.

"I talk to the rookies on a regular basis, elements of that conversation and things started long before now, going back to the spring, going back to training camp," he said. "Guys that come from college that were stars on their team that were getting all the reps that maybe weren’t playing in the kicking game, that had so-called ‘special privileges’ or whatever with their status on that team, they’re in a whole different place very, very early coming onto this team. If that’s what it was somewhere else, it’s a lot different than that here. I don’t know what it was like somewhere else, but my sense is that some of them, it’s a big transition for them.

"But that transition started a long, long time ago. But we talk to them on a regular basis about that. Pro football is a lot different than college football, not just the game but the whole process of it; everything we do, it’s a lot different. We talk to them about that on a regular basis, at least weekly if not more. In a lot of cases, it’s really daily. It’s really a daily conversation with either all of them or groups of them."

Over the years, Belichick has heard many a player lament his lack of knowledge about one thing or another, about his being unprepared for a situation, on or off the field. So the talks are a way to at least give players a head's up when it comes to some things, and something he's aimed to do better now than he did previously in his career.

"You tell them, ‘Look this is the way it’s going to be, here’s what you have to be ready for, this is what’s going to happen, this is how this is going to work, this is how you need to do this, this is how you need to do that’," Belichick said. "Doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect, but at least they’ve been warned ahead of time what to expect, they have an idea what to expect, then a lot of times you go back and say, ‘OK, this is what we talked about, did it happen about the way you thought it would, the way we talked about?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well, what was different?’ ‘Well, I didn’t expect this or I didn’t expect that.’ OK, then we talk about that and then we move onto the next thing.

"It’s a long season for these guys, they have a lot of hills to climb, not just one – it’s a roller coaster. Each week is a new challenge and really each day is a new challenge. I think the better you can prepare them for it, then the better chance they have to meet it, but there’s still no substitute for experience, so coaches, players, we try to provide that, and we do that with every group, every year, on and off the field. There’s a lot of things in pro football that are a lot different from college, not just the game, not just the preparation, but once they walk out of the building, there’s no dormitories, no classes…a lot of other stuff, there’s other things, there’s regular life to deal with. Paying bills and being accountable in other areas of your life that you’re much less [concerned] with in college because it’s taken care of for you or you don’t have to deal with it at all."

The Patriots currently have 13 rookies on the active roster and seven on practice squad, but the number of newbies doesn't matter, Belichick said - none of them have been through the myriad things that have happened or will happen in the coming weeks.

Friday roll call

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 20, 2013 10:41 AM

FOXBOROUGH – For the second straight day, receiver Matthew Slater was the only player not spotted at Patriots practice. Slater has missed all week because of a wrist injury, and he'll be ruled out for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when the team's injury report comes out on Friday afternoon.

Players were in shorts and shells on a sunny, warm day. The New England Revolution were practicing inside Gillette Stadium, so the Patriots – who had an early-morning walk-through there – utilized the grass fields behind the stadium.

Aqib Talib, defense have altered the Patriots' prospects

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 20, 2013 09:49 AM


Aqib Talib has given the Patriots defense confidence. (Barry Chin / Globe Staff)

There is something special about a defense that returns 10 of its 11 starters.

Call it steady, consistent, or even reliable (gasp!). You know what you’re getting in terms of talent, smarts, and headaches, all in one batch. That’s the 2013 Patriots defense after adding only defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to its core group.

And similarly, the team’s performance has not changed dramatically over the past three years, ranking 25th or worse in total defense and 29th or worse in passing defense. But over the past year, the defense has gone from a leaky cauldron of everything-in-the-pot stew, to a cream of mushroom soup, with much of its success being traced to a more consistent secondary, and in particular cornerback Aqib Talib.


Thursday injury report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 19, 2013 04:32 PM
FOXBOROUGH – Cornerback Marquice Cole was back at practice on Thursday after he was excused from the workout a day earlier so he could join his wife for the birth of their second child, a daughter.

There were no other changes to the injury report; Matthew Slater was out again with a wrist injury, while seven players – receiver Danny Amendola (groin), tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), running backs Brandon Bolden (knee) and Leon Washington (thigh), offensive linemen Dan Connolly (finger) and Will Svitek (knee), and defensive back Nate Ebner (ankle) – were limited.

For the second straight day, Zach Sudfeld, who missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury, participated fully

The Buccaneers also updated their injury report.
OUT: DT Derek Landri, knee
CB Michael Adams, knee
OL Gabe Carini, illness
Limited participation
TE Tom Crabtree, ankle
CB Rashaan Melvin, hamstring
G Carl Nicks, foot
TE Luke Stocker, hip
Full participation
DE Adrian Clayborn, hip
LB Mason Foster, toe

Patriots' defense focusing on Doug Martin

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 19, 2013 02:23 PM
FOXBOROUGH – For someone who has just 18 games under his NFL belt, Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin sure is getting a lot of attention from the Patriots.

The rookie was near the top of the list in a number of offensive categories last year: fifth in rushing yards (1,454) and rushing touchdowns (11), third in yards from scrimmage (1,926). His 251-yard game against the Raiders is the 10th-most in NFL history.

Martin has remained a large part of the Buccaneers' offense in his sophomore season. Through two games he has 55 touches (53 rushes, two receptions), and is second in the league with 209 rushing yards.

Consider the Patriots impressed.

"Good challenge for us to keep him contained and not let him run all over the place, because he is fast," defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich said after Thursday's practice. "Similar to [Bills running back C.J.] Spiller, quick guy in space, so you want to keep him bottled up."

The Patriots did a decent job on Spiller in a 23-21 season-opening win, limiting the running back to 41 yards on 17 carries. The challenge in slowing the swift back from Boise State will be just as difficult.

"He’s one of them," said Vince Wilfork, when asked if Martin is a focal point. "He’s a good, good football player, a great back who can run, block, catch. We have our hands full with him and Vincent Jackson."

Running back LeGarrette Blount saw Martin's skill first-hand and up-close, spending last season with the Buccaneers before joining the Patriots in an April trade.

"I played with him, he’s a really good running back. He did a lot of things last year that a lot of rookies didn’t do," Blount said. "He’s a really good player, tough runner, downhill, and has really good balance. He’s definitely one of their best weapons, so it’s going to be hard to contain him."

Thursday roll call: Slater missing, Cole returns

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 19, 2013 10:55 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Matthew Slater was the only player not spotted at Patriots practice on Thursday, with cornerback Marquice Cole returning one day after an excused absence.

Slater has a wrist injury, and hasn't practiced this week. Cole missed practice on Wednesday so he could attend the birth of his child.

Players were in sweats and shells, working on the upper grass field behind Gillette Stadium. Receiver Danny Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski were out there, though both were limited in their participation on Monday and Wednesday.

Watch: Gronk provides status update

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 19, 2013 07:38 AM
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The status of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for Sunday's game vs. Tampa Bay has been one of the top talking points all week. Here's what he had to say on the matter Wednesday in the Patriots' locker room.

Watch: Ben Volin's Week 3 outlook

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 18, 2013 06:00 PM

Globe NFL reporter Ben Volin gives CineSport's Noah Coslov his must-watch games, says that RGIII should sit vs. Detroit, and previews the Patriots-Buccaneers game.

Watch: Patriots prepare for Buccaneers

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 18, 2013 05:33 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- In the latest Patriots midweek report, Bill Belichick sings the praises of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman, Tom Brady tells us why Dashon Goldson is one of his favorite players, and updates on Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola.

Week 3 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 18, 2013 05:20 PM

After two straight weeks of mediocrity, we return with renewed faith that picking NFL games is less confusing because we've passed that awkward, unknown realm of the season's beginning.

There is no denying that we've learned a lot about the tops and bottoms of the league, with the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks occupying the upper echelon and the Jacksonville Jaguars residing somewhere below the basement. It's the middlings that are much tougher to decipher.

However, these first two weeks should help guide us in the interim. And, hopefully, the lessons learned will help balance my current record, 12-20, sooner rather than later.

As a reminder, all picks are against the spread. And last week, I mistakenly omitted one game from my Week 1 record, which was 6-10.

Here are my Week 3 picks:

Chiefs (+3) at Eagles (-3) -- The Chiefs have taken wins against the Jaguars and Cowboys while the Eagles have gone 1-1 against the Redskins and Chargers. While nobody expected the Eagles to be perfect through two games, no one expected them to lose to the Chargers and beat the Redskins, making them hard to predict. But with two (and a half) weeks to prepare for this moment, I think the Eagles will finally have worked out any kinks in their high-powered offense.
My pick: Eagles

Chargers (+3) at Titans (-3) -- Despite a tough loss to open the season against the Texans, the Chargers have impressed behind the solid play of Phillip Rivers. He sliced up the Eagles in Week 2 for 419 yards and three touchdowns and sports a 115.8 quarterback rating. The Titans, who lost to the Texans in Week 2, have the 30th-ranked offense.
My pick: Chargers

Browns (+5.5) at Vikings (-5.5) -- Despite a change at quarterback, old friend Brian Hoyer won't be able to help the desolate Browns offense, which ranks 28th and is getting 3.4 yards per carry out of star running back Trent Richardson. (Editor's note: After this post was published, Richardson was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. However, that move doesn't change Zuri's pick.) The Vikings, while they have their own quarterback issues, have a solid running game behind Adrian Peterson (193 yards), per usual.
My pick: Vikings

Buccaneers (+7.5) at Patriots (-7.5) -- The Patriots are better because they have Tom Brady. The Buccaneers are worse because they have Josh Freeman. With 10 days to correct issues, you have to expect the Patriots to be better.
My pick: Patriots

Texans (-2.5) at Ravens (+2.5) -- The Ravens had a lackluster performance against the Cleveland Browns and were embarrassed in Week 1 against the Broncos. While still showing a stout run defense (65.0 yards per game), they've allowed an alarming 319.5 passing yards per game and have yet to pick up their own running game. The Texans have benefited greatly from rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins (12 receptions, 183 yards, 1 TD).
My pick: Texans

Rams (+4) at Cowboys (-4) -- Can I really go wrong expecting the Cowboys to be better in Week 3 than they were in the prior two weeks? Maybe I have a soft spot for them with all that talent on offense and expectations for greatness. Not this week, though. Not after the Rams played the Falcons tough, losing, 31-24, while giving up 374 yards passing. I expect this to be close.
My pick: Rams

Cardinals (+7.5) at Saints (-7.5) -- Sean Payton has had the Saints looking crisp in their first two games. Drew Brees has looked sharp and the team's pass defense (196.0 yards allowed per game) has been solid. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (10 receptions, 113 yards, 2 TDs) looks good despite a hamstring injury. But his quarterback, Carson Palmer, has been turnover-prone (two interceptions, two fumbles).
My pick: Saints

Lions (+2) at Redskins (-2) -- Robert Griffin III is having some troubling performances of late, still shaking the rust off after an offseason rehabbing his torn ACL. But what's worse, the Redskins are giving up a league-high 201 rushing yards per game and allowing 310.5 passing yards per game. The Lions are led by a three-headed monster in Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Reggie Bush.
My pick: Lions

Packers (-2.5) at Bengals (+2.5) -- The Packers may have stumbled against the 49ers, but they picked right back up in Week 2 against the Redskins, winning, 38-20, with Aaron Rodgers throwing for 480 yards and four touchdowns. They'll need a performance like that again when playing the Bengals, who have put together a respectable defense that hasn't yet reached its potential. The worry is that the team will rely heavily on Rodgers without running back Eddie Lacy, who has knocked out of last week's game with a concussion. Somehow, I feel like that won't matter.
My pick: Packers

Giants (+1) at Panthers (-1) -- Remember those middling teams we talked about? Well here's two of them that even Las Vegas can't get a grasp on, with certain books giving this game a pick 'em line and others calling for a point or a point and a half in favor of the Panthers. The Giants have their issues, but this is a playoff-caliber team that just starts slowly every year. They've got to start somewhere.
My pick: Giants

Falcons (+2) at Dolphins (-2) -- The Dolphins' first two wins are inflated given how they bested the Colts (1-1) and the Browns (0-2). So while coming into the game as favorites against the Falcons, an NFC power, they should be thinking they're the underdogs. Atlanta's Matt Ryan leads the sixth-best passing offense, and the Falcons defense has held opponents to 73.5 rushing yards per game but gives up a dismal 346.5 passing yards per game. The Dolphins have to be on point to come out on top.
My pick: Falcons

Colts (+10.5) at 49ers (-10.5) -- The 49ers are having a tough time running the ball, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick leading the team through two games with 109 yards. They'll have an opportunity to get Frank Gore going against the Colts, who have the 29th-ranked rush defense. And San Francisco, boasting the 10th-best pass defense, can try and mitigate Andrew Luck, who has been solid in his first two games.
My pick: 49ers

Jaguars (+19.5) at Seahawks (-19.5) -- In two games, the Jaguars have managed all of 11 points against the Raiders and Chiefs.
My pick: Seahawks

Bills (+2) at Jets (-2) -- If one can determine outcomes by common opponents, all you have to do is look back to when the Patriots played both teams to get an idea of which team will have a better showing, both on offense and defense. The Jets should be favored after taking the Patriots down to the wire. And the Bills, despite a win in Week 2, still have a ways to go.
My pick: Jets

Bears (-2.5) at Steelers (+2.5) -- The Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall (15 catches for 217 yards, 2 TDs) combination has shown real fire in the first two weeks as the Bears have gone 2-0 in impressive fashion. Meanwhile, the Steelers have gotten their tails handed to them by the Titans,16-9, and Bengals, 20-10.
My pick: Bears

Raiders (+15) at Broncos (-15) -- The Raiders aren't as incompetent as the spread would lead you to believe. They've shown some good competitive spirit against the Colts, a 21-17 loss, and against the Jaguars, a 19-9 win. Terrelle Pryror continues to get better and Darren McFadden is always one open hole away from a touchdown. Will the Raiders win? Not by a mile. But will they cover? I think so.
My pick: Raiders

Last week: 6-10
Season: 12-20

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.

Wednesday's injury report: Seven Patriots limited

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 18, 2013 04:09 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Seven Patriots were limited in Wednesday's practice, including tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Danny Amendola.

Another tight end, Zach Sudfeld, participated fully. He has had a hamstring injury, which caused him to miss last week's game against the Jets. If Gronkowski can't go, Sudfeld's availability would likely be useful.

Amendola isn't expected to play Sunday against the Buccaneers, and didn't look close to being ready for a game in the brief portion of practice made accessible to the media. He was running at less than full speed and not cutting sharply in receiver drills.

The others who were limited included running backs Brandon Bolden (knee) and Leon Washington (thigh), offensive linemen Dan Connolly (finger) and Will Svitek (knee), and defensive back Nate Ebner (ankle).

Two Patriots missed practice. Receiver/special teamer Matthew Slater has a wrist injury, and cornerback Marquice Cole was excused to attend the birth of his child.

Buccaneers just another opponent, says Aqib Talib

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 18, 2013 03:22 PM
FOXBOROUGH – He spent all his time in the NFL with Tampa Bay before being traded to the Patriots last November. But Sunday's game against the Buccaneers won't hold any special meaning for Aqib Talib.

"No, it’s a game, No. 3 game, Week 3 game, next game, most important game," Talib said on Wednesday, after the team's practice.

Talib spent more than four seasons with the Buccaneers, intercepting 18 passes. He had his first two picks of this season last week against the Jets, including one in the final minute that prompted a fight after he was hit low by Nick Mangold while running out of bounds. Talib missed practice on Monday to tend to a matter.

His former teammates are coming here 0-2, with reports that some players aren't on the same page with coach Greg Schiano. Talib was asked about those reports, but wouldn't bite, in his own unique way.

"I play for the Patriots, baby, we good," Talib said. "We’re good over here."

Rob Gronkowski: 'I'm feeling way closer to playing'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 18, 2013 02:19 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Tight end Rob Gronkowski stopped short of declaring himself ready to play in a game for the Patriots, but said he has progressed significantly since last week.

Gronkowski has yet to play this season, still recovering from offseason surgeries on his back and forearm. He has practiced the past two weeks but was ruled inactive against both the Bills and Jets.

The Patriots face the Buccaneers Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Will Gronkowski be on the field?

"So far, there’s really nothing new to report. I’m just day-to-day and progressing every week," Gronkowski said. "I’m just improving every week, feeling good every week. When everyone collaborates together and I feel ready to go, that’s when it will be."

Coach Bill Belichick, when asked how Gronkowski has looked, said the tight end has looked great in the meeting room. That drew a laugh from Gronkowski.

"In the meeting rooms? Definitely, I’ve been there every single day," Gronkowski said. "You’ve got to stay up mentally on your game, obviously, with this offense, how Tom [Brady] runs it, how [offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] presents everything to us, how he wants it run on the field."

Gronkowski hasn't played since the first playoff game last season, when he reinjured his forearm against the Texans. But he feels his return will come soon.

"I definitely feel closer, I’m feeling way closer to playing," he said. "It feels good to be out on the field with your teammates, running around, catching balls from Tom, being with the tight ends again and doing drills with them. I’m having a blast out there."

Tom Brady gushes over Dashon Goldson

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 18, 2013 01:44 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Tom Brady has a keen eye for some of the league's top defensive players, guys he sees on film and respects tremendously.

For Brady, Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis has earned that respect after years battling against the Patriots for the Jets. But Brady conceded that Revis is not his favorite player in the Buccaneers secondary.

"I got respect for a lot of those guys," Brady said. "Some of the best guys we'll play against in the league [are] Darrelle Revis, Mark Barron, and Dashon Goldson, who is one of my favorite players."

Brady got to see Goldson up close when the Patriots and Buccaneers held joint practices in Foxborough last month. The two also tangoed last year, when Goldson was with the San Francisco 49ers, in a 41-34 New England loss.

Not long after the All-Pro safety won his appeal of a one-game suspension Wednesday, Brady was informed that Goldson would be available for Sunday's game.

But why is he Brady's favorite?

"Because if I were a safety, I would try to play like him," Brady said. "He's a great player. I played against him last year, I always kind of watched him as a 49er. He got his opportunity there after a few years in San Francisco and took advantage of his opportunity.

"He was a big part of the reason why that defense was so good last year and now he's playing for Tampa. So he's already made a big impact. He's a very good player, and practicing against him you sort of see why."

Goldson had been suspended one game for a hit on Saints running back Darren Sproles in Week 2. He appealed, and on Wednesday, the NFL announced that the punishment had been reduced to a $100,000 fine.

Wednesday roll call: Talib, Dennard back at practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 18, 2013 10:48 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Two Patriots returned to a full-pads practice on Wednesday, while two others weren't spotted in the portion made accessible to the media.

Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard, both of whom missed practice on Monday, were back on the field. Dennard was appearing in a Nebraska courtroom to face a probation violation hearing; Talib appeared to suffer an ankle injury late in Thursday's game against the Jets.

Receiver Matthew Slater and cornerback Marquice Cole were not spotted.

Receiver Danny Amendola was participating in conditioning drills and moving very carefully. He missed Thursday's game with a groin injury. It's easy to see he's not close to being healthy enough to play.

Belichick generous in his praise of Buccaneers, Freeman

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 18, 2013 10:24 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise of the Buccaneers, giving Tampa Bay a hefty sum of credit for the team's effort in its first two games, both of which were losses.

"It's a good, explosive team," Belichick said with a straight face. "A team we've really got to be careful of all the little things. Because those can lead to big things and those big things can lead to big plays and nobody makes them more than these guys do. It's going to be a big challenge this week getting ready for them."

The Buccaneers lost to the Saints in Week 2, 16-14, missing a 47-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Lindell with 1:10 left in the game. On their final drive, quarterback Josh Freeman connected on 2 of 3 passes, both to Vincent Jackson, for 38 yards to get the Buccaneers down to the Saints' 46-yard line. But then Tampa Bay opted to run Doug Martin six straight times to end the drive, including on second-and-6 and third-and-6 after no gain, leading to Lindell's 47-yard attempt.

Freeman's ability to get the Buccaneers into a position to win, despite finishing 9 of 22 passing for 125 yards with a touchdown and interception, was the subject of much of Belichick's praise.

"I just see a guy who can make all the throws," he said. "He can throw the deep ball. He can throw the sideline routes. Again, I thought in that last drive against New Orleans, they had a third and 10, a third and 8, whatever it was. He made big throws in critical situations to move the team down, to use up most of the clock there before they had that last field goal. Same thing against the Jets, he put them back in field goal position to go ahead in that game with whatever it was, 30 seconds to go in the game.

"He can scramble," Belichick continued. "He does a good job on bootleg passes on the run, throws well in the pocket, utilizes all of his receivers – the outside receivers, the tight ends, the backs. I think he's got plenty of skill."

Freeman has completed 45 percent of his throws and has two touchdowns and two interceptions so far. He has a 63.0 quarterback rating.

Buccaneers' Dashon Goldson wins appeal, will play vs. Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 18, 2013 10:01 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Tampa Bay safety Dashon Goldson has won his appeal of a one-game suspension for his hit on New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles, according to reports.

Goldson, a first team all-pro player last year for the San Francisco 49ers, will be available for the Buccaneers against the Patriots on Sunday. In two starts for Tampa Bay, he has 14 tackles and a pass defensed.

Danny Amendola won't need surgery, league source says

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 17, 2013 07:04 PM

Patriots receiver Danny Amendola is responding well to treatment and won't need surgery for a groin injury, according to a league source.

Amendola is expected to miss anywhere from two to six weeks, with the source putting his return on the shorter end of that scale.

After missing Thursday's home opener against the Jets, Amendola was on the field Monday for the portion of practice made accessible to the media. He aggravated the injury in the season-opening win at Buffalo, when he caught 10 passes for 104 yards.

McDaniels: Healthy Gronkowski would have impact on game plan

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 17, 2013 01:35 PM

Time will tell whether tight end Rob Gronkowski returns from his offseason surgical procedures and plays for the first time this season Sunday against Tampa Bay. But Josh McDaniels, the Patriots offensive coordinator, knows what kind of impact Gronkowski's return will have, whenever it comes.

"I think any time you have a player that can make the kind of impact that Rob has made in the past, if you have a player like that back, it has to affect your plan, and hopefully only in a positive manner," McDaniels said Tuesday during the weekly coaches' conference call.

"I don’t know if it would affect the groupings that we would use, or whether we would use tempo or not, I don’t know if that would impact it. But you’d like to have a guy like that on the field as much as you can if he’s ready and able to contribute the way that Rob has been able to."

Tampa Bay will be making its second visit to Gillette Stadium in just over a month. The teams went against each other during joint practices prior to their Aug. 16 preseason game. So coach Bill Belichick knows all about Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman.

"He’s athletic, does a good job in the pocket, he’s hard to get down, runs well," Belichick said. "We have to be very disciplined with our rush lanes, because they roll him out a decent amount with bootlegs, sprint-out plays, things like that.

"He’s got a great arm, he’s a big, tall guy who can see over the line and makes all the throws. We saw that at practice and we’ve seen it in their games."

On the other side of the ball, the Patriots will once again go up against Darrelle Revis. The cornerback is spending his first season in Tampa Bay after six years with the Jets, when he was a four-time All-Pro selection.

"Well, at least we only have to play against him once," Belichick said. "He’s good. I thought he played well against the Jets [in the Bucs' season opener] with some limited playing time, and then this past week he played almost every snap against New Orleans. It looks like he’s playing well."

Week 3: Monday practice peek -- Amendola present, Talib among absentees

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 16, 2013 03:22 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots are back on the practice field, and there were three players not spotted during the media-access window: cornerback Aqib Talib, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, and wide receiver/special teamer Matthew Slater.

And among those present was wide receiver Danny Amendola, but his presence appeared to be purely for show. During warmups and some agility/positional drills that media were present for, Amendola was not moving well at all. He is dealing with a strained groin, and may or may not be facing surgery for a sports hernia.

Colleague Ben Volin reported a short time ago that Slater has a broken bone in his hand, which may mean he's unavailable for Sunday's game with the Buccaneers.

It's not known at this time what is bothering Talib, though he was rolled up on late in last Thursday's win over the Jets.

Dennard was in Nebraska Monday morning for a court hearing.

Ryan Mallett and practice squad players Kanorris Davis and Justin Green were in black jerseys as the season's first practice players of the week.

Belichick looking ahead to Tampa Bay

Posted by Staff September 16, 2013 02:14 PM

The Patriots survived a sloppy 13-10 win over the Jets Thursday night, leaving many to speculate whether this team will be able to compete offensively when it faces higher-regarded teams in upcoming weeks.

Coach Bill Belichick, however, is squarely focused on this Sunday’s matchup in Foxborough against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team he believes is much better than its 0-2 record indicates.

“They’ve been really close the last two weeks and have come up short, but a couple plays that just turn out a little differently, wouldn’t have taken much, we’d be looking at a 2-0 team,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for the way that they play. They’re a tough, physical team.

“They have a good mixture of pressure, coverage, movement up front, they’re very fast and athletic, whichever 11 players they have on the field, they play based on your personnel – 4-3, nickel, dime. They’re very fast and explosive, no matter who they have on the field.”

Tampa Bay is coming off tough losses to the Jets and Saints, and Belichick said any suggestion that the team will be desperate for a win doesn’t change the coaching staff’s strategy.

“We would have expected Tampa’s best no matter what happened in the first two games, and that’s what we’ll expect this week,” he said. “From working against them -- we played against them twice in preseason and worked on the field with them -- we have a lot of respect for their players, their coaching staff, their toughness, their effort, their competitiveness."

Belichick said the plan for the week would be slightly different, because of the fact that the Patriots have already had a few days off. But mostly they are approaching Week 3 from a normal perspective.

“Last week was really a week that we weren’t able to practice, it was really more walkthroughs and film and preparation and that kind of thing,” said Belichick. “I think that it kind of as a staff gives us a little bit of extra time to figure out where we are, what things we need to work on, need a little bit more work on, some situations that maybe haven’t come up in the first couple games that we need to refresh and the ones that have, we’ve talked about and hopefully learned from and been able to make progress on those going forward.

“[We] haven’t played here in a couple days and now we’re playing a team with a different style from what we played the first two weeks. We see that pretty much every week, [so we need] to start to get our timing and our execution and our communication and our adjustments and just techniques and all those, just start tuning back up those things so when we hit the field on Wednesday, we’ll be able to get as much out of that really first big day of preparation for Tampa as we can.”

Belichick would not provide any information on injured tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola, saying the team would “take it day-to-day.”

Amendola has torn adductor muscles in his hip and may also require surgery for a sports hernia; he is out of action for the near future. Gronkowski has been rehabbing from his arm and back surgeries in the offseason, with reports suggesting he may be able to play as soon as this Sunday if all goes well.

Dennard admits probation violation, due back in court Oct. 8

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 16, 2013 12:36 PM

Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was back in a Lincoln, Neb., courtroom Monday morning for a hearing to determine whether his July 11 arrest for suspicion of DUI violated terms of the probation handed down three months earlier.

The hearing had twice been postponed, but Dennard was present Monday. According to reporters in the courtroom, Dennard's attorney told Judge Stephanie Stacy at the beginning of the proceedings that the former University of Nebraska player admitted to the violation of his probation.

He also stated that he drank two beers around 9 p.m., then drove his girlfriend's car approximately 4.5 hours later.

Stacy ruled that Dennard did violate probation but said he can remain on probation until a sentencing Dec. 5; she also ordered an updated investigation into his behavior.

The Lancaster County prosecutor on the case said Dennard intentionally did not blow hard enough to get a full reading when he was pulled over by police in Lincoln after the Honda Accord he was driving was spotted straddling lanes on the city's Normal Avenue.

The prosecutor said Dennard blew a .107 in the field and .153 at the detox center he was taken to after being detained (he was not jailed).

Dennard is due back in court Oct. 8 for an appearance related to the DUI matter.

In April 2012, Dennard was arrested just days before the NFL draft and charged with third-degree felony for striking a police officer, as well as resisting arrest and misdemeanor assault for allegedly striking another college student; he was found guilty of assault on the officer and resisting arrest.

On April 11, Stacy sentenced Dennard to 24 months probation, a 30-day jail term to be served in March 2014 (after the NFL season), and 100 hours of community service. The felony conviction carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

(With reports from the Lincoln Journal-Star - Twitter and blog post.)

Report: Amendola has torn adductor muscles, may have sports hernia

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff September 15, 2013 12:50 PM

Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola has torn adductor muscles in his hip and has gotten conflicting reports from doctors as to whether or not he also has a sports hernia, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports is reporting.

Amendola is seeking another opinion on the sports hernia today. If diagnosed with the injury, Amendola will need surgery and will be out three to four weeks. Amendola missed Thursday night's win over the Jets due to injury. He appeared to suffer, or at least aggravate, his injury or injuries in a Week 1 victory over the Bills. Amendola had 10 receptions for 104 yards in the game.

What we've learned in two weeks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 14, 2013 12:20 PM


Aaron Dobson, left, and Kenbrell Thompkins are the subject of much scrutiny through two weeks of the season. (Jim Rogash / Getty Images)

It’s a small sample size, but the trends are there.

Two weeks into the regular season, the enthusiasm and hype for a new group of wide receivers and a revamped offense appears to be wearing thin. It seems that poor chemistry and offensive rhythm is something Patriots Nation cannot yet stomach, despite being 2-0.

But there’s more, of course. So what have we learned?


Belichick says win over Jets was 'a big positive'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 13, 2013 02:22 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Bill Belichick repeatedly acknowledged the improvement he wants to see from his Patriots, but the day after a 13-10 win over the Jets, he said there were plenty of positives.

"Walking off the field was a big positive," he said. "Any time you win a division game, any time you beat the Jets, that’s a big positive. We did some things well."

Those might be easy to overlook for Patriots fans, who are accustomed to seeing the game come easily for Tom Brady & Co., especially on offense, and especially against inferior opponents. The Patriots needed a last-second field goal in their opener to beat the Bills by 2, and generated only nine first downs in beating the Jets by 3.

Granted, the team that took the Gillette Stadium field Thursday night for the home opener should be vastly different from the one that ends the season. Five players expected to contribute on offense -- Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, and Zach Sudfeld -- missed the game because of injury.

Perhaps predictably, the offense struggled in their absence.

"Obviously, there’s a lot of things that we need to work on as a football team, and I think that’s really where we’re at right now," Belichick said. "Individually, every coach, every player, [there are] things we need to do better. Each unit can improve in what we’re doing, how we’re doing it.

"I don’t think anybody’s where we want to be or where we need to be, but I think we’re all committed to getting there."

Belichick was asked about the pregame report that he has agreed to a contract extension, but chose not to confirm anything, saying, "I don’t talk about my personal contract situation."

He was also asked about the return of running back Stevan Ridley, who emerged from the benching he received after fumbling in the season opener and rushed for 40 yards on 16 carries.

"We didn’t have a lot of practice time, most of it was walk-through preparation, but I thought our entire team prepared well for this game," Belichick said. "I thought our players had a great attitude about being early, staying a little late, doing a little extra, being attentive and diligent in their preparation.

"It wasn’t a perfect game, but I thought the effort and the intensity, and what they put into it, was very good, all week and last night for 60 minutes."

Watch: Jets instigate scuffle near end of game

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 13, 2013 07:41 AM
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A late hit out of bounds by the Jets' Nick Mangold after Aqib Talib made a game-clinching interception instigated a dustup on the sideline that led to two Jets players being ejected from Thursday's Patriots-Jets game.

Watch the fracas above. The Globe's Michael Whitmer has more in his BostonGlobe.com story this morning.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Jets game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 13, 2013 03:11 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Tom Brady, normally infallible in these parts, is finding himself dealing with one of the greatest challenges of his career as he oversees the growth and development of a young group of receivers who are cutting their teeth as they go. In doing so, he's finding it harder and harder to find patience and understanding, two traits that he's not well-known for but needs dearly.

"I think I have to do a better job with my body language," said Brady, whose frustration was evident in Thursday's 13-10 victory over the Jets. "I definitely can improve that."

Working with rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, as well as veteran Julian Edelman Thursday night, Brady turned out one of the more forgettable performances of his career. In the team's second game, his poor chemistry with the wide receivers is quickly becoming the identity behind this offense. Here are my takeaways with that in mind:

1. Efficiency is suffering -- Because of the chemistry woes, Brady was a paltry 19 of 39 passing for 185 yards and a touchdown against the Jets. He had 71.0 passer rating and completed only 49 percent of his throws. But, more importantly, the Patriots were an abhorrent 4 of 18 on third downs and went 0 for 3 in the red zone. The Patriots had six three-and-outs Thursday. It was a dismal outing for last year's top-ranked passing offense.

2. The rookies have uneven performances again -- Dobson and Thompkins both had their moments against the Jets. Dobson caught a 39-yard touchdown in the first quarter, the very first play of his career. Thompkins caught a 38-yard pass in the second quarter to set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. But both got into trouble reading and reacting to coverages Thursday. And both had some drops. Brady targeted the two 17 times, but connected on only five passes for 103 yards. That's not nearly good enough.

3. Edelman was the main man -- Edelman was the focal point of the Patriots' passing offense, targeted 18 times Thursday. The team looked to use his speed on short, quick passes to get him in space where he does his most damage. He caught 13 balls, a career high, for 78 yards. But he also ran into trouble connecting with Brady, drawing the evil eye of his quarterback on a couple of occasions. It just goes to show that not one person, even the team's leading target, is completely on the same page as Brady.

4. The defense saved them -- The Patriots forced four turnovers, including two interceptions by Aqib Talib. But there was also significant pressure from the team's defensive line. Chandler Jones (2 sacks), Tommy Kelly (sack), and Michael Buchanan (sack) all got in on the action. Rob Ninkovich also made his presence felt. In holding the Jets to 10 points, and 318 yards of offense, the defense proved that it is gelling while the offense is still finding its rhythm.

5. The running game was flat -- Stevan Ridley, coming off a huge fumble against the Bills, didn't put the ball on the ground once Thursday. But he didn't do much else either. He had 16 carries for 40 yards (2.5 yards per carry). His longest run was nine yards. The Patriots finished with 54 total rushing yards and had only one first down on the ground. That can't all be attributed to the loss of Shane Vereen. And that isn't nearly good enough for a possible Super Bowl contender.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.

Defense has its day against the Jets

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 13, 2013 01:34 AM
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FOXBOROUGH – When the Patriots' offense could barely muster a first down in the fourth quarter, or sustain a drive, the defense bailed them out.

That's right, it was the defense that helped spur along the Patriots Thursday night against the New York Jets, coming up with four turnovers – three were critical down the stretch – to help the Patriots edge their AFC East foe, 13-10.

"I mean, over the years our offense has bailed us out so many times," linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "It's good to get a win like this. We've said it so many times: if the score is 43-42 or 3-0, we'll take it, especially against a division opponent like the Jets."

The Jets finished their last five drives of the game with two punts and three interceptions. The Patriots thwarted any comeback attempt thanks to timely plays from Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib. Dennard intercepted Jets quarterback Geno Smith at the New England 31 with 4:29 left in the game. Talib, with 48 seconds left, sealed the win with an interception of his own.

Talib finished with two interceptions in the game and a forced fumble, which was recovered by Devin McCourty.

"Guys just made plays," McCourty said. "I mean, we talked about it all week leading up to the game. Our front seven and front four was gonna get some pressure in there and we just had to make it count and intercept the ball."

The Patriots turned up the pressure on the Jets rookie quarterback, sacking him four times and adding five more hits in the backfield.

"We got after the quarterback a little bit and hopefully we can do it some more next week," said defensive end Chandler Jones, who had two sacks.

It was an improvement for a team, particularly the defensive line, that had scarcely forced any pressure in Week 1, making the job of the secondary much harder.

"It was a great game for us as a D-line," said defensive end Rob Ninkovich. There were some things that are wrong that we need to tighten up; they ran the ball too much on us. So that's what the tape is for tomorrow. We've got to make sure that we come in, see what we weren't doing as well on the D-line for stopping the run, see the things that we did do well and continue to get better and work."

For Aaron Dobson, first game is a mixed bag

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 13, 2013 12:49 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- On his first play on an NFL field, Aaron Dobson slipped behind the New York Jets secondary for a 39-yard touchdown.

First play, first catch, first touchdown. Who knew it would be the Patriots' only touchdown in an ugly 13-10 win Thursday night over an AFC East rival?

The touchdown was a sure confidence booster for the rookie, who missed the first game of the season with a hamstring injury. But after his initial splash -- just seven plays into the game -- Dobson's performance was much more aligned with that of a first-year player learning the intricacies of a complicated playbook.

He dropped two passes and appeared to be out of place on two occasions, further giving credence to the view that the Patriots' offense is out of synch with its new group of wide receivers. Tom Brady was particularly frustrated in the second quarter as the two seemed to get crossed up on one play, a third down on the Jets' 12-yard line where Dobson didn't seem to see a Brady pass coming.

"I mean, I feel like there's definitely things we can improve on," Dobson said. "We got a short week this week, so we got 10 days off right now. So we just gotta get our timing and stuff together this week going into the next game."

Dobson finished with three catches for 56 yards on 10 targets. It wasn't just about the dropped passes though, giving credit to the Jets' tough defense.

"It probably was both," he said. "They got a good defense. I feel like there was some plays we left out there as well, so I feel like we can just get better in those areas."

Dobson showed off his precious ability to get behind defenses. He found himself streaking down the sideline on a few plays, open and in Brady's crosshairs. The two were unable to connect on those attempts, but it was a welcome sight, much like his first touchdown.

"You got to have a short memory," Dobson said. "You gotta leave the play where it was at. A bad play happens you just gotta leave it there and just move on and just go to the next series or next drive."

And the next game.

Survey: Which Patriot gets the game ball vs. Jets?

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff September 12, 2013 11:54 PM

It wasn't pretty, but the Patriots held on for a 13-10 win over the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium Thurs. night to move to 2-0 on the season. Vote below for the Patriot who deserves the game ball after a sloppy win.

Which Patriot deserves the game ball vs. Jets?

Final: Patriots 13, Jets 10

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 12, 2013 08:55 PM
The Patriots scored a touchdown on their first possession and managed only two field goals the rest of the way, but it was enough to beat the Jets, 13-10, on Thursday at Gillette Stadium.

Aqib Talib had two interceptions, including one on the Jets' final possession, to lead the Patriots' defense.

Watch: Fans fired up for another football season in Foxborough

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff September 12, 2013 08:54 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- They're always ready for some football.

In the video above, 'Reverend' Gerry McCarthy, from Sandwich, gives his traditional pregame prayer before the game.

McCarthy became a reverend via the internet, from Universal Life Church and his group of diehard friends and family have turned tailgating into an art form in Foxborough for the past 15 years.

Report: Amendola out two to six weeks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 12, 2013 07:12 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- After aggravating a groin injury in Week 1, Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola is now expected to miss two to six weeks of action, according to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Amendola has already been declared out for Thursday's game against the Jets after being listed as doubtful during the week. He has missed 21 of 34 regular-season games dating back to the 2011 season.

Amendola, Sudfeld inactive for tonight's game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 12, 2013 06:58 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola was listed as inactive for Thursday night's game against the New York Jets, hampered by a lingering groin injury that he aggravated in Week 1 against the Bills.

The Patriots will also be without tight end Zach Sudfeld, who suffered a hamstring injury against the Bills. He had been listed as questionable during the week.

Also listed as inactive for the Patriots are running back Brandon Bolden (knee), Will Svitek (knee) and Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm)

Linebacker Steve Beauharnais and defensive lineman Chris Jones are healthy scratches.

Wide receiver Aaron Dobson, who missed Week 1 with a hamstring injury, will be active for his first game. Safety Duron Harmon (hamstring), running back Leon Washington (thigh), and Nate Ebner (ankle) are all active as well after appearing on the injury report as questionable to play.

Steve Gregory sizes up the Jets

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 12, 2013 04:41 PM


Patriots safety Steve Gregory recovered two fumbles, returning one for a touchdown, and had an interception the last time he played the Jets. (Julio Cortez / AP file photo)

FOXBOROUGH -- It's been a little less than a year since the Patriots last played the Jets, taking a 49-19 victory on Thanksgiving Day 2012.

That game, of course, was signified by more than the win for the Patriots: It also provided the memorable and seemingly everlasting image of the "butt fumble," with Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez running into teammate Brandon Moore's behind and coughing up the football.

Patriots safety Steve Gregory knows the tale well. He was the one who scooped up the fumble and raced away for a 32-yard touchdown. It was his second fumble recovery of the game, to go along with an interception, making it quite possibly the best game of his career to date. And as a native of New York (born in Brooklyn, went to high school in Staten Island), he's heard his fair share about the play from family and friends who are either Jets fans or Jets agitators.

Going into Thursday's game, Gregory talked briefly about the butt fumble on this anniversary of sorts, his role in the New England defense, and at length about this week's opponent.

So it's your hometown team and another reason to bring up the butt fumble. How do you commemorate it?

Well, I think the butt fumble is retired now (laughs). So I guess we can just put it up on the shelf and not worry about it anymore.

Going into this season, did you expect that you would be playing every snap, as you did against the Bills, when there was so much competition at your position?

I just always prepare myself for that situation. It's the way I approach it every day. It doesn't matter your situation, I approach it as I'm there, playing. Every snap. You gotta be ready for everything. That's always my approach.

You've had a chance to play against Mark Sanchez and now you get to play against Geno Smith. What have you gathered on Smith that is different in any way from Sanchez?

You know, he seems to be real mature. Obviously he's athletic, he can move around, definitely can hurt you with his legs. But also has a strong arm and can make tight throws and kind of put the ball in places that you don't usually see from rookies. He's a mature guy, a good quarterback, sound football player, and somebody we need to be ready to try to contain and limit the things he can do.

Jets tight end Kellen Winslow was a Patriot for a brief time last year. He seems to have a found a role with the Jets. What kind of problems does he present?

He's a good football player. He runs good routes. He's a big, physical guy. Definitely has good hands and he can make plays as you saw in the last game. So we definitely need to know where he's at.

What do you think of the development for second-year Jets receiver Stephen Hill?

Just maturity. Obviously understanding the game a little bit more. He's a good speed guy that can really go up and get the ball. Again, runs good routes, can make plays on you. They have a lot of good, talented guys on that side of the ball and we have to be ready for and try to limit the things they can do.

What is the main challenge for the Patriots in terms of the Jets' passing game?

Just trying to understand how they're trying to attack us. Understand our schemes within the play, understand where your help is, where you don't have help, and again try and just limit the things they can do offensively based off of what we see them lined up in.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.

What to watch for as the Patriots host the Jets

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 12, 2013 10:00 AM

In Week 2, as the Patriots manage injuries, we have more than a few things to keep our eyes on. Here's what we're watching in tonight's game against the Jets.

1. How will the wide receivers adapt? -- Danny Amendola is listed as doubtful after aggravating his thigh injury against the Bills. Aaron Dobson, who wants to play, is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. He missed the season opener. The Patriots will have to do a bit of shuffling to account for the mix of bodies coming in and out. Julian Edelman will be expected to have a larger role, but it will be interesting to see how the rookies react. Kenbrell Thompkins is still expected to start despite a tough outing against the Bills (4 receptions on 14 targets) and Josh Boyce could find himself more in the mix.

2. Does Stevan Ridley bounce back? -- The Patriots running back put the ball on the ground twice in Week 1, losing one that was returned for a 74-yard touchdown. That got him benched with more than eight minutes left in the second quarter. The Patriots are going to need his talents on Sunday after fellow third-year running back Shane Vereen was placed on injured reserve with a broken bone in his left wrist. In both games against the Jets in 2012, Ridley had 38 carries for 162 yards and one touchdown.

3. Will depth be an issue? -- The Patriots managed to get through Week 1 in the secondary with only a few miscues, thanks in large part to a starting quintet of Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, Alfonzo Dennard, and Aqib Talib. The team played a majority of their defensive snaps (61 of 63) with five defensive backs. Backup safety Tavon Wilson was on the field for one snap on defense and rookie cornerback Logan Ryan was on the field for two. Duron Harmon, the team's rookie safety, missed the first week with a hamstring injury. As of right now, it appears the team only trusts that core five. But that could change with the return of Harmon, who is listed as questionable. Of all the backups in the secondary, he had the best camp.

4. How will the Patriots handle Geno Smith? -- Despite a couple of scrambles by the Bills' E.J. Manuel, it appears New York's Geno Smith will be the first quarterback the team faces who can run well. He ran for 47 yards in the Jets' season-opening win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Patriots certainly have the personnel now to deal with more mobile quarterbacks, including linebackers Jerod Mayo and rookie Jamie Collins, who logged only two defensive snaps in Week 1.

5. Will Tom Brady pick on the rookie? -- Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie is known well around these parts, both for his play and his clashes with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. But his starting counterpart, rookie Dee Milliner, is lesser known. In his first game against the Bucs, he was targeted nine times in coverage and allowed four receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown. Josh Freeman had a 106.3 quarterback rating when throwing in his direction. One can only imagine what will occur when Milliner goes up against a good quarterback.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.

Game 2 preview: Jets at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 12, 2013 08:00 AM

Just four days after opening their season against the Buffalo Bills, a 23-21 win, the Patriots welcome the New York Jets for their home opener at Gillette Stadium Thursday night in a nationally televised game on NFL Network.

The team enters Thursday's game with concerns over injuries at key positions on offense, including wide receivers Danny Amendola (groin) and Aaron Dobson (hamstring), as well as tight end Zach Sudfeld (hamstring). Amendola is listed as doubtful for Thursday's game after aggravating his injury against the Bills, despite finishing the game. Dobson and Sudfeld are listed as questionable.

The team will have to fill the gaping hole left by Shane Vereen, who operated as the team's third-down running back and filled in for starter Stevan Ridley when he was benched for fumbling. Vereen will miss the next eight weeks with a broken bone in his left wrist.

Former Jets running back Leon Washington could replace some of Vereen's snaps. But he's listed as questionable for the game with a thigh injury.

The Jets are coming off a season-opening 18-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kicker Nick Folk nailed a game-winning 48-yard field goal with 2 seconds remaining to lift his team while rookie quarterback Geno Smith (24 of 38 for 256 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 47 yards rushing) made his debut.

The Patriot swept their season series with the Jets in 2012 for the second straight year and are 19-9 against their AFC East rival since Bill Belichick took the helm of the team. New England leads the all-time series 55-52-1 and are 28-5 at Gillette Stadium against division opponents.

Belichick is 6-2 when coaching on Thursday, including a 49-19 win over the Jets on Thanksgiving last year.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 8:25 p.m.

Records: Patriots 1-0; Jets 1-0.

TV/Radio: NFL Network/WCVB-TV (Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock, Alex Flannagan); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and Westwood One Sports (Ian Eagle, Trent Green, Ross Tucker).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.

Patriots offense: WR Julian Edelman, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Zach Sudfeld, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork, DT Tommy Kelly, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Jets offense: WR Stephen Hill, LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, LG Vladimir Ducasse, C Nick Mangold, RG Willie Colon, RT Austin Howard, TE Jef Cumberland, WR Santonio Holmes, QB Geno Smith, FB Tommy Bohanon, RB Bilal Powell.

Jets defense: DE Muhammad Wilkerson, NT Kenrick Ellis, DT Sheldon Richardson, OLB Antwan Barnes, WLB Demario Davis, MLB David Harris, OLB Calvin Pace, CB Dee Milliner, CB Antonio Cromartie, S Antonio Allen, S Dawan Landry.

Read this, watch that

- Gronkowski and Amendola are listed as doubtful against the Jets.

- Patriots place Shane Vereen on injured reserve with a designation to return.

- Adam Kaufman writes that the Patriots must hand Stevan Ridley the ball.

- In Boston Sports Live, Chris Gasper and Gary Washburn discuss whether the Patriots are ready for the Jets on a short week.

- Follow today's game and comment on the action in our live blog. Updates start around 6 p.m.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.

Getting to know ... Chandler Jones

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 12, 2013 07:12 AM


FOXBOROUGH – You might be hard-pressed to find a Patriots player who looked like he was having more fun on the field last season than Chandler Jones. Then a rookie, he broke out a different dance for each sack he recorded, including Pee-Wee Herman's "Tequila" dance in Seattle and "The Dougie" in London against the Rams.

The 23-year old is famously the youngest of three brothers, all of whom are successful athletes – Arthur is a defensive lineman for the Ravens, and Jon "Bones" is a UFC champion. Chandler is the self-proclaimed goofball of the three, though he says there is no one quite like Jon.

First job: Actually, I had two jobs. One of them I was a chaperone at the Boys & Girls Club by my house, and I also worked at McDonald’s. I used to work on the grill. I was making $7.25 an hour; I think that was minimum wage then. I’ll never forget. And I was kind of upset because I didn’t get a raise and I was there for a year and a half, and I thought after a year you were supposed to get a raise. That’s how it was going. Everyone got a raise except for me. I was just working, slaving over the grill every day (laughs).

First car: My first car was an old box Cadillac, I don’t know what year, but it was old. It was a DeVille. It was light blue; it would turn off on me all the time. My friends would always say, ‘this is a death trap,’ because we would go out and we never knew if it was going to start or not. I was just hoping if I had a girl or someone with me, I was just hoping it would start. There was all kinds of tricks and gadgets [to getting and keeping it going]. I bought it with McDonald’s money. I bought it for $1,000 I think. It was cheap. It was a piece of crap. But all my checks I saved up, and I got it. It was my pride and joy. It was my first car.

Favorite TV show: The Jamie Foxx Show – it’s hilarious. Tosh.0 – ridiculousness. Ridiculousness.

Favorite meal: Lasagna. But it has to be cooked by the right person – my mom’s lasagna, she put everything in it: olives, pepperoni, it’s really good.

Prized possession: My family, to be honest with you. My family is all that I have. If they were to ever need anything from me or for me to do anything, I feel like I would do it 110 percent. That’s my pride and joy, my family. Mom, dad, both my brothers, nieces and nephews.

Place I want to visit: Bora Bora. I want to go with a lady friend, but every time I set the trip up, we end up breaking up. I swear to you. I’ve been trying to go to Bora Bora since before I came to New England. I was going to go this offseason, but we broke up.

If they made a movie about your life... It would be a…I don’t know. It would definitely be a serious move. It would be a top-selling movie, I know that much (smiles). If I got into detail and told every part about my life in that movie, it would be a top seller. Who would play me? It would have to be the guy from ‘Remember the Titans,’ Julius. Everyone says I look like him. Hopefully he could play me; I don’t think he’s goofy like I am. It would have to be him.

[Who would play your brothers?] Arthur would be Morris Chestnut; Morris Chestnut would have to put some weight on. And Jon – Jon would just have to be Jon, because you can’t compare Jon to anyone. That boy is so left-field. Jon would have to play himself.

Patriots claim defensive tackle Chris Jones, waive Josh Kline

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 11, 2013 06:19 PM

According to the NFL transaction wire, the Patriots were awarded defensive tackle Chris Jones off waivers from the Buccaneers Wednesday. Jones, a 6-foot-2-inch, 306-pound Bowling Green product, was a sixth-round pick of the Texans this year but cut out of training camp.

The Buccaneers then claimed him, only to release him Tuesday.

To make room for Jones, the Patriots waived OL Josh Kline. Kline has already gone back and forth between the team's practice squad and the 53-man roster over the first several days of the regular season.

Gronkowski, Amendola listed as doubtful against Jets

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 11, 2013 04:31 PM

Tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola have been listed by the Patriots as doubtful to play in Thursday night's home opener against the Jets. They are two of 14 players on the injury report, but only one of the 14 has been ruled out: running back Shane Vereen, who broke a bone in his wrist during the season opener against the Bills and was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return.

Gronkowski hasn't played since reinjuring his forearm in last season's playoff game against the Texans. He has practiced the past two weeks, but isn't expected to play against the Jets.

Amendola aggravated a groin injury in the win at Buffalo. He has taken part in the team's three walkthrough workouts this week, but also isn't expected to play Thursday night.

The absence of Vereen (101 rushing yards against the Bills) and likely absence of Amendola (104 receiving yards) leaves the Patriots in a tough spot. Running back Stevan Ridley could be in the mix for a big game, but he's also on the injury report, listed as probable with a shoulder injury.

The other two players who are listed as probable are cornerbacks Marquice Cole (hamstring) and Alfonzo Dennard (ankle).

Eight players are listed as questionable, including the newest Patriot added to the injury list, special teams ace Matthew Slater (knee)11injury. The others are running backs Brandon Bolden (knee) and Leon Washington (thigh), receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring), tight end Zach Sudfeld (hamstring), defensive backs Nate Ebner (ankle) and Duron Harmon (hamstring), and offensive lineman Will Svitek (knee).

Week 2 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 11, 2013 12:00 PM

Here are my Week 2 NFL picks.

Jets (+13) at Patriots (-13) -- Geno Smith was mostly solid in his NFL debut, but he struggled when facing pressure. He was 3 of 12 on 20 drop backs when pressured and was sacked five times. All the Patriots need is to bring a little pressure to really run the tables. But there is great doubt the Patriots can cover a 13-point spread after struggling with the Bills. There's too much uncertainty with the availability of Danny Amendola, Zach Sudfeld, and Aaron Dobson in question.
My pick: Jets

Rams (+7.5) at Falcons (-7.5) -- If the Falcons are the Super Bowl contenders we think they are, they should beat the Rams handily. But after considering the Rams' season-opening win, as well as the Falcons' season-opening loss, there is no reason to believe Atlanta will cover.
My pick: Rams

Chargers (+9) at Eagles (-9) -- The new Chip Kelly Eagles were explosive in their opener, reminding us of Michael Vick's exceptional abilities after a porous 2012. Meanwhile, the Chargers seemed to remind us of why they are so frustrating for their fan base.
My pick: Eagles

Cowboys (+2.5) at Chiefs (-2.5) -- Don't buy the Alex Smith hype. Against the hapless Jaguars, the Chiefs offense was 5 of 15 on third down, a tell-tale sign that he's still unable to convert when called upon. Now he's facing an immensely talented Cowboys team that is not even favored.
My pick: Cowboys

Dolphins (+3) at Colts (-3) -- Never trust a team that struggles against the Oakland Raiders. The Colts managed to escape with a win in Week 1 thanks to an errant throw by Raiders rookie QB Terrelle Pryor down the stretch. The Dolphins are talented and are only likely to get better after their season-opening win over the Cleveland Browns.
My pick: Dolphins

Titans (+10) at Texans (-10) -- The Titans are much better than odds-makers are giving them credit for and the Texans aren't nearly as good, even after their come-from-behind win against the Chargers. Chris Johnson is bound for a better than decent game, just not this week. And Jake Locker has to be better.
My pick: Titans

Redskins (+8) at Packers (-8) -- It was pretty shocking to watch Robert Griffin III struggle against the Eagles, given what we saw of Philadelphia in the preseason. RGIII was much more rusty than we were led to believe, finishing 30 of 49 for 329 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. It's hard to believe that he can regain his end of 2012 form within a week, especially against a talented Packers team that was will be itching to bounce back after getting shellacked by the 49ers.
My pick: Packers

Browns (+7) at Ravens (-7) -- The Browns, led by Brandon Weeden (48.4 QB rating in Week 1), are not really competitive. It doesn't really help that Trenton Richardson only managed 47 yards against the Dolphins. Meanwhile, in their home opener, the Ravens will unveil their new Super Bowl banner, so there will be pangs of pride in Baltimore. But that's not the only reason for the Ravens to be prideful. Baltimore will be looking to redeem itself after getting smoked by the Broncos in the NFL's opening game of the season. And they've had plenty of time to dissect what went wrong.
My pick: Ravens

Panthers (-3) at Bills (+3) -- The Panthers proved to have a stout rushing defense in Week 1 against the Seahawks, holding Seattle to 70 yards on 26 carries (2.6 average). They'll need that sort of run defense against Bills team that has a two-headed monster in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. And Cam Newton, who was 16 of 23 for 125 yards and 1 TD against Seattle, will likely find more open space against the Bills.
My pick: Panthers

Vikings (+6) at Bears (-6) -- Take away Adrian Peterson's 78-yard touchdown run and the All-Pro running back had 17 carries for 15 yards against the Lions. Either the Lions are really good or he has to be better. The Bears, with the tag team of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, continue to be one of the better teams in the NFL.
My pick: Bears

Saints (-3 1/2) at Buccaneers (+3 1/2) -- Drew Brees was on fire against the Falcons, picking his NFC South rival apart for 357 yards passing and two touchdowns. His effort was helped by a tough defense that held the Falcons to 3 of 11 on third downs.
My pick: Saints

Lions (-2) at Cardinals (+2) -- The Lions look really good through one week of football. QB Matthew Stafford (28 of 43 for 357 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and Reggie Bush (21 carries for 90 yards, 4 catches for 101 yards, 1 TD) had great games in their opener. And the defense was stout against Minnesota's running game, holding Adrian Peterson to 93 yards and one touchdown. The Cardinals will of course be a more passing centric team, but in the past two years I've yet to see Carson Palmer have two decent performances back to back.
My pick: Lions

Jaguars (+6) at Raiders (-6) -- If there were ever an opportunity to pick the Raiders and not feel foolish about it, it's now. The Jaguars are the bottom of the barrel.
My pick: Raiders

Broncos (-4 1/2) at Giants (+4 1/2) -- How can you go against Peyton Manning after he throws seven touchdowns in one game? How do you go for the Giants after they turn the ball over six times?
My pick: Broncos

49ers (+3) at Seahawks (-3) -- Count me among those who was extremely impressed with the way the 49ers operated on Sunday. And at the same time, the Seahawks' 12-point output against the Panthers has me quite concerned. They're not the juggernaut they were at the end of the 2012 season and that's enough reason to believe the 49ers can win this one.
My pick: 49ers

Steelers (+7) at Bengals (-7) -- You gotta think that this is a game the Bengals can win after the Steelers lost an ugly game to the Titans. Pittsburgh struggled to run the ball behind Isaac Redman (2 fumbles and 9 rushing yards) and Ben Roethlisberger wasn't nearly as masterful as he has been in the past, finishing 21 of 33 for 191 yards with a TD and an interception. But you gotta think the Steelers bounce back in some way, making this competitive. While Cincy has all the tools to come out with a win, including the phenomenal A.J. Green (9 catches, 162 yards, 2 TDs), this one looks like it's another AFC North matchup that will come down to the stretch.
My pick: Steelers

Last week: 6-10
Season: 6-10

Watch: Volin's Week 2 outlook

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 11, 2013 11:45 AM

Globe NFL reporter Ben Volin provides his outlook on the Patriots-Jets game Thursday, as well as other Week 2 story lines he's interested in.

Watch: Patriots ready for Jets

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 11, 2013 08:54 AM

Zuri Berry runs down the issues facing the Patriots as they prepare to take on the Jets in their home opener on Thursday, just four days after they opened the season in Buffalo.

Ridley, Dennard, Cole added to injury report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 10, 2013 04:59 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Three Patriots -- running back Stevan Ridley, and cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard and Marquice Cole -- were added to Tuesday's injury report, despite participating fully in the team's light walkthrough practice behind Gillette Stadium.

Ridley has a shoulder injury, while Dennard is listed with an ankle injury and Cole a hamstring injury.

The other 10 players on the injury report were identical to Monday. Running back Shane Vereen (wrist) missed practice and was placed by the team on the injured reserve/designated to return list. The other nine were in the limited participation category: tight ends Rob Gronkowski (forearm/back) and Zach Sudfeld (hamstring), receivers Danny Amendola (groin) and Aaron Dobson (hamstring), defensive backs Nate Ebner (ankle) and Duron Harmon (hamstring), running backs Brandon Bolden (knee) and Leon Washington (thigh), and offensive lineman Will Svitek (knee).

Patriots place Shane Vereen on IR, will miss at least 8 games

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 10, 2013 04:54 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots have placed Shane Vereen on the injured reserve/designated to return list, meaning the running back will miss at least the next eight games.

Vereen broke a bone in his wrist early in Sunday’s win against the Bills, but still managed to gain 159 all-purpose yards, including the first 100-yard rushing game of his career (14 carries, 101 yards). He had surgery to repair the break Monday, with initial reports speculating that he’d miss four weeks or so.

Based on the IR/DFR designation, Vereen won’t be able to practice until after Week 7, and won’t be able to play until after Week 9. The Patriots have a bye in Week 10, so the earliest Vereen could play in a game would be Nov. 18, a Monday night game at Carolina. He’ll miss two games against the Jets -- including Thursday night’s home opener -- and also games with Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Miami, and Pittsburgh.

To replace Vereen on the 53-man active roster, the Patriots re-signed tight end Matthew Mulligan. He was originally signed by the team on Sept. 3, and was released two days later. With Rob Gronkowski (forearm/back) and Zach Sudfeld (hamstring) dealing with injuries, it left Michael Hoomanawanui as the only healthy tight end.

The Patriots also announced a pair of practice squad transactions: They re-signed defensive lineman A.J. Francis, and released receiver Quentin Sims.

Josh Boyce is listening to Patriots veterans

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 10, 2013 02:22 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Rookie receiver Josh Boyce is still waiting for his first NFL reception, but said he's working hard to develop chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady.

According to the fourth-round draft pick from Texas Christian, there's nobody better to be learning from.

"He expects you to do the right thing, no matter who you are," said Boyce. "Any receiver, he expects you to be where he wants you to be at the right time, so you have to be there. I think I’m doing pretty good with it, picking up on where he wants me to be, timing, things like that. I think I’m doing pretty good."

Boyce was targeted twice by Brady in Sunday's season opener but had no catches.

"It was great. We got the W, that was the most important thing," Boyce said.

When the Patriots take on the Jets Thursday night, he'll get his first look at a rivalry that he's only seen on television so far. His teammates have filled him in on that, plus how best to deal with a short work week.

"Just stay on top of things," Boyce said. "Your body is sore, it’s a short week, so we have to do all those little things, prepare, take care of my body, extra playbook [time]."

Patriots work through short week

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 10, 2013 01:58 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Walk-through practices and extra massages seems to be the plan this week as the Patriots get ready for their home opener Thursday night against the Jets.

Because of the short turnaround, extra time might be needed to allow players to physically recover from Sunday's win at Buffalo. On a typical week, players spend Monday going over the previous game film, and have Tuesday off. That schedule won't work this week, with the Jets coming in for a nationally-televised game.

So the Patriots have had no-pads, non-contact walk-through sessions on Monday and Tuesday, and will likely do the same on Wednesday. Not ideal, but having players physically ready to play Thursday night is the goal.

"Guys got to get those extra massages in, hot tub, cold tub, training room, get your body prepared," said cornerback Kyle Arrington. "It’s a good challenge."

It's a situation that veteran Patriots have encountered before, so they know what steps to take. But it's not easy.

"You have to get your body back to as much of 100 percent as you can get it," defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. "These NFL games, they take a lot out of you, so you have to do your best to recover to play on a Thursday night. You have to study hard, because you don’t have that extra few days off."

Tom Brady unfazed by team's injuries

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 10, 2013 01:53 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady still has confidence in the team's depth on the roster, despite injuries to running back Shane Vereen, wide receiver Danny Amendola, and tight end Zach Sudfeld.

Vereen had surgery on his left wrist Monday after suffering a break against the Buffalo Bills Sunday. He finished the game with 101 yards on 14 carries. Amendola aggravated a groin injury against the Bills. He ended up with 10 catches for 104 yards. And Sudfeld suffered a hamstring injury Sunday, limiting him to 20 snaps.

"We've got a lot of good players in the locker room," Brady said. "So when people are injured, that's why you have a deep roster, guys that you've got confidence in, that you've gained trust in. I certainly have that at the skill position.

"So we've got a lot of good running backs and lot of good receivers. We're trying to do the best we can this week to go out and win a very challenging game against a very good team."

Rex Ryan backs Wilkerson's guarantee for win, with a caveat

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 10, 2013 11:19 AM

FOXBOROUGH – New York Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson may have stoked the fire, guaranteeing a win against the Patriots on Thursday.

"We're going to go to Foxborough and get this win," Wilkerson told WFAN in New York Monday. "We're going to be 2-0."

Wilkerson's boast was backed up by Jets coach Rex Ryan on Tuesday, who said his team should never believe it will lose, while recognizing the challenge the Patriots pose.

"Well, you know what, you're never gonna win unless you believe you can," Ryan said. "And that's it. We'll have a team out there. We've never gone into a game we didn't think we'd win. Ever. I know I haven't. Now do we recognize it's a huge challenge, yeah I guess. No question.

"You're playing on a short week, you're playing against arguably one of the best teams in the National Football League, with the best coach and, if he's not the best quarterback he's right there with Peyton Manning, both those two.

"But it's like give me a break. Like we know what we're up against, but I'd be dang if we're going out there to lose a game. We're coming up there to win the game. And that's the way we always do. Now it doesn't happen all the time. But we're certainly coming up there with that in mind. We're not, shoot, we know we're playing the Patriots, an excellent football team with a great coach, a great quarterback, some great players over there, but, you got big Vince [Wilfork] and everything else, but that doesn't mean anything.

"We're going in there trying to win."

Another walk-through practice for Patriots

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 10, 2013 10:26 AM
FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots have opted for a second consecutive walk-through practice in preparation for Thursday night’s home opener against the Jets, working out on the upper grass field behind Gillette Stadium on Tuesday morning.

Players were in shorts and t-shirts. No pads, and very few players brought helmets. The only notable players not spotted were receiver Danny Amendola and running back Shane Vereen.

Amendola has a groin injury, but participated in Monday’s walk-through on a limited basis. Vereen, who broke a bone in his wrist during Sunday’s win at Buffalo, was the only player to miss Monday’s session.

Belichick says Stevan Ridley needs to be ready

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 10, 2013 09:43 AM

FOXBOROUGH – After Stevan Ridley's costly fumble against the Buffalo Bills that saw him get benched for the second half of Sunday's game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the third-year running back needs to be ready for Thursday's game against the New York Jets.

"I talked to Stevan," Belichick said. "Look, every player has the same responsibilities every week. Be ready to play, be ready to go. That's their job.

"They can't control coaches decisions. Coaches decisions are coaches decisions. They control their preparation and they control their performance when they're in the game. That's what a player's job is. That's always what it has been for everybody."

The decision on Ridley's use will likely come easier for the Patriots after teammate Shane Vereen reportedly broke a bone in his left wrist, sidelining him for the time being.

Running back is one of the Patriots' deepest positions, with Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden (knee injury), and Leon Washington (thigh injury) on the roster.

- Belichick said this Jets team, despite having Rex Ryan still at head coach, is vastly different from years past, affecting how the team game-plans for Thursday.

"I'm not sure how much the histories are relevant," he said. "They changed offensive coordinators. There's some major differences there. There's similarities on defense but there's quite a few differences defensively from what they've done in the past. And they've changed coordinators in the kicking game. So we'll do what we think is best, let's put it that way."

- On dealing with Vereen's injury: "We'll see how it all turns out."

- On Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith: "I thought he played well in the preseason in limited opportunity. I thought he played well against Tampa last week. ... He made the plays that they needed to win."

Grade the Patriots: Game 1

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 10, 2013 07:13 AM


Our weekly interactive that lets you rate the Patriots performance by position group is now ready for Game 1. Plug in your marks here and see how they compare to the average.

Week 2: Monday injury report

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 9, 2013 05:59 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Since the Patriots host the Jets Thursday night, both teams are required to submit injury reports beginning Monday.

The Patriots held only a walkthrough, but listed running back Shane Vereen as not participating because of his wrist; Vereen reportedly underwent surgery earlier in the day to repair a broken bone in his wrist.

New York listed 21 players on its report, including four who were not able to participate; quarterback Mark Sanchez (right shoulder) was among that group.

Here is the full list for both teams:

Did not participate
RB Shane Vereen (wrist)

Limited participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
WR Aaron Dobson (hamstring)
DB Nate Ebner (ankle)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm)
DB Duron Harmon (hamstring)
TE Zach Sudfeld (hamstring)
OL Will Svitek (knee)
RB Leon Washington (thigh)

Did not participate
DL Quinton Coples (ankle)
WR Jeremy Kerley (head)
QB Mark Sanchez (right shoulder)
TE Kellen Winslow (knee)

Limited participation
DB Antonio Cromartie (hip)
TE Jeff Cumberland (chin)
WR Clyde Gates (knee)
DL Kenrick Ellis (back)
WR Santonio Holmes (back)
OL Nick Mangold (elbow)
DL Sheldon Richardson (shoulder)

Full participation
LB Nick Bellore (oblique)
OL Willie Colon (knee)
LB Damon Harrison (knee)
WR Stephen Hill (knee)
OL Ben Ijalana (knee)
RB Chris Ivory (thumb)
LB Garrett McIntyre (ribs)
DB Dee Milliner (hip)
RB Bilal Powell (shoulder)
QB Geno Smith (ankle)

Sudfeld may miss Jets game with pulled hamstring

Posted by John Carney September 9, 2013 02:55 PM

The Patriots appeared to emerge from Sunday’s win over Buffalo relatively unscathed, but they received some bad injury news Monday that hurts the depth on offense.

Rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter, may not be able to play Thursday night against the Jets after pulling a hamstring Sunday, according to a league source. Sudfeld played only 20 of 91 snaps, and his 6-foot-7-inch height was missed in the red zone in the fourth quarter.

Also, running back Shane Vereen, who led the Patriots with 159 total yards and made several crucial plays to help seal the win, will be out several weeks with a broken bone in his wrist, according to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer.

With Sudfeld limping and Rob Gronkowski still returning from offseason back surgery, the Patriots currently have just one healthy tight end: Michael Hoomanawanui, who is best used as a blocking tight end.

Complicating matters is that the next game is Thursday night, meaning that if they sign a tight end, it might have to be someone already familiar with the offense. Former tight end Jake Ballard visited the Ravens Monday, but veteran Daniel Fells could be an option.

Vereen played the entire game but felt numbness in his wrist afterward because the bone sat on a nerve, according to the report. With Vereen out, the Patriots may have to turn back to Stevan Ridley, who was benched after fumbling in the second quarter. LeGarrette Blount also rushed seven times for 15 yards, and Leon Washington, signed Saturday, could serve as the third-down back.

Report: Vereen broke bone in wrist, is set for surgery

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 9, 2013 01:46 PM

It wasn't just Danny Amendola who played through pain in the Patriots' win over the Bills Sunday.

According to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, Shane Vereen broke a small bone in his wrist early in the game and requires surgery that will keep him out for multiple weeks.

Big hit for patriots, RB Shane Vereen broke a small bone in his wrist on 1st play yesterday, scheduled for surgery today. Out few weeks

— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) September 9, 2013

Glazer also tweeted that Vereen experienced numbness after the game because the affected bone sits on a nerve.

Vereen was slated to get his share of snaps against Buffalo, likely as the primary third-down back, but after Stevan Ridley's second fumble of the day (the first was waved off on review), he saw his play-count rise, and he responded with a career-high 101 rushing yards on 14 carries and also had 58 yards receiving.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Bills game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 8, 2013 08:08 PM

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The danger of losing to the Buffalo Bills was real.

All it would have taken is one simple catch by trash-talking wide receiver Stevie Johnson and the Bills would have been in a position to run out the clock. But he dropped the ball.

There's more, of course. Here's our first takeaways of the season:

1. The things the Bills did to help the Patriots win -- The Bills were 4 of 13 on third down. They had 10 penalties for 75 yards. They lost two fumbles. Oh, and Johnson, who caught three passes for 39 yards and a touchdown, had one pivotal drop in the fourth quarter. Efficiency and discipline were an issue for the Bills, helping the Patriots overcome their own woes. These aren't the same Bills, though. All of their errors are correctable. And with better discipline, they could've pulled out the win. That Dec. 29 matchup in Foxborough doesn't seem so easy now.

2. Fragile or tough? -- Danny Amendola missed a week of practice and the team's third preseason game, largely seen as a dress rehearsal for the regular season, because of a groin injury. He was listed as limited in practice this week leading up to the season opener. In the second quarter, he appeared to aggravate the injury, going to the sideline and stretching. And while he missed a few series, he was back in the game in the second half, playing a pivotal role as the Patriots put together a game-winning drive. He caught 10 passes for 104 yards, including two key third-down grabs in the final drive that led to Stephen Gostkowski's last-second field goal. Amendola has a knock on him for being fragile, something colleague Ben Volin explored in detail for the Globe's NFL preview section. But on Sunday, he showed he can tough it out.

"He gave it everything he had and that is all you can ask," said Tom Brady. "I didn't really expect anything to happen in the second half. I thought he was going to be out for the rest of the game. He showed a lot of toughness, mental and physical, and made some really great plays for us."

3. Gaining Brady's trust is going to be hard -- If you want to know who Tom Brady trusts, just pay attention to who is getting his passes when the game is on the line. In the team's final 11-play, game-winning drive, Danny Amendola was targeted four times and Shane Vereen was targeted twice as Brady went 6 for 6 to help set up Gostkowski's 35-yard field goal. In the previous drive, he attempted passes to Kenbrell Thompkins (0 for 2), Amendola (1 for 2), and Julian Edelman (1 for 1).

Thompkins finished the game with four catches for 42 yards. He was targeted 14 times, just as much as Amendola. But his impact, along with that of rookie Josh Boyce (two targets, zero catches), was minimal.

After the game, you could tell Brady was happier with some players more than others, citing the play of Amendola, Edelman, and Vereen in particular.

4. Don't forget about Julian Edelman -- Over the spring and summer, a lot of attention was paid to all the new guys, including Thompkins, Boyce, Zach Sudfeld, and Aaron Dobson. Those new guys tallied four receptions Sunday, all of which went to Thompkins. The usually cheerful and modest Sudfeld appeared grim postgame, as did Thompkins. But it was Edelman, the fifth-year veteran, that appeared to be one of Tom Brady's most reliable targets, catching seven passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. He never considered his reliability to ever be up for debate.

"Going into it, I wasn't thinking about that," he said. "You're thinking about the gameplan, coaching assignments, and trying to bring everything from the classroom to the grass."

5. Stevan Ridley struggles (again) -- Ridley went down untouched in the second quarter, slipping on the grass, before coughing up the football. It's a troubling trend with Ridley, fumbling the ball. He is a talented running back (1,263 yards, 12 TDs in 2012) that can contribute greatly to this team when he isn't turning the ball over and getting benched.

But his fumbling problem is sometimes exaggerated. He recorded only four fumbles in 2012, which had him tied with full-time running backs Marshawn Lynch and Alfred Morris, both of whom ran for more than 1,500 yards. For the number of carries Ridley had in 2012 (290), only two players with more carries had fewer fumbles: Adrian Peterson (3) and Arian Foster (3).

Of course, circumstances matter. His fumble in the AFC Championship game was a dagger (he was concussed on the play) and today's fumble was returned for a 74-yard touchdown. But overall, despite his lapses, he's been consistent for the Patriots. Before his benching, he was averaging 5.1 yards per carries and broke off a 20-yard run. Who knows what he would have done had he been given the opportunity to make up for the fumble.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.

Watch: Bill Belichick postgame interview

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 8, 2013 06:46 PM
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Here's the full video of Patriots coach Bill Belichick's comments after Sunday's 23-21 victory over the Bills.

Tom Brady sees fight in his teammates

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 8, 2013 06:31 PM
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – It certainly wasn't pretty, but wins are what's most important.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady certainly agrees, lamenting the struggles the team endured Sunday against the Buffalo Bills in their season opener, a 23-21 victory, while expressing his optimism for what was accomplished.

"I'll take it," Brady said. "Opening day and we didn't execute great but the boys made some clutch plays when they needed to and it was an all-around team effort."

Brady didn't have his finest outing, finishing 29 of 52 for 288 yards passing and two touchdowns along with one interception. He appeared frustrated at times with his new wide receivers in the second half. As the game wore on, he found himself favoring Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen like they were his crutches.

"They are two great playmakers for us," he said. "Guys that run really hard for us, the coaching staff, and me, so they put themselves in position to make critical plays. It was great to be in the huddle with them."

Amendola finished with 10 receptions for 104 yards, including two key grabs in the fourth quarter on third down. He missed a bit of time in the second quarter after he appeared to aggravate an injury to his groin.

"He really toughed it out, which was pretty impressive," Brady said. "He fought all day. We got a whole team full of fighters. I think there is gonna be some ugly wins. But we're always gonna fight. We're just gonna fight to the end."

With only four days until the Patriots take on the New York Jets in their home opener, a nationally televised game on Thursday night, Brady sees a ton of work that needs to be done.

"I think we have a long way to go," he said. "We've got a lot of work ahead of us. We have to prove that week in and week out. I'm glad we started with a win. Winning feels a helluva lot better than a loss. I don't think our execution was flawless by any stretch. We had a lot of mistakes and we have to do a lot better."

Watch: Patriots-Bills highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 8, 2013 05:57 PM
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Watch a recap of Sunday's 23-21 Patriots victory over the Bills.

Stevan Ridley, after two fumbles, focused on earning his job back

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 8, 2013 05:50 PM

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Patriots running back Stevan Ridley found himself in the doghouse again after putting the ball on the ground twice Sunday against the Bills, losing one fumble before getting benched.

He was officially charged with only one fumble after a challenge by Buffalo coach Doug Marrone on the third play from scrimmage was denied, upholding that he was down by contact before losing the ball. But it certainly didn't help Ridley's case when Bills safety Da'Norris Searcy scooped up his second fumble and raced away for a 74-yard touchdown with 8:25 left in the second quarter.

Ridley didn't see another snap in the game as the Patriots opted for Shane Vereen (14 carries, 101 yards) and LeGarrette Blount (7 carries, 15 yards).

Fumbles have been Ridley's problem since he was drafted. He had a crucial fumble in the 2011-12 playoffs and didn't get to play a snap in Super Bowl XLVI. In 2012, his banner year, he recorded four fumbles that affected his playing time in spurts.

"I never get too high, never get too low," Ridley said. "This was the first game of the 2013 season, and what happened last year just goes to show you that things can change day to day. Coming in and having two turnovers, I can’t blame anybody but myself. I have to man up and come back to work. I’m just going to put my nose in the dirt and keep grinding, man, that’s all I can do."

Ridley said he was happy for Vereen after such a productive game.

"That’s what we try to go out and do every Sunday, every opportunity you get, just capitalize on it," he said. "I’m happy for him, I really am. It sucks for me, to be in this situation, but as a teammate, I have to pat him on the back and just tell him that he did a great job in helping us win this game today."

Ridley also said he has to earn his job back.

"Absolutely," he said. "Two turnovers, man, and I was out of there the rest of the game."

Belichick pleased with outcome despite struggles

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 8, 2013 05:30 PM
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he was proud of his team after its 23-21 win over the Buffalo Bills, especially because of the way it played down the stretch.

"I thought they made the plays at the end of the game that they needed to win," Belichick said. "That's what it's about. Obviously it wasn't perfect. There's a lot of things we can do better. We played the last few minutes of the game the way we need to play it, and we were able to execute and make the plays."

After debuting a new wide receiver corps, which looked spotty at times (Tom Brady was 29 of 52 for 288 yards, 2 TDs, 1 interception), Belichick said it was just a start.

"We had our moments," he said. "There were times when it was good, times when it wasn't so good and needs to be better. But we'll build on this."

But Belichick didn't want any untoward attention given the new faces in the lineup. There's too much experience on the team to make that excuse, he said

"We've got a couple new players over there," Belichick said. "That's everybody in the league. But there's a lot of guys out there we've seen a lot before; all the offensive line, quarterback, running back. There's a lot of guys who've played a lot of football for us."

Which Patriot gets the game ball vs. Bills?

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff September 8, 2013 05:13 PM

It wasn't quite what we expected, but the Patriots managed a 23-21 victory over Buffalo to open the season Sunday.

Which Patriot deserves the game ball vs. Bills?

Gostkowski: 'It wasn't the smoothest operation'

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 8, 2013 05:09 PM


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Stephen Gostkowski kicked the game-winning field goal Sunday, a 35-yard attempt with only seconds remaining to lift the Patriots over the resilient Buffalo Bills, 23-21.

Gostkowski was 3 of 3 on field goal attempts Sunday, nailing a wobbly 48-yard attempt in the first quarter and another 33-yard attempt in the fourth. The game-winner, despite looking the prettiest of the bunch, still required some quick adjustments.

"It wasn't the smoothest operation," Gostkowski admitted. "I had to make an adjustment. Ball came out a little low. I was lucky it didn't get blocked. But any time there is a little glitch in whatever the operation is, it's my job to adjust.

"Those guys do such a great job. They bail me out sometimes and I bail them out sometimes. And it just worked out for everyone. It's never perfect, that why we practice all the time."

Gostkowski 48-yard field goal also didn't come easy, with the eighth-year kicker having to use more steel toe than usual.

"Maybe it wasn't our smoothest operation, but it doesn't really matter what it looks as long as the results good," he said. "I'm sure we'll go back and look at it and tighten it up. We're – me, Danny [Aiken] and Ryan [Allen] – we're perfectionists. I'm sure there are other snaps and holds that he probably felt could've been better. And I'm sure a couple of my kicks could've been better. Nothing is ever perfect, you just kind of work to do the best you can every time."

Final: Patriots 23, Bills 21

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 8, 2013 12:56 PM
The Buffalo Bills had their moments to close the door on Tom Brady and the Patriots Sunday, with more than one opportunity to end New England’s nine-game season-opening win streak.

But rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel couldn’t move the offense when Buffalo needed it most, leaving Brady the one thing he needs: a chance. And Brady, as he’s done time and again, made the most of it, moving an otherwise shaky defense 49 yards in 12 plays, enough for Stephen Gostkowski to make a 35-yard field goal with just five seconds left in the game.

It gave New England the winning points for a 23-21 victory, the 10th consecutive season-opening win for the Patriots.

Read Shalise Manza Young's full game story here. Ben Volin's instant analysis is here.

Patriots inactives vs. Bills

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 8, 2013 11:38 AM

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- In addition to the six players out for Sunday's game with injuries, the Patriots also announced that newly re-signed running back Leon Washington would be inactive against the Buffalo Bills.

Washington re-signed with the team yesterday and traveled to Buffalo for today's game.

Also out for the Patriots are Will Svitek (knee), Brandon Bolden (knee), Aaron Dobson (hamstring), Nate Ebner (ankle), Duron Harmon (hamstring), and Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm).

Inactive for the Bills are kicker Dustin Hopkins, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, safety Jairus Byrd, offensive lineman Doug Legursky, defensive tackle Jay Ross, tight end Chris Gragg, and defensive lineman Corbin Bryant.

What to watch for as the Patriots visit the Bills

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 8, 2013 10:00 AM

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – It's the first game of the season and there is so much expected of the Patriots.

In facing the Bills, there are a number of challenges defensively. But mostly, there are questions about the makeup of this roster. Here's what we'll be watching:

1) The receivers -- Everyone wants to know how this group will look and handle a real NFL game. Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld, and Josh Boyce all figure to play prominent roles. (Rookie Aaron Dobson is out with a hamstring injury.) Thompkins in particular is expected to be a big part of the offense. Sudfeld will fill in the for the injured Rob Gronkowski. The bar was set high last season when the Patriots had the fourth-ranked passing offense in the league. Can this group live up to that standard?

2) How the team handles C.J. Spiller -- The shifty running back for the Bills averaged 6 yards per carry last season and ran for 1,244 yards as a part-time player. The Bills plan on using him extensively this season. In their last meeting with the Bills, Spiller tallied 131 yards from scrimmage. This is a good first test for linebackers Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, and rookie Jamie Collins.

3) The situation at right guard -- Will Svitek is out with a knee injury after playing the entire preseason at right guard. Linemen Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon have both practiced with the first team group at right guard this summer before suffering injuries of their own. But both Connolly and Cannon are healthy now and available for today's game. Who gets the nod?

4) How linebacker Jamie Collins is used -- We've seen Collins cycle in and out on passing downs during the preseason. The thought is that he will substitute for Spikes in passing situations, taking advantage of his skills as a former safety and hopefully improving upon the team's dismal pass defense last season, which was ranked 29th overall.

5) The depth in the secondary -- There's a talented group of receivers in Buffalo. From the loquacious Stevie Johnson to the speedy rookie Marquise Goodwin. There's also rookie wideout Robert Woods, a dynamic player for Southern California just a year ago. It will be a tough group to handle, especially when they get into three- and four-receiver sets. In the season opener, the Patriots will have to go without safety Duron Harmon, who is out with a hamstring injury, and defensive back Nate Ebner, team's fourth safety. Backups Marquice Cole and Logan Ryan figure to play more prominently. Cole, who is a natural cornerback, has experience at safety as well.

6) E.J. Manuel -- Watching rookie quarterbacks in their debut is always fun. It'll be baptism by fire as the Patriots will likely try and confuse Manuel as much as possible with different looks.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.

Game 1 preview: Patriots at Bills

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 8, 2013 07:00 AM


The Patriots can expect to see a heavy dose of Bills running back C.J. Spiller. (Barry Chin / Globe file)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – If history is any indicator, the Patriots will wipe the floors with the Buffalo Bills today.

In nine straight season openers, the Patriots have come away with wins. In 18 of their last 20 games against the Bills, the Patriots have been victorious. The Patriots are 61-41-1 all-time against Buffalo. During Bill Belichick's reign, the Patriots are 23-3 when facing their AFC East foe, a lapdog opponent for more than a decade.

Yet today is the beginning of a new era for Buffalo. In an overhaul, the Bills hired a new coach (Doug Marrone), hired a top-tier defensive coordinator (Mike Pettine) cut their underperforming quarterback and drafted another (E.J. Manuel), and promoted a new general manager (Doug Whaley).

The team has named electric running back C.J. Spiller (1,244 yards, 6.0 ypc, 6 TDs in 2012) its starter over veteran Fred Jackson, drafted highly touted receiver Robert Woods, and gave the reins of the offense over to Manuel, the highest quarterback selected in this year's draft.

So while the Patriots are geared up for the start of the season, the Bills are eager to start a new phase of their team history.

The Patriots begin the season with a new wide receiver corps, including slot receiver Danny Amendola, Wes Welker's replacement, and undrafted wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who is expected to start as the team's outside receiver.

Rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld, also undrafted, is expected to start in place of the injured Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), who continues to rehab from offseason surgery.

On defense, the Patriots come into 2013 with largely the same unit, upgrading only at defensive tackle with veteran Tommy Kelly (419 tackles, 34 career sacks).

For the opener, the Patriots will have to do without rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring) and safety Duron Harmon (hamstring) who have been declared out. Also out: running back Brandon Bolden (knee), tackle Will Svitek (knee), and defensive back Nate Ebner (ankle).

The Bills will be without starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore (wrist). Safety Jairus Byrd is listed as doubtful.

Here are the details for Sunday's game:

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Records: Patriots 0-0; Bills 0-0.

TV/Radio: CBS (Greg Gumbell, Dan Dierdorf); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.

Patriots offense: WR Danny Amendola, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Zach Sudfeld, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork, DT Tommy Kelly, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Bills offense: WR Stevie Johnson, LT Cordy Glenn, LG Colin Brown, C Eric Wood, RG Kraig Urbik, RT Erik Pears, TE Scott Chandler, QB E.J. Manuel, RB C.J. Spiller, FB Frank Summers, WR T.J. Graham.

Bills defense: LDE Alex Carrington, DT Kyle Williams, DT Marcell Dareus, RDE Mario Williams, SLB Manny Lawson, MLB Kiko Alonso, WLB Nigel Bradham, LCB Leodis McKelvin, SS Aaron Williams, FS Jairus Byrd, RCB Ron Brooks.

Read this, link that

- Aaron Dobson is out for the opener.

- Have you read the Boston Globe's NFL preview section? You should.

- Tim Graham, the Bills beat writer for the Buffalo News, gives us a scouting report for today's game.

- Before the game, make sure you get up to speed on all of the Patriots' new receivers.

- In Globe 10.0, Kevin Paul Dupont and Scott Thurston debate who will win today's game. (Hint: It's not about Buffalo, it's about the spread.)

- Follow today's game and comment on the action in our live blog. Updates start around 11 a.m. A mobile-optimized version can be found here.
Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.

Getting to know ... Matthew Slater

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 8, 2013 07:00 AM


Thought it would be nice to bring back one of my favorite features from years past that for some reason I'd abandoned last year: Getting to know. It's always enjoyable asking players non-football questions, and passing on their answers, so we can all learn a little more about them off the field. There will be a new one every Sunday during the season.

During training camp, Matthew Slater brought up probably his lowest moment as a Patriot: his rookie season, New England at Pittsburgh, about 5:40 left in the third quarter. The Steelers had just scored a field goal to take a 13-10 lead, but Slater fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, the Steelers recovered and scored two plays later, and the game's momentum swung completely in their favor as they went on to a 33-10 win.

It has been nearly six years since that night. Slater is now a two-time Pro Bowler, one of the best special teams players in the NFL, and one of the most respected players in the New England locker room. His professionalism, quiet strength and spirituality have led to him being named a team captain twice, and it would be a surprise if he isn't announced as a captain again for this season.

A few weeks ago, he was surprised when the team announced him as its Ron Burton Community Service Award winner for the hours he spends attending charity events. In his understated way, he said his parents, Jackie and Annie, always taught him that to whom much is given, much is expected, and he is simply trying to heed those words. Slater sent the award to his parents in California.

Favorite meal: Fried pork chops, collard greens and mashed sweet potatoes. That is my mother’s specialty. I haven’t had it in a long time. And with [team nutritionist] Ted Harper around here, I don’t know when I’ll be able to have it again (laughs).

First car: First car I ever had was the car I got when I was here, actually. Until then I was driving one of my parents’ cars or whatever was available. Let’s just say it was an SUV that I got when I was here. Yes it was (his first "grown-up" purchase).

First job: I was a camp counselor for Vince Ferragamo Football Camp in Southern California, so that was the first job I had. I did (get paid). I was in high school just running drills and working with kids; it was a lot of fun. Hall of Fame left tackle Jackie Slater was teammates with Ferragamo on the Los Angeles Rams for seven years.

If they made a movie about your life... What kind of story? I think it would be a little bit of a drama, a tale of overcoming, a feel-good story I guess, a feel good story. And then I’d have to go with Denzel (Washington). I like Forrest Whitaker, but I’d have to go with Denzel.

Place you want to visit that you haven't yet: Portugal. I’ve heard a lot of nice things about Portugal from people who have been there. I think – a lot of places outside the country that I’ve never had a chance to.

Favorite TV show: "Chopped" on Food Network. I can’t cook a lick, but it’s fun to watch people who can. All these random ingredients that don’t seem like they would go at all, but they come out looking pretty good.

Aaron Dobson out for season opener

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 7, 2013 08:10 PM

AMHERST, N.Y. -- Those waiting to see what rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson will do for the Patriots this season will have to wait a little bit longer.

The 22-year-old Marshal product was declared out for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills after being limited the entire week with a hamstring injury.

Along with Dobson, the Patriots also declared running back Brandon Bolden (knee), safety Duron Harmon (hamstring), defensive back Nate Ebner (ankle), and tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) as officially out for Sunday's game. They join tackle Will Svitek, who is out with a knee injury.

Danny Amendola, who was listed as probable for Sunday's game, is expected to play after being listed as probable with a groin injury.

Patriots re-sign Leon Washington

Posted by Staff September 7, 2013 05:19 PM

The Patriots have made a series of small roster moves the day before their season opener, re-signing running back Leon Washington and promoting offensive lineman Josh Kline from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.

In addition, the team has re-signed offensive lineman Braxston Cave to the practice squad, and released defensive lineman A.J. Francis from the practice squad.

Scouting the Bills: Q&A with Buffalo News reporter Tim Graham

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 7, 2013 10:24 AM
Each week of the season, we'll ask a beat writer who covers the Patriots' opponent five questions for some insight.

This week, Tim Graham of the Buffalo News provides an inside look at the Buffalo Bills. Follow Graham on Twitter at @ByTimGraham or check out his stories online.

1. What are 1-2 of the biggest changes you expect to see under Doug Marrone compared to the previous head coach, Chan Gailey?
The difference in offensive tempo will be obvious. Doug Marrone and the coordinator he brought with him from Syracuse, Nathaniel Hackett, don't huddle. They intend to be among the league leaders in plays per game. On Sunday, though, I don't know if the Bills will be as keen to increase the tempo as they normally would like. They have a rookie quarterback making his NFL debut and returning from knee surgery. I don't know if getting into a shootout with Tom Brady is their grand plan.

Defensively, the Bills will look a lot more creative and aggressive. Their previous coordinator, Dave Wannstedt, lined up his players the same way on almost every play, rushed the same four guys and didn't blitz much. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine tries to confuse quarterbacks by lining up his players in various spots. Everybody is a candidate to blitz. Mario Williams has joked he doesn't even know what position he plays anymore.

2. How did EJ Manuel look before the knee injury? How do you expect him to perform after taking 2-3 weeks off?
He looked like an intriguing rookie. He was inconsistent and showed jitters at times but also looked the part of a future franchise quarterback. He has a big arm and is dangerous on the move.

But rookie nervousness will be there. Manuel was tightly wound even for his first intrasquad scrimmage. He threw a pick-six to Leodis McKelvin on his first attempt, but got surgical by the end of the session. Same thing in his first preseason game. Manuel looked pedestrian in the beginning, but right before halftime he completed all nine of his passes on a 10-play, 92-yard touchdown drive.

We haven't seen much of Manuel since his surgery. He didn't play the final two preseason games, and practices have been closed (aside from watching warmup drills) since he was cleared to return. He seems to be throwing the ball effortlessly, and the receivers tell me he's the same as before the surgery.

3. Who is one player Patriots fans haven't heard of but will have an impact on Sunday?
Rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso hasn't even generated much attention in Western New York. He would have commanded a lot more if there wasn't so much change taking place. After talking about the rookie GM and the rookie head coach and the rookie quarterbacks and the rookie receivers and the new coordinators, Alonso easily gets overlooked. But Alonso has been the starter almost since the Bills drafted him 46th overall out of Oregon. He's a sideline-to-sideline tackler, has quickness to cover and should have plenty of opportunities to make plays Sunday.

4. Mario Williams didn't have a great first year in Buffalo. How do you expect him to do under new DC Mike Pettine, and how do you expect the defense to do overall this year?
I suspect Mario Williams will be as good as he wants to be. He has all the tools to be great, but he disappears for long stretches. He made a bad first impression last year, moaning after the season opener that New York Jets right tackle Austin Howard (one career NFL start at the time) kept hitting him in the face and the replacement officials wouldn't call it. Then there was the whole injured-wrist saga, where the Bills didn't think Williams was hurt enough to put him on the injury report, but Williams kept mentioning how much it was bothering him. He surprised the Bills by having surgery during the bye week. Bills fans were calling the talk shows and peppering me in the chat rooms about what the Bills could get for him at the trade deadline.

But Williams got hot after his surgery, with seven sacks over the final nine games. Some members of the Bills' front office still weren't convinced the surgery was necessary and have told me they think there was a placebo effect for Williams mentally.

Pettine's defense should give Williams opportunities to get after quarterbacks. But until we see him on the field, how he'll actually perform is anyone's guess.

5. Finally, the Bills will win Sunday if....
Manuel has a highly efficient game and the defense comes up with a couple of game-changing plays.

Manuel doesn't need to have a prolific stat line, but if he can manage the game and be good enough to keep the Patriots' defense from crowding the box, then the Bills can move the ball with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

As mentioned before, however, the Bills can't afford to get in a shootout with Tom Brady. A couple of takeaways or a special-teams touchdown will even the odds.

Friday injury report: Rob Gronkowski doubtful for Sunday game

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 6, 2013 04:20 PM
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was listed as doubtful for Sunday's season-opener vs. the Bills in the team's injury report released Friday.

Gronkowski had limited participation in the team's practices this week. "Doubtful" is defined by the NFL as "at least 75 percent chance will not play."

Offensive lineman Will Svitek (knee) is out Sunday.

RB Brandon Bolden (knee), WR Aaron Dobson (hamstring), and defensive backs Nate Ebner (ankle) and Duron Harmon (hamstring) were all listed as questionable, and receiver Danny Amendola (groin) was listed as probable.

For the Bills, CB Stephon Gilmore (wrist), K Dustin Hopkins (right groin), and C Doug Legursky (knee) are all out. Safety Jairus Byrd (foot) is doubtful and quarterback E.J. Manuel (knee) is probable.

Why the Patriots will win the Super Bowl

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 6, 2013 01:19 PM

To reach the pantheon of pro football, and in doing so regain an aura of invincibility, the Patriots will need more than a flawless Tom Brady in 2013.

The goal is always the same in these parts: win the Super Bowl or bust. It’s what the Patriots expect of themselves.

This is Bill Belichick’s 14th season in New England as head coach. It’s Brady’s 14th season. The fantastic duo needs much more than a breezy schedule and a playoff bye to claim their fourth Lombardi Trophy. What the Patriots need, more than anything else, is playmaking in the postseason.

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Wilfork: Patriots focused on Bills' Spiller

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 6, 2013 01:16 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Despite starting a rookie quarterback, the Bills have plenty of options available on offense. None as dangerous, perhaps, as C.J. Spiller, who rushed for 1,244 yards last season, caught 43 passes, and scored eight touchdowns.

The Patriots defense will need to be aware of a handful of players when the Bills have the ball. Knowing where Spiller is at all times seems like a good place to start.

"Big challenge. You’re talking about a guy that touches the ball 80 percent of the time," said defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. "They’ve made it clear, that’s their guy, they’re going to try to get the ball to him in the run game and the pass game. And why wouldn’t they? He’s explosive.

"We’ve got to do a real good job up front, just be responsible for the gaps, understand what he does."

Spiller's best individual game against the Patriots was the most recent one, when he combined for 131 yards (70 rushing, 61 receiving) in a 37-31 Patriots win at Gillette Stadium last November. He has yet to score a rushing touchdown in six career games against New England, but does average 5.5 yards a carry.

As Wilfork pointed out, though, Buffalo's offense isn't entirely Spiller. With a rookie quarterback in E.J. Manuel and a first-year head coach in Doug Marrone, the Patriots will need to be prepared for anything.

"We’re going to have be on our game, our ‘A’ game, to slow this team down, especially with the backs that they have, [Fred] Jackson and Spiller, and then with [receiver Stevie] Johnson outside, and [tight end Scott] Chandler, and the offensive line," Wilfork said. "Everything we’ve seen so far with these guys, they’ve been playing some real good football, up-tempo, run inside and outside.

"It’s going to be a challenge, it’s a division opponent. Trust me, our hands are full. I’m pretty sure they’re going to give us everything we can handle."

The law, according to Brandon Spikes

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 6, 2013 01:03 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Usually it's his play that brings plenty of attention, the hard hits or even the long dreadlocks. But on Friday, Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes was making a little news because of his wardrobe.

Spikes was wearing a sweatshirt that had "Harvard Law" on it in large, crimson block letters. In smaller letters, under it, were the words, "Just Kidding." Spikes told a large media gathering that it was given to him as a birthday gift.

He was in a jovial mood Friday, after the team's final practice of the week before heading to Buffalo Saturday for Sunday's season opener against the Bills. The start of the season usually has everybody in a good mood.

"My goals are the same every year: Be productive on the field," Spikes said. "This year I’m an older player and we’ve got a lot of younger guys. We’re trying to direct them, make sure they’re in the right position, be a good defense and execute."

Part of that approach Sunday will be focusing on Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel, who will be making his NFL debut. Manuel's rookie status doesn't mean much to Spikes, a former Florida player who has seen Manuel star for rival Florida State the past few years.

"He’s in the NFL, so I’m sure he’s an elite athlete," Spikes said. "I don’t really pay attention to the years, we’ll take the same approach as any other quarterback. We’ll try to get after him.

'I didn’t want to get into [Manuel being a former Seminole]. I know what he’s capable of doing."

Spikes was asked about Thursday night's league opener between the Broncos and Ravens, specifically about the two touchdowns caught by former Patriots receiver Wes Welker.

"No surprise. He’s a great player," Spikes said. "I’m pretty sure he’s going to be productive wherever he goes."

Week 1: Friday practice peek

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 6, 2013 10:45 AM
FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are holding their final practice of opening week on the upper practice fields, with players in shells and helmets.

Once again, Rob Gronkowski was present and OL Will Svitek (right knee) was the only player not present during the media-access window.

During his press conference, Bill Belichick did not give any indication as to whether Gronkowski will be in uniform against Buffalo. The first indication we'll get as to whether that's possible will likely come Saturday night, when the Patriots announce which players, if any, did not make the trip. If Gronkowski makes the trip to his native Buffalo, it obviously increases the chances he'll play.

Belichick: No update on Gronkowski

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 6, 2013 10:36 AM
FOXBOROUGH – Bill Belichick was coy when asked about the possibility of having tight end Rob Gronkowski in uniform for Sunday's season opener at Buffalo.

Gronkowski, who had multiple surgical procedures on his broken forearm during the offseason and also had back surgery, wasn't placed on the physically unable to perform list, and has been practicing this week, leaving open the outside chance he'll play against the Bills.

"As far as every one of our players goes, we’ll do the same thing that we do every week on Friday or two days before the game: We’ll go out and practice today, and based on how things go today, and where those players are, then we’ll list them on the injury report, same as we do every week, and that’s the same for every player," Belichick said Friday morning before the team's practice.

So Gronkowski has a legitimate chance to play, Belichick was asked.

"I just answered that question," he said.

So he does?

"We’ll list every player based on what their condition and situation is at the end of Friday’s practice on a Sunday game," Belichick said. "We’ll do the same thing every week based on what we know at that point in time."

So you haven't decided yet?

"We haven’t practiced yet."

Quarterback Tom Brady may or may not have his big tight end to throw to come Sunday, but signs point to him having the same offensive line in front of him, with all five starters from 2012 expected to take the field. While that might be considered a strength to an offense that generated the second-most yards and points in team history, Belichick stressed that this is a new year.

"We’ve got some veteran players, but it’s a new season for all of us," Belichick said. "I respect what everybody has done in the past, but we’ve all got to go out there and establish whatever our level of performance is this season.

"The 2013 season gets started on Sunday, and we’ll see where everybody is at that point. Young players, veteran players, new players, old players, coaches, all of us, we’re all in the same boat. We’ll see where our team is on Sunday. I really don’t know where anybody is. We’ll find out."

Belichick was also asked about the excitement and challenge that comes with coaching.

"This business is challenging. There’s a thrill and an excitement if the results are good on Sunday, but sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t," he said. "You’re up against the best players, the best coaches, the best organizations in football. Buffalo, Doug [Marrone] is a great coach, he has an excellent staff, they have a lot of good players, they’re playing at home, it’s a huge challenge for us to go up there, and there’ll be another challenge the next week, and the next week. That’s the way it is in the NFL.

"Every team is good: Good players, good coaches, good scouts, good everything, and if you’re not at your best then you don’t have any chance. And if you are at your best, you might run into their best. This isn’t like college, where you can play a couple different divisions on your schedule. Every week, you’re up against a team that has the same opportunity as you do: Same salary cap, same draft choices, the way it’s structured. Every week is a huge challenge to compete against that team. That’s what it’s all about for me.

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Patriots re-sign FB James Develin

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 6, 2013 10:01 AM
FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots made official this morning the re-signing of fullback James Develin, leaving one open spot on the 53-man active roster.

Develin spent the majority of last season with the Patriots, mostly on the practice squad, but also appeared in one game, against the 49ers. He was released by the Patriots on Monday.

Boston.com staff predictions for the Patriots, Super Bowl

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 6, 2013 08:00 AM

Boston.com's sports writers and editors are offering their take on the upcoming Patriots season and which teams they'd like to see in the Super Bowl. See where they all stand below.

Zuri Berry
Patriots prediction: 12-4 -- The Patriots will likely sweep the AFC East. But with the prospect of elite offenses in Atlanta, Denver, and New Orleans, along with the probability of at least two trap games, fans can legitimately expect four to five losses. I'll go with four.
Super Bowl I'd like to see: Seahawks vs. Bengals.

Contest: You predict the season Gary Dzen Patriots prediction: 13-3 -- The Patriots will lose at the Bengals and at Atlanta in back-to-back weeks but will lose only once more, at Baltimore, on Dec. 22. The defense and running game will be much improved. Super Bowl I'd like to see: Bengals vs. Falcons.

Chad Finn
Patriots prediction: 13-3 -- The running game is deeper and more versatile than it was a year ago when it was seventh in the NFL with 136.5 rushing yards per game. The defense, with Aqib Talib on board for a full season and Chandler Jones positioned to improve on a promising but uneven rookie season, is young and versatile and could rank as a top-10 unit. Also, at last check, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have not left the building. The schedule is tough, but so too are the Patriots, again.
Super Bowl I'd like to see: Patriots-Seahawks. The Pete Carroll Bowl.

Erik Frenz
Patriots prediction: 11-5 -- The Patriots get most of their toughest opponents on the road (Falcons, Bengals, Texans, Ravens) and even if they split those, there are some tough home games to account for as well (Saints, Steelers, Broncos). The ceiling feels like a 12-4 team, and that's not factoring in a potential upset in Miami at the end of the season.
Super Bowl I'd like to see: Patriots vs. Seahawks.

Adam Kaufman
Patriots prediction: 11-5 -- As has been the case in recent years, the AFC East is the Pats' division to lose. The Bills still stink, the Jets are dysfunctional, and the Dolphins are growing into a contender, but they aren't there yet. Based on their schedule, the Patriots look like they'll win anywhere between 10-12 games and I think they'll land right in the middle after tough contests with the Saints at home, plus road meetings with the Falcons, Texans, Ravens, and Dolphins. Yes, Miami.
Super Bowl I'd like to see: Patriots vs. Giants. (Third time's a charm?)

Matt Pepin
Patriots prediction: 10-6 -- The division opponents will be the easy part of the schedule. The rest of the matchups will be much tougher.
Super Bowl I'd like to see: Falcons vs. Broncos.

Steve Silva
Patriots prediction: 11-5 -- Tom Brady & The Revamped Offense will find new ways to score in bunches, much like the Retooled Red Sox did this season. And a more mature, athletic defense will surprise as the season wears on. Some things remain the same: The Patriots will have their way with the underwhelming competition in the AFC East, but they'll come up just short of a Super Bowl trip -- losing in the AFC Championship game to Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos.
Super Bowl I'd like to see: Cowboys vs. Steelers.

Eric Wilbur
Patriots prediction: 10-6 -- Injury concerns for Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski, an unproven, rookie receiving corps, and a tougher-than-anyone-wants-to-mention schedule might mean a first-round bye is out of the question. 
Super Bowl I'd like to see: Broncos vs. Giants. After the annoyance of last season's Harbaugh Bowl, let's just get Manning Armageddon out of the way. 

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Patriots release Mulligan, Cave

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 5, 2013 06:07 PM

The Patriots have released offensive lineman Braxston Cave and tight end Matthew Mulligan. Cave had been claimed off waivers Sunday after being released by Cleveland. He was a third-team All-American at Notre Dame.

Mulligan, a Bangor, Maine, native who played at the University of Maine and has spent four years in the NFL (three with the Jets, last season with St. Louis), was signed as a free agent Tuesday. He has 20 starts among his 50 NFL appearances, catching 14 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown.

According to the league's transaction wire, the Patriots have signed offensive lineman Jordan Devey to the practice squad. He played multiple line positions in college at Memphis.

Thursday injury report: Same six limited

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 5, 2013 03:39 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Thursday's injury report was identical to the one the Patriots issued on Wednesday. Offensive lineman Will Svitek was out, and six other players were limited.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), receivers Danny Amendola (groin) and Aaron Dobson (hamstring), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), and defensive backs Nate Ebner (ankle) and Duron Harmon (hamstring) were all limited.

Injured players don't have to be given a game designation -- probable, questionable, or doubtful -- until Friday.

The Bills' injury report was also identical, with the same five players listed. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore (wrist), kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin), and center Doug Legursky (knee) all missed Thursday's practice.

Tommy Kelly: EJ Manuel is no Michael Vick

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 5, 2013 02:29 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- No matter who gets the snaps at quarterback for the Bills on Sunday – EJ Manuel or Jeff Tuel – the Patriots defense will have to be ready for a rookie who can run.

Just don’t count Tommy Kelly among those viewing Manuel as the next Michael Vick.

“He runs a little bit, but he tries to stay in that pocket and get that ball out,” said Kelly, listed on the Patriots’ depth chart as a starting defensive tackle. “He’ll run when necessary, but to say he’s like Michael Vick? No. But he’ll run, he’s definitely a threat, though.”

Manuel was the team’s first-round draft pick out of Florida State; Tuel is an undrafted rookie from Washington State. Tuel got more playing time during the preseason while Manuel has dealt with a knee injury – Kevin Kolb has been placed on injured reserve – but the Bills have named Manuel as the starter for Sunday’s opener in Buffalo.

Whoever is under center, defensive end Rob Ninkovich said, the defensive strategy is pretty similar.

“It comes down to the D-line having good pass rush lanes, and everyone doing their job keeping the guy in the pocket,” Ninkovich said. “Quarterbacks that can run, you got to keep them in the pocket, you want to let them throw the ball down the field, and not give them big rush lanes opening up so they can just step up and run for 10, 15 yards at a time.”

Dennard court date pushed back again, to Sept. 16

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 5, 2013 01:41 PM

Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who was scheduled to be back in a Lincoln, Neb. courtroom on Friday for a probation violation hearing, has had that date moved back again.

According to the clerk of the Lancaster County District Court, Dennard's hearing is now scheduled for Sept. 16 at 10:30 a.m. in Courtroom 35, which belongs to Judge Stephanie Stacy.

This is the second time the hearing date has been changed; it was initially set for Aug. 27, then moved to Sept. 6.

Stacy is the judge who sentenced Dennard in April to 24 months probation, a 30-day jail sentence to be served in March 2012 and 100 hours of community service after a jury found Dennard guilty of hitting a Lincoln police officer in April 2012, a third-degree felony in Nebraska.

On July 11 -- three months to the day after he was sentenced -- Dennard was pulled over in Lincoln and cited for suspicion of driving under the influence after an officer saw his red Honda Accord straddling lane lines; when he was pulled over, the officer said Dennard "emitted an odor of alcohol and displayed signs of impairment.”

He refused to submit to a breathalyzer test, cited for DUI and released.

Judge Stacy will determine if that incident violates the terms of his probation, and if so, what, if any, punishment should be handed down.

Thursday practice roll call

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 5, 2013 10:57 AM

FOXBOROUGH – For the second straight day, offensive lineman Will Svitek was the only player not spotted at Patriots practice. The shorts and shells workout is being held on the upper grass field (which is wet) at Gillette Stadium, with a chance of rain also in the forecast.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski looked good, catching balls in a passing drill (he caught a touchdown in a short-yardage situation ... but there's no defense), then breaking strong out of a three-point stance, making a move, and catching another short pass.

The post-practice injury report will have anyone who was limited. Yesterday's group included six players – Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Brandon Bolden, Aaron Dobson, Nate Ebner, and Duron Harmon.

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Watch: Patriots season outlook

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 5, 2013 06:00 AM

Globe football reporters Ben Volin and Shalise Manza Young run down all the possibilities for the Patriots as the season-opener vs. the Buffalo Bills approaches on Sunday.

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Watch: Patriots get ready for Buffalo Bills

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 4, 2013 05:49 PM

In the first Patriots midweek report of the season, Rob Gronkowski says he's getting close to healthy, Tom Brady talks about patience with his young receivers, and the Buffalo Bills name their starting quarterback.

Bills coach says QB E.J. Manuel should be prepared for Sunday

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 4, 2013 05:13 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- First-year Bills coach Doug Marrone said he was confident in rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel -- who missed two weeks of practice with an injured knee -- going into Sunday's season opener against the Patriots.

The former Syracuse coach has been prepping his top draft pick to take over since the spring, but those plans had been hobbled by Manuel's injury. Marrone was shuffling between undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel and Manuel before deciding to name the latter his starter Wednesday.

Now Marrone, who also coached for the Saints and Jets, has to make sure Manuel is up to speed. The process of getting his young quarterback acclimated is well under way.

"The offseason helps quite a bit," Marrone said. "You're able to spend extra time and get acclimated to everything. And obviously we knew going into the draft that we would be going in this direction of taking a young quarterback. So we put a lot of time into how we would want to develop him and then how we were going to get him ready. So I don't think it's something that just popped up on us."

Of course, Manuel had to compete with Tuel and veteran Kevin Kolb, who was placed on injured reserve with what could be career-ending concussion symptoms. Marrone said it is too difficult to say how a three-way competition would've gone, given Kolb's and Manuel's injuries.

"Kevin really had some hard luck," Marrone said. "I mean, with the injuries that he had, wasn't really able to participate, he missed some practice time. And then obviously he didn't really play as much in the preseason. So it's very difficult to say if he was healthy what would have happened.

"But I think it's very easy to say that, based upon the preseason and practice, that E.J. Manuel has earned this."

It helped that Manuel had a speedy recovery.

"I don't think this shocks anyone about E.J. being our starting quarterback," Marrone added.

For his part, Manuel is excited and feels ready to go.

"Mentally, physically, my mind feels good," Manuel said. "I just tried to stay in everything when I wasn’t playing in those last two preseason games, and those practice reps I missed I made sure I made them up, still got mental reps. When I felt good enough with my knee, I just made sure I stuck around and got some extra work in so I’d be ready."

Wednesday injury report: six Patriots limited

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 4, 2013 04:45 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Here it is, the moment you've been waiting for: the Patriots' first official injury report of the year. It's the time we find out about guys who have been dealing with injuries we hadn't known much or anything about before -- such as wide receiver Aaron Dobson nursing a hamstring injury.

Here are the Patriots and Bills injury reports.

Did not participate
OL Will Svitek (knee)

Limited participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
WR Aaron Dobson (hamstring)
DB Nate Ebner (ankle)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/ankle)
S Duron Harmon (hamstring)

Did not participate
CB Stephon Gilmore (wrist)
K Dustin Hopkins (right groin)
C Doug Legursky (knee)

Limited participation
S Jairus Byrd (foot)

Full participation
QB E.J. Manuel (knee)

Belichick says Patriots will be ready for both Bills quarterbacks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 4, 2013 03:27 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- It didn't matter if it was E.J. Manuel or Jeff Tuel getting the nod, the Patriots were going to be prepared for whichever quarterback the Bills trotted out onto the field Sunday, said Bill Belichick.

"We have to be ready for everybody," Belichick said. "We all know that could change in one play so we have to be ready for all the guys on the active roster."

While there was uncertainty over Manuel's availability after he suffered a left knee injury in the preseason, the 16th overall pick in this year's draft was officially named Buffalo's starter Wednesday, just days after returning to practice.

"An athletic guy," Belichick said. "He hasn’t played a lot; he played against Indianapolis. Good arm, good athlete, and a very productive player in college."

Belichick cautioned against focusing too much on the rookies, Manuel and Tuel.

"We’re playing against some individual players but we’re playing against an entire team, too, and their scheme and what they do," he said. "We have to have an awareness of the players that are in there but we have to defend the scheme that they run against us and we have to carry out our responsibilities. It’s kind of a combination of those things.

"We’ll be aware of the skills that Manuel has, that Tuel has, that [C.J.] Spiller has, that [Fred] Jackson has, that [Tashard] Choice has, whoever they are in there, we’re going to have to be ready for all of them.

"We still have to play our defense and maybe we have a little bit better awareness specifically of one player over another, and we should. We still have to play our defense, still have to play football."

Brady sees some of the Patriots in Buffalo defense

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 4, 2013 02:26 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots are well under way with their game plan for Sunday's season opener at Buffalo.

Quarterback Tom Brady is starting his 14th NFL season against a division opponent he has dominated, going 20-2 against the Bills. And while the Bills have made a coaching change, swapping Chan Gailey for Syracuse's Doug Marrone, Buffalo's new defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, is a familiar face to New England, having served as the New York Jets defensive coordinator the past three years.

The chaotic defense the Jets sicced on Brady the past few years is something that reminds the 36-year-old veteran of his own offense.

"It's a very good defense," Brady said. "It's a challenging scheme because they use their players very well. I think they have very multidimensional-type players. Similar to what we do on offense.

"We use everybody, they use everybody. Everybody has a role in their defense. Whatever they feel like is working, they stick with. But from game to game, it's always been different. We've got a lot of information on the team based on what they've done in the past. So you really aren't quite sure what they're going to do."

Brady added that the team has to prepare for anything.

"A lot of the focus for the last four days has been just that," he said. "Trying to really try to put together a game plan. We've had three good days of practice and we've got to follow it up with two more."

Gronkowski 'progressing,' but won't say when he'll play

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 4, 2013 02:10 PM

FOXBOROUGH - On Sunday, Rob Gronkowski disappointed the swarm of reporters near his locker after his first practice in months by saying he wasn't going to be chatting that day, but promised he would at some point this week.

True to his word, on Wednesday Gronkowski did just that. Though he talked for over six minutes, the bulk of his comments can be boiled down to two words: he's progressing.

"Putting the pads on, just having them on, man, made me happy again," Gronkowski said of returning to practice. "I love this game, definitely miss it, football, just going out there and practicing with my teammates. Miss doing the grind with my teammates, miss being out there with the coaches and everything, so it’s just awesome to be back out there with the team and focusing and getting things done."

But asked about when he'll play, Gronkowski didn't give any detail.

"I approach every single day to the max of my ability, preparing every day to do the best I can. When my number’s called, that’s when I'll play," he said.

It has been about 10 weeks since Gronkowski underwent a diskectomy, aimed at relieving the pain of a herniated disk that bothered him last season. That June surgery came after four surgeries on his left forearm, which he originally broke last Nov. 17.

"I’m making progress every week. Getting out there is another step forward," he said. "You just have to take positive steps forward, and keep re-evaluating every single day where I am."

Asked if he's had any setbacks during his most recent recovery, Gronkowski quickly answered, "nope!" and added that he's been progressing every day and that's what he plans on doing going forward.

The 24-year old said he hasn't been watching the calendar, keeping a specific date in mind for his return, and the training staff and doctors haven't either.

"It doesn't matter what that says [that typical recovery for his procedure is 10 weeks], it just matters how your body feels, how the rehab program is going and how you're progressing every day," he said. "Just look forward to every day and I'm not counting by when my surgery was or 'that day I'm coming back.' I don't work like that, the trainers don't work like that, we just work going day by day."

But Gronkowski did not want to reflect on the past several months and he he dealt with them mentally and emotionally, saying, "I mean, it was difficult, but I’m past that all. Today’s a new day and the only thing I can do is look forward. I’m not thinking about the past anymore; that’s all in the past and the only thing I can do now is improve."

He was asked about rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld and Sudfeld's recent comment that Gronkowski has been offering him tips, and whether that makes Gronkowski, in his fourth season, feel like the old veteran.

"Ah, man - he’s older than me!," Gronkowski said, laughing. "But yeah, he’s a good guy and it’s great to have him. He’s a hard worker and a good player; looking forward to getting out there with him and the rest of the team. It's just going to be a lot of fun."

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Week 1 Wednesday practice peek: Gronkowski present once again

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 4, 2013 11:00 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots are in full pads for the second time this week, including Sunday, and Rob Gronkowski was once again present and participating during the media-access window.

As he did Sunday, his first practice of the season as he recovers from offseason back surgery, Gronkowski took part in a blocking drill, but there was a slight difference: this time he wasn't going against a coach holding a pad, he lined up against one of his positional teammates and looked a little more aggressive than he did a couple of days ago.

It's a small thing, but it's a measure of progress.

The only player not spotted was offensive lineman Will Svitek (right knee).

Patriots add Josh Kline to practice squad, cut Jeff Tarpinian

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 4, 2013 10:40 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots continued to shuffle the deck on Wednesday, making two more minor roster moves.

The team announced it had signed rookie offensive lineman Josh Kline to the practice squad and released second-year linebacker Jeff Tarpinian to make room.

Kline, undrafted out of Kent State, had been released from the team's roster Sept. 2 after spending training camp with the team. He plays both tackle and guard.

Tarpinian shifted back and forth between the team's 53-man roster and its practice squad the last two seasons before getting cut out of training camp again this year. He was signed to the team's practice squad on Sunday before being released on Wednesday.

The Patriots have three offensive linemen on its practice squad, including Kline and tackles R.J. Dill and Jordan Devey. They join linebacker Ja'Gared Davis, safety Kanorris Davis, defensive lineman Marcus Forston, defensive back Justin Green, and wide receiver Quentin Sims.

E.J. Manuel to start for Bills Sunday

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 4, 2013 08:38 AM
The Buffalo Bills announced they will start rookie E.J. Manuel at quarterback on Sunday when they open the 2013 season against the Patriots at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Manuel, the first quarterback chosen in the draft in April, played at Florida State and led the Seminoles to a 12-2 record in 2012 and a victory in the Orange Bowl. He passed for 3,397 yards and 23 touchdowns and ran for 310 yards and four touchdowns that season.

EJ Manuel is the starting QB for the #Bills http://t.co/pigE3VujKL | pic.twitter.com/tKfuKjCe3m

— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) September 4, 2013

Manuel injured his left knee in a preseason game vs. the Vikings and had minor surgery to repair it. He missed the next two preseason games.

The Bills' QB decision came down to Manuel and undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel. Kevin Kolb was placed on injured reserve after suffering a concussion in the preseason, and free agent Matt Leinart was released after joining the Bills briefly during the preseason.

Week 1 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 4, 2013 07:28 AM

Every Wednesday I'll be making picks against the spread. We'll be tracking the progress all year long.

Here are my favorites for Week 1.
Ravens (+7 1/2) at Broncos (-7 1/2) -- The Broncos have a high-powered offense that only got better with the addition of former Patriot Wes Welker. The Ravens, depleted after last season's Super Bowl run, has questions at linebacker and safety. The Broncos have also been boosted by the return of cornerback Champ Bailey.
My pick: Broncos


Patriots sign TE Mulligan to 53-man, add two to practice squad

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 3, 2013 11:26 AM

It was announced Tuesday that the Patriots have signed tight end Matthew Mulligan to the 53-man roster.

The Bangor, Maine native, who played at the University of Maine, spent training camp with the Packers, but was among their final cuts on Saturday.

Listed at 6-foot-4, 267 pounds, Mulligan entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Dolphins in 2008; he has also played with the Titans, the Jets, the Rams and the Packers. He has played in 50 games with 20 starts, and has 14 receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown.

In addition, New England filled the seventh and eighth spots on its practice squad with two rookie offensive linemen: Jordan Devey and R.J. Dill.

A Memphis product, Devey was originally signed by Baltimore in May, cut on Aug. 30, signed to the Ravens practice squad on Sunday and then released on Monday. He is listed at 6-foot-6, 317 pounds and played both guard and tackle in his two seasons at Memphis.

Dill went to Rutgers, and spent the spring and summer with Jacksonville before being released last week. He is listed at 6-foot-6, 316 pounds and started all13 games at right tackle for Rutgers last fall.

Survey time: Best receiver duo ever and Patriots receptions leader this season?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 3, 2013 09:17 AM

Part of the Globe's NFL preview section, which comes out Thursday, focuses on receivers – their place in football history and the Patriots' revamped receiving corps – and we'd like your input on the subject through the surveys below. Many thanks, and feel free to continue the debate in the comments section.

What was the best wide receiver duo in NFL history?

Which Patriots player will lead the team in receptions this regular season?

Patriots look toward season opener

Posted by Staff September 2, 2013 02:17 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- When the Patriots open the season at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday against Buffalo, they will get their first glance at a rather different-looking Bills team from the one they saw in 2012.

There will be a new-look offense installed by Doug Marrone, who left Syracuse for the NFL in the offseason, replacing Chan Gailey as Bills coach.

After practice Monday, it was clear that the preseason was in the Patriots' rear-view mirror and the focus was on the season opener.

“Coach Marrone is a coach I have a lot of respect for,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “They always do a good job. I’m sure there’ll be an element of what they did there [at Syracuse] and what we see.”

When Marrone was hired by Buffalo, he brought along offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Nathaniel Hackett, tight ends coach Greg Adkins, special teams assistant John Anselmo, and assistant strength and conditioning coach Hal Luther, who all served on his staff at Syracuse.

Belichick said that opening the season is always difficult because of the large quantity of scouting information to be sorted through – a matter that becomes more complicated when a new coaching staff is in place.

“It’s always hard to open with anybody because of the amount of information you have to sort through,” he said. “They’ll never be able to do all of it, nor would we with all the background we have. You have to prepare for a lot of things, and be ready for what you get on Sunday.

“We’re trying to get into regular-season mode, a practice routine, our meetings and preparations, so that’s another adjustment. We’re just working our way through all those things.”

At Syracuse, Marrone implemented a run-heavy attack, and more of the same is expected in Buffalo, with the offense centered on explosive back, C.J. Spiller.

“I think most of the Syracuse stuff, looks to me, will be coming on the offensive side of the ball,” Belichick said.

During the preseason, the Bills lost quarterback Kevin Kolb (knee, concussion), so either rookie E.J. Manuel or undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel will start Sunday.

While it is uncertain who will be under center, Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty said the defense can concentrate on the Bills' explosive players, including the backfield duo of Spiller and Fred Jackson, and receiver Stevie Johnson.

In a 37-31 loss to New England last November, Spiller and Jackson combined for 150 yards rushing, with Jackson adding a pair of touchdowns.

“No matter who’s in there at quarterback, they have two guys that have played well against us throughout the years and are very good players,” McCourty said. “You throw that along with Stevie Johnson, defensively we know we have to prepare for those three guys and be prepared for them to be a big part of the offense.”

Above all, McCourty said, he is excited to get the season started.

“Early in the season, it’s about improving as a team and getting better, but they count now,” he said. “We can’t just go out there and just not come ready to play and say we’ll learn from this. Everyone has to be dialed in a little bit more and I think guys understand that.”

New England Patriots Roster: digesting the cuts and the 'final 53

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 2, 2013 12:26 PM


Once the Patriots figured Rob Gronkowski would return, other roster decisions came easily. (Yoon S. Byun / Globe Staff)

When breaking down the Patriots’ moves to get down to their final 53-man roster -- which is likely still a fluid situation -- the more and more one digests the roster fluctuation, the more one can determine the root causes of certain actions.

For the team’s brass, a lot of decisions appear to be traced back to the health and availability of tight end Rob Gronkowski.

After missing the entire offseason while rehabilitating from back and forearm surgery, Gronkowski returned to practice Sunday in full pads, going through drills.

With Gronkowski at his disposal, Bill Belichick was able to release veteran tight ends Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells without remorse. While the timeline for Gronk’s recovery has him ready to play by Week 2 or 3 of the season, it appears the team is much more comfortable about when he’ll return than initially expected, giving credence to the view that the initial timeline reported was skewed toward precaution. That precaution now appears tossed aside.


Patriots bring back Marquice Cole, cut Josh Kline

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 2, 2013 11:22 AM

The Patriots continued to make moves after Saturday's deadline to finalize the team's 53-man roster.

The team announced it had re-signed cornerback Marquice Cole Monday, who was released a day prior, and had cut offensive lineman Josh Kline.

Cole, 29, was widely seen as the team's fourth best cornerback and a core special teams player when he was cut. He accounted for 16 combined tackles during the preseason and two passes defensed.

Kline is an undrafted rookie out Kent State who has played both guard and tackle. He is eligible for the practice squad.

Patriots cut Cole and Washington, claim four players

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 1, 2013 06:48 PM

FOXBOROUGH - Veterans Marquice Cole and Leon Washington were released by the Patriots on Sunday, explaining why neither was spotted during practice earlier in the day.

They were released because New England needed the roster space: though it went into the day with two open spots on the 53-man roster, the team was awarded four players on waivers.

The Patriots received third-year linebacker Chris White off waivers from the Lions, rookies A.J. Francis, a defensive tackle, and Chris Barker, an interior offensive lineman, from the Dolphins, and another rookie O-lineman, Braxston Cave, off waivers from Cleveland.

The team also announced the signing of five players to the practice squad, all of whom were cut by the Patriots a day before: LB Jeff Tarpinian, S Kanorris Davis, LB Ja'Gared Davis, DB Justin Green and DL Marcus Forston.

The Patriots have three open practice squad spots.

Patriots' Week 1 practice update: Gronk on the field

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 1, 2013 02:58 PM

FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots are on the field for their first practice of the regular season, and the big news is that Rob Gronkowski is in uniform and participating for the first time since January.

Media were present for dynamic warmups exercises and some positional drills; in a blocking drill with the other tight ends, Gronkowski did seem to be going at half-speed compared to his teammates, but he appeared to be moving well.

There were three players not spotted: OL Will Svitek, CB Marquice Cole and RB Leon Washington.

Players were in full pads.

New England does not have to submit a practice report until Wednesday, but it's safe to say Gronkowski's participation will be limited as he works to get back into game shape after months of rehab for his arm and back surgeries.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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