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Thursday injury report: No changes

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

FOXBOROUGH -- There were no changes to the Patriots injury/practice report on Thursday from Wednesday. The same 13 players were listed, under the same designations.

For the Patriots:
Limited participation:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
OL Marcus Cannon (shoulder)
WR Julian Edelman (thigh)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
DL Tommy Kelly (knee)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)
DB Tavon Wilson (hamstring)

Full participation:
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)

For the Steelers:
Did not participate:
CB Curtis Brown (not injury-related)
G David DeCastro (ankle)

Limited participation:
WR Markus Wheaton (finger)

Full participation:
G Ramon Foster (concussion)
DT Steve McLendon (illness)
TE Heath Miller (not injury-related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury-related)
LB Lawrence Timmons (hand)
G Guy Whimper (knee)

Thursday roll call: Perfect attendance again

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 31, 2013 10:46 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Everyone who was expected to be at Thursday's Patriots practice was spotted for the full-pads workout, making it two days in a row the team had perfect attendance.

Cornerback Aqib Talib was wearing pads in his uniform pants, significant because in last week's full-pads workout, Talib had none, a sign that he wasn't close to returning from the hip injury he's been suffering from. Perhaps today was a positive development in Talib's availability for Sunday's game with the Steelers.

Running back Brandon Bolden, who's been limited in recent weeks with a knee injury, began the portion of practice open to the media riding a stationary bike while his teammates were doing some light conditioning work. Bolden was followed by running back Leon Washington, who has missed the last three games with an ankle injury.

Running back Shane Vereen and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly were also on hand. Kelly was wearing a brace on the knee he injured Oct. 6 at Cincinnati. Vereen can't play until Nov. 18 at Carolina, since he was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return after the season-opening win at Buffalo, in which he broke a bone in his wrist.

Watch: Patriots prep for Steelers, welcome Sopoaga

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 30, 2013 06:21 PM

In the latest Patriots midweek report, the Patriots are gearing up to face the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers while also welcoming new defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, acquired before the NFL trade deadline Tuesday.

Wednesday injury report: Hamstring issue for Gronkowski

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 30, 2013 04:16 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Even though the Patriots had perfect attendance at Wednesday's practice, there was some injury news to emerge from the workout.

Quarterback Tom Brady was once again listed with a right shoulder injury. There was no mention of any hand issue, and Brady was able to participate fully.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski has a new injury to deal with. He was listed with a hamstring injury, to go along with the back and forearm injuries he's had all season. Gronkowski was limited in Wednesday's practice, as were 10 other Patriots.

The limiteds included defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle). Neither had practiced since suffering injuries in the Oct. 6 game at Cincinnati.

For the Patriots:
Limited participation:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
OL Marcus Cannon (shoulder)
WR Julian Edelman (thigh)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
DL Tommy Kelly (knee)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)
DB Tavon Wilson (hamstring)

Full participation:
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)

For the Steelers:
Did not participate:
CB Curtis Brown (not injury related)
G David DeCastro (ankle)
DT Steve McLendon (illness)
WR Markus Wheaton (finger)

Limited participation:
G Ramon Foster (concussion)
TE Heath Miller (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)

Full participation:
LB Lawrence Timmons (hand)
G Guy Whimper (knee)

Sopoaga calls trade to Patriots 'dream come true'

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 30, 2013 03:00 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots' newest defensive tackle, Isaac Sopoaga, had quite the day on Tuesday after finding out he'd been traded from the Eagles to the Patriots.

“Ohhh. You know about the meaning of the word 'hectic', right?” Sopoaga said. “When I found out yesterday, I was with the Eagles, and then, I have to drive to South Jersey to pack my stuff and get ready. You know how that feels.

“Doing your own ‘Fast and the Furious’ thing on the highway, even though it was a 50-mph speed limit. But us Samoan people, we go double the speed limit. I was going roadrunner speed.”

Listed at 6-foot-2, 330 pounds, the 32-year old Sopoaga opened his brief meeting with reporters by saying Aloha and invoking a little prayer. He also stood on the chair in front of his stall - he was given the open locker next to Rob Ninkovich - making it easier for cameras to see him.

"We all have to work together, right?," he said.

Sopoaga couldn't contain his excitement at being with New England.

“It’s like a dream come true, to be honest,” he said. “[I] respect these guys — the last 10 years, they’ve won three times, the Super Bowl. It’s just awesome. An awesome feeling.”

He added that Wednesday is his daughter's fourth birthday, and that Tuesday and Wednesday felt like his birthday as well, thanks to the trade to New England.

Week 9: Wednesday practice peek - perfect attendance for Patriots

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 30, 2013 10:40 AM

FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots have perfect attendance at practice as they begin preparations for Sunday's game with the Steelers.

Colleague Michael Whitmer, present for the media-access window, reports that DT Tommy Kelly (knee), RB Leon Washington (ankle) as well as RB Shane Vereen (wrist) were all present and have returned after multi-week absences.

Vereen, whom the Patriots had placed on injured reserve-designated to return after breaking a bone in his wrist in Week 1 against Buffalo, is back after an eight-week absence; Kelly and Washington were both injured against the Bengals in Week 5 and had not played or practiced since.

Newly-acquired DT Isaac Sopoaga was also on the field and wearing No. 90.

Players were in sweats and shells.

Watch: Ben Volin's Week 9 outlook

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff October 30, 2013 10:34 AM

Tom Brady's throwing hand is a concern, but there are other factors contributing to the Patriots offensive struggles. The Boston Globe's Ben Volin & CineSport's Noah Coslov break it all down.

Bill Belichick calls Isaac Sopoaga a 'strong guy, physical guy'

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 30, 2013 10:13 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga comes to the Patriots at a time in which the team's defensive line has been depleted due to injuries.

Sopoaga, 6-2 and 330 pounds, will fill in for Vince Wilfork, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve Oct. 3, and Tommy Kelly, who has been hampered with a knee injury and has missed the past three games.

The new defensive tackle, who will wear No. 90, played nine seasons for the San Francisco 49ers as a defensive tackle and nose guard before signing as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots traded a fifth round draft choice in 2014 for Sopoaga and an Eagles sixth round pick in 2014.

"He's basically played defensive tackle, nose tackle throughout his career," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "Strong guy, physical guy."

The Patriots had opted to use rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano in place of Wilfork and Kelly. Bringing in Sopoaga is likely to shore up the team's run defense, which has given up 156.5 rushing per game since Wilfork was placed on IR.

Could Sopoaga be the next man up?

"Well I think that's really that mentality from the day we step on the field as a football team," Belichick said. "It's great to have everybody available. It's great to have all your players at full strength. The reality is it's usually not the case. Every team goes through the same thing somewhere along the line."

Patriots place Vollmer on IR

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 29, 2013 05:55 PM

The Patriots placed right tackle Sebastian Vollmer on injured reserve Tuesday, officially ending his season, after he broke a bone in his leg during Sunday's win over the Dolphins.

Vollmer was injured in the second quarter, and was replaced by Marcus Cannon. Vollmer had surgery to repair the break Monday.

Patriots acquire defensive lineman from Eagles

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 29, 2013 03:53 PM

The Patriots apparently have acquired defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga. That's according to the Philadelphia Eagles, who have employed the nine-year veteran this season after he spent his first eight years in the NFL with the 49ers.

According to the Eagles, they sent Sopoaga and a sixth-round pick in the 2014 draft to the Patriots for a fifth-round pick. Tuesday marks the NFL trading deadline; 4 p.m. was the cutoff time for teams to notify the league of any transactions.

The move would address an area of need for the Patriots defense, which lost perennial Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork to a season-ending injury last month. Tommy Kelly, another veteran defensive tackle who joined the Patriots this season, has missed the last three games with a knee injury. Rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones have filled in, with Jones totaling three sacks in his past two games.

Sopoaga, 32, has played in all eight of the Eagles' games this season, starting seven. He has 10 tackles and no sacks, but is primarily used to help stop the run.

Quiet so far for Patriots on trade deadline day

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 29, 2013 01:06 PM

All's quiet so far with the Patriots today, but that was also the case this time last year, when the team acquired cornerback Aqib Talib with just a few minutes to spare before the 4 p.m. trading deadline.

Teams have until this afternoon to notify the league of any trade transaction. Bill Belichick, speaking to reporters on the weekly coaches' conference call, said his focus has been elsewhere today.

"To be honest with you, I’ve been really at this point involved in game planning and trying to get things organized here on Pittsburgh and all that," he said, "so at some point here I’ll catch up with the guys in our scouting department and see if there’s any movement."

The NFL typically doesn't see as much movement as the other team sports on trade deadline day, but as the Patriots showed last year, impact players can be brought in halfway through the season. Belichick wouldn't say how often his phone has been ringing these last few days, or whether he expects the team to make any moves.

"That’s always hard to predict," he said. "Last year, with the Talib situation, that was one of those transactions that probably got turned in at 3:59:45, so you just never know.

"Right now we’re just focused on Pittsburgh. If something happens, it happens, but if it doesn’t, we’ve got to get ready to play on Sunday."

Belichick on wind-related timeouts, blitzing Tannehill

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 28, 2013 10:45 AM

Bill Belichick held his customary Monday morning conference call to go over the Patriots' 27-17 come-from-behind win over the Dolphins and said as part of his opening statement that he didn't believe there was anything dramatic New England did to turn the tide in the second half.

"Certainly a lot better half for us in the second half than in the first, I don’t know if we can really pinpoint anything in particular, just the overall execution level, we were able to execute more plays," Belichick said. "I wouldn’t say there was a big, dramatic shift in what we were doing, but it was also certainly a lot better. We got contributions from all three phases of the game; it was a team-wide effort.

"The Dolphins obviously came in and did a good job early on on us – we didn’t have much yardage, couldn’t move the ball very well and they moved the ball well, did well on third-down, all that, so we were able to swing that. The players did good job of showing mental toughness, fighting through all the situations, wind was definitely a factor in the game, particularly in the kicking game, but it showed up in the passing game as well. They did good job with all those things. There’s plenty of room for improvement, we just have to keep working. We did enough things to win, and that was the biggest positive."

One case where the wind came into play for the Patriots was at the end of the third quarter. With it looking like they'd be trying a field goal, Belichick called a timeout before the end of the quarter, essentially to ensure that Stephen Gostkwoski would be kicking a relatively long field goal into the south end zone uprights and not the open end of the stadium, where the wind was trickier.

"We were at that point where we were in field goal range but it was a long field goal, and we felt like if we changed ends of the field then that field goal range might not be there, as evidenced by when we went for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter, going into the wind in a similar field-position situation," Belichick explained. "When the clock was running, we wanted to try to give ourselves a chance – and of course close game like that, the game was tied at the time, you hate to waste timeouts, they can be valuable at the end as we’ve seen many times this year – but a we felt like it was worth it to be able to have a better opportunity on the kick. Not saying that Steve wouldn’t have made it going the other way, I just think it would have been harder kick based on [the conditions]."

Belichick also talked a little strategy, saying the Patriots did blitz more against Miami on Sunday than they had in their previous games this season, doing so to try to take away the middle of the field for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

"I think it worked out that way yesterday," he said. "Part of it was I think the conditions played a little bit of a part in that but also the game plan, it looked like Miami was having more success throwing the ball on the inside part of the field and on shorter throws, and what we were able to do was pressure with a middle-of-the-field safety, then more of those throws went to the perimeter, which were harder.

"Alfonzo (Dennard) and Logan (Ryan) and Devin (McCourty) and Kyle (Arrington) all made really good plays, were all right there on the coverage, on the sideline, and it just seemed more evident as the game went on that when we pressured and gave that look that Tannehill was going to try to get the ball there as opposed to the inside part of the field, and it was just tougher to throw and our guys did a good job."

But one thing Belichick wasn't talking about was the ongoing investigation surrounding former New England tight end Aaron Hernandez. On Sunday night, Massachusetts State Police served Dolphins center Mike Pouncey, a former college teammate and roommate of Hernandez's while at Florida, with a subpoena as he was headed for the team bus.

Asked if he, any members of his coaching staff or players have been subpoenaed, Belichick declined to comment.

"I talked about that at the beginning of the season," he said. "It’s an ongoing legal situation and I don’t have any comment on it. I can’t make any."

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Dolphins game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 27, 2013 09:07 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- After recording only 59 yards of total offense in the first half of Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots scored 24 unanswered points while amassing 193 yards (252 total) to take the game, 27-17.

It was, in essence, a tale of two halves.

For the Patriots, the resurgent play can be pinpointed to some key defensive stops and turnovers, helping the team's timid offense get a short field on three occasions, which led to touchdowns.

With that in mind, here's five takeaways from the Patriots' win over the Dolphins:

1. Player of the day: Logan Ryan -- Ryan didn't play the first half, but he sure made his presence felt in the second. He recorded five total tackles, two sacks, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble. His strip sack of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was pivotal play in the third quarter. Only three plays later, Brandon Bolden punched in a 2-yard touchdown.

"Any time that you're number is called or your name is called on a certain play, you want to make sure you make it because you don't get it all the time," Ryan said. "The more you make plays, the more opportunities you get."

Of course, Ryan's day doesn't come without regrets. He almost had a pick-six on a Tannehill throw to the flat.

"That's one I'm going to dream about," he said. "And have nightmares about."

As long as Ryan continues to contribute like he did Sunday, he'll see his opportunities increase.

2. Filling the vacuum on defense -- In one respect, the Patriots scored 24 points in the second half. In another, they shut out the Dolphins. The Patriots forced three turnovers and recorded six sacks in the third and fourth quarters, making up for a first half in which the defense gave up 175 yards of offense, including 103 on the ground.

"We knew that obviously we had to step up after that first half," said linebacker Dane Fletcher. "And we did as a whole team. And that's what we needed. Special teams, offense, defense, we really came together. Played well and played a good, solid half together and started enjoying it."

Fletcher, who saw an increased role Sunday with the loss of Jerod Mayo still affecting the team, managed to get in on the action himself. He finished with two tackles and a sack. It was his first sack of the year after returning from an ACL injury that wiped out his 2012 season.

"You know it's nice to have a role on defense again and just play and get comfortable out there," Fletcher said. "I felt, at least by the fourth quarter, I was really comfortable with things again. After taking some time off and just the game experience starts to come back to you. I started to feel better and just having a little fun with it. And then that's when you play the best."

Along with Jamie Collins (2 tackles), Dont'a Hightower (10 tackles, 1 sack), and Brandon Spikes (9 tackles), the linebacker group has had its ups and downs in the past two games without Mayo present. But as Fletcher noted, they're each getting more and more comfortable. In a twist, it helps that the team's defensive backs, Ryan and Marquice Cole, were able to make some game-changing plays.

3. The offense moves with Ridley -- Stevan Ridley didn't get in the game until 9:55 left in the second quarter. The Patriots opted to start LeGarrette Blount (11 carries, 46 yards) again, who is likely seen by the Patriots as the best back for this team in its current state.

That's pretty confusing.

Here's what we know: When Ridley's on the field, for one reason or another, the Patriots offense kicks into gear. He had 14 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown Sunday. On drives in which Ridley had carries, the Patriots scored five of six times, including all 27 of Sunday's points. On the three drives in which Blount had carries, the Patriots scored once, and that was Ridley's 3-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

"I just always say that when our coaches call our number, we have to go out there and be the solid group," Ridley said. "This team is going through a lot of changes, a lot of guys in and out, but one thing that has been consistent is the running back group.

"We've been together since camp and we've had Shane [Vereen] that's fallen out but we've had guys that have stepped up. And I think that's the biggest thing for us is that we have to be a strong point for this team and when they call our number, we have to go out there and make solid plays."

It would behoove us to remember that Ridley finished the 2012 season with 1,263 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. The fact that he doesn't get a carry until the second quarter is quite baffling.

4. Tom Brady's swollen, or not so swollen, hand -- Brady says his hand is more than fine. It's "perfect." This is significant for a few reasons, but mainly because it means that any blame for his deteriorating accuracy (career low 55.7 completion percentage as a starter) should be shifted from the alleged injury and back squarely on him and his play and the team's execution. That's something he wants because excuses are not acceptable for him and members of this franchise.

But if he his hurt, even a little bit, he's doing his fans and his team a disservice by not being open about it. The attention already paid to his hand has outweighed much of what the Patriots were able to accomplish on offense, particularly after such a porous first half. Brady finished 13 of 22 for 116 yards, going 7 of 14 in the second half for 91 yards and a touchdown. Those meager stats won't ease questions about it, though, especially after a press conference in which he slyly kept his right paw out of sight, even while remarking upon it.

However, despite what outside observers may think (or write), his teammates will continue to support him. And if he's hurt, maybe they'll find their own sly ways to praise him.

After the game, wide receiver Danny Amendola said: "Without a doubt, one of the toughest football players to ever play the game is Tom Brady."

I wonder why.

5. Best play(s) of the day -- Marquice Cole's fourth quarter interception was simply fantastic. With a little more than 13 minutes left in the game, Cole was covering Miami speedster Mike Wallace. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill must've thought he saw a mismatch, because he went to Wallace quickly, unaware that Devin McCourty was lurking in coverage. At its highest point, McCourty tipped the ball away from Wallace but toward the sideline, giving Cole just enough space to grab the errant pass before stepping out of bounds.

The interception was reviewed and upheld.

"There was still a lot of football left at that point, but it as a huge play, " said Bill Belichick. "Devin went up and played the ball and Cole showed great presence on the sideline to get his feet in bounds, catch the ball, and then fall out after the catch. It was tremendous awareness on his part.

"You don't really coach that, you don't drill it; it's just an instinctive and alert play by Cole that was as good an instinctive play as I think we've had around here in a long time."

A close second? Chandler Jones's blocked field goal. According to Belichick, he had blocked a few in practice and he had gotten close in games before.

"It's every week, that's one of the things, one of the areas that he's worked hard on and it's really great to see him make that play in that situation because he's worked so hard on it and worked so hard on it and worked on it in practice."

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

State police serve Mike Pouncey with subpoena after Patriots-Dolphins game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 27, 2013 08:10 PM

FOXBOROUGH – The Massachusetts State Police served Miami offensive lineman Mike Pouncey with a subpoena following Sunday's Patriots-Dolphins game, according to a report by Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel and Greg Bedard.

The subpoena, which was served outside of the Dolphins locker room at Gillette Stadium, was in relation to an investigation surrounding former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who is suspected of interstate gun trafficking, according to an SI source.

Pouncey and Hernandez were teammates at the University of Florida. After Hernandez's arrest in June, Pouncey was seen at a nightclub with his twin brother sporting hats that read "Free Hernandez."

Hernandez is in jail on murder and gun charges stemming from the death of Odin Lloyd. The former Patriots tight end is reportedly also a suspect in two other shootings.

More on the illegal bat call that helped the Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 27, 2013 06:32 PM

FOXBOROUGH – In the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, Tom Brady was the victim of a strip sack by Dolphins safety Jimmy Wilson.

At the time, it appeared the Patriots would be backed up for a significant loss after the ball was recovered by Nate Solder. If it were that simple, they would've faced a 4th-and-long and settled for a long Stephen Gostkowski field goal or a punt.

But it wasn't that simple.

Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, while diving toward the loose ball, batted it down the field toward Miami's goal line, eliciting a 10-yard penalty for doing so.

It's Rule 12, Section 4, Article 1:

It is an illegal bat if:

(a) a player of either team bats or punches a loose ball in the field of play toward his opponent’s goal line; or

(b) a player of either team bats or punches a loose ball (that has touched the ground) in any direction, if it is in either end zone; or

(c) an offensive player bats a backward pass in flight toward his opponent’s goal line.

Penalty: For illegal batting or punching the ball: Loss of 10 yards. For enforcement, treat as a foul during a backward pass or fumble (see 8-7-7). If the foul is by the defense, it is an automatic first down.

Vernon did not want to say the play was a game-changer afterward, but it allowed the Patriots to follow up with a touchdown three plays later, going up on their opponents by 10 points and the game's final score, 27-17, with 7:18 remaining.

"It impacted a lot," Vernon conceded. "The game just didn't go our way. We have to give credit to the Patriots, they played a heck of a game and we didn't come out to win."

The officials did their part to explain.

"The official on the field, what he ruled was that the player batted it forward, which is an intentional act," said referee Walt Anderson in a pool report. "Players cannot bat the ball forward. With it being the defensive team they couldn't bat it in that direction. The offensive team likewise could not have batted it forward from their side of the field."

It was the second week in a row in which a relatively obscure penalty was called in a Patriots game. Against, the New York Jets, Patriots defensive linemen Chris Jones was flagged for "pushing" a teammate on a field goal attempt in overtime. The Jets were able to re-kick, with Nick Folk nailing the easier try to win the game, 30-27.

Tom Brady says his hand is 'perfect'

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 27, 2013 06:25 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Patriots quarterback Tom Brady deflected any concern about his right hand after it was the focus of much attention, saying it felt "perfect" and that it was not bothering him at all.

"I don't know [how] anyone knows what the back of my right hand looks like, but it looks fined to me and it feels good," he siad. "I'll be out there next week; you don't have to worry about that."

Brady was 13 of 22 for 116 yards passing, throwing a touchdown pass and an interception. He was off on his first pass of the day, a quick out-route to tight end Rob Gronkowski. The throw was behind the tight end and promptly picked off by Dimitri Patterson. He was much more solid in the second half, going 7 of 14 passing for 91 yards, hitting Aaron Dobson for a 14-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He had another touchdown pass, a 30-yard throw to Gronkowski, called back after a holding penalty on Nate Solder.

"I thought he made some really good throws today and he ran well too," coach Bill Belichick said. "Showed some open field running. I think Tom had a good week of practice and he made some key plays for us today, like he always does."

Belichick was asked if Brady's hand was bothering the quarterback during the week.

"No, not really."

Watch: Patriots-Dolphins highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff October 27, 2013 06:18 PM
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Here's a review of the key plays in the Patriots' 27-17 victory over the Dolphins on Sunday.

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

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff October 27, 2013 05:51 PM

Which Patriots player would you give the game ball to for going above and beyond to make Sunday's victory over the Dolphins happen? Cast your votes.

Which Patriot deserves the game ball vs. Dolphins?

Seven plays in the second half spurred the Patriots along to victory

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 27, 2013 05:05 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots scored 24 unanswered points to beat the Miami Dolphins, 27-17, Sunday. They were helped largely by seven key plays in the second half.

Here's a closer look at those plays:

Third quarter

1. Dont'a Hightower recorded a 9-yard sack on a third-and-2, a pivotal third down stop.

2. Following Hightower's sack, Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a 46-yard field goal attempt. The Patriots went five plays on their next drive before Tom Brady hit Aaron Dobson for a 14-yard touchdown.

3. Logan Ryan got a 10-yard sack on a second-and-7, forcing a Ryan Tannehill fumble. The fumble was recovered by Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich. Three plays later, Brandon Bolden punched in a 2-yard touchdown.

Fourth quarter

4. Marquice Cole intercepted Tannehill with a tip-toe grab on the sideline, getting an assist from a Devin McCourty tip at the top of the quarter.

5. Brady fumbled after being sacked by Dolphins safety Jimmy Wilson on a second-and-7. As the ball was loose, Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon illegally batted it forward in hopes of a Miami recovery, but was penalized for the play. That gave the Patriots a 1st-and-10, which they would go on to convert with a Stevan Ridley touchdown with 7:18 left.

6. On a third-and-3, Tannehill was sacked again, this time by Rob Ninkovich for a loss of 6 yards, setting up another Sturgis field goal attempt with 3:10 remaining.

7. Following Ninkovich's sack, on 4th-and-9, Chandler Jones blocked Sturgis' 39-yard field goal attempt, which was recovered by Steve Gregory with 2:51 left. The blocked punt put the game out of the Dolphins' reach.

Of course, the Patriots weren't done getting after the quarterback. Dane Fletcher and Chris Jones added sacks on the Dolphins' final drive before Tannehill was desperate enough to heave a deep pass down field to Mike Wallace. He was promptly intercepted by Patriots backup safety Duron Harmon. But the game was already decided.

Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer leaves game with right leg injury

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 27, 2013 01:58 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer suffered a right leg injury in the second quarter of Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.

On a running play behind the big tackle, it appeared the Dolphins' Randy Starks unintentionally rolled up on Vollmer from behind. Vollmer had to be carted off the field.

Marcus Cannon replaced him at right tackle.

Danny Amendola, Andre Carter active for Patriots Sunday

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 27, 2013 11:30 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Less than a week after re-signing with the Patriots as a free agent, defensive end Andre Carter will be on the active roster Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

Also active for the Patriots, wide receiver Danny Amendola. He had missed the prior game after suffering a concussion injury against the New Orleans Saints in Week 6.

Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) will miss his second game after being declared inactive. Also inactive for the team are DL Tommy Kelly, WR Josh Boyce, LB Steve Beauharnais, RB Leon Washington, DL Jake Bequette and OL Chris Barker.

What to watch for as the Patriots host the Dolphins

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 27, 2013 11:08 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Despite the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski last week, the Patriots are still in dire need of getting healthy.

With health and matchups in mind, here's what we're watching as the Patriots host the Dolphins.

1) Amendola good to go? -- The Patriots wide receiver says he's ready to go following a Week 6 concussion suffered against the New Orleans Saints. He's been battling a groin injury and has missed four games this season. The passing game, ranked 18th overall, could use him.

2) How healthy is Aqib Talib? -- The star Patriots cornerback appeared to be still hampered by a hip injury when reporters were present. He was limited all week in practice and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. Without Talib, the Patriots lose the ability to shut down at least one of Miami's wide receivers.

3) Point of emphasis for Patriots defense -- The Patriots have a couple of ways to attack the Dolphins defense, mainly through pressure on the quarterback. The Dolphins have allowed 26 sacks this season, fourth worst in the league. But the Patriots will also have to somehow cope with a good trio of Miami wide receivers in Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace, and Brandon Gibson. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (60.7 completion rate, 9 touchdowns, 7 interceptions) has done well when he hasn't been pressured. When he hasn't been pressured, he's completing 66.5 percent of his passes and has seven touchdowns and three interceptions. It's pretty clear what the Patriots have to do. We'll see if they can follow through.

Game 8 preview: Dolphins at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 27, 2013 11:01 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots are looking to bounce back after a 30-27 overtime loss to their division rival New York Jets while hoping to continue the team's supremacy over another division foe in the Miami Dolphins.

The Patriots (5-2) are 28-15 when facing the Dolphins (3-3) at home and are 17-9 against Miami since Bill Belichick took over as head coach in 2000.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is 28-9 following a team's loss.

Miami is on a three-game losing streak after beginning the season 3-0, falling to the Buffalo Bills last week 23-21. They've lost their last two games by a combined five points.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Records: Patriots 5-2; Dolphins 3-3.

TV/Radio: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and ESPN Radio (Ryan Ruocco, Bill Polian, Ian Fitzsimmons).

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 Rob Gronkowski, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, WR Aaron Dobson.

Patriots defense: DT Joe Vellano, DT Chris Jones, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jamie Collins, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Alfonzo Dennard, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Dolphins offense: WR Brian Hartline, LT Jonathan Martin, LG Richie Incognito, C Mike Pouncey, RG John Jerry, RT Tyson Clabo, TE Charles Clay, WR Mike Wallace, WR Brandon Gibson, QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Lamar Miller.

Dolphins defense: LE Cameron Wake, DT Randy Starks, DT Paul Soliai, RE Olivier Vernon, LB Philip Wheeler, LB Dannell Ellerbe, LB Koa Misi, CB Brent Grimes, CB Dimitri Patterson, S Chris Clemons, S Reshad Jones.

Read this, link that

- Erik Frenz breaks down the matchup between Patriots RT Sebastian Vollmer and Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake.

- In the latest Patscetera, I detail how the Patriots passing game needs identity.

- Follow today's game and comment on the action in our live blog. Updates start around 11:30 a.m.

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

Watch: Patriots-Dolphins preview

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff October 26, 2013 04:48 PM
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Here's what to watch for in Sunday's divisional showdown between the Patriots and Dolphins. Game time is 1 p.m. at Gillete Stadium.

Passing game needs identity

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 25, 2013 09:45 PM


Tom Brady has had trouble connecting with receivers thus far after changes in the team's approach. (Matthew J. Lee / Globe Staff)

FOXBOROUGH -- Things that are cause for alarm in New England football: Injuries to Tom Brady (see: Clayborn, Adrian) and the lack of viable receiving options (see: Welker, Wes).

That, we know.

Almost halfway through the season, the Patriots are still trying to find the magic antidote that will somehow resurrect the team's dominant passing attacks of 2011 and 2012. Part of the team's problem has been its young receivers, who have combined for 26 drops thus far, second most in the NFL.

But there is growing evidence that part of the problem has been Brady himself, who is on pace to complete one of the most inaccurate seasons in his 14-year career. He's completing 66.9 percent of his passes that haven't been dropped, thrown away, spiked, or batted down, according to the statistical website ProFootballFocus.com. Among the 23 quarterbacks in the league who have taken at least 75 percent of their team's dropbacks, he ranks 22d when all of these factors are considered.


Friday injury report: Brady probable; Amendola, Talib questionable

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 25, 2013 05:01 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Tom Brady participated fully in Friday's practice, and was officially listed by the Patriots as probable to play in Sunday's game against the Dolphins with a right shoulder injury.

Receiver Danny Amendola (concussion/groin) and cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) are listed as questionable, despite practicing all week. Tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) is listed as probable for the first time all season. He was questionable last week before making his season debut against the Jets.

The Patriots ruled out defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle).

The injury reports:

For the Patriots
DL Tommy Kelly (knee)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)

WR Danny Amendola (concussion/groin)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
OL Marcus Cannon (shoulder)
WR Julian Edelman (thigh)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
DB Tavon Wilson (hamstring)

CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm)
DB Devin McCourty (shoulder)
DL Rob Ninkovich (groin)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)

For the Dolphins
LB Dannell Ellerbe (shoulder)
WR Brandon Gibson (shoulder)
CB Brent Grimes (back)
OT Bryant McKinnie (knee)
LB Koa Misi (knee)
CB Dimitri Patterson (groin)
QB Ryan Tannehill (right shoulder)
DE Cameron Wake (knee)

Amendola: 'I'm feeling good. I'm ready to go'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 25, 2013 01:34 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Danny Amendola stopped short of saying he'll be in uniform on Sunday against the Dolphins, or if he's even been medically cleared to play. But he certainly gave a definitive answer if the decision was left up to him.

"I had a good week, and I’m ready to go," Amendola said, after the Patriots practiced on Friday. "The game’s coming and I feel as good as I can. Not really worried about the past, just worried about the future, and excited and looking forward to Sunday."

Amendola suffered a concussion late in the game against the Saints on Oct. 13, and missed last week's game with the Jets after not practicing. He's been at every practice this week, although his participation has been limited.

He'll need to be cleared by doctors before he's allowed to play again in a game, and wouldn't directly answer the question when asked if he has been. He admitted to having suffered one previous concussion in the NFL, prior to the existing protocol dealing with head injuries was put in place by the league.

"It’s frustrating, because they’ve got protocol and stuff now with head injuries," Amendola said. "You might feel good, you might feel ready to go, but the doctors might not let you go. I feel good now, and I’m ready to go."

Amendola has been limited to just three games this season, his first with the Patriots. He caught 10 passes in the season-opening win over the Bills, but suffered a groin injury that cost him the next three games. He returned against Cincinnati (four catches), then was hurt against New Orleans.

He's seen the video replay of the hit he took that knocked him out of the Saints game, but said the hit -- or the injury that resulted from it -- won't change the way he plays.

"I don’t think about it too much. If it happens, it happens," Amendola said. "I don’t go looking to run into things and get concussions, but it’s a rough game, that’s why everybody keeps playing and loves to watch it. But I feel good now, and that’s all that matters to me.

"I’ll be fine, it’s not going to scare me to play the way I play. I’ve still got a job to do."

Brady, Amendola, Talib all at practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 25, 2013 10:48 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Tom Brady was on the practice field with his Patriots teammates Friday, one day after being placed on the injury report for the first time this season with a right shoulder injury.

Cornerback Aqib Talib and receiver Danny Amendola were also at practice, as they have been all week. Talib has a hip injury and Amendola is recovering from a concussion. It's unclear if either will play against the Dolphins on Sunday, but practicing all week certainly helps their chances.

Once again, the only Patriots not spotted at practice were defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle). Neither is expected to play on Sunday; in fact, both will likely be ruled out when the team issues its practice participation and injury report later this afternoon.

Thursday injury report: Brady (right shoulder) limited

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 24, 2013 04:16 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots' injury report for Thursday has only one change, but it is the addition of a significant name: Tom Brady, who was listed as limited in practice because of his right (throwing) shoulder.

The Patriots stopped listing Brady seemingly out of habit ("probable/right shoulder") a couple of years ago, but this is the first time this season they have included him. He did have a few practices last season in which he either sat out or was limited because of the shoulder.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill also was listed as limited because of his right (throwing) shoulder on Wednesday and Thursday.

The injury reports:

For the Patriots
Did not participate
DL Tommy Kelly (knee)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)

Limited participation
WR Danny Amendola (concussion/groin)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
OL Marcus Cannon (shoulder)
WR Julian Edelman (thigh)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
DB Tavon Wilson (hamstring)

Full participation
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
DB Devin McCourty (shoulder)
DL Rob Ninkovich (groin)

For the Dolphins
Limited participation
LB Dannell Ellerbe (shoulder)
WR Brandon Gibson (shoulder)
OT Bryant McKinnie (knee)
QB Ryan Tannehill (right shoulder)

Full participation
CB Brent Grimes (back)
LB Koa Misi (knee)
CB Dimitri Patterson (groin)
DE Cameron Wake (knee)

Logan Ryan apologizes for inappropriate TD celebration

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 24, 2013 01:40 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots rookie cornerback Logan Ryan acknowledged that his touchdown celebration last Sunday was inappropriate, and expressed his regrets Thursday.

"First off, I just want to apologize to all the fans and all the viewers that had to witness that -- it was 100 percent not acceptable for me and this team," the generally quiet New Jersey native said. "I want to put it behind me and focus on Miami and let them know it won’t happen again and that’s not who I am."

Ryan got his first career interception Sunday against the Jets, picking off Geno Smith in the first half. He returned the interception 79 yards for a touchdown, and as he crossed the goal line, he jumped, did a half-spin, and grabbed his crotch. The move earned him a $10,000 fine from the NFL, according to multiple reports.

By the sounds of it, Ryan's coaches and teammates weren't thrilled, either.

The 22-year old accepted full responsibility for the slip-up.

"I want to be held accountable for this, and I think I have a lot of football in me in the future, and I just want to make the most of it and the most of my opportunities in the future," he said.

Smith was clearly picking on Ryan early on in the game, but Ryan did not let the Jets quarterback get the better of him. With the Jets at the edge of the red zone, Smith looked to receiver David Nelson, who was covered by Ryan. Smith telegraphed his intentions, and Ryan stepped in front of Nelson just as the ball came, with the entire sideline open to him for the run to the end zone.

"It was a good play," said Ryan. "It was a play where all 11 people on the field were doing their job, and it was a great call and I had the opportunity to make the play, and I did."

A third-round draft pick out of Rutgers, Ryan has seen his snaps increase in recent weeks after Aqib Talib's hip injury. Ryan served notice in the preseason of his ability to read and react, picking off Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon in the third exhibition game.

"It's been a lot of fun," Ryan said of his rookie season. "It's been a learning experience and I have a lot to learn and a lot to grow, but I'm surrounded by great players on our team and guys in the secondary.

"[The game] slows down week by week; that starts in practice [and] I'm practicing better than I have in the past. If I practice better, I'll play better, and then it will all continue to slow down."

No change to Thursday roll call

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 24, 2013 10:50 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The same two Patriots who missed Wednesday's practice – defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and running back Leon Washington – were not spotted at Thursday's workout.

Instead of a full-pads workout like Wednesday, though, players were in sweats and shells on a chilly morning. Running back Brandon Bolden, who has been listed with a knee injury in recent weeks, was riding a stationary bike while players were stretching.

Week 8 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 24, 2013 07:00 AM

Here are my Week 8 NFL picks:

Panthers (-7) at Buccaneers (+7) -- When you think of the Buccaneers, think of Tom Petty's "Free Falling." This situation is a disaster. And yet, Tampa Bay is surprisingly competitive. They own the 13th ranked overall defense (340.8 yards allowed per game, 22.0 points allowed per game) and up until last week they were getting good rushing production from Doug Martin (456 yards, 1 TD). But Martin is now out with a shoulder injury, crippling the bedrock of the team's offense. The Panthers have seen an offensive splurge in the past two weeks, averaging 32.5 points per game while going 2-0 as opposed to their first four games of the season when they went 1-3 and averaged 18.5 points.
My pick: Panthers


Amendola limited in his return to practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 23, 2013 06:20 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Receiver Danny Amendola returned to practice for the Patriots on Wednesday and was limited in his participation.

Amendola had suffered a concussion that forced him to miss Sunday's game against the New York Jets.

Cornerback Aqib Talib was also on the practice field -- he practiced on Friday, too -- but was limited with a hip injury suffered on Oct. 13, the same day Amendola was injured. Talib didn't wear any protective padding in his pants for the full-pads practice.

Seven other players were limited: running back Brandon Bolden (knee), offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (shoulder), receivers Julian Edelman (thigh) and Matthew Slater (wrist), tight ends Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) and Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), and defensive back Tavon Wilson (hamstring).

Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle) were the only players to miss practice. The other three Patriots on the injury report -- cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (groin) and Devin McCourty (shoulder) and defensive end Rob Ninkovich (groin) -- were listed under full participation.

For the Dolphins:

Limited participation:
LB Dannell Ellerbe (shoulder)
WR Brandon Gibson (shoulder)
OT Bryant McKinnie (knee)
QB Ryan Tannehill (shoulder)

Midweek report: Berry analyzes the Patriots-Dolphins matchup

Posted by Robert Burgess October 23, 2013 05:18 PM

Zuri Berry reports from Foxborough, where the Patriots and Dolphins will meet on Sunday, and takes a look at Andre Carter, who was signed with the Patriots on Tuesday, in his second stint with New England.

Rex Ryan on Belichick's push accusation: 'That's not true.'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 23, 2013 04:49 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Jets coach Rex Ryan fired back at Patriots counterpart Bill Belichick Wednesday, disputing Belichick's claim that the Jets also used the illegal push technique on a field goal attempt, the same play that drew a flag on the Patriots in overtime.

The penalty, which was called against rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones, wiped out a 56-yard missed field goal attempt by Jets kicker Nick Folk and gave the Jets 15 more yards and an automatic first down. Folk subsequently connected from 42 yards, giving the Jets a 30-27 overtime win and ending their five-game losing streak to the Patriots.

During a Tuesday teleconference with Patriots reporters, Belichick was asked about the report that Jets coaches had tipped off the referees about the Patriots using the push technique, something they reportedly noticed from the Patriots-Saints game film.

"Well, I mean, since they were using the play themselves, I don't even know about all that," Belichick said.

Informed of Belichick's comments and asked for his reaction after Wednesday's practice, Ryan began by shaking his head as the question was still being asked.

"That’s not true, that’s not true," said Ryan. "He’s got to make up his mind: Was he aware of this thing, was it second level, all this kind of jazz? Or now, what the story is, we did it. OK, I got you."

After the game, when asked about the penalty, Belichick said, "We weren't on the second level when we pushed him. You can't push from the second level, but I don't think we did that."

On Monday, Belichick took responsibility for not properly understanding the rule that Jones was penalized for.

"Look, it's our job to understand the rules. Whatever the bottom line is, we didn't do it properly. What else is there to say?"

Usually plenty, when it comes to almost anything between New York and Boston.

Ryan seemed to take delight in beating the Patriots in the manner in which he did. But even he said it's time to turn the page.

"Fact is, we’re moving on," said Ryan. "We earned that victory, plain and simple, and we’re focused on Cincinnati now."

Tom Brady confident in his technique

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 23, 2013 03:10 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- After a week in which he was less than his usual stellar self, Tom Brady said he was still confident in his technical ability to deliver the football around the field.

Brady finished 22 of 46 passing for 228 yards and an interception in a 30-27 overtime loss to the New York Jets. It was a game marked by missed opportunities, though. He was unable to connect with his receivers on deep passes, going 1 for 5 on throws 20 yards or more. And he was unusually inaccurate on passes between 10 and 20 yards (4 of 15), an area of the field that he's quite comfortable with.

But Brady knows that there needs to be improvements, and there are always throws he wants back.

"There are definitely times where I need to put more arc on the ball," he said. "That definitely helps. Sometimes it is decision-making and sometimes it is execution and throws. Sometimes you try to drive and you don’t drive it, or sometimes you drive it and you shouldn’t have driven it.

"But it’s just, what is the coverage, and how do you envision the ball getting to the receiver? When we don’t hit them, you always evaluate them and you think, ‘Man I’ve got to do a better job. I wish I put a little more on this one.’ Some you wish you had done better, and some are pretty good. You are always trying to work to improve those things."

For Brady, there is no difference with the distance or direction of his throws, so long as he he has his mechanics in order. There hasn't been any emphasis on one troubling trait or the other.

"Well, we haven’t evaluated that much at this point," Brady said. "I think we’ve just kind of gone through the season and just put together a game plan based on what we think is going to work this particular week, and wherever the ball goes, it goes.

"When you throw the ball inside or outside, they’re all straight throws. I mean every throw to the left, to the right or deep is straight, at least from the quarterback’s standpoint. It’s just a matter of getting your footwork in the right place. I don’t think about ever throwing right or left or short or long. I feel if your mechanics are good and your decision-making is good then it will be a good throw.

"If the throws are off, then it probably won’t be. So you have to work on both those things and then hopefully that will help you lead to more completions."

Brady was also asked about the Red Sox being in the World Series, saying he figures they'll win the fall classic in five games.

"Yeah that’s our team," he said. "I’ve been here awhile so I’ve got to see a lot of Red Sox games over the years and watched them win a few championships. You know, you don’t take these for granted because you don’t know if they will ever come again.

"The Red Sox had a great year, and what they’ve done based on what happened last year shows everybody what fighting through adversity is about. They’ve obviously got a lot of mental toughness, and it’s a great thing to see, it’s a great thing to watch to go from last place or whatever they were last year to playing in the World Series."

Andre Carter has high praise for Patriots in his return

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 23, 2013 02:13 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Andre Carter spent more time with the 49ers and Redskins than he did with the Patriots, but sitting at home in California the past few months, pondering his football future, his choices were clear: He'd either retire from the NFL or play for the Patriots.

Fortunately for Carter, the Patriots came calling this week. He took a red-eye flight and signed a contract Wednesday, and was on the field for practice. The veteran defensive end could hardly contain his smile when he met with the media after the workout.

"It’s great, me and my wife were talking, and this place holds a special meaning, not just as far as what I did, but the camaraderie that I had here in 2011 -- the town, the city of Foxborough, the state," said Carter. "It was very memorable, and I’m just blessed to be back."

Carter, 34, spent the 2011 season with the Patriots, playing in the first 14 games before suffering a quad injury that kept him from participating in that year's playoff run, including the Super Bowl. He had 10 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl.

The Patriots have lost key defensive players in Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, and they had brought in Carter for a workout earlier this season. He didn't re-sign with the Patriots after his solid 2011 season, opting instead for Oakland. He was gone, but he wasn't a stranger.

"I still kept in contact with Mayo, Wilfork, and a lot of my teammates, and just told them they’ll continue to be brothers," Carter said. "The game moves on, but the Patriots are always going to be in my heart, no matter what."

He won't have Mayo or Wilfork on the field with him, but he said he's been watching Patriots games, and has an idea of what kind of defense he'll be joining.

"Young," he said. "The defense is a lot different compared to when I was here in 2011. We’re young. Very talented group of guys. I’m sure they’re trying to find their niche and their place, just like any young team."

Carter said he's not sure how much he'll play or what role he'll assume. He is just happy to be back, pleased with how he feels physically, and looking forward to what's to come.

"I felt good today, didn’t feel too winded, and I’ll continue to move forward," he said. "[Playing time] will be contingent on how the coaches feel, I’m constantly learning the scheme, having an understanding of how everyone fits. I’m trying to stay on top of my game, my craft, as well as my technique and execution."

Belichick: 'No magic key' for third-quarter woes

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 23, 2013 11:14 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Third downs and third quarters are not going well for the Patriots these days: in their two losses, against the Jets and Bengals, the offense was just 2-for-24 on third down, and over the first seven games of the season, New England has been outscored 44-9 in the third quarter.

Bill Belichick said in his Wednesday morning press conference that essentially everything has to be done better in regards to New England's third-quarter play.

"We’ve just got to do a better job, period. All of us. We have to coach better, we have to play better, we’ve got to produce more than that," he said. "We always talk about it, we always give it a lot of attention, but we haven’t had good results and we need better results. If there was any key we could put in the lock that would just magically open it up, hopefully we would have already found that. But I don’t think that’s the answer; I think it’s a combination of things that just everything needs to be better, so that’s what we’ll try to do."

The Patriots announced the signing of veteran DE Andre Carter just before Belichick's press conference began. He seemed reluctant to make a big deal about the return of the locker room (and media) favorite from 2011.

"We felt like he'd give us some things on the team, so we made that move," Belichick said.

Did Carter's familiarity with the Patriots' defense help the decision-making?

"Look, we have a lot of respect for Andre – he’s a hard-working guy that’s given us great leadership in the past, good teammate, everybody loves Andre, but in the end it still comes down to performance on the field," Belichick said.

Elsewhere in personnel, Belichick said there is "no change in their status" when asked about DL Armond Armstead and WR Mark Harrison, both of whom are on the reserve/non-football injury list, and can now begin practicing at any time.

Also, on Shane Vereen (wrist), Belichick said the running back is in the "day-to-day" category.

"We'll take it as it comes with him. He's obviously rehabbing with the trainers and can do some running, but his involvement with the team, I'd say at this particular time isn't there yet, but I'd say I don't think that's too far off. Whether that's today or tomorrow or next week or whenever it is, obviously we'll be in compliance on the rules on that," he said.

Vereen was placed on injured reserve/designated to return on Sept. 10. Under the rules, he is now eligible to return to practice (after six weeks have passed), but he is not eligible to play in a game until eight weeks have passed. By the calendar, that would be Week 10, but since that is the Patriots' bye week, he can return Week 11 against the Panthers.

Week 8: Wednesday practice peek - Amendola, Talib present

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 23, 2013 10:40 AM

FOXBOROUGH - Danny Amendola (concussion/groin) and Aqib Talib (hip) were present for the media-access portion of practice Wednesday, reports colleague Michael Whitmer.

Amendola suffered a concussion in the second half of the Patriots' Week 6 win over New Orleans; this is his first practice back on the field. Talib was injured in the same game, though he was a limited participant in practice last Friday, his movement obviously hindered by his hip injury.

Players were in full pads for the first time in three weeks, though Talib was not wearing leg pads.

Tommy Kelly (knee) and Leon Washington (ankle) were the only players not spotted.

Old/new Patriot Andre Carter is wearing No. 96.

Patriots announce signing of Andre Carter

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 23, 2013 09:31 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots have confirmed the signing of veteran defensive end Andre Carter, who was first with the team in the 2011 season.

The 34-year-old Carter is a 12-year veteran who spent last season with the Raiders.

In 2011, the Patriots signed him for pass-rush help and Carter delivered, with 10 sacks, two forced fumbles, and 59 total tackles in 14 games. He was placed on injured reserve with a quad injury in December of that season, but his performance led to his first Pro Bowl selection.

A first-round draft pick (seventh overall) of the 49ers in 2001, Carter was with San Francisco through 2005 before signing with the Redskins in 2006.

Carter takes the spot on the 53-man roster that opened when the Patriots released defensive tackle Andre Neblett Monday.

New England also signed defensive tackle Sealver Siliga to the practice squad. The 23-year-old, listed at 6 feet 2 inches, 325 pounds, has spent time with the 49ers, Broncos, and Seahawks. To make room for Siliga on the practice squad, the Patriots released cornerback Travis Howard.

Patriots coaches mum on possible Andre Carter signing

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 22, 2013 01:35 PM
Amid a report that veteran defensive end Andre Carter intends to sign with the Patriots, neither coach Bill Belichick nor defensive coordinator Matt Patricia were interested in confirming the news on Tuesday or even discussing a player who spent the 2011 season in Foxborough.

Carter was a force when he was with the Patriots two seasons ago, when he had 10 sacks and two forced fumbles in 14 regular-season games. He chose not to re-sign with the Patriots for 2012, opting for Oakland, where he appeared in 12 games. Carter has not played for anyone this season.

His addition could help a defense that played on Sunday without its three best players. Two of them – defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo, both captains – are lost for the season. Cornerback Aqib Talib has a hip injury, and it's not known how many games he might miss.

Not only would Carter help rush the passer – with Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones as established ends, he would likely fill in for Michael Buchanan in the Patriots' nickel package – but his leadership presence is also appealing.

ESPN reported Carter intends to sign with the Patriots.

"We don’t have anything to announce right now," Belichick said, when asked about it. "If we do, when we do, then we’ll announce it."

Carter would give Patricia another strong pass disruptor, much like he was two seasons ago. But the defensive coordinator had no interest going down Memory Lane.

"Obviously, 2011 was 2011. We’re really kind of concentrating on 2013, and moving forward to the Dolphins," Patricia said, mentioning Sunday's opponent. "Not really sure anything along those lines, unfortunately that’s a question about the past, so we’re going to try to focus on the present and the future."

When pressed about how Carter might fit into the Patriots' defensive plans, perhaps as soon as Sunday, Patricia again wouldn't offer much.

"I think we’re going to concentrate on everybody that we know is currently here, and work forward from there, so I’m going to move on from that one," Patricia said.

Carter is a 34-year-old who has played 13 seasons in the NFL, and has 78.5 career sacks. He's spent time with four teams: San Francisco (2001-05), Washington (2006-10), New England (2011), and Oakland (2012).

Watch: Are you more worried about the Patriots offense or defense?

Posted by Anush Elbakyan, Boston.com Staff October 21, 2013 07:19 PM

In this episode of Globe 10.0, Kevin Dupont and Chad Finn debate whether they are more concerned about the Patriots offense or defense.

Belichick: 'Obviously we were wrong' about rule

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 21, 2013 11:01 AM
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Speaking at a soft level that made it difficult to hear his responses (a tip of the cap to the Patriots' media relations staff for getting the transcript done quickly), Bill Belichick held a relatively brief day-after conference call with reporters.

A focus of the discussion, of course, was the critical 15-yard penalty against DT Chris Jones in overtime that negated a 56-yard field goal miss by Jets' kicker Nick Folk.

Belichick, like team captains Matthew Slater and Rob Ninkovich had done Sunday, said in his opening statement that the fault did not lie with Jones.

"The field goal play at the end, I think Chris [Jones] is obviously trying to do the right thing by stepping up and taking responsibility but that’s not his responsibility, it’s ours. We just have to do a better job of coaching that. It’s not his fault, that’s one me [and] the coaching staff, we just have to do a better job there," Belichick said.

In discussing the call during his post-game press conference, Belichick noted that "we weren't on the second level when we pushed him" but it appears this is where the mistake was made by New England. There is no mention of players coming from the second level in the actual rule, Rule 9.1.3, which was enacted before this season.

Game referee Jerome Boger clarified to pool reporter Mike Reiss that the rule states that one teammate cannot push another teammate into the opponents' formation; on replay, Jones is pushing Will Svitek forward just after the snap.

Belichick was asked on Monday where he got the notion of second-level players being part of the rule, and he said, "Because obviously we are wrong. What else is there to say? We're wrong."

Asked further if the rule was not properly articulated by the league, Belichick responded, "Look, it's our job to understand the rules. Whatever the bottom line is, we didn't do it properly. So what else is there to say?"

As much as Belichick said it's a coaching error, one question came as to whether Jones was simply acting on instinct, but again Belichick pointed the finger at himself and his staff.

"No. We have to coach him better. What he did was basically what he was being told to do. We just have to coach it better. That's not Chris Jones' fault."

Tom Brady not blaming new rule for loss to the Jets

Posted by Staff October 21, 2013 10:05 AM

Tom Brady isn't blaming a new NFL rule for the Patriots 30-27 overtime loss to the Jets on Sunday.

On his weekly radio interview Monday morning with WEEI’s “Dennis & Callahan Morning Show,” Brady stressed that he knew the rule that resulted in a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on rookie Chris Jones. The 15-yard penalty allowed the Jets to kick a game-winning field goal in overtime after missing their first attempt, but Brady said the game should not have had to come down to that sequence.

“I did know the rule; I didn't see the play, I still really haven’t seen the replay,” Brady said. “[But] it really shouldn't have come down to that: we had plenty of other opportunities in the game to score points and really widen the gap that we had on them at halftime. [We] fought back in the fourth quarter and had some chances at the end [and] got the ball to start overtime, so there’s nobody to blame but ourselves.”

Brady completed just 22 of his 46 attempted passes in Sunday’s loss, but threw for no touchdowns for the second time in three weeks and the offense combined for just 318 total yards. Brady took the blame for the lack of production from the offense.

“The rest of the offense, those guys played hard and the line blocked hard, we were efficient in the running game for the most part,” he said. “We just didn't really do enough in the pass game to make enough plays where we could score points and it’s all about scoring points; there’s a lot of ways to get it done, there’s a lot of ways to score points, but we’re not overcoming the negative plays that we’re making.”

Another problem for the Patriots was a lack of execution on third down. They converted just one of 12 chances, opportunities that Brady said the team cannot afford to squander.

“[We’re] putting ourselves in too many third and longs, and obviously not doing anything on third down is forcing us to be off the field and not able to establish a balance in the run game and the pass game.” Brady said. “We [have] got to be better on third down, we [have] got to be able to complete passes on third down… that’s the name of the game: it's time of possession. The time of possession was out of control yesterday, I mean [we had just] 23 minutes [compared] to [the Jets’] 46 minutes; you know you’re going to have a hard time winning.”

Leading 21-10 entering the second half, the Patriots received the ball first, but Brady made a game-changing error on his second throw of the first series when he threw a pass intended for Rob Gronkowski that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Jets’ safety Antonio Allen.

“I shouldn't have thrown the ball,” Brady said. “[Gronkowski] was running a crossing route and [Allen] cut in front of the ball and there wasn't much space to throw it, but I threw it anyway, and he made a good play. You know it was one-on-one coverage and I’m giving [Gronkowski] a chance, and I made a bad decision.

“Those plays you just can’t make in an NFL game, those are the plays that get you beat.”

One bright spot was the return of Gronkowski. The Pro Bowl tight end missed the first six games of the season while recovering from surgery on his left forearm and back. Gronkowski caught eight passes for 114 yards on 17 targets, 10 more than the next closest receiver’s number of targets.

“It’s the way the game unfolded,” Brady said when asked if it was his plan to target Gronkowski that many times. “I don’t think you ever go in thinking you’re targeting someone that often; you know [Gronkowski] had a lot of chances; he played his butt off, being that it was his first game back… Good for him to go out there and have the effort that he did, [I give] credit to him and all the work he’s put in over the course of the rehab.”

Brady knows it is important for the Patriots to shore up the mistakes they made on their drives in the third quarter, when their first four drives ended in a pick-six and three straight three-and-outs, opening the door for the Jets to score 17 unanswered points and take the lead.

“There’s not really one thing [to point at], it’s just a lack of overall execution [in] the run game and the pass game,” he said. “If you have quarters where you don’t really produce anything on offense, you really leave the defense out to dry with the three-and-outs we had, certainly [with] the interception return for touchdown, and the three-and-out following that and the three-and-out following that… We just didn't make enough plays to overcome what our difficulties were there in the third quarter.”

The Patriots return home to Foxborough next week for a Week 8 matchup against the 3-3 Miami Dolphins. Brady says he is committed to working harder this week.

“It’s a frustrating day [after] losing but hopefully we can learn from it and be better this week,” he said. “Whatever extra I need to do that’s what I’m prepared to do.

“Nobody feels worse about the loss than me; losing sucks, especially to the Jets, so I’m going to go out there and try to have my best week this week.”

5 takeaways from the second Patriots-Jets game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 20, 2013 09:00 PM

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If you take away the controversial penalty on Chris Jones on Nick Folk's 56-yard field goal attempt in overtime, there was still so many reasons to be troubled by what occurred in the Patriots' 30-27 loss to the New York Jets.

The penalty certainly gave the Jets new life, a second, easier field goal attempt after they were awarded 15 yards. But the Patriots put themselves in that situation before then. Let's try to keep that in consideration as we look back at the game.

1. The penalty -- It was the first time it was ever called. Let that sink in. The new penalty, just installed in 2013, calls for defensive players to withhold from pushing their teammates from behind into the offensive formation on field goal and extra point attempts. It was something that was clearly articulated to each team before the season. At that time of its announcement, Chris Jones was with the Houston Texans. So when he said he didn't know, or at least was unaware of the rule, maybe it says more about the Texans than it does about the Patriots, who are well known for their preparation in all phases of the game. However, the 23-year old was gracious in taking responsibility for the error. He just didn't know at the time. It's safe to say this is the worst way to learn that lesson.

2. Gronk strong -- It was a fantastic effort for the big tight end in his first game back. He caught eight passes for 114 yards. It would be too easy to zero in on the catches he didn't make (like the one-handed grab in the fourth quarter), but that would be an injustice to what he was able to accomplish after more than nine months away. He was a weapon that needed containing. What's more concerning is that he was probably too heavily relied upon. He was targeted 17 times. Only Julian Edelman, who had been targeted 18 times in the Patriots' first meeting with the Jets, has seen more balls thrown his way in a game. The Patriots' passing attack is at its best when the ball is spread around. It was most glaring on third down, where the Patriots were 1 of 12 on conversions. Edelman caught five passes, Aaron Dobson caught three, and Kenbrell Thompkins caught two. While you don't want to go and put limits on how many targets any one player should have, some consideration should be put to how much the team's winning formula (5-1 without Gronkowski) changes with just one player added to the mix.

3. The third quarter issue -- The Patriots were outscored 20-6 Sunday once the third quarter began. In this order, they were intercepted, punted three times in a row, settled for a field goal, punted again, and were able to get one last field goal with 16 seconds left in regulation. After winning the coin toss in overtime, they had four plays going for 16 yards (on the first play) before having to punt again, setting up the Jets' game-winning drive. Meanwhile, the Jets were able to get two touchdowns and a field goal in the third quarter, thanks to Antonio Allen's 23-yard interception return for a touchdown and Geno Smith's eight-yard scramble to the end zone. This is part of a larger issue. The Patriots have scored nine points in the third quarter this season. Clearly second-half adjustments are an issue.

4. What does it mean to lose so many starters on defense? -- Maybe it didn't jump out at you, but the Patriots defense gave up 177 yards rushing, 29 of which came in overtime. That's the most they've allowed all season. They gave up 11 first downs rushing, another season high. Jets running back Chris Ivory finished with 104 yards on 34 carries. Again, first 100-yard rusher against this team. And then you look at the passing defense and you may be thrown off by Logan Ryan's 79-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was a great play by the rookie. But by almost every other way you measure it, the Patriots defense struggled against the Geno Smith led Jets. Smith was a modest 17 of 33 for 233 yards and a touchdown. But he was able to get loose on occasion, scrambling for 32 yards including a touchdown. He made Jeremy Kerley (8 receptions, 97 yards, 1 TD) look fantastic and the just recently signed David Nelson (4 receptions, 80 yards) like a steal. With the cumulative loss of Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, and Aqib Talib, it was no wonder the Patriots couldn't match up well in certain spots. But from Week 2 to Week 7, the difference was glaring.

5. What are the positives? -- Besides leaving MetLife Stadium relatively healthy, the Patriots should be enthused about the play of their defensive line. Chandler Jones had two sacks and Chris Jones (of newfound infamy) also had two sacks. They're both playing at an extremely high level despite notable penalties. They combined for 21 total tackles and five tackles for a loss. And in addition to Gronkowski, Matthew Slater returned from a wrist injury after missing the past four games. He recorded a tackle on special teams.

6. Leftovers -- Brady is really struggling throwing the deep ball. He had Dobson down the sideline for a deep pass with 1:16 to go that would have surely been a touchdown. He missed Austin Collie on a throw out he back of the end zone. Targeting plays down the sideline has been a consistent issue for him this season. It's a concerning trend. … Gronkowski now has more 100-yard receiving games than any other tight end in Patriots history. After Sunday's game he has 10, one more than Ben Coates. … The last time a Patriots rookie took their first interception to the house was in 2005. James Sanders went 39 yards for his first career interception. … Stevan Ridley now owns the team lead in rushing average, qualifying after recording more than 450 attempts in his career. He has a 4.45 yards per carry average, better than Corey Dillon (4.22), Craig James (4.22), Kevin Faulk (4.17), and Laurence Maroney (4.17).

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

Watch: Patriots-Jets highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff October 20, 2013 07:19 PM
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Here's a video recap of the key plays in the Patriots' 30-27 loss to the Jets on Sunday.

Rob Gronkowski a focal point for Patriots in loss to Jets

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 20, 2013 06:27 PM

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In his first game back of the season, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski had a significant role for the team's offense against the New York Jets.

Gronkowski was targeted 17 times and caught eight passes for 114 yards. It was a big step for the tight end who had been rehabbing from five different surgeries, including four on his forearm, for the past nine months. He wore a protective sleeve, but he didn't appear to be hindered by it.

"It felt good to get back out there with the teammates, fighting with the team, playing hard with the team; you win as a team, you lose as a team," Gronkowski said. "You’ve got to give it to the Jets, they’re a good team, they’ve definitely got a good defense. We’ve just got to make more plays."

The Patriots lost 30-27 in overtime after a controversial penalty set up a game-winning field goal by Nick Folk. But in the fourth quarter, Gronkowski had an opportunity to come down with a big catch near the Jets' 10-yard line as the Patriots were looking for a go-ahead touchdown. It would have been a one-handed grab, but he couldn't hold onto it.

"I'm still mad at myself about that," Gronkowski said. "I had it, I brought it in, and I dropped it. I’ve got to keep working hard in practice, got to catch more balls in practice, keep practicing hard and get better so when plays like that happen again I can make them."

The Patriots settled for a 44-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime.

"He ran a great route and we gave him an opportunity," said Tom Brady. "He makes that 99 out of 100, but it was just one of those days where it doesn't happen for us. We still had plenty of other opportunities after that. It really shouldn't have come down to that play if we had been executing better over the course of the day."

Gronkowski's return certainly changed the way other players on team's offense were treated, which is the impact many had expected for the Patriots. He opened up some passing lanes for others that had not been there in his absence.

"Of course," Brady said. "He's one of the best players in the NFL. You saw what he does today and it was his first game back."

Controversial call on Patriots' Chris Jones led to loss against Jets

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 20, 2013 05:21 PM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Patriots lost to the New York Jets on a 42-yard field goal by Nick Folk in overtime, 30-27, but the crux of the loss comes down to a pivotal play just moments prior.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for pushing a teammate in an attempt to block Folk's 56-yard attempt with 7:17 left in the extra period.

It was a violation of one of the NFL's new rules for 2013, governing play on extra points and field goal attempts, in an attempt to make sure the game is more safe for players in the trenches.

Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 (b) 2 -- "...players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation."

Jones was admittedly unaware of the rule, which had been announced by the league in August and shown to each team as officials made their rounds during training camp.

"It was something we probably talked about during camp and it just skipped my mind, it was my mistake and nobody else’s," Jones said.

It couldn't come at a worse time. The Jets had run the ball eight straight times before stalling at the New England 38-yard line. The Patriots were up against the wall in a defensive stand, hoping that Folk would miss from from more than 50 yards.

When the kick went up, there was a sense of confusion on both sides because the try went wide left and a flag had been immediately thrown.

"I was confused at first, didn’t know what was going on," Jones said. "Then I figured out what it was and I was like, 'oh, it was my fault.' Still had more football to play after that so I just had to get rid of it really quick."

The Jets were awarded 15 yards on the penalty and Bill Belichick was livid over the call, which referee Jerome Boger explained was a quick decision.

"The umpire's flag went up almost instantaneously as he observed the action," Boger said in a pool report. "We just enforced it as he called it."

With three more rushes for -1 yard, the Jets had a much more accommodating field goal try from 42 yards out. Folk nailed it, ending the game and the Patriots' six straight wins over their AFC East rival.

According to Fox Sports officiating expert Mike Pereira, it was the first time this season the rule had been enforced.

NFL rule 9-1-3 on defensive formations on kicks

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff October 20, 2013 05:11 PM

Here's the exact language of the rule in the 2013 NFL Official Playing Rules that led to the Patriots' 30-27 loss to the Jets on Sunday.

Patriots defensive lineman Chris Jones was called for pushing a teammate during a 56-yard field goal attempt by the Jets in overtime. The 15-yard penalty gave the Jets a first down (the kick was wide), and they then hit a game-winning field goal from 42 yards.

It is Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 of the official NFL rules.

Article 3:
Defensive Team Formation
(a) When Team A presents a punt, field-goal, or Try Kick formation, a Team B player, who is within one yard of the line of scrimmage, must have his entire body outside the snapper’s shoulder pads at the snap.
(b) When Team A presents a field-goal or Try Kick formation:
(1) No more than six Team B players may be on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper at the snap; and
Note: These restrictions do not apply if a team does not present a standard punt, field goal, or Try Kick formation (an equal number of players on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper in a tight formation), or if, after the offensive team has assumed a set position, there is a shift, or a player goes in motion.
Penalty: For illegal formation by the defense: Loss of five yards.

(2) Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.
Penalty: For unnecessary roughness: Loss of 15 yards.

Rob Gronkowski officially active against the Jets

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 20, 2013 11:34 AM

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will officially make his return to the field on Sunday against the New York Jets.

The team announced that Gronkowski, who has been rehabbing the past nine months from back and forearm surgeries, as active for the game.

The team also announced that wide receiver and special teams ace Matthew Slater will be active for Sunday's game. He has missed the past four games after breaking his wrist.

WR Josh Boyce, OL Chris Barker, CB Aqib Talib (hip), WR Danny Amendola (concussion/groin), RB Leon Washington (ankle), DL Tommy Kelly (knee), and DB Tavon Wilson are all inactive.

What to watch for as the Patriots visit the Jets

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 20, 2013 07:30 AM

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As the Patriots get set to face their AFC East division rival, questions linger over the team's depth at key positions.

Here's what we'll be watching as the Patriots face the New York Jets.

1. The Jerod Mayo replacement -- Either Jamie Collins or Dane Fletcher, or possibly a combination of both, will replace Mayo's snaps on defense. Collins certainly provides some athleticism while Fletcher has experience as a starter.

2. Rob Gronkowski's impact -- First, will he even play? Second, what will he be able to do? If Gronkowski is active, we'll be watching his actions very closely because, of course, it will be his first game in more than nine months.

3. Offensive rhythm -- The Patriots had a poor outing against the Jets their first time around, going 0 for 3 in the red zone and recording six three-and-outs. Tom Brady completed 49 percent of his throws. Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins were targeted 17 times in the game while catching only five passes, struggling to get on the same page as their quarterback. A lot has changed since then, both in terms of their growth and opportunities. It will be interesting to see that growth materialize itself against a tough opponent like the Jets.

4. Without Aqib Talib, who will make the big plays? -- Talib has been the defense's star and savior on numerous occasions, including in the Patriots' first matchup with the Jets. He recorded an interception in the final minute of play to seal New England's 13-10 win. With Talib out, that will mean increased snaps for Kyle Arrington, Duron Harmon, and even Logan Ryan. This is a great opportunity for one of them, or all of them, to step up and make some plays in Talib's stead. It would go a long way to building confidence on the back end of the team's depth chart.

5. How healthy is this team on the line -- Right guard Dan Connolly (concussion), offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (shoulder), special teams ace Matthew Slater (wrist), wide receiver Julian Edelman (thigh), tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), and running back Brandon Bolden (knee) are all listed as questionable for the game. But Connolly and Cannon's injuries are especially concerning, considering they both provide good versatility on the offensive line and are the first two options at right guard. Will Svitek, who missed time with a knee injury, is the next best alternative. But the last thing the Patriots want to do is go into Sunday's game thin on the line when facing a Jets team that has recorded 20 sacks this season. So how healthy are they? We'll see.

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

Game 7 preview: Patriots at Jets

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 20, 2013 07:00 AM

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Patriots visit the New York Jets in their second meeting of the season, but each team comes into the Week 7 matchup hobbled by injuries.

Unlike their Week 2 matchup, the Patriots will be without starters Aqib Talib (hip) and Tommy Kelly (knee) in addition to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, who have been placed on season-ending injured reserve. Wide receiver Danny Amendola, out with a concussion and lingering groin injury, did not play in the teams' first meeting.

The Jets will be without wide receiver Santonio Holmes (foot/hamstring) and former Patriot tight end Kellen Winslow (suspension), key components to the team's offense. The Jets have turned around and signed wide receivers David Nelson and Josh Cribbs.

However, the Patriots will likely be bolstered by the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) who has been cleared to play by his medical advisers, according to his agent. He could help the Patriots' 30th ranked offense in the red zone, which has scored a woeful 40.9 percent rate of touchdowns inside the 20.

"I don’t know if they were saving him for us, or whatever, but I had a funny feeling he was going to play," said Jets coach Rex Ryan. "After that first game, I felt for sure he’d play against us the second game."

The Patriots have won their last six regular season meetings with the Jets, including a 13-10 victory on Sept. 12, and look to sweep their season series for the third straight year. Jets quarterback Geno Smith (59.5 completion rate, 7 TDs, 10 INTs, 1,490 yards) threw a pivotal interception to Talib in the Jets' first meeting with the Patriots, which sealed the win for the Patriots in the final moment of the game. He's averaging 2.16 turnovers per game.

Bill Belichick is 21-9 against the Jets while with the Patriots.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Records: Patriots 5-1; Jets 3-3.

TV/Radio: CBS (Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and ESPN Radio (Ryan Ruocco, Herm Edwards).

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 Marcus Cannon, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.

Patriots defense: DT Joe Vellano, DT Chris Jones, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jamie Collins, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Alfonzo Dennard, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Jets offense: WR Stephen Hill, LT D'Brickshaw Ferguson, LG Brian Winters, C Nick Mangold, RG Willie Colon, RT Austin Howard, TE Jeff Cumberland, WR Jeremy Kerley, QB Geno Smith, FB Tommy Bohanon, RB Bilal Powell.

Jets defense: DE Muhammad Wilkerson, NT Damon Harrison, DT Sheldon Richardson, OLB Quinton Coples, WLB Demario Davis, MLB David Harris, OLB Calvin Pace, CB Dee Milliner, CB Antonio Cromartie, S Antonio Allen, S Dawan Landry.

Read this, link that

- What, exactly, will Rob Gronkowski's impact be? Will he even play? We break it down in the latest Patscetera.

- Shalise Manza Young profiles rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins in the latest "Getting to know…" feature.

- In the New York Post, the Jets are apparently in a huff over not getting proper credit for the work its defense did against the Patriots in Week 2.

- In the New York Daily News, the Jets say they're ready for Gronkowski.

- In Newsday, the Jets see rematch with the Patriots as a must-win.

- Follow today's game and comment on the action in our live blog. Updates start around 11:30 a.m.

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

Watch: Patriots-Jets preview

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff October 19, 2013 03:48 PM
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It's only Week 7 of the NFL season but it's already time for Round 2 between the Patriots and Jets. Here's what to watch for.

Getting to know ... Kenbrell Thompkins

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 19, 2013 05:30 AM

By Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff

KT-td.jpgFOXBOROUGH - Patriots fans were already learning about Kenbrell Thompkins, the undrafted rookie receiver whom Tom Brady has been looking to early and often since the season began. But a week ago, after his last-second, left-corner-of-the-end-zone, 17-yard game-winning touchdown catch against New Orleans, most of the NFL's fandom learned a little bit about him as well.

The 25-year old Florida native took a winding road for his college career, with stops at two California junior colleges before playing two years at Cincinnati. Thompkins didn't put up huge numbers with the Bearcats, and that combined with his backstory - he also got into his share of trouble as a teenager, something he will readily acknowledge - meant he wasn't on the radar of many NFL teams.

But New England signed him just after the draft ended, and despite drafting two receivers, one in the second round (Aaron Dobson) and one in the fourth (Josh Boyce), it is Thompkins who has had the biggest impact early on this season.

First job: My very first job was I was around 11 years old cutting the grass for my mom. I got a weekly allowance – I forget how much it was, but it was definitely enough to take to school with me.

First car: I’ve never had a car, actually. I’ve never had a car of my own that was in my name. I definitely do know how to drive, of course, but I haven’t had a car yet. I’m still driving a rental car but I’m looking forward to getting one pretty soon.
[Did you hold off on buying one because you didn’t know if you’d make the roster?] I think that played a role a little bit, but just waiting for the right time and make sure that I pick the right car that I want, instead of just rushing to have anything right now, so it took for me to get a couple of game checks.
[Anything you have your eye on?] I kind of have a need for speed, and I understand there’s (rough) weather here, so I think the Jeep Sahara, those are cool and not too big, not too small, and I’m from Miami so I can bring it to Miami, take the doors off if I want for the sun, and I like the Dodge Challenger, Camaro.

Favorite meal: In Miami we’ve got Benihana, and I think I could eat Benihana Monday through Sunday for real. Chicken teriyaki.

In heavy rotation on my iPod: I’m listening to Drake, ‘Nothing was the Same.’ Pretty dope album – it has calm music, it has rap as well, and that’s an album I can let play from one to the end, I think that’s pretty dope.

Prized possession: Yes. My 2-year old son [Kenbrell II - not Jr., Thompkins notes]. He’s a guy that brings joy to me – come home from work and no matter how my day is going, I see him and he brings me joy every time.

Place you want to visit but haven’t yet: There’s a lot of places I haven’t been before. This is actually my first time going to New York, and New York is on my list, but obviously we’re going strictly for football. I want to see Paris and tour the world, but if I could name one place, it would be Paris.

Favorite TV show: “Martin", of course. That’s the TV show that I can watch in the morning, afternoon, night, whatever, and it brings tears (of laughter) to my eyes every time I watch it.

If they made a movie about my life… It would be a motivational movie, just showing perseverance and showing that anything is possible, that an inner-city kid who had his back against the wall and not knowing what life had to offer him at an early age, searching for an identity and finds it playing football. A guy that loved the sport of football, made a lot of wrong choices at a young age, but football actually saved his life…Getting to know God at an early age and understanding my purpose in life, because they always say the purpose of life is a life of purpose. When I understood that, it made me understand that my calling is football and made me dedicate more time to it.
[Who would play you?] I’d say either Boobie Miles [the actor who played that “Friday Night Lights” character is Derek Luke] or Mekhi Phifer.

What will Gronkowski's impact be?

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 19, 2013 02:53 AM


Rob Gronkowski is an incredible scoring machine -- when he's on the field. (Charles Krupa / AP photo)

By Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff

Rob Gronkowski is expected to make his long-awaited return to the football field after being cleared by his medical advisers, according to his agent.

He’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. And if Bill Belichick is anything like the Patriots’ fervent fanbase, he can’t wait to unleash his prized offensive weapon.

The best way to understand what the Patriots have missed in the first six games of this season without Gronk is in considering how big of a difference he means to the team’s ability to score points. (Does anything else matter?) Gronk scored touchdowns so frequently, sometimes people fail to realize how miraculous he was. In 48 career games, including the playoffs, he has reached the end zone a little under a touchdown a game (0.85). Had he played in this first leg of the season, he would have at least five right now at that kind of pace.


Week 7 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 18, 2013 04:24 PM

Here are my Week 7 picks. As usual, these picks are against the spread.

Buccaneers (+7) at Falcons (-7) -- The Falcons (1-4) need to get on track, and a win over the Buccaneers (0-5) is their best bet.
My pick: Falcons

Rams (+6.5) at Panthers (-6.5) -- The Carolina offense has come alive, scoring 35 last week against the Minnesota Vikings. That is coupled with a tough defense (second-best 13.6 points allowed per game).
My pick: Panthers


Amendola out, Talib doubtful, Gronkowski questionable

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 18, 2013 04:16 PM

The Patriots have declared three players out for Sunday's game against their AFC East rivals the Jets, including wide receiver Danny Amendola, who suffered a concussion against the Saints and continues to nurse a groin injury.

Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle) are also out.

Cornerback Aqib Talib (hip), who was on the practice field Friday for limited work, is listed as doubtful, meaning there is only a 25 percent chance he will play.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), whose agent, Drew Rosenhaus, declared Friday morning that his client has been medically cleared to play this week, is one of several Patriots listed as questionable.

New England added tackle Nate Solder (back) to the report, but he is listed as probable.

The Jets have ruled out wide receivers Santonio Holmes (foot/hamstring) and Greg Salas (knee). All other players on their report are probable.

For the Patriots
WR Danny Amendola (concussion/groin)
DL Tommy Kelly (knee)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)

CB Aqib Talib (hip)

RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
OL Marcus Cannon (shoulder)
OL Dan Connolly (concussion)
WR Julian Edelman (thigh)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)
DB Tavon Wilson (hamstring)

CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
DB Devin McCourty (shoulder)
DL Rob Ninkovich (groin)
OT Nate Solder (back)

For the Jets
WR Santonio Holmes (foot/hamstring)
WR Greg Salas (knee)

LB Quinton Coples (ankle)
DB Antonio Cromartie (hip/knee)
DL Kenrick Ellis (back)
RB Chris Ivory (hamstring)
DB Jaiquawn Jarrett (knee)
WR Jeremy Kerley (back)
DB Dee Milliner (hamstring)
WR David Nelson (hamstring)
RB Bilal Powell (neck)
DB Darrin Walls (shoulder)
DB Kyle Wilson (concussion)

Spikes fined again for red cleats

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 18, 2013 03:44 PM

The NFL has again fined Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes for wearing his all-red cleats in a game, this time against the Saints last Sunday. Spikes was fined $10,500, up from the $7,875 he was fined for the same offense a week earlier.

The fine is higher because Spikes is a repeat offender.

Also, New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins was fined $15,750 for unnecessary roughness/striking a defenseless player in the head and neck area. Jenkins was penalized on the play, which came in the third quarter on a pass intended for Kenbrell Thompkins.

McCourty, Ninkovich named captains with Wilfork and Mayo out

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 18, 2013 02:31 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots announced that Devin McCourty and Rob Ninkovich have been named team captains for the remainder of this season.

With both of the defensive players who were named captains at the start of the season -- Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo -- on injured reserve, the team needed players who will be available every day and on game day to step in.

McCourty was voted a captain in 2011 and '12, though curiously he was not a captain again to start this season.

This is the first time Ninkovich has served as a captain for New England, though it is a well-earned honor for a player who has worked his way up from afterthought to special teamer to consistent contributor.

Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, and Matthew Slater are the other Patriots captains.

Jets rookie takes shots at Patriots, Brady

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 18, 2013 01:49 PM


FOXBOROUGH -- It wouldn’t be Jets-Patriots week without a little bit of controversial trash talking. It almost always comes from the New York side, and has again this week.

post.jpgSheldon Richardson, a rookie defensive lineman who has 2½ sacks and 11 quarterback hits, told the New York Post that the NFL coddles Tom Brady, noting the rule against hitting quarterbacks low was created after Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2008.

Richardson also shared an exchange he had with a referee during Week 2 when the Patriots beat the Jets, 13-10, at Gillette Stadium.

“I remember a play, a referee made it his business to tell me I was too close to hitting him,” Richardson told the Post. “I got close to him, shoved him a little bit, the referee said, ‘I could’ve threw the flag on you for that.’ ”

Richardson said he replied: “He didn’t even fall.”

The referee’s response, according to Richardson: “It doesn’t matter.”

The Post had some fun with the story on its back page, putting Brady’s face on a baby’s body and sticking him in a crib. The headline said, “Rock A-Bye Brady: Jets rook says NFL babies Tommy.”

Richardson didn’t stop there. He was asked about some of the Patriots’ on-field tactics.

“It’s on film," he said. "Go back and watch. You’re going to see a lot of stuff, man, that the Patriots can do to you, that they get away with, that we can’t do to the Patriots. It’s just the way it is.”

Week 7: Friday practice peek - Talib returns

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 18, 2013 10:37 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Cornerback Aqib Talib (hip injury) was on the field with his Patriots teammates during Friday morning's media access window during practice.

Talib's presence after missing Wednesday and Thursday - he left last Sunday's game against New Orleans in the second half after suffering his injury - is a positive sign, in terms of how long he might be out.

But Talib did not take part in the jogging/sprinting at the end of warmup drills media were present for. It seems unlikely he will available Sunday against the Jets.

Also unlikely to play this week: WR Danny Amendola (concussion/groin), DT Tommy Kelly (knee) and RB Leon Washington (ankle), all of whom were not present and also did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.

Players are in shells and shorts/sweats.

Agent: Rob Gronkowski cleared to play vs. Jets

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 18, 2013 09:37 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Agent Drew Rosenhaus sent text messages to several national NFL reporters on Friday morning, saying that Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski has been cleared by all of his doctors to play this Sunday against the Jets.

On a Miami radio show Thursday morning, Rosenhaus hinted that Gronkowski might finally be ready to play, saying, "hopefully he'll be back soon, maybe even this weekend." But it seems Gronkowski's status has been "maybe this weekend" for a month, so it really wasn't anything new to hear that.

As is well known by now, Gronkowski has undergone four surgeries on his left forearm since breaking it against the Colts last November, and he also underwent back surgery in June. Renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews was brought in as a consulting doctor recently, and Rosenhaus said this week that Gronkowski wouldn't play until Andrews cleared him.

Bill Belichick was asked about the Gronkowski reports while at the podium on Friday, but the coach would not confirm the reports, only saying that the team would release their injury report at the end of the day.

Injury report: Connolly limited; Talib and Amendola still DNP

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 17, 2013 04:26 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots' injury report for Thursday was similar to Wednesday's, with two changes: offensive lineman Dan Connolly (concussion), who did not practice Wednesday, returned on a limited basis, and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon, Connolly's replacement when Connolly left last Sunday's game, was added to the report with a shoulder injury.

Cornerback Aqib Talib (hip), wide receiver Danny Amendola (concussion/groin), defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee), and running back Leon Washington (ankle) missed practice for the second consecutive day, making it unlikely they will be available for this Sunday's game against the Jets.

For the Jets, coach Rex Ryan has already said it isn't likely that wide receiver Santonio Holmes (foot/hamstring) will play Sunday; Holmes missed practice Thursday for the second straight day.

The complete injury reports:

For the Patriots
Did not participate
WR Danny Amendola (concussion/groin)
DL Tommy Kelly (knee)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)

Limited participation
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
OL Marcus Cannon (shoulder)
G Dan Connolly (concussion)
WR Julian Edelman (thigh)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
DB Devin McCourty (shoulder)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)
DB Tavon Wilson (hamstring)

Full participation
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
DL Rob Ninkovich (groin)

For the Jets
Did not participate
WR Santonio Holmes (foot/hamstring)
WR Greg Salas (knee)

Limited participation
DB Dee Milliner (hamstring)
WR David Nelson (hamstring)
DB Kyle Wilson (concussion)

Full participation
LB Quinton Coples (ankle)
DB Antonio Cromartie (hip/knee)
DL Kenrick Ellis (back)
RB Chris Ivory (hamstring)
DB Jaiquawn Jarrett (knee)
WR Jeremy Kerley (back)
RB Bilal Powell (neck)
DB Darrin Walls (shoulder)

Gronkowski says he's still 'day to day'

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 17, 2013 02:33 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Stop us if you've heard this before: Rob Gronkowski said he's "day to day" and "working hard" as he continues his return from back surgery and multiple arm surgeries.

The Patriots tight end, who dutifully stood at his locker Thursday to field questions about his health status and potential return to game play, has clearly wearied of this particular part of his week, though it seems a good number of Patriots fans have wearied of the will-he-or-won't-he questions as well.

"I’m just improving every week. That’s all," said Gronkowski. "Like I said, nothing has changed. Nothing has changed the whole time. The thing that has changed, actually, is I’m improving every week."

Earlier Thursday, Gronkowski's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, appeared on a Miami radio station and said he doesn't understand why Gronkowski's situation has gotten so much attention. He added that Gronkowski still has not been cleared to play, but "hopefully he'll be back soon, maybe even this weekend."

Gronkowski was asked about the process of being checked each week -- when and how it happens -- but he deferred and said Bill Belichick should be asked that question instead.

There was one thing Gronkowski said that raised eyebrows a bit. As to whether he would be playing now if the decision were solely up to him, he didn't say yes.

"Ah, I wouldn’t say that because I mean, I … you've got to go through the process of asking the doctors and everything, so I’m not just going to make a decision by myself. That’s why you have a whole organization, to work together," Gronkowski said.

He affirmed that he is frustrated by not playing, and at getting the same questions week after week.

"Obviously I want to be out there," Gronkowski said. "I love the game of football, I love playing, I love playing the game. It’s great being out there with my teammates, getting on the same page, getting the chemistry down and we’ll see."

Also of note: The open locker room period with media began just as players were streaming in after practice, and Gronkowski had a black jersey stretched over his shells (soft pads). Belichick awards black jerseys after wins to signify practice players of the week, players who did not play or played little in the actual game but had a big part in getting the team ready in the days leading up to it in practice.

Ninkovich ready for Jets again

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 17, 2013 02:17 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots will be the first team Geno Smith gets a second look at, so defensive end Rob Ninkovich said the Jets quarterback can play a big role in Sunday's game.

The key, Ninkovich said, is to make Smith's decisions as difficult as possible.

"For us, it comes down to us doing our job, knowing what your responsibility is before the ball is snapped, playing fast," Ninkovich said after Thursday's practice. "The read option is to make them read what is going on, and the faster you can make that read a hard decision, that’s when things go your way as a defensive player."

Smith passed for 214 yards and ran for 17 more in the Patriots' 13-10 Week 2 win at Gillette Stadium. The rookie from West Virginia is completing 59.5 percent of his passes on the season, with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He's been sacked 21 times.

On the ground, Smith is averaging 5.2 yards per rush, but has carried only 22 times.

"As the season’s progressed, they’ve become more comfortable with the things they’re doing," said Ninkovich. "That seems to happen with a team that likes to run that type of offense, with the option, how the quarterback is reading the defenses. The more reps you get at it, the better you get at the whole operation."

Ninkovich did enjoy a lighthearted moment with reporters who were kidding him about a cupcake named in his honor. Charlie's Cupcakes, which has several Massachusetts locations, has recently unveiled the Twixovich, since Ninkovich (a frequent customer) loves Twix candy bars.

"Go to Charlie’s, go get a Twixovich," its namesake said. "Every time I go there, I get one, I can’t help myself."

Rob Gronkowski still not medically cleared to play, his agent says

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 17, 2013 11:06 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Tight end Rob Gronkowski has yet to receive the necessary medical clearance to play in a game for the Patriots, according to Drew Rosenhaus, Gronkowski's agent.

Appearing on a Miami radio station Thursday morning, Rosenhaus said there is no tension between player and team over the longevity of Gronkowski's absence and the uncertainty over his return, and wondered why it's become such a big story.

"I don’t understand why this story has gotten so much traction. There are dozens of players around the NFL who aren’t playing because they are injured and coming back from surgery," Rosenhaus said on WQAM-AM 560. "In Rob’s case, this is really straightforward. Up to this point he hasn’t been cleared to play in a game. He has not been cleared by Dr. [James] Andrews, who is the supervising doctor."

Until that happens, Rosenhaus said, Gronkowski can't come back, despite the tight end participating in every Patriots practice since the start of the regular season.

"There’s a huge difference between being cleared to practice and being cleared to play in a game," Rosenhaus said. "I’ve had great dialogue with coach [Bill] Belichick and the Patriots' medical staff, and Rob and his family. Everybody’s on the same page, except it’s gotten a lot of play in the media and all these unsubstantiated sources."

The Gronkowski story has hung over the Patriots all season, with almost weekly reports coming from somewhere that the two-time Pro Bowler will be playing in that Sunday's game. That's yet to happen. Gronkowski was listed as doubtful for the first two games, and has been questionable for the last four.

Gronkowski had four surgical procedures on his forearm – which he initially broke last November, then broke again in the playoff opener – and another on his back during the offseason.

Some reports have said that teammates are starting to question why Gronkowski has not returned for games. Rosenhaus said the answer is simple.

"It’s really straightforward. When Rob is cleared, he’ll play," Rosenhaus said. "It shouldn’t be a big surprise to people that the guy has a very cautious approach right now, because he had four operations on that forearm and he had a back operation.

"Quite frankly, it’s not a huge upset that up to this point he hasn’t been cleared to play in a game. We anticipated this. Hopefully he’ll be back soon, maybe even this weekend, but there’s no way to know until the end of the week when his doctors make that determination."

Connolly returns to practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 17, 2013 10:55 AM
FOXBOROUGH – Dan Connolly, who has started all six games this season at right guard, was back on the practice field today after missing Wednesday's workout with a concussion. Four players were not spotted: cornerback Aqib Talib, receiver Danny Amendola, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, and running back Leon Washington.

Connolly left Sunday's game with the Saints after the first offensive series, and did not return. He's had multiple concussions in his time with the Patriots.

Amendola also suffered a concussion against the Saints, while Talib is dealing with a hip injury. Players were in shorts and shells, working on the upper field behind Gillette Stadium.

Brady was mic'd up for win over Saints

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff October 17, 2013 09:35 AM
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NFL.com is providing an inside look at New England's 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints Sunday. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was mic'd up during that game, giving fans a glimpse of Brady's demeanor when the Patriots were down and during their incredible comeback.

In the video, Brady tried to give his wide receivers a shot of confidence before the game.

"This group here is going to be why we win right here," said Brady. "Let's play our best. We've been putting it in the tank, you know what I'm saying? Let's pull something out today, you know what I'm saying? Let's all go play our best, we'll have some fun, we'll beat up on these boys."

After being sacked, Brady walks off the field in disgust.

"Come on now," Brady says. From the bench, he adds, "We've gotta do better, O."

The highlight of the video, of course, is Brady's reaction on the game's final touchdown, which Brady threw to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins. Getting the ball back with just over a minute to play, Brady led the team down the field for the winning score.

"We got you," says Thompkins, to which Brady replies, "Way to go."

Amendola, Connolly, Talib don't practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 16, 2013 04:08 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Receiver Danny Amendola and guard Dan Connolly suffered concussions in Sunday's game against New Orleans, and both missed practice Wednesday. They were two of five Patriots who did not participate, along with cornerback Aqib Talib, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, and running back Leon Washington.

Talib was listed with a hip injury, which he also suffered against the Saints. Kelly (knee) and Washington (ankle) were hurt Oct. 6 at Cincinnati; neither practiced last week.

Amendola was seen walking through the locker room following practice, but did not stop and speak with reporters.

Receiver Julian Edelman (thigh), safety Devin McCourty (shoulder), and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) were added to the practice report. All three were listed under limited participation, and were joined by tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Brandon Bolden, safety Tavon Wilson, and special teamer Matthew Slater.

For the Jets:

Did not participate:
WR Santonio Holmes (foot/hamstring)
WR Greg Salas (knee)
DB Kyle Wilson (concussion)

Limited participation:
DB Dee Milliner (hamstring)
WR David Nelson (hamstring)

Devin McCourty: 'We've all got to step up and be group captains'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 16, 2013 02:00 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Now that Jerod Mayo has joined Vince Wilfork on season-ending injured reserve, questions about how good the Patriots will be defensively -- and who will be playing -- figure to dominate pregame chatter as they get set to face the Jets Sunday.

Those football teams that use the next-man-up approach (the Patriots being one) are prepared for adversity, even though they'd rather not face it. But when it hits, be ready to hit back.

"Everywhere outside this locker room, everyone’s going to be talking about our loss, but I think we’ve got some guys in here that are excited about their opportunity," said safety Devin McCourty. "I think the good thing this year is we have guys that prepare hard and work hard as if they were starting, and now they get that opportunity."

Mayo was lost to a torn pectoral muscle. Combined with Wilfork, who tore an Achilles' tendon, the Patriots' two defensive captains won't be in uniform again until 2014.

Their absence on Sundays will definitely be felt. But their contributions on the other six days, while not visible to anyone outside the locker room, will be just as difficult to duplicate. McCourty said it will take a group effort.

"We’ve all got to step up and kind of be group captains now," said McCourty, who had been a captain the previous two seasons. "I think of it as Mayo and Vince are still our captains.

"When guys get hurt and they can’t be around, guys have to step up. I’ve been appointed one of those guys to step up, but it’s no different, guys on defense have to step up, guys like Steve Gregory, that’s played a lot of football here already; [Brandon] Spikes, a guy that’s a fourth-year player."

Tom Brady discusses team's rash of injuries

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 16, 2013 01:28 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Over time, Tom Brady has seen the best of his teammates go down with injuries.

That history, coupled with his own lost season in 2008, color his perspective when discussing the team's recent spate of injuries, including the loss of defensive captain and linebacker Jerod Mayo this week to a torn pectoral muscle.

Brady was asked about the challenges of dealing with those losses this season, whether it brings added pressure for him, and how the team tries to deal with it all.

"We've faced some different challenges," Brady said. "I think in the NFL a lot of teams face challenges. It's just how do you deal with them? We've lost some guys, dealt with some issues, like every other team. We're handling them OK. We're 5-1, which is a decent start. It doesn't really get you anywhere at this point. I think we're still looking at making improvements. I think what's most important is to try and improve every day in practice and the walkthroughs and ultimately it hopefully translates to better execution over the course of the season. But we're really not where we need to be right now, we're trying to get there.

"Part of my job description, is what it's been for a long time, regardless of who is out there with me or other captains that have gotten injured, different guys that have come and gone – I mean, that happens with every team too. I've just been fortunate to be here and see my way through a lot of it, try to be a good example, be a good leader, and certainly try to play well. That's the No. 1 thing. That's how you probably stick around, is probably play as best as you can. We've been lucky to be here and play in place that I really love to play and for a team I really love to play for.

"When you lose someone like we did with Vince [Wilfork] or Jerod, it's tough. But I'd say a lot of teams deal with it too. So you don't want to feel sorry for yourself. What you realize is someone has got to fill in and do the job. As much as you hate to lose guys, there's nothing you can do about it and the season doesn't end and you gotta keep fighting on. Just as they would want us to, just like they did when I went out, just like they did when guys like Rodney [Harrison] went out. We've lost some pretty key, critical guys over the years. Ty Law got hurt at one point. I mean there's a lot of guys that have been injured. You just gotta try and fill the spot and other guys gotta pick up the slack. Hopefully our execution on offense is better. That would take some pressure off the defense, who have been playing great for us."

Week 7 Wednesday practice peek: Five not spotted, including Talib

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 16, 2013 10:36 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are on the fields behind Gillette Stadium for their first practice of Week 7, and colleague Michael Whitmer reports there were five players not spotted: CB Aqib Talib, OL Dan Connolly, WR Danny Amendola, DT Tommy Kelly, and RB/KR Leon Washington.

The first three players listed all left Sunday's game against New Orleans early due to injury: Talib with a hip, and Connolly and Amendola with concussions. Kelly (knee) and Washington (ankle) missed last week's game with their injuries.

Players who were present were in sweats and shells.

Patriots place Jerod Mayo on injured reserve

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 16, 2013 09:44 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots have placed defensive captain Jerod Mayo on injured reserve after he tore his pectoral muscle Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

Mayo, 27, was leading the Patriots in tackles with 55. He had played close to 100 percent of the team's defensive snaps before leaving Sunday's game in the fourth quarter.

The linebacker is in his sixth season out of Tennessee, recording more than 100 tackles the past five seasons while leading the team.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said placing Mayo in IR was a medical decision.

"I think I've been on the record many times talking about Jerod," Belichick said. "He does a lot for us on the field, off the field. But we're just going to have to move on."

The team also re-signed defensive tackle Andre Neblett to the 53-man roster and signed cornerback Travis Howard to the practice squad.

Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, drafted out of Southern Miss, will likely take some of the snaps on defense to fill the hole left by Mayo. But there's also Dane Fletcher to consider.

"That's why we have 'em," Belichick said. "That's why we have a full team. Whoever, if we happen to lose somebody, then somebody else has to step in and play."

Report: Jerod Mayo could miss rest of season

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff October 15, 2013 07:51 PM

Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo could miss the rest of the season after having surgery Tuesday to repair a torn pectoral muscle, sources told Yahoo! Sports.

Mayo left the second half of Sunday's dramatic win over the New Orleans Saints and did not return to the game. Mayo leads the Patriots with 55 tackles. Wide receiver Danny Amendola and defensive back Aqib Talib also left with injuries Sunday.

The Patriots used their one IR/designated to return spot on running back Shane Vereen, so the team would need to make a decision on whether to end Mayo's season and free up a roster spot or keep it for Mayo if there's a chance he returns.

Brady with poise? Yeah, Belichick has seen it before

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 15, 2013 02:19 PM

Those fans who chose to remain at Gillette Stadium might have been nervous when the Patriots took over with Sunday's game on the line against the Saints: no timeouts left, 70 yards to go, touchdown needed, just 1:13 remaining.

If Tom Brady shared that nervousness, he didn't show it, and hasn't shown it since he became the starter in the 2001 season. Poise, according to coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, is one of Brady's greatest strengths.

"I’d say that’s pretty much always been a trademark of Tom," Belichick said during Tuesday's teleconference. "Even going back to the first year, we were in some really tight games throughout the year but particularly at the end of the year: the Oakland game in the snow, obviously the Super Bowl. I think Tom showed a lot of poise and composure in those games, which is as big as it gets.

"Throughout that year, when he first took over for Drew [Bledsoe] and started to become a regular player, we were in a lot of tight games, some we won, some we lost, but I never felt that there was a sense of panic of discomfort or anything with Tom."

True to form, Brady guided the Patriots on a game-winning drive Sunday, throwing a 17-yard touchdown pass to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins with 5 seconds left, giving the Patriots a 30-27 win. Brady was 5 for 7 on the final drive, which goes in the books as the 38th time he has led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive when the Patriots were either tied or trailing.

Not being rattled is one thing. But Belichick said Brady is able to pick up things during the game that can help later, when a drive needs to be executed and a game needs to be won.

"It could be a bad play that happened or an interception or a turnover or something," said Belichick. "He would come to the sideline and say, ‘OK, let’s talk about what happened on that play.’ He would very clearly say, ‘This is what I saw. This is what happened. This is what this guy did, this is what this guy did, this is what the safeties did, this middle linebacker was here. This is what I saw on the route.’

"Then you go back and look at the film and all those things happened. The six, seven, eight, nine things that he described were pretty much the way the play unfolded. I think that’s something that really was one of Tom’s greatest strengths, is his ability to see the field, remain calm, remain poised even though the stadium may be going crazy if we’re on the road or the situation -- we may only have couple seconds to work with or whatever the circumstances are."

Belichick discusses health and playing status

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 14, 2013 06:20 PM

FOXBOROUGH – In general, Bill Belichick’s answer to any question pertaining to Rob Gronkowski’s physical and health status is a brief, “he’s day to day.”

But during his day-after conference call on Monday morning, Belichick gave a bit of an explanation in terms of the process of evaluating players from a medical and football standpoint, and what goes into deciding that a player is fit to be in uniform.

“I would say there are a lot of things that go into it, a combination obviously of medical clearance and making up the active (game-day) roster for the 46 guys,” he said. “Each week, we go through the process with all of the players and do what we feel like is best for the team. Obviously medical considerations are a big part of it, so we’ll do that with every player.”

Specific to Gronkowski, Belichick indicated it’s not rare for a player to be able to take part in on-field work Wednesday through Friday but still not be ready to contribute on Sunday.

Gauging a player’s fitness or readiness, “That’s what practice is for, part of it,” Belichick said. “But ultimately the players have to be cleared medically before we can put them in the game. There are a lot of players that practice that aren’t ready to play yet, but they’re able to participate in practice. That’s pretty common.”

It isn’t as common for the Patriots to have a player take part in practice for as long as Gronkowski has – he’s taken part every day since Sept. 2 – without getting into a game. But as Gronkowski has said ad nauseum, he’s taking things day by day.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Saints game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 13, 2013 11:04 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- There's nothing like a game-winning drive.

Here are five takeaways from the Patriots' 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints Sunday in which Tom Brady proved for the 38th time in his career that he, and only he, is the lion of Foxborough.

1. Short-term memories -- The most profound aspect of Tom Brady's game-winning drive is his rather amnesiac response following a brutal fourth-quarter interception. That turnover should have sealed the team's fate. But in Brady, as well as his teammates, there was no sense of loss or any dispiritedness afoot.

"I think the whole team is like that," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "But Tom is great competitor. Everybody has to – you have a short memory in this game. Same thing with Zo [Alfonzo Dennard] on the long pass and then the breakup on the go-route on our sideline. You have to have a short memory. You have to come back and play the next play. Look, we all have bad plays out there, every one of us: missed blocks, missed tackles, bad calls, bad throws, drops, whatever it is. But competitors come back and keep competing and come back and get it the next time. Nobody is going to play a perfect game, we know that. But you just have to keep competing and try to eliminate, make as few of those mistakes as possible."

Said Brady: "You have to [have a short memory] in football. As great as a win as this is, we have to come to work tomorrow and we’re on the clock against the Jets. They’re going to be motivated. They lost, they’re playing at home and we’ve already played them once. No matter what happens, you have to start working on next week. We have to learn from the things we did well and learn from the things we did poorly and try to get to 6-1. That’s the goal this week."

Brady turned around from that fourth quarter interception and went 5 of 8 passing for 70 yards, including the winning 17-yard touchdown to Kenbrell Thompkins. Prior to that drive, he had thrown for only 36 yards in the entire second half.

2. Austin Collie comes up huge in a pinch -- There's a lot to be said about the complexities of the Patriots offense, particularly for wide receivers new to the scheme. But apparently the team's 1-minute offensive playbook is slim enough for any sage veteran to learn it well. Collie, signed on Oct. 3, subbed in for injured wide receiver Danny Amendola on the final drive of the game and was able to come up with two huge catches for 24 yards. It was remarkable that he was able to have such a huge impact at a critical juncture in the game. But it doesn't come without a week's full of extra preparation, according to his coach.

"He's worked hard," Belichick said. "Chad O'Shea, our receivers coach, and Austin have worked very hard on the assignments and plays, formations and all that. Those guys spend, it must be like two, two and a half hours a day after everybody else does, just going over stuff, walking through it and it really paid off today.

"You have to give Austin a lot of credit for coming in here and being ready to go, like you said, really at the most critical time in the game."

3. Offensive improvement -- Everybody was waiting for some sort of offensive splurge. Who knew that the Patriots, coming of their worst offensive outing since 2009, would put together a 30-point game against the fourth ranked defense in the NFL. The Patriots amassed 26 first downs and 376 yards of offense, much better than the 15 first downs and 248 yards they managed against the Cincinnati Bengals. It helped that the team was much more efficient in the red zone, scoring on all five opportunities and getting touchdowns on three tries.

4. Shutting down Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham -- It appears the key to stopping a storm of Drew Brees touchdowns is a solid defensive effort on tight end Jimmy Graham, whom the Patriots held to no catches on six targets. Brees finished 17 of 36 for 236 yards and two touchdowns, but it was obvious the New Orleans offense was disrupted with the way the Patriots defenders, including Aqib Talib, treated Graham physically.

"They do a really good job of getting hands on receivers and tight ends," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "They are very well coached. They are disciplined, and they did a good job of that."

Talib was matched up with Graham before both were injured. Talib went down with a hip injury. Graham appeared to injure his ankle but was able to return to action.

"Aqib really competed hard and in the end, I don’t think either one of them were on the field," Belichick said. "Both guys ended up being out but it was a great battle and a great matchup. I thought Talib battled him, went toe-to-toe with him the whole way. It was a good matchup."

5. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui shines -- There are tons of questions about tight end Rob Gronkowski with his availability up in the air. It's been that way, with increased scrutiny, since Week 2. But Hoomanawanui's availability hasn't been questioned, it's just been a matter of whether the Patriots want to utilize the tight end's receiving skills or relegate him to being a blocker. The team is starting to come around to the fact that he's a pretty good receiver, too. He caught four passes on four targets for 57 yards, including a 19-yard reception on a third-and-18 and an 18-yard reception on a second-and-11. He showed off his hands too, catching a pass of his shoe strings in the fourth quarter.

"Whatever it takes really has been my role and my thought going into it," Hoomanawanui said. "It kind of happens that way, so I was able to have some good catches, some key catches to keep some drives moving, so I felt good."

He added: "We have no control over [when Gronkowski returns]. When he's back, obviously it'll be a great thing for the team and we'll go from there. But right now, we have to focus on the players that are playing right now. I think we've been able to do that coming out 5-1 after this game."

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

Injury recap: Amendola, Talib, Mayo, Connolly all hurt in win over Saints

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 13, 2013 09:33 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots may have won the game, but they took losses at key positions across the field.

Wide receiver Danny Amendola (concussion), cornerback Aqib Talib (hip), linebacker Jerod Mayo (shoulder), and right guard Dan Connolly (head) all didn't finish Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.

Amendola took a vicious hit from Saints safety Rafael Bush that appeared to be a helmet-to-helmet collision in the third quarter. Mayo injured his shoulder while tackling Saints running back Darren Sproles in the fourth quarter.

It was undetermined which plays Talib and Connolly were injured on.

Unlike the team's defensive line, where they had to call up Marcus Forston from the practice squad because Tommy Kelly (knee) was unable to go, the Patriots are relatively deep at each of the affected positions. They've already managed to go three games without Amendola at wide receiver and they have seven other linebackers on the team's roster and four other cornerbacks. Connolly, who was in competition with Marcus Cannon in the preseason for the starter's position, was easily replaced. The numbers are in the Patriots' favor.

Instead, their losses from the field -- for however long -- will be problematic because of the individual talent at each position. Talib is proving to be a shutdown corner (on Jimmy Graham Sunday, he held the tight end to no receptions on six targets with two passes defensed). Mayo leads the team in tackles. Amendola can be a game-changing receiver. Connolly allows the team to have versatility in the run game. Each has a huge presence.

The Patriots will have to supplement their dynamic play with unseasoned players, including Cannon, rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, and rookie cornerback Logan Ryan in addition to the team's young group of receivers.

Some have already made an impact. Austin Collie, signed just 10 days ago, caught two passes for 24 yards, all on the Patriots' winning drive. And Collins, in for Mayo late, recorded two tackles and a fumble recovery.

Brady guides Patriots on game-winning drive

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 13, 2013 08:47 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- For the 38th time in his career, Tom Brady led the Patriots on a game-winning drive, throwing a 17-yard touchdown to rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds left in the game to lift New England, 30-27, over the New Orleans Saints.

The final drive, spanning 70 yards on 8 plays in 1:08, was vintage Brady. He completed 5 of 8 passes for all 70 yards, including the dagger to Thompkins, a lofty throw in the corner of the end zone over Saints cornerback Jabari Greer where only his receiver could get it.

"We had everybody going to the end zone and he kind of snuck into the corner and I put it up there for him and he came down and made a great catch," Brady said. "There were a lot of great catches there at the end."

Indeed there were.

Brady hit wide receiver Austin Collie, signed just 10 days prior, for two receptions on the final drive for 24 yards. And Julian Edelman caught a 23-yard pass down the seam to get the drive going.

"We just knew it was going to come down to the last minute," Thompkins said. "Until that clock said all zeros on it, we were going to fight until the finish. And that's what we did. We just went out there and fought to the finish."

The Patriots had seemed down and out. Brady had thrown an interception with 2:16 remaining in the game following a Drew Brees 34-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills.

Had the Saints been able to get a first down after the Brady pick, they would've been able to run the clock out. But with a timeout and a 2-minute warning to look forward to, the Patriots defense forced a three-and-out -- the Saints' fifth of the game -- to give them the ball back with 1:13 remaining.

"Sorry if you had to rewrite some of those stories there at the end," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "What a football game. I feel like that took about five years off my life."

Who gets game ball for win over Saints?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff October 13, 2013 08:20 PM

Which Patriots player would you give the game ball to for going above and beyond to make Sunday's victory over the Saints happen? Cast your votes.

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

Rob Gronkowski is not active for Patriots against Saints

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 13, 2013 03:05 PM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots will have to do without Rob Gronkowski again after the recovering tight end was listed as inactive for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.

The all-pro tight end is still rehabbing from back and forearm surgeries

Gronkowski joins DL Tommy Kelly (knee) , WR Matthew Slater (wrist), OL Chris Barker, WR Josh Boyce, RB Leon Washington (ankle) and S Tavon Wilson (hamstring) on the inactive list.

Boyce and Barker are healthy scratches.

Inactive for the Saints are WR Lance Moore, RB Mark Ingram, CB Rod Sweeting, S Roman Harper, T Zach Strief, DE Tyrunn Walker, and OLB Martez Wilson.

What to watch for as the Patriots host the Saints

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 13, 2013 09:29 AM

FOXBOROUGH – There will be a huge emphasis on how the Patriots perform on offense against the New Orleans Saints, especially considering the team is coming off its worst offensive outing in four years.

Here's what you should be looking for:

1. Does Stevan Ridley give the Patriots a boost? – The third-year running back is listed as questionable for today's game. He missed last week's game against the Bengals with a knee injury. It just so happens that the Patriots had a season-low 82 yards rushing in his absence, brought on by both a lack of production at his position and a viable passing attack. We know Ridley can help. But will the Patriots consistently go to him?

2. Improvement upon improvement – We're now a month away from the debacle that was the New York Jets game, in which Patriots receivers were so far off their marks with Tom Brady that the veteran quarterback's frustrations were quite visible. In the weeks following, we've seen the Patriots' new receivers – Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and even Danny Amendola – prove to be much more on the same page, but quite far off from consistent. They've had issues with drops (Amendola had three last week) and running the right routes. So now, against a formidable defense and the class of the NFC, would be a good time to show that they have demonstrably improved.

3. Accuracy under pressure – This year, unlike so many others, Tom Brady is having a hard time completing passes under pressure. Part of it is his fresh group of receivers. But another part has been his own accuracy. When he's not under pressure, he's completed 61 percent of his throws, according to the statistics website ProFootballFocus.com. But when he is under pressure, that rate drops to 45.5 percent. When he's blitzed, he's completing 50 percent of his passes. Facing a Saints defense led by coordinator Rob Ryan, the Patriots are likely to see coverages that are meant to confuse and blitzes that are disguised. It is imperative for Brady to play well under pressure.

4. Who is in, who is out? – We'll get official word 90 minutes before kickoff whether tight end Rob Gronkowski will play. He's still recovering from back and forearm surgeries. But we'll also see if center Ryan Wendell (concussion) will be available. He's listed as questionable for Sunday's game.

5. Will they hold the line? – The Patriots will be without defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who suffered a knee injury against the Cincinnati Bengals last week. He'll be replaced by Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, and Marcus Forston. It will be interesting to see how these interior linemen handle the Saints' running game, which is ranked 26th overall in the league (78.2 yards per game).

6. Stopping Jimmy Graham – The Saints' tight end is 6-7 and provides a number of matchup problems across the field. Whether the Patriots put a linebacker, safety, or cornerback on Graham, he'll be hard to stop. He has 37 receptions on 51 targets for 593 yards and six touchdowns.

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

Game 6 preview: Saints at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 13, 2013 08:50 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots (4-1) hope to get back on track today with a win against the New Orleans Saints (5-0) after suffering a disappointing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 5.

They'll have to do so without defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who injured his knee in the fourth quarter against the Bengals. The Patriots brought up defensive lineman Marcus Forston from the practice squad to replace him. The team will have Forston, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones at defensive tackle after injuries to Kelly and Vince Wilfork.

However, New England is expected get a boost on offense with the return of running back Stevan Ridley (knee), who is listed as questionable for Sunday's game.

The Saints will be without starting safety Roman Harper (knee), while wide receiver Lance Moore (hand) did not practice this week but is listed as questionable.

New Orleans features the NFL's fourth-ranked defense (14.6 points allowed per game), due in large part to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, a former Patriots linebackers coach. The Saints also have the second-best pass offense in the league (326.8 yards per game) and fourth overall offense (405.0 yards per game).

The Patriots lead the all-time series with the Saints, 8-4. The Saints took the last game between these two Nov. 30, 2009, 38-17, at the Louisiana Superdome. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 371 yards and five touchdowns in that Monday night game.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

Records: Patriots 4-1; Saints 5-0.

TV/Radio: FOX (Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and Sports USA (Larry Kahn, Ross Tucker, Troy West).

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, WR Danny Amendola, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.

Patriots defense: DT Joe Vellano, DT Chris Jones, 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.

Saints offense: WR Marques Colston, LT Charles Brown, LG Ben Grubbs, C Brian de la Puente, RG Jahri Evans, RT Zach Strief, TE Jimmy Graham, WR Lance Moore, QB Drew Brees, FB Jed Collins, RB Pierre Thomas.

Saints defense: DE Akiem Hicks, NT Brodrick Bunkley, DE Cameron Jordan, OLB Junior Galette, ILB David Hawthorne, ILB Curtis Lofton, Parys Haralson, LCB Jabari Greer, S Kenny Vaccaro, S Malcolm Jenkins, RCB Keenan Lewis.

Read this, watch that

- From the New Orleans Advocate: Set free by the Saints, Rob Ninkovich is at home with the Patriots.

- From the Times-Picayune: Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan talks about his time with the Patriots in this video.

- Follow today's game and comment on the action in our live blog. Updates start around 2 p.m.

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

Getting to know...Aqib Talib

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 13, 2013 07:30 AM

talib.jpgFOXBOROUGH -- There's no question that Aqib Talib has made the Patriots' secondary better since he was acquired last Nov. 1 in a trade-deadline deal with Tampa Bay. He's played at an elite level thus far this season, holding top-level receivers like Atlanta's Julio Jones and former Buccaneers teammate Vincent Jackson in check; according to football metrics website ProFootballFocus, receivers Talib has been covering have been targeted 28 times, and he's allowed only 11 receptions -- that 39.3 percent caught number is second in the league to Tennessee's Alterraun Verner, as is the 30.8 quarterback rating against him (again behind Verner).

Raised in Texas, Talib's thick drawl, often no-nonsense responses (example: Can you cover Julio Jones without safety help? "I hope I can, if I have to...Whatever the plan is, the plan is.”), and fun-loving nature (witness his "I got this" lean back on the bench after knocking away an end-of-game end zone pass in Atlanta) have made him one of the more fun and interesting players to interview in the New England locker room this season.

Favorite TV show: New or old? Favorite TV show of all time? Definitely "Martin." That's the funniest show ever.

Favorite meal: Beef ribs, macaroni and cheese. It's something my mom makes, something my girl makes.

First car: Mercedes-Benz S550. Got my first car when I came into the league. First paycheck. [Still have it?] I just sold it this year.

First job: KFC. Cashier at KFC. Ate a ton of fried chicken, worked there for maybe three weeks. [What happened?] It wasn't for me.

What do you listen to most on your iPod: Right now, Drake's new CD. I forgot the name of it [Ryan Mallett chimes in: "Nothing was the Same"]. And Juicy J.

Place you want to visit but haven't yet: Ecuador. That's where my fiancee is from. Both of her parents were born there, she has a lot of family there. [When are you getting married?] As soon as I ask. (smiles)

If they made a movie about your life... It would be an action movie. Definitely an action movie. I'd play me. [What kind of action movie?] It would be life and times -- sometimes I might be the bad guy, sometimes I might be the good guy in the movie, but there's going to be a lot of action.

Patriots promote Forston, release Neblett

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 12, 2013 06:00 PM

The Patriots swapped defensive tackles on Saturday, promoting Marcus Forston off the practice squad in advance of their Week 6 game against the Saints.

To make room for Forston, Andre Neblett was released. Neblett, a fourth-year veteran, was signed on Wednesday to help bolster the Patriots' depth at tackle after Vince Wilfork's season-ending injury last month plus Tommy Kelly's knee injury suffered against the Bengals in Week 5, which will keep him out of Sunday's game with New Orleans.

Forston, 24, is listed at 6-foot-3, 305 pounds. The Patriots signed him as a rookie free agent out of Miami (Fla.) last year and he spent most of the year on the practice squad. He played in one game in 2012, and provided he is active against the Saints, it will be the first time he's active this season.

Week 6: Friday injury report - Kelly, Washington out vs. Saints, Gronkowski questionable

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 11, 2013 03:48 PM

The Patriots will be without DT Tommy Kelly (knee) and RB/KR Leon Washington (ankle) against the Saints on Sunday afternoon, as the team has declared both out.

Neither player practiced this week, so their status is not surprising. Kelly was injured in the second half of last week's game in Cincinnati, with Washington hurt on the game's opening kickoff.

TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) is among seven players listed as questionable by New England, joining WR Danny Amendola (groin), RB Brandon Bolden (knee), RB Stevan Ridley (knee), WR Matthew Slater (wrist), C Ryan Wendell (concussion) and DB Tavon Wilson (hamstring).

In positive news, WR Aaron Dobson (neck), LB Dont'a Hightower (knee), LB Jerod Mayo (ankle) and DE Rob Ninkovich (groin) were all listed as full practice participants on Friday after being limited on Wednesday and Thursday, and all are probable. CB Kyle Arrington (groin) and DB Nate Ebner (ankle) have been removed from the list.

The Saints declared starting S Roman Harper (knee) and reserve DE Tyrunn Walker (knee) as out.

For the Patriots
DT Tommy Kelly - DNP, knee
RB Leon Washington - DNP, ankle

WR Danny Amendola - LP, groin
RB Brandon Bolden - LP, knee
TE Rob Gronkowski - LP, back/forearm
RB Stevan Ridley - LP, knee
WR Matthew Slater - LP, wrist
C Ryan Wendell - LP, concussion
DB Tavon Wilson - LP, hamstring

WR Aaron Dobson - FP, neck
LB Dont'a Hightower - FP, knee
LB Jerod Mayo - FP, ankle
DL Rob Ninkovich - FP, groin

Removed from list
CB Kyle Arrington - groin
DL Michael Buchanan - not injury related
LB Jamie Collins - not injury related
DB Nate Ebner - ankle

For the Saints
S Roman Harper - DNP, knee
DE Tyrunn Walker - DNP, knee

DT Broderick Bunkley - LP, calf
LB Ramon Humber - LP, calf
RB Mark Ingram - LP, toe
S Malcolm Jenkins - LP, neck
CB Kennan Lewis - LP, knee
WR Lance Moore - DNP, hand
T Zach Streif - DNP, ankle

CB Chris Carr - FP, back
DE Glenn Foster - FP, ankle
DE Tom Johnson - FP, hamstring
G Tim Lelito - FP, calf
S Isa Abdul Quddus - FP, ankle
LB Martez Wilson - FP, ankle

Despite wild snap-count swings, Spikes goes with the flow

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 11, 2013 02:04 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes took a rare opportunity to speak with the media after Friday's practice, and answered questions about his fluctuating snap count, his role on the team, and what the defense will need to do to slow the undefeated New Orleans Saints Sunday.

Spikes is coming off one of the best games of his NFL career. In last week's loss to the Bengals, he intercepted a pass and finished with 22 tackles (according to team figures), which marks a career high. Piling up tackles hasn't been a problem for Spikes, who is listed in the team's statistics with 41, second only to Jerod Mayo.

But his playing time has fluctuated wildly. Against the Bengals, Spikes was on the field for 59 of the Bengals' 71 offensive plays. Based on number of plays and percentage, it was the most playing time of the season for him. The week before, in a win at Atlanta, Spikes logged only 6 of 76 defensive snaps.

Is that frustrating?

"I always want to be on the field to help the team out, be out there running around with the guys," he said. "We put so much in throughout the week, you get one opportunity to come out on Sunday and get it done.

"Sometimes it is a little frustrating, but like I said, whenever my number is called, I've just got to go in and play at a high level and get the job done, and that’s what I try to do every Sunday."

In the first three games this season, Spikes played 16 of 64 snaps against the Bills, 31 of 74 against the Jets, and 37 of 71 against the Buccaneers. For the season, he's been on the field for 42 percent of the defensive snaps; last year, Spikes played in 72 percent, prompting a question as to whether he feels his role is changing.

"I guess, maybe. I really don’t know." he said. "I don’t look at it like that, I just come out and have a good time on Sundays. I don’t really pay attention to stuff I can’t control.

"I just feel fortunate to be able to play this game. I just want to make the best of it. It’s a small margin of time you get to play, so why not go and have fun? That’s all I base it on, go have fun and be happy playing the game I love."

With Vince Wilfork out for the rest of the season, Spikes will be looked at to help stop the opponents' run game. The Saints are capable of running but also have one of the league's top passing attacks.

"They’ve got weapons all over the field," said Spikes. "Great quarterback, receivers, tight ends, running backs. We’ve just got to do a great job of executing our defense."

Week 6: Friday practice peek

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 11, 2013 10:50 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Rookie LB Jamie Collins returned to practice on Friday after sitting out Thursday's session for non-injury related reasons, according to the Patriots' injury report.

Collins' presence means only DT Tommy Kelly (knee) and RB Leon Washington (ankle) were not spotted during the media-access portion of practice.

Players are in shells and shorts/sweats.

Report: Gronkowski not yet cleared by Dr. Andrews

Posted by Staff October 11, 2013 10:44 AM
Rob Gronkowski’s return to the playing field remains uncertain.

It was reported by ESPN on Friday that the Pro Bowl tight end still has not been cleared to play by Dr. James Andrews. Andrews, the renowned orthopedic surgeon, has been named by the team and Gronkowski as an independent physician responsible for determining whether he is cleared to play.

A source also told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Dr. Jesse Jupiter has not cleared Gronkowski to play either. Jupiter performed the latest surgery on Gronkowski’s forearm.

According to a report Friday on WEEI, Gronkowski’s camp has “serious concern” over the way Patriots team doctor Thomas Gill handled the forearm surgery. Gronkowski initially broke the bone last Nov. 18 against the Colts, and instead of letting the bone heal naturally, he and Gill decided to speed up the healing process by implanting a device in the forearm.

Gronkowski returned to the field at the end of December, but broke the bone again in January, and had three more surgeries. According to the WEEI report, Gronkowski’s camp has concerns about the integrity of the bone where the implement was placed and the surrounding nerves, and that the infection may have been avoided if the bone had healed on its own.

The Patriots host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, who are 5-0 and have put together one of the most potent offensive attacks in the 2013 NFL season, led by quarterback Drew Brees and their own Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham.

Shades of development for Aaron Dobson

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 11, 2013 09:46 AM

Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson against the Cincinnati Bengals

Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson has shown steady improvement over four games but has still struggled in spurts. (Matthew J. Lee / Globe Staff)

By Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff

One play encapsulates what Patriots rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson has brought to the team.

It just so happens that it came in Week 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

On an in-cut from the left, Dobson entered the vacuum in the middle of the field created by a Cincinnati blitz before being hit in stride by Tom Brady. He had just cleared traffic brought on by a post route run by Julian Edelman. As Dobson made the catch, Bengals cornerback Adam Jones trailed from his man-to-man coverage of the rookie while Cincinnati safety George Iloka made a break on the ball.

Iloka misjudged Dobson’s speed on the play, missing the tackle after taking a poor angle. Dobson easily beat him to the spot and had room to run.

Jones, still trailing, couldn’t catch him either, diving for a tackle. That's when Dobson put on the moves, racing along the middle of the field for a 53-yard gain. But as he was looking to make one final cut, with open field inches away and a touchdown almost assured for his hard work, Iloka caught up to him and swiped the ball out of his arms. Dobson, still in full control, scrambled to get the ball back, ending the most electrifying play of his four-game career.


Week 6: Thursday injury report

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 10, 2013 04:29 PM

According to the Patriots' injury report, LB Jamie Collins' absence from practice on Thursday is not injury related. Fellow rookie Michael Buchanan, who missed Wednesday with the same not injury related designation, returned to the field on Thursday and was removed from the injury report.

Tommy Kelly (knee) and Leon Washington (ankle) once again missed practice for New England, as did starters S Roman Harper (knee), WR Lance Moore (hand) and RT Zach Streif (ankle) of the Saints.

The full report for each team:

For the Patriots
Did not participate
LB Jamie Collins - not injury related
DT Tommy Kelly - knee
RB Leon Washington - ankle

Limited participation
WR Danny Amendola - groin
RB Brandon Bolden - knee
WR Aaron Dobson - neck
TE Rob Gronkowski - back/forearm
LB Dont'a Hightower - knee
LB Jerod Mayo - ankle
DL Rob Ninkovich - groin
RB Stevan Ridley - knee
WR Matthew Slater - wrist
C Ryan Wendell - concussion
DB Tavon Wilson - hamstring

Full participation
CB Kyle Arrington - groin
DB Nate Ebner - ankle

Removed from list
DL Michael Buchanan - not injury related

For the Saints
Did not participate
S Roman Harper - knee
WR Lance Moore - hand
T Zach Streif - ankle
DE Tyrunn Walker - knee

Limited participation
DT Broderick Bunkley - calf
LB Ramon Humber - calf
RB Mark Ingram - toe
S Malcolm Jenkins - neck
CB Keenan Lewis - knee

Full participation
CB Chris Carr - back
DE Glenn Foster - ankle
DE Tom Johnson - hamstring
G Tim Lelito - calf
S Isa Abdul Quddus - ankle
LB Martez Wilson - ankle

Gronkowski: 'Nothing new' on his status

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 10, 2013 01:50 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Not that we really expected anything different, but Rob Gronkowski shed no light on what might happen with him this week in regards to whether he'll make his much-anticipated return to the Patriots' lineup for their game with New Orleans.

"It's basically nothing new," he said. "I mean, I'm just working hard every week, working hard out at practice, and nothing's changed. We’re day by day, like we’ve been from the very beginning, and it’s all about the New England Patriots versus the New Orleans Saints this weekend and it’s going to be exciting. They’ve got a good team."

With the Patriots 31st in the NFL in red-zone success, getting Gronkowski back -- he has scored 30 red-zone touchdowns in his career -- could provide a big boost. Asked if he believes the team needs him as he watches the games, he said, "I"m just doing whatever the coach asks me to do. I'm out at practice, doing what my teammates ask me to do, and just to help the team out to my max ability."

The rest of his brief locker room chat with reporters:

Q: At this point, can you play on Sunday?

"I’m just working every day, and improving every day to my max and taking it day by day."

Q: What is going to be the feeling when you finally get back out there?

"It’s going to be a great feeling, obviously. Just been working hard toward that goal and working hard to achieve that, so it’s going to be exciting and when it happens it’s going to be awesome."

Q: Is there something in particular you and the doctors are looking for, something quantifiable, before you play?

"Um … really, just taking it each day at a time and trying to improve every day at a time and that’s all."

Q: Your conditioning – are you ready to play if you’re cleared Sunday?

"I’m improving every week and obviously when I started at the beginning, conditioning was pretty rough, but that’s what practice is for and working hard is for, so just improving every week, taking it day by day, and we’ll be super excited when I get out there. Thank you."

And with that, he departed for the weight room.

Week 6 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 10, 2013 12:55 PM

I can't say I expected the Cincinnati Bengals to beat the Patriots, even though I posited as much in my season game-by-game predictions. But much the way I humor myself that the Seattle Seahawks are somehow one of the top two teams in the NFL, when they're clearly not, the Patriots' mystique is becoming more and more questionable, especially down this stretch of top-tier games. I think that's reflected here.

Here are my Week 6 picks.

Giants (+7.5) at Bears (-7.5) -- The Giants lead the NFL with a whopping 20 giveaways (13 interceptions, 7 fumbles) through five games.
My pick: Bears


LB Jamie Collins not spotted at Patriots practice

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

FOXBOROUGH -- Rookie defensive lineman Michael Buchanan was back at Patriots practice, one day after a non-injury-related reason caused him to miss Wednesday's workout.

Another rookie, linebacker Jamie Collins, was not spotted in the portion of practice made accessible to the media. He was not listed on Wednesday's injury report. Two players who were -- running back Leon Washington (ankle) and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) -- were also not spotted. Both players left Sunday's game at Cincinnati with injuries.

Players were in sweats and shells.

Two other injured Patriots were spotted working out on another field. Running back Shane Vereen broke his wrist in the season-opening win at Buffalo, and was placed on the injured reserve list with a designation to return. He still has a brace on the wrist, and is eligible to return no sooner than the Nov. 18 game at Carolina. He was joined by defensive lineman Armond Armstead, who is on the non-football-injury list.

Ninkovich, Wendell added to injury report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 9, 2013 04:23 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Defensive end Rob Ninkovich and center Ryan Wendell were added to the week's first injury report issued by the Patriots. Both were limited at Wednesday's practice, Ninkovich with a groin injury, Wendell listed with a concussion.

Ninkovich and Wendell were the only additions to the injury report from last week, although defensive lineman Michael Buchanan missed Wednesday's practice because of a non-injury-related reason. Three players were removed from the report: receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who had been listed last week with a shoulder injury, and offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer (foot) and Will Svitek (knee).

Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle) also missed practice. Both were hurt during last Sunday's 13-6 loss at Cincinnati.

In addition to Ninkovich and Wendell, there were nine other Patriots who were limited in practice: receivers Danny Amendola (groin), Aaron Dobson (neck), and Matthew Slater (wrist), tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), running backs Stevan Ridley (knee) and Brandon Bolden (knee), linebackers Jerod Mayo (ankle) and Dont'a Hightower (knee), and defensive back Tavon Wilson (hamstring).

Ridley, who had been the team's leading rusher, missed practice all last week, and sat out Sunday's game.

For the Saints:

Did not participate:
S Roman Harper (knee)
WR Lance Moore (hand)
T Zach Strief (ankle)
DE Tyrunn Walker (knee)

Limited participation:
DT Brodrick Bubkley (calf)
LB Ramon Humber (calf)
RB Mark Ingram (toe)
S Malcolm Jenkins (neck)
CB Kennan Lewis (knee)

Full participation:
CB Chris Carr (back)
DE Glenn Foster (ankle)
DE Tom Johnson (hamstring)
G Tim Lelito (calf)
S Isa Abdul Quddud (ankle)
LB Martez Wilson (ankle)

Tom Brady: 'I just want to score points'

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 9, 2013 04:13 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- After scoring only 6 points against the Cincinnati Bengals, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady would not admit to being frustrated with the team's offense Wednesday, saying instead that he'd take any amount of scoring right now.

"I just want us to score points, so whatever it takes to score points, that’s what matters," Brady said. "I think you let your emotions get into it and feelings and so forth – I mean realistically, you have to come up with a plan. We have to figure out how to score points.

"I said after the game, we’re not going to win many games scoring 6 points. So, if we score 6 points this weekend, we probably won’t win. We’ve got to do a lot better than that."

The Patriots (4-1) are averaging 19.0 points per game, which is 24th in the league. When they face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, they'll be going up against a team that has held opponents to 14.6 points per game, fourth best in the NFL.

That defense is coupled with an offense that has Drew Brees (69.7 percent completion rate, 12 TDs, 4 INTs, 1,722 yards) at the helm, so putting together sustained scoring drives will be important for the Patriots come game day.

"I think we’ll try to put together any drive at this point to score points," Brady said. "Long, short, it doesn’t matter. We’ve got to score touchdowns. This defense really forces you into some long drives. I don’t think they’ve given up many big plays this year. They have played from the lead a bunch, which is why they probably have a lot of sacks, interceptions, and have been ahead in a lot of these games.

"We’ve got to try and score quickly, methodically, whatever it takes, because they have a good offense, they have a good team, they play well on special teams. We are going to have to play a very well-rounded game."

Danny Amendola eager to get everyone healthy

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 9, 2013 03:24 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Danny Amendola returned to the Patriots this past Sunday after missing three games with a groin injury, just in time to suit up for a 13-6 stinker against Cincinnati. He's hoping that the offensive chemistry will improve once a few of his injured teammates return.

"That’s the goal, without a doubt," the wide receiver said after Wednesday's practice. "We’re out there practicing and running around, trying to get on the same page, regardless of who it is, and we’ll be ready to go when our number is called, for sure."

Still missing from the offense are tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Shane Vereen. Gronkowski (back/forearm) could be back this Sunday against unbeaten New Orleans; Vereen (wrist) is on the injured reserve list with a designation to return, and can come back no sooner than the Nov. 18 game at Carolina.

Amendola caught four passes against the Bengals, but the Patriots struggled on offense, failing to score a touchdown for the first time since 2009. Asked for a health update, Amendola sounded positive.

"I feel good," he said. "I had a good day today, and I’m just preparing this week, getting ready to go for next Sunday. Just continue to do what the trainers and training staff ask, that’s all I can do."

He has been practicing, as has Gronkowski. Getting the tight end back should provide the offense with a big spark.

"He’s great," said Amendola. "Watching him run around and watching him catch the ball, he has a lot of range and a lot of speed, big hands, and everyone knows what kind of athlete he is. I’m excited to watch him play."

Belichick on the trouble with Jimmy Graham

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 9, 2013 10:41 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The problem with New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, whom the Patriots will see this Sunday in their Week 6 matchup, is that his sheer size and athleticism make him a matchup problem all over the field, says Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Graham stands 6-7, weighs 265 pounds and ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2010. He's caught 37 passes for 593 yards and six touchdowns this season. The big tight end has seen the gamut of coverages, but he's still difficult to deal with. Whether defenses treat him like a tight end or a receiver, he's found ways to be successful.

"Treat him like whatever you want, but he is what he is," Belichick said. "He's big, he's fast, very athletic. Excellent ball skills, especially down the field. He can go up and rebound the ball away from pretty much anybody. They throw him a lot of jump-ball type plays. But he's quick, he's a big target. He's definitely a tough guy to cover.

"Everybody's tried everything. Tried to jam him at the line, linebackers on him, safeties on him, double cover him. Each team kinda got their own matchups, but he's seen a lot of different coverages. Man, zone, in and out, short and deep, jammed at the line of coverage. He's seen all of that."

Because of his receiving ability, it's conceivable he could draw the coverage of cornerbacks, which he has seen before, Belichick said.

"He's been matched up differently on different plays," Belichick said. "A lot of times he's split out. He's not always in the normal tight end position. Sometimes he's extended in a receiver type of look, so yeah he's [seen] corners."

The Patriots don't have a player in the secondary who comes close to Graham in size. Aqib Talib, who is 6-1, seems like a logical matchup. But the Patriots' closest defender in height is 6-3 linebacker Jamie Collins, who was a safety in college.

Week 6: Wednesday practice peek - three not spotted, Ridley returns

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 9, 2013 10:41 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are in shells and sweats for their first practice session of Saints week, and colleague Michael Whitmer reports three players were not spotted during the media-access window: DT Tommy Kelly, KR Leon Washington and DL Michael Buchanan.

RB Stevan Ridley, who missed all of last week's practices as well as Sunday's game with a knee injury, returned to practice.

Kelly left the game in Cincinnati with what was announced as a knee injury, though after the game he told reporters he'd be OK; Washington suffered an ankle injury on the game's opening kickoff and did not return. It is unclear at this point why Buchanan is not on the field.

Patriots sign DT Neblett to 53-man roster, two to practice squad

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 9, 2013 10:20 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots have announced the signing of DT Andre Neblett to fill the open spot on their 53-man roster.

The 25-year old Neblett, listed at 6-feet, 310 pounds, was signed by the Panthers as a rookie free agent out of Temple in 2010. He played in 30 games with seven starts during his three seasons with the Panthers, recording 28 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries. He signed with the Buccaneers as a free agent in May but was among their final cuts at the close of training camp.

Also, the Patriots re-signed S Kanorris Davis and LB Ja'Gared Davis to the practice squad. Both were promoted to the 53-man roster for Sunday's game against the Bengals and then released on Monday.

Patriots' coaches brace for 5-0 Saints

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 8, 2013 01:44 PM

With players being given the day off, Tuesday's Patriots access was limited to the weekly teleconference with head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. While a few of the questions had to do with Sunday's 13-6 loss at Cincinnati, many more were focused on the team visiting Gillette Stadium this weekend.

The New Orleans Saints are 5-0, one of only three teams in the NFL still without a loss (the Broncos and Chiefs are the others). Led by quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints are fourth in the league in yards gained, second in passing yards, and ninth in scoring. But they've also been solid on defense under first-year coordinator Rob Ryan. None of their first five opponents scored more than 18 points.

"They’re pretty impressive, they do a lot of things well," Belichick said. "They have a very good offensive attack. Good personnel, good scheme. It’s why they’ve won five games."

The teams haven't played each other since Nov. 30, 2009, a Monday night game in New Orleans that saw the Patriots get manhandled, 38-17. Brees threw for 371 yards in that game and five touchdowns, completing 18 of 23 passes. He's still with the Saints, but they have a new batch of skill players surrounding him.

"It's another team that we don’t know very well, so we’ve got to make up some ground on them preparation-wise this week," Belichick said. "That’s all part of the challenge."

Tight end Jimmy Graham was still playing in college at Miami (Fla.) the last time the Patriots and Saints met, but he has been a key contributor in his time with New Orleans, especially this season. He's caught 37 passes for 593 yards (16.0-yard average) and six touchdowns. He's on pace to set career highs in all of those categories.

"Jimmy Graham and Drew have a real timing relationship, he does a great job of finding open areas, whether it’s in zone coverage or man coverage," Patricia said. "He’s a big target for Brees to throw the ball to, he’s got a big catch radius. He's just a big-bodied person that gives you a difficult matchup.

"There’s obviously a trust relationship there that they’re going to be in the right spot and be on the same page."

Report: Gronkowski to be cleared to play Sunday

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff October 8, 2013 12:43 PM

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is expected to be cleared to play in Sunday's game vs. the New Orleans Saints, a source told ProFootballTalk.com.

Pro Football Talk's report says it is not definite that Gronkowski will play.

Gronkowski has missed the first five weeks of the season after an offseason in which he underwent surgeries for a broken arm and a back injury. An infection in the arm delayed his back surgery.

The Patriots have kept Gronkowski on the active roster, meaning he has been able to practice with the team.

Dennard court date continued to Nov. 13

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 7, 2013 05:22 PM

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was initially scheduled to be back in a Nebraska courtroom Tuesday for a hearing pertaining to his July 11 DUI arrest, but the Lancaster County Clerk's office said the hearing has been continued and will now he held Nov. 13 at 1:30 p.m.

That is five days before the Patriots' Monday night game against Carolina, which comes off the team's bye week.

The continuance was actually decided on Sept. 20, four days after Dennard appeared in court and admitted that the July incident was a violation of his probation that had been outlined three months earlier. That hearing had been continued twice before it occurred.

Earlier this year, Dennard was found guilty of striking a Lincoln, Neb., police officer during an April 2012 incident; at his sentencing, Judge Stephanie Stacy gave him 24 months probation and 30 days in jail to be served in March 2014.

Patriots re-sign CB Cole, waive two

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 7, 2013 05:10 PM

The Patriots announced that cornerback Marquice Cole has been re-signed, and safety Kanorris Davis and linebacker Ja'Gared Davis have been waived.

This is the third time this season Cole has been cut and re-signed. The veteran has been a core special teamer with the Patriots, but he also has been nursing a hamstring injury in recent weeks.

Both Davises were promoted off the practice squad Saturday, and played on special teams Sunday in Cincinnati. It would not be a surprise to see both brought back to the practice squad.

By waiving two and adding one, the Patriots currently have one open spot on the 53-man roster.

Passing-game woes really are a team effort

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 7, 2013 04:15 PM

The Patriots' offensive output was pitiful against the Cincinnati Bengals, as they failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2009 and scored their fewest points since they were last shut out, way back in 2006, a 21-0 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

The Patriots, pending the results of the Monday night game, have been outscored by 20 teams in the NFL, as they now average 19 points per game.

A big part of the offensive woes has been the passing attack, which has been tepid at best.

Sunday's game marked the end of Tom Brady's illustrious 52-game touchdown-pass streak. He now stands second all-time to Drew Brees (54), whom the Patriots face this upcoming Sunday when the New Orleans Saints visit Foxborough.

Brady didn't get much help by way of his receivers in Cincinnati. That group, along with his running backs, accounted for six drops in the 13-6 loss to the Bengals, some of which could be blamed on the rain. In his first game back from a torn adductor, Danny Amendola had three drops while catching four passes on nine targets for 55 yards. He was inches away from one touchdown, trying to squirm into the end zone on a 17-yard reception.

This season, Brady has had 8.7 percent of his passes dropped. The worst offender has been rookie Aaron Dobson, who has a 23.5 percent drop rate, according to the statistical website ProFootballFocus.com. The Marshall product, who didn't record a single drop in his senior year in college and has four to his name with the Patriots, has had difficulties being consistent.

"I feel like we beat ourselves," said Dobson after the loss. "It feels like it's stuff that we can improve on. It's nothing that they did. We just have to improve."

Of course, all of the blame doesn't reside with the receiving corps. Brady hasn't been his stellar self, seemingly inaccurate in spots. He's had trouble completing passes downfield (5 for 22 when throwing 20 yards or more) and he's had poor production when under pressure, completing 25 of 54 passes with no touchdowns and an interception.

Take away drops from the equation, as well as spikes and balls thrown away, and Brady is completing 68.1 percent of his passes this season. On Sunday, he was 18 of 38 for 197 yards and an interception. A good portion of his yardage came from a catch-and-run by Dobson for 53 yards, boosting what would otherwise have been a dismal effort.

After the game, offensive lineman Dan Connolly said the Patriots simply didn't do their job on offense, especially given the effort of the team's defense in holding Cincinnati to 13 points.

“Our job on offense is to score, and when we don’t do that, we are disappointed," he said. "That’s our part of the deal, and we didn’t do it.”

Consistency and rhythm appear to be key sticking points that will continue to be brought up with a relatively green receiving corps.

"We just didn’t overall offensively perform to the level that we did last week or that we’re capable of doing," said Bill Belichick. "I think everybody is accountable for that: the coaching staff, the players. Again, I certainly give Cincinnati credit there. They have a good defensive front and they played well, but we have to do a better job than that.

"We put ourselves in too many long-yardage situations. We couldn’t convert in the red area and had some consistency running the ball but not nearly enough in the passing game, and not in any critical situations. We have to do better in all those areas. That’s all of us. I don’t think it’s any one guy or any one thing."

When the Patriots say they need to get better and play more consistent, that's when they're acutely accurate.

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

Brady hopes to rebound with 'best game'

Posted by Staff October 7, 2013 11:12 AM
The Patriots’ 13-6 loss to the Bengals on Sunday was the first time the Patriots did not score a touchdown since a 16-9 loss to the Jets in Sept. 2009. This was also the first time in 53 regular season games in which Tom Brady did not throw a touchdown pass, a streak of 52 consecutive games that left Brady two games short of Drew Brees’ NFL record of 54.

On his weekly appearance on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan program, Brady pinned the blame of the Patriots woes against Cincinnati on himself and the offense’s lack of taking advantage of their opportunities.

“We actually had a pretty good week [of practice], so it was just a day [where] we never really found any rhythm,” he said. “It seemed like every series we had a play that kind of knocked us backwards and got us off track, and just couldn't string together enough good plays to get us in the end zone… We just had one of those days where nothing really seemed to go right, and we had plenty of opportunity out there we just never took advantage of it.

“[It was] pretty disappointing to lose the game; hopefully we can learn from it and move forward this week and have our best game.”

One area of particular struggle for the Patriots was their play on third down, in which they converted just one of 12 chances.

“If you can’t stay on the field because you’re not converting third downs then you never really get a chance balance the game out running the ball,” Brady said. “Because we [failed] on third down we just really could never get [the Bengals] into a situation where they [had to start] playing defensively, so they were able to do whatever they wanted with us. We played totally on their terms all day because of our lack of ability to convert on third downs.”

On their one trip inside the red zone, the Patriots attempted a play on second and goal from the one yard line in which they would fake the run and try to pass to Nate Solder, who had come in as a tight end, but the play failed as the Bengals saw right through it and had Solder covered.

“Nate is as athletic as they come so we were just trying to kind of give them a hard sell play-action pass and hopefully they step up and then Nate would be running free,” Brady said. “[Solder] got tied up at the line of scrimmage a little bit and it looked like the linebacker actually got his hands on him and slowed him down a little bit, and we just ended up not executing the play. We don’t draw them up [as they] happen, we draw them up to try and get those guys clean and free, and in practice it actually looked pretty good, so that’s why we called it.”

A major question that has lingered over the Patriots has been about the return of Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, who would have been useful to have in third down situations and their trip inside the red zone. He has now missed all five of the Patriots games after it was reported he could play as early as Week 4. Brady did not disclose if he knew when Gronkowski would actually return.

“I have no idea [when he will be playing], I kind of wait and see like everyone else,” he said. “It’s not my decision, the guys that I am out there with I have plenty of confidence in, so whatever role anyone plays is really up to them and the way they feel, you know we haven’t had [Gronkowski] all year [and] we haven’t had him all spring, so we've had plenty of practices without him, but our overall execution needs to be a lot better regardless of who’s out there.

“We really haven’t had a practice where we've had our whole offense out there yet, so we got to do that first of all and see what we can really do.”

The Patriots return home this week to face Brees and the electric New Orleans Saints, who are 5-0 and have averaged over 26 points per game. New England has scored over 26 points just once this season.

Belichick: 'We had our chances'

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 7, 2013 10:25 AM

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has gone over the film from Sunday's 13-6 loss to the Bengals, and what he saw on replay matched up with what he saw as the game unfolded: the Patriots had too many missed opportunities.

"We had our chances, but we weren't able to make enough plays in the end for the game to come out in our favor," he said. "We had good plays in all three phases in the game (but) there were not enough plays to turn things in our favor. We have to improve all the way across the board.

"Learn from this one and move on to New Orleans. That's what we have in front of us."

Belichick acknowledged that there were a couple of plays that were unfortunate, or the ball just didn't bounce the Patriots' way, but the team has to focus on the things that don't fall into the "luck" category.

"I think there's always going to be a few of those plays in the game that you say, 'that was fortunate for us' or 'that was unfortunate for us.' You hope those even out in the long run," he said. "We have to do a better job with the things we can control. Sometimes the ball does take a funny bounce... But we have to do a better job on the things we can control."

One of those situations came at the end of the third quarter, when the Patriots had the Bengals back up against their own goal line, after a near-safety from a Tommy Kelly/Chandler Jones sack of Andy Dalton that put Cincinnati in third-and-15 from the 2.

The Bengals ran their play quickly, before New England could get all of its players in position, and Dalton hit Marvin Jones with a 28-yard sideline pass. The Patriots were unprepared for the play.

"It's a play we've dealt with before. We've seen it through the years, they did a good job with it," Belichick said. "We definitely weren't ready for it when the ball was snapped, a few guys were getting into position. It was a strategic play that worked for them and they caught us on it. Everybody on their side was set, we just weren't ready when the ball was snapped and they hit us on it."

Belichick also said it wasn't the Bengals "pattern" to run a quick-snap play like that on third down.

After the pass to Jones, rookie back Giovani Bernard ripped off a 28-yard run, helping to set up the game's only touchdown and the winning margin for Cincinnati.

The Patriots' Ryan Allen had eight punts on Sunday, five of them downed inside the 20-yard line, with three of those downed inside the 10. Belichick said punt and kickoff coverage was solid, but things could have been better on the returns.

"I thought our punt team overall gave us good field position…a couple of times we were backed up, and we had good coverage. The punting game and field position was good," he said. "The opportunities in the punt game and kicking return game, we really didn't take advantage of opportunities that we had there. If we could have finished a couple of blocks, there were potentially a couple of big plays to be had there. We just couldn't make that key block for a game-changing-type play."

Asked about the second play of the game, when Cincinnati all-pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins dropped Tom Brady for an 8-yard sack, Belichick said that play was more about Atkins not biting on the play-action than a breakdown by the offensive line.

"It was a play-action pass, one that we've run many times through the years and on that particular play I don't think Geno really took much of the play-action. He penetrated (and) we weren't able to get a solid block in front of him because we were selling the run," Belichick said. "Obviously we could have executed it better, but it was a good play on his part."

Watch: Patriots-Bengals highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff October 7, 2013 07:40 AM
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Here are the top plays from the Patriots' 13-6 loss to the Bengals on Sunday in Cincinnati.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Bengals game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 6, 2013 07:34 PM

CINCINNATI – The first loss was going to come eventually. But to do so while struggling so mightily on offense comes as a surprise.

The Patriots lost to the Bengals Sunday, 13-6, falling to 4-1. It was the first time the team did not score an offensive touchdown since a 16-9 loss to the New York Jets, Sept. 20, 2009.

Here's some takeaways from Sunday's game.

1. Offensive inconsistency is the new norm -- The Patriots converted 1 of 12 third downs. They were 0 for 1 in the red zone (more on that later). And, when they struggled in the running game (82 yards on the ground), they didn't find much rhythm in the passing game either. Tom Brady was 18 of 38 for 197 yards and an interception. He failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time since 2009 (the 16-9 loss to the Jets).

The offense as a whole is struggling. The Patriots managed just 248 yards Sunday and have varied wildly in their performances while managing injuries. While last week they reached a high point against the Atlanta Falcons (448 total yards, 30 points), this was a low in points and a near-low in yards. Who knows how they'll perform next week against the New Orleans Saints.

Patriots total offensive yards:

Week 1: Bills - 431
Week 2: Jets - 232
Week 3: Buccaneers - 358
Week 4: Falcons - 448
Week 5: Bengals - 248

2. The Bengals tried to give the win to the Patriots -- It's not like this game was a blowout. The Patriots had plenty of chances to snatch the win out of the Bengals' hands. Held scoreless in their only red zone attempt, they had three chances to punch it in, airing it out to Julian Edelman and Nate Solder (a former tight end), and getting stuffed on a run up the middle by LeGarrette Blount before settling for a field goal. And then, down only by a touchdown, the Patriots' defense managed to force a fumble and and get the ball back with 3:34 left. But two straight incomplete passes, including a dropped ball by Danny Amendola in the rain, followed by a sack on Brady, and the Patriots were forced to punt again.

There was still an opportunity to tie the game down the stretch. The Patriots forced a three and out for the Bengals on the following drive, getting one last possession with 1:48 left in the game. The Bengals were kind enough to add two penalties on a fourth and third down (one a defensive offsides, the other a 15-yard roughing the passer) to extend the Patriots' drive for one last shot with 26 seconds left only 27 yards from the end zone. That's when Brady was intercepted by cornerback Adam Jones to seal the game.

"We unfortunately had to probably win it three of four times there in the fourth quarter," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. "So we’ve got a lot to learn from that way and good things to coach off of."

I'd say the Patriots didn't take advantage of three opportunities.

3. Can't give the defense enough credit -- Two takeaways, including Devin McCourty's forced fumble with 3:34 left in the fourth, and four sacks, including rookie Chris Jones's 9-yard takedown, to go along with only 13 points allowed marked a fantastic defensive effort.

4. A little pow on defense -- Brandon Spikes was particularly good with an expanded role this week. While in weeks prior he was not on the field in passing situations, he supplanted Dont'a Hightower in the nickel packages and his impact was immediate. He came up with an interception on an Andy Dalton pass to tight end Tyler Eifert and combined for 12 tackles, including two for a loss. The more he plays, the better he gets. It's a far cry from his Week 1 performance that was overshadowed by his dehydration.

5. On further review -- From the press box vantage point, it appeared the Bengals were trying to run at young defensive tackles Jones and Joe Vellano. While the Bengals had 162 yards rushing, I'd caution waiting on seeing the film before further judgment. They appeared to hold their own against a stacked Bengals line and, up until the second half (101 yards), had helped the defensive unit keep Cincinnati's running game in check. There will be much more to glean from the film, particularly in a loss like this.

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

Tom Brady: 'Too many silly execution errors'

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 6, 2013 05:04 PM
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CINCINNATI – If the Patriots defense can hold an opponent to a couple of field goals and one touchdown, you could normally count on the team's offense to produce at least a few touchdowns to help them get ahead.

Not anymore. Not after an overhaul on offense and injuries that have wiped out the team's top offensive weapons.

In a 13-6 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, the Patriots totaled 248 yards, including 82 yards rushing with running back Stevan Ridley out. The team managed only 15 first downs on 60 plays. On third down, the Patriots were an abhorrent 1 of 12. Added all up, their inability to execute made the Bengals defense look really good, holding the Patriots to two field goals while going scoreless in the red zone.

"They have been playing great all year," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady of the Bengals. "You can't expect to kick two field goals and win many games in the NFL. We can do a better job than that and we are going to have to if we want to win these games.

"We had too many silly execution errors and mental mistakes today. It is hard to drive the ball down the field if you keep making those mistakes."

The passing game suffered against the Bengals' pass rush, which sacked Brady four times. He finished 18 of 38 for 197 yards and an interception. It was the first game since Sept. 20, 2009 -- a 16-9 loss to the New York Jets -- that Brady did not throw a touchdown pass, ending a 52-game streak that had him two games behind all-time leader Drew Brees (54).

Said Brady of the streak, "I'm bummed that we lost. That's all that really matters."

What was particularly frustrating for Brady on offense was the inability to get a touchdown at the Bengals' 1-yard line.

"We tried a goal-line run and they did a good job of stopping us," he said. "Then we tried a goal line pass and they stopped that one. It came down to third down and we were close. We just didn't execute it the way we needed to. That is the way these games are – they come down to a few plays. If you make them, you put points on the board. And if you don't make them, you kick field goals."

Belichick short of words after Patriots first loss

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 6, 2013 04:51 PM
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CINCINNATI -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn't mince words after his team lost to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, 13-6, New England's first loss of the season.

He gave credit to their defense, lamented his team's offense in the red zone (0 for 1) and was reluctant to add much else.

"Not much to say today other than they did a better job today," Belichick said. "We had our chances. In the end, the game came down to some red-area chances, and that was the point differential in the game today.

"We've got to go back to work and get better in all phases of the game. It was a hard-fought game, but they made more plays."

Belichick added that he didn't think the team played well enough "anywhere."

"Part of it is the running game and part of it is the passing game," he said. "We've got to do a better job all the way around."

The Patriots tallied 248 total offensive yards, but only 82 yards on the ground. LeGarrette Blount was the team's leading rusher with 12 carries for 51 yards.

Danny Amendola active for Patriots against Bengals

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 6, 2013 11:27 AM

CINCINNATI -- Danny Amendola will be active for the Patriots Sunday against the Bengals, his first game since Week 1 of the regular season.

Inactive for the Patriots are newly signed WR Austin Collie, S Tavon Wilson (hamstring) WR Matthew Slater (wrist), TE Rob Gronkowski, RB Stevan Ridley (knee), OL Chris Barker (OL) and LB Steve Beauharnais.

The Bengals will be without defensive backs Leon Hall (hamstring) and Brandon Ghee (thigh) as well as defensive end Michael Johnson (concussion), all listed inactive after appearing on the injury report this week.

Also inactive for the Bengals: G Mike Pollak (knee), OL Tanner Hawkinson, RB Rex Burkhead, and WR Ryan Whalen.

What to watch for as the Patriots visit the Bengals

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 6, 2013 08:58 AM

CINCINNATI -- Despite being 4-0, it appears there are a lot of issues up in the air for the Patriots. In Sunday's game against the Bengals, a number of the questions about the team will be answered.

Here's what we'll be watching.

1. The Wilfork replacement committee -- Whether it's Tommy Kelly, Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, Chandler Jones, or some mix of the four, the Patriots will be hoping for solid production at both defensive tackle spots. Any one of these players will have an opportunity to show what they can do, just with an added bit of attention following Vince Wilfork's season-ending injury. All the more reason to do well.

2. Two backs left -- The Patriots will have to rely on the instinctive running abilities of LeGarrette Blount and the little used Brandon Bolden without Stevan Ridley (knee) against the Bengals. Cincinnati sports the 11th-ranked run defense, allowing only 3.8 yards per attempt and 99 yards per game. Blount and Bolden so far have accounted for a combined 223 yards rushing. Bolden, who has been hampered with a knee injury himself, has only nine rushing attempts this season but averages 7.6 yards per carry.

3. Another talented receiver needs to be shut down -- The Patriots held their own against one of the best receivers in the game in Week 4 with Julio Jones. While Jones had six receptions for 108 yards, he was largely locked up when covered by Aqib Talib, who shadowed Jones through most of the game. Talib will have his work cut out for him against the Bengals' A.J. Green, another tall (6-4) and athletically gifted player who has been highly productive. He has 26 receptions for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Green is tied for the NFL lead with 51 targets. The next closest Bengal, in terms of targets, is wide receiver Sanu Mohamed (16). It's almost a sure thing that the Bengals will look to Green first in their passing attack. Talib will have to be ready.

4. Will Austin Collie have a role? -- I think it's fair to say the Patriots' offense is complicated and has some non-traditional verbiage for new players to get used to. Collie, who was brought in off the street earlier in the week for depth, had been a good wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts (173 receptions, 1,845 yards, 16 TDs) until he suffered a spate of concussion injuries. Whether or not he can contribute right away seems to be a stretch. But we will know for sure after Sunday's game. But even more pressing will be the health of his peers.

5. The return of Danny Amendola? -- According to reports, Amendola made the trip to Cincinnati. He is listed as questionable to play after missing the past three weeks with a groin injury. He could certainly provide a boost to the passing attack after a stellar performance in Week 1 against the Bills. But nothing is guaranteed.

6. Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins' availability -- Dobson suffered a neck injury against the Falcons and had to leave the game, but the wide receiver immediately returned to practice on Wednesday and was limited throughout the week. He is also listed as questionable for today's game, as is Thompkins, who has been limited in practice with a shoulder injury. With all these wide receivers banged up, it's no wonder the Patriots brought in Collie. Their availability, or non-availability, could greatly change the passing game.

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

Game 5 preview: Patriots at Bengals

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 6, 2013 08:00 AM

CINCINNATI -- The Patriots are entertaining the possibility of starting the season 5-0 with a win Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, marking the first time since 2007 the team will have done so and the fourth time in team history.

But the game will come with its challenges.

The Patriots have to square with the loss of stalwart defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (placed on injured reserve) as well as a depleted running backs group with Stevan Ridley (knee) out for Sunday's game. And then there is the matter of the Bengals' offensive talent that has to be properly sized up, including leading wide receiver A.J. Green (26 receptions, 300 yards, 3 TDs).

Key Patriots are certainly expected to make sizable contributions given the circumstances, including defensive tackles Tommy Kelly and Joe Vellano to replace Wilfork, and running backs LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden to replace Ridley. Meanwhile Patriots star cornerback Aqib Talib (four interceptions) will likely be zeroing in on Green, making for one of the highlight matchups of the clash between these two conference powers.

The Bengals are coming off a 17-6 loss to the Browns, a disappointing effort for a talented team that has lacked consistency.

"We really haven’t performed to expectations totally throughout an entire football game," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told reporters earlier in the week. "We can play brilliantly and we can play with a lot of error, and the error gets you beat. So we have to do a better job of taking care of the football, we have to do a better job of converting third downs and we have to get takeaways on defense."

The Patriots are 14-8 all-time against the Bengals in the regular season and 4-0 with Tom Brady as the team's starting quarterback. The last time these two teams met in the regular season, Sept. 12, 2010, the Patriots won 38-24 with Brady throwing three touchdown passes. In the same game, wide receiver Brandon Tate, then with the Patriots and now with the Bengals, returned a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin) may return to the Patriots' lineup this week after reports surfaced Saturday he traveled with the team to Cincinnati. Those same reports indicated that all-pro tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) did not travel with the team. Both are listed as questionable.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Records: Patriots 4-0; Bengals 2-2.

TV/Radio: CBS (Greg Gumbel, 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 Julian Edelman, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Marcus Cannon, FB James Develin, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, QB Tom Brady, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.

Patriots defense: DT Tommy Kelly, DT Joe Vellano, 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.

Bengals offense: WR Mohamed Sanu, LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Clint Boling, C Kyle Cook, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Andre Smith, TE Jermaine Gresham, WR A.J. Green, QB Andy Dalton, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, FB Orson Charles.

Bengals defense: DE Carlos Dunlap, NT Domato Peko, DT Geno Atkins, DE Michael Johnson, SLB James Harrison, MLB Rey Maualuga, WLB Vontaze Burfict, LCB Terence Newman, RCB Leon Hall, SS George Iloka, FS Reggie Nelson.

Read this

- Erik Frenz breaks downs the matchup between Patriots left tackle Nate Solder and Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson.

- 5 questions with Bengals beat writer Joe Reedy.

- From the Cincinnati Enquirer: The Patriots are always special for BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

- 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+.

Getting to know...Tommy Kelly

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 6, 2013 07:30 AM

FOXBOROUGH - When the Patriots signed veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly to a two-year contract in April, the hope was that he'd be a strong presence next to Vince Wilfork on the interior of the defensive line and help provide pressure through the middle.

Now with Wilfork injured, Kelly is the most experienced tackle, and will likely see a rise in his number of snaps.

The Mississippi native, signed by the Raiders as an undrafted rookie out of Mississippi State in 2004, has relished the fresh start he's gotten with the Patriots. With New England at 4-0, it is the longest win streak he's enjoyed since his days at Provine High in Jackson, Miss.

Kelly has become a favorite of reporters for his personality and one-liners, including this one after the Patriots' Week 2 win against the Jets: "I'd rather have ugly wins than pretty losses any day, and I had a lot of pretty losses in my career, so I'll take the ugly wins."

First job: I was a bus boy at my dad’s restaurant…it was a Greek restaurant. He made gyros and all type of Greek food. That was my first job. …that was in college.

First car: A Chevy Caprice "bubble." White. Blue leather. It got stolen. I bought it at auction, real good condition, but it got stolen a month later. I had a little money saved up and then my daddy helped me.

Favorite TV show: I watch a lot of TV; I watch everything. Favorite? "Boardwalk Empire." I gotta watch "Boardwalk Empire." I also watch ESPN, Military Channel, History Channel, Food Channel. I wouldn’t say I’m a history buff, I just like to be in the know.

Favorite meal: Fried chicken. Fried chicken, Jiffy bread and macaroni & cheese.

Prized possession: My kids. Two boys, and a little girl on the way. Kelly and his wife welcomed their daughter on Monday; she was a healthy 7 pounds, 2 ounces.

Place I want to visit but haven't yet: Probably somewhere like Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic. My wife wants to go an island, so we’ll probably go this offseason.

If they made a movie about my life... It's gotta be a comedy. A movie of my life…we'd call it "Love & Football." (Who plays me?) It has to be somebody big and funny, somebody like Earthquake or Bernie Mac. Somebody that will have you laughing the whole time.

Patriots injury report: Stevan Ridley out for Sunday's game

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff October 4, 2013 04:52 PM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots have declared RB Stevan Ridley (knee) out for Sunday's game against Cincinnati, the first game Ridley will miss in his career. He did not practice this week, so he was not expected to play.

WR/SpT Matthew Slater (wrist), who returned to practice on Friday for the first time since breaking his left wrist against the Jets, is listed as doubtful.

TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) and WR Danny Amendola (groin) lead a list of 10 Patriots players who are listed as questionable; WRs Kenbrell Thompkins (shoulder) and Aaron Dobson (neck) are also among that group.

CB Kyle Arrington (groin) and OL Will Svitek (knee) are listed as probable. DB Nate Ebner (ankle) was removed from the report.

For the Bengals, CBs Leon Hall (hamstring) and Brandon Ghee (thigh), as well as G Mike Pollak (knee) are doubtful. DE Michael Johnson (concussion) and a third corner, Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring), are questionable.

Here is the full list for each team:

For the Patriots
RB Stevan Ridley - DNP, knee

WR Matthew Slater - LP, wrist

WR Danny Amendola - LP, groin
RB Brandon Bolden - LP, knee
WR Aaron Dobson - LP, neck
TE Rob Gronkowski - LP, back/forearm
LB Dont'a Hightower - LP, knee
LB Jerod Mayo - LP, ankle
WR Kenbrell Thompkins - LP, shoulder
OL Sebastian Vollmer - LP, foot
RB Leon Washington - LP, thigh
S Tavin Wilson - LP, hamstring

CB Kyle Arrington - FP, groin
OL Will Svitek - FP, knee

For the Bengals
CB Brandon Ghee - DNP, thigh
CB Leon Hall - LP, hamstring
G Mike Pollak - LP, knee

DE Michael Johnson - DNP, concussion
CB Dre Kirkpatrick - LP, hamstring

LB Vontaze Burfict - LP, neck
LB James Harrison - FP, knee
S Reggie Nelson - LP, hamstring

DNP-did not participate; LP-limited participation; FP-full participation

Patriots face a tough test in Cincinnati

Posted by Staff October 4, 2013 10:54 AM

For the second straight week, the Patriots (4-0) face a tough challenge on the road, this time against the Cincinnati Bengals, who are 2-0 at Paul Brown Stadium this season.

The Bengals (2-2) lost to the Chicago Bears in Week 1, 24-21, in a game that they led 21-10 in the third quarter, and last week lost to the Cleveland Browns, 17-6.

The reality is that the Bengals are better than their record suggests. Save for a few misguided plays, like Andy Dalton’s fumble in the third quarter when they trailed Cleveland, 7-3, on Sunday, Cincinnati could be undefeated.

At least that’s how Bill Belichick is viewing Sunday’s opponent.

“I think they’re pretty good,” Belichick said before Friday’s practice. “They lost a very close game to Chicago in the opener and certainly could’ve won last week against Cleveland, it wouldn’t have taken too much.

“I think this is a team that’s a couple plays away from being 4-0 and I think they’re going to win their share of games this year, I just hope its not this week. I think they’re a good team, I think they’ve played well and could easily be 4-0…which is the way we look at it.”

According to Belichick, preparing for Sunday’s game has been difficult because the Patriots don’t play the Bengals often.

New England is 14-8 against Cincinnati, but hasn’t played the Bengals since 2010, when the Patriots took a 38-24 victory. They also won in 2004, 2006 and 2007, and last lost to Cincinnati, 23-17, on the road in 2001.

“We don’t have a lot of experience, we’ve seen them a lot on film and played against them last year and a couple years, so a lot of preparation things on their end and getting things right on our end,” Belichick said. “It’s been a challenging week.”

Week 5: Friday practice peek - Ridley still missing, Slater returns

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 4, 2013 10:32 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots had 52 of 53 players on the practice field Friday morning, as special teams ace Matthew Slater made his return to the field, a black cast on his broken left wrist.

Stevan Ridley (knee), was not present for the third straight day, making it unlikely he will play on Sunday against the Bengals.

Players were in shells and shorts/sweats.

Patriots place Wilfork on IR, announce Collie signing, release Sudfeld

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 3, 2013 04:32 PM

The Patriots have announced three roster moves: DT Vince Wilfork has been placed on season-ending injured reserve, WR Austin Collie has been signed, and TE Zach Sudfeld has been waived.

Two of those moves were expected. The third, with Sudfeld was not. But the rookie has failed to play in the regular season as well as he did in the preseason, and combined with a hamstring injury suffered in the opener against Buffalo, he has played just 45 total snaps over three games, including eight in Atlanta, where he muffed a Falcons' onside kick.

If he clears waivers, Sudfeld can be brought back to the Patriots' practice squad; the assumption is the team will promote a player off practice squad for Sunday's game to fill the now-open roster spot.

Wilfork's season is officially over; the team used its one IR-designated to return exception on Shane Vereen, though given Wilfork had Achilles surgery, it was highly unlikely he would have been physically ready to return this season, even for the playoffs.

Collie, 27, was a fourth-round pick of the Colts in 2009. He spent some time with the 49ers in training camp this year, but has suffered three documented concussions in his career and suffered a knee injury last year, both of which have derailed a once-promising career.

Talib, McCourty talk Bengals' speed

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 3, 2013 01:58 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- With two solid running backs, two big tight ends, and a fleet of steady receivers, the Patriots know they'll need to play smart football if they want to beat the Bengals on Sunday in Cincinnati.

The biggest thing that jumps off the film in their preparation? Speed, especially in receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovani Bernard.

Bernard, a rookie from North Carolina, is the team's leading rusher, averaging nearly 5 yards a carry.

"He’s fast. You can tell, he kind of jumps off the table when he gets the ball in his hands, especially any type of quick throw or run," Devin McCourty said. "We’ve got to try to contain him. In space, he’s very tough to tackle, he’s made plays for them just with getting the ball in his hands. Sometimes it’s them throwing him a 2-yard pass, and letting him do the rest."

The Bengals also like to throw the ball to Green and let him do the rest. He's gone over 1,000 in each of his first two seasons, and has 300 this year four games in.

"Speed, man, big catch radius," Aqib Talib said, when asked his opinion of Green. "He can get down the field and get that ball."

Patriots sign WR Austin Collie

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff October 3, 2013 11:20 AM
The Patriots have signed veteran receiver Austin Collie, a league source has confirmed to the Globe.

Collie was on the practice field for Thursday's full-pads workout, which could mean that the Patriots have or will designate Wilfork to the IR. Collie was wearing jersey No. 10.

Collie has spent four seasons in the NFL, all with Indianapolis. He's had a series of concussions that has caused him to miss games, and he only played in one game last season for the Colts before injuring his knee. He signed with the 49ers in August, but was released later in the month. Collie was productive when healthy, catching 12 touchdown passes and 173 passes while with Indianapolis.

He would provide depth at the receiver position for the Patriots. Danny Amendola has missed the last three games with a groin injury, Matthew Slater has missed the last two with a broken wrist, and both Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins were listed on Wednesday's injury report. That left Julian Edelman and Josh Boyce as the only healthy receivers.

In addition to Wilfork and Slater, running back Stevan Ridley was the other player not spotted at practice. The Patriots said Ridley missed on Wednesday because of a knee injury.

Globe reporter Ben Volin contributed to this report

Week 5 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 3, 2013 12:03 AM

Last week was much better for NFL picks: I went 9-6 against the spread and most of the close calls fell in my favor.

This week, we have our first set of 1-point spreads in top games, including the Patriots matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals and the New Orleans Saints' matchup with the Chicago Bears. That makes my job much easier.

Pittsburgh, Washington, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay have byes.

Here are my Week 5 picks:

Bills (+4) at Browns (-4) -- So Brian Hoyer has made me a believer. Since taking over for Brandon Weeden, the former Patriots quarterback has guided Cleveland to two straight wins, including last week's solid performance against the Bengals (25 of 38 for 269 yards, 2 TDs). That has overshadowed a really good Browns defense which is third best in the NFL, holding opponents to 291.5 yards per game. They're particularly stout against the run (79.0 yards per game), which is the Bills' source of strength.
My pick: Browns


Watch: Patriots moving on without Vince Wilfork

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 2, 2013 06:24 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- In the latest Patriots' midweek report, the Patriots are preparing for the Cincinnati Bengals while having to deal with the loss of All-Pro defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.

Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady talked about filling the leadership vacuum left in Wilfork's wake. Rookie Joe Vellano, primed to replace Wilfork for the time being, talked about filling in for the veteran tackle. Also, updates on Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola.

Bengals still wary of Patriots without Wilfork

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 2, 2013 05:50 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Filling the hole left in the wake of Vince Wilfork's injury will be tough for the Patriots. The All-Pro defensive tackle had a pretty sizable role on the team and was respected league-wide for his ability to disrupt offenses.

For the Bengals, the Patriots' opponent on Sunday, there is still a belief that the next man available for the Patriots, whether that is Joe Vellano or Chris Jones, will be just as serviceable. But they concede it won't be the same.

"[Wilfork] has been the center point of that group for a long time," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. "They obviously in their minds have planned -- you always plan for the loss of a player. So they’re going to have the next guy step up and go with the addition of Tommy Kelly that they had in the offseason. And they have the young players in there also that played when Vince was out and have been rotating in throughout the season. But, he is obviously a good player. I’m sure they have guys that are excited to get their opportunity."

Said Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who played for the Patriots from 2008 to 2011, rookies Vellano and Jones are worth watching, there's just no replacing what Wilfork did for the Patriots' defensive line.

"Those younger guys have been playing this year, so it’s an adjustment obviously," Green-Ellis said. "They can’t do the same things that Vincent does, but the guy [Joe Vellano] came in, he got a sack. I remember watching the game and he came in, he got his sack, so obviously he brings some things that are going to challenge the defense as well.

"Every player has strengths, so we’re going to have to take away his strengths and make him play to his weaknesses. But obviously, like I said, you never can replace a Vince Wilfork, not in the middle of the season like this. But the other guys, the young guys that they have are doing a good job when he’s not in of coming in and playing well as well."

The Bengals (2-2) are coming off a 17-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns in which they struggled mightily on third down, converting on 4 of 14 attempts. They hope to do better against the Patriots.

"We really haven’t performed to expectations totally throughout an entire football game," Lewis said. "We can play brilliantly and we can play with a lot of error, and the error gets you beat. So we have to do a better job of taking care of the football, we have to do a better job of converting third downs and we have to get takeaways on defense."

Sunday's game will be the first for Green-Ellis against his former team. Lewis called him a "stabling force" for the Bengals since his arrival in 2012.

"He’s got just a great personality, a great work ethic and he fits well with the guys here," Lewis said. "When we bring [in] a guy from another team, a team that has been very successful, they watch how he goes about his business and it really is a great reinforcement for the things as coach that you’re always trying engage your guys in and reinforce to your players."

Brandon Tate, a former Patriots wide receiver, returns kicks for the Bengals as well.

Knee injury forces Stevan Ridley to miss practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 2, 2013 04:32 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Running back Stevan Ridley missed Wednesday's Patriots practice with a knee injury, according to the team's injury report released this afternoon.

It's the first time this season that Ridley has been on the injury report. He is the Patriots' leading rusher, with 174 yards. He rushed a team-high 11 times last Sunday night against the Falcons, including an 8-yard gain with less than three minutes remaining in the game. He didn't leave Sunday's game with any apparent injury.

Ridley was one of three players to miss practice, joining defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and special teamer Matthew Slater. There were 15 Patriots who were limited, including four newcomers to the injury report: receivers Kenbrell Thompkins (shoulder) and Aaron Dobson (neck), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee), and safety Tavon Wilson (hamstring). Dobson left the Atlanta game in the third quarter after taking a hard hit to the helmet in the end zone that snapped his head back awkwardly.

The other 11 Patriots who were limited: tight ends Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) and Zach Sudfeld (hamstring), receiver Danny Amendola (groin), running backs Brandon Bolden (knee) and Leon Washington (thigh), offensive linemen Will Svitek (knee) and Sebastian Vollmer (foot), defensive backs Kyle Arrington (groin), Marquice Cole (hamstring), and Nate Ebner (ankle), and linebacker Jerod Mayo (ankle).

For the Bengals:

Did not practice:
CB Leon Hall (hamstring)
DE Michael Johnson (concussion)
CB Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring)
G Mike Pollak (knee)

Limited participation:
LB Vontaze Burfict (neck)
S Reggie Nelson (hamstring)

Gronkowski says he, Patriots were 'on the same page from the get-go'

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 2, 2013 03:33 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Rob Gronkowski's status has gotten plenty of attention this year, but things were turned up a notch over the weekend, when reports surfaced that the Patriots feel the All-Pro tight end was healthy enough to play but it was members of Gronkowski's inner circle, including his father Gordon, who were holding him back from a return to the field.

But on Wednesday Gronkowski did his best to clear the air on any alleged problems between himself and the team, and whether he's being pressured to come back too quickly.

"No, no doubt; no, not at all," he said about being pressured. "Everything is great around here. I’m going out, just going out to practice with the team and practicing with the team, it’s helpful every single week to get the chemistry back down, to get the timing of football down, and being out of football, the first couple days out there, I can’t lie, I was like, ‘whoa, I feel like a rookie real quick’ because the speed, it was quick.

"But everything’s catching back up and everything’s going good and everyone is doing fine, it’s just a normal week, working hard and getting better."

In regards to whether everyone involved is of the same mindset, Gronkowski said, "Oh yes, definitely. We were on the same page from the very get-go, and still on the same page, and it’s going good. I’m progressing every week, I’m feeling better every week, getting stronger every week, getting better conditioning every week. Still sticking to the motto, ‘day by day,’ you know, day by day, and it’s going good."

Patriots team president Jonathan Kraft said Sunday night during the pre-game show on 98.5 The Sports Hub that, “There is no dissension between Rob and the Patriots. He’ll come back when everything is right for him to come back.”

Though he was at practice once again on Wednesday, and has practiced every day since the regular season began, Gronkowski still gave no indication as to when he will be back in uniform for the Patriots.

"Not sure yet," he said about whether he'll be available this week against Cincinnati. "We’re going day by day right now, and tomorrow’s another day and we’ll go from there.

"When I’m ready I’m ready. I mean, if it’s this Sunday, next Sunday, Sunday after, it’s just going day by day and so I really couldn’t tell you when it’s going to be so it’s kind of hard to answer that. I’m just progressing every day, working hard every day, and feeling better every day, going out to practice and going as hard as I can and practicing with my teammates."

As he indicated, however, he continues to make progress, and said right now is the best he's felt since he began his recovery from four arm surgeries and a back procedure.

"I would say it’s the best I’ve felt right now, that’s because I’ve been working harder every week, progressing every week, and how you train your body is what you get out of it, and I’ve been working hard every week and pushing it to another level every week. It’s going good and when you know you’re ready is when it clicks and just going every day however you can to work to your maximum ability," Gronkowski said.

The interview with Gronkowski began with one reporter asking him to share his thoughts on the government shutdown, and Gronkowski nervously laughed and replied that wasn't a football question so he couldn't answer it.

The 24-year old would not address whether he felt he returned to the field too quickly at the end of last season, after he initially broke his left forearm, saying it is "way in the past" and he didn't like thinking about last year.

What he wants, he added, is to get back to a place where the questions he faces are about his performance, not his health.

"Definitely," he said. "I can’t wait to get out there and play some football and talk about some football."

Ninkovich, Gregory: With no Wilfork, others will have to step up

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 2, 2013 02:53 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Now that the reality of not having Vince Wilfork in uniform is settling in -- the defensive tackle wasn't at Wednesday's practice, the first on-field workout since he tore his right Achilles' -- his defensive teammates are steeling themselves for what comes next.

The consensus: Everyone else will have to step up.

"Having Vince injured definitely is something that you don’t want to have happened, but we can’t really dwell on the fact that he’s not out there with us," said Rob Ninkovich. "We just have to continue to push on and have other guys try and step up and do some of the things that he can do to the best of their abilities, and then other guys on the defense, like myself, have to step up and make more plays."

Other players will be gaining an opportunity to play more in Wilfork's absence, but it's the loss of the veteran captain that will take some time getting used to, because he's rarely missed any games since being drafted in 2004.

"Vince was the rock in there, man, he’s a heck of a football player and a big loss for our team, but we pride ourselves on everybody on this roster being able to step up and be ready to go in the game whenever your name is called, so we have guys ready to step up and perform at a high level," safety Steve Gregory said. "I don’t think you ever replace a guy like Vince Wilfork. You just need guys to step up, fill in, and do the best they can, try to understand what we’re trying to do as a defense, try to make plays and keep playing. We’ll have to rally around whoever’s in there."

Initially, the snaps Wilfork received at defensive tackle (and those have been the vast majority in past years) will likely go to rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones. Those two combined to play on 52 of the 66 defensive snaps after Wilfork left Sunday's game.

The Patriots also could sign someone from the outside.

"That just tells me I need to get better," said Jones, when asked if he's bolstered by the fact the Patriots haven't made any roster additions at defensive tackle. "I need to keep practicing, getting better. You can’t really replace a player like Vince, but all we can do is keep practicing harder and getting better as a whole."

Brady impressed with the Bengals defense, ribs Julian Edelman

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 2, 2013 02:00 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- When Tom Brady looks at the Cincinnati Bengals defense, he sees a lot of first round draft picks with talent.

On Wednesday, as the Patriots put in their first practice ahead of Sunday's game in Cincinnati, he talked about going up against one of the best defenses in the league. The Bengals currently sport the 13th ranked defense (334.0 yards allowed per game) and hold opponents to a 10th best 20.3 points per game.

"They can rush the quarterback, they got guys at all four spots that rush," Brady said. "And then when they bring the backups in, those guys rush. So it's really unique in that pretty much whoever is in there can get an edge on a guy, can get to the quarterback, force the ball out quickly and then with [Terrence] Newman, [Adam Jones], Leon [Hall], Reggie Nelson, I mean they got first round draft picks everywhere. And [Rey] Maualuga, and [Vontaze] Burfict, and [James] Harrison. They're loaded. That's why they have one of the best defenses in the league. So there's really no easy yards out there. They've been in some tight games this year, they pulled them out, especially the ones at home. They're 2-0 at home.

"They play well. They're good. I know the guys on defense really respect their offense and what they're able to do, they're explosive. We have to do our part as an offense to try and keep their offense off the field as well going to go score points."

Brady also spoke of receiver Julian Edelman, who is tied for the league-lead in receptions with 34. He praised him, and gave him some good-natured ribbing, for taking advantage of his opportunities in his fifth season with the Patriots after converting from a college quarterback at Kent State to receiver.

"He and I have spent a lot of time together over the years and I'm glad it's really paying off," Brady said. "He had a great opportunity to take advantage of and he's done it. It's a credit to him and his work ethic, his mental toughness.

"To play college quarterback -- I'd love to see those tapes of him running around, because he's kind of spaz, I don't know if you guys know that. I always say, 'God, what were you like in the huddle as a quarterback? How could like anyone look at you seriously?' But I guess he did pretty good. He definitely can't throw the ball. So he made the right switch to receiver at the right time.

"But he's been great. Very hard worker, he's dedicated. Nobody works harder than Julian. It's hard when you're playing behind Wes [Welker] for all these years. You're just not going to get a lot opportunity because Wes was such a great player. He was durable. And Jules never got a chance. Now he's got it and it doesn't look like he's slowing down at all."

Week 5: Wednesday practice peek

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff October 2, 2013 10:55 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are in shells and shorts/sweats for their first full practice of the week, and colleague Michael Whitmer reports three players were not present.

Running back Stevan Ridley, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and special teamer Matthew Slater were not spotted during the media-access window.

It is not a surprise that Wilfork (Achilles' surgery on Tuesday) and Slater (broken left wrist) were not present, however Ridley's absence is unexpected. We will get an idea as to what's going on with Ridley when the Patriots release their injury report later in the day.

Receiver Aaron Dobson, who was hit awkwardly in the end zone against the Falcons, is present and was wearing a black jersey as one of the team's practice players of the week.

Belichick: 'You just don't replace Vince Wilfork'

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff October 2, 2013 10:29 AM

FOXBOROUGH – With the loss of all-pro defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to an Achilles' tendon tear, the Patriots will have to replace his skill and leadership by committee, coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday.

"I think everybody is going to have to, we're all going to have to pull that rope," Belichick said. "There's no replacing Vince Wilfork. You just don't replace Vince Wilfork. We'll still have his presence around the team and the locker room, and those type of things, which I think he's great at. On the field, we'll miss him. But whoever is out there, those other 11 guys that are out there, they're all gonna have to – we're all going to have to pull a little bit harder, including the coaching staff and all that.

"It's a big loss but we're just going to have to find a way to do it. That means everybody doing their job. Obviously somebody is going to have to replace him. Whoever those people are, they're going to have to answer the bell. But collectively as a team, we're all going to have to pull it together. There is no one person that can replace Vince Wilfork."

Belichick also conceded there is a small possibility the team changes the way its defensive tackles operate. Wilfork often took on multiple blockers to free up defenders, and he was on the field for 81 percent of the team's defensive snaps, through the first 10 snaps of the Atlanta Falcons game before he was injured.

"I mean, look he hasn't played every single play," Belichick said. "There has been times in when he hasn't been on the field, so it isn't like we haven't seen him not on the field. But obviously he's been a key guy for us and he plays a lot. We had to deal without him in Atlanta, we'll have to deal without him going forward. We may do that. Some things I'm sure we'll continue to do but some things we may have to modify. We'll see how that goes."

Wilfork: 'Role of patient is only temporary'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 1, 2013 05:53 PM

Injured Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork posted the following statement on his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon, under a heading that said, " Just trying to get my thoughts out":

"I just want to thank everyone for your support and encouragement. Bianca is making sure I see all of the comments I wish I could respond to everyone. But please know your words are heard.

"One thing I know is I signed up to play football I don't regret anything that has happened and there is no need to feel sorry about it. I've been blessed to only have had one surgery prior to today and that was in high school ... I know what signing up to play football means and I know the rewards and the risks.

"This is my job and I will switch positions for now and play the role of patient but that is only temporary. I have so much confidence in our team and know that they will do great and I will be right besides them maybe not in uniform but in all other ways. Thanks again."

Patriots re-sign Marquice Cole

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 1, 2013 05:42 PM

The Patriots announced today that they have re-signed cornerback Marquice Cole. He played in the first three games of the season on special teams, then was released by the Patriots on Friday.

Cole also spent most of last season with the Patriots, and had one interception while appearing in 14 games.

Vince Wilfork's wife tweets picture after surgery

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff October 1, 2013 02:16 PM

Patriots fans received confirmation that nose tackle Vince Wilfork did indeed have surgery Tuesday to repair his Achilles' tendon when Wilfork's wife, Bianca, tweeted a picture of the recovering Patriot.

Thanking God for a successful surgery pic.twitter.com/matpmHlcgH

— bianca wilfork (@mrs75) October 1, 2013

Wilfork is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

"Vince is just a phenomenal player both on and off the field for us," Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Tuesday. "Defensively from his leadership to his ability to – his work ethic, which is such an incredible example, all of which all of our guys look at and try to model themselves after.

"Certainly injuries are an unfortunate part of the game of football, but that is what it is, and we’re obviously going to expect whoever’s out on the field to perform to the highest level of their ability."

Without Vince Wilfork, Patriots focus on Bengals

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff October 1, 2013 02:03 PM
Leave it to the wife of a Patriots player to break some injury news. Bianca Wilfork posted a message on her Twitter account earlier this afternoon that included a picture of her husband, Vince. It showed the Patriots' defensive lineman sitting in a hospital chair and giving a thumbs-up sign, right foot in a cast, following surgery on his Achilles tendon, which he injured Sunday night.

"Thanking God for a successful surgery," Bianca Wilfork tweeted.

Wilfork wouldn't have been in the locker room today. Patriots players are off on Tuesdays. The only team access is a weekly teleconference with head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Much of the call was spent discussing this Sunday's opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, but Patricia was asked about losing his veteran lineman, likely for the season.

"Vince is just a phenomenal player both on and off the field for us. From his leadership to his ability to his work ethic, which is such an incredible example, all of which all of our guys look at and try to model themselves after," Patricia said. "Certainly injuries are an unfortunate part of the game of football, but that is what it is, and we’re obviously going to expect whoever’s out on the field to perform to the highest level of their ability. But Vince is certainly someone who we rely on week in week out to really attack each opponent at a truly very professional level."

Both Patricia and Belichick spoke highly of the Bengals' offense, which certainly will try to exploit the void created by Wilfork's absence. Third-year quarterback Andy Dalton has a solid core of skill players to work with, from running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard to receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu to tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.

"I’d say Green is as good a pure route runner as we’ll see," Belichick said. "He’s a very good pure receiver: Quick off the ball, creates separation, excellent timing, judgment on the ball, good deep ball receiver, good third down, red area receiver. He’s big but he’s not the kind of powerful guy, [like] Julio Jones or Vincent Jackson, but his quickness, his ability to separate and get away from people is outstanding and his ability to go up and get the ball is very good too. Those other guys are big, strong guys that can go up and get it with good ball skills. He has that same kind of size, but I’d say it’s a different type of athleticism. He makes some really spectacular catches, like Lynn Swann-ish."

The Bengals' team strength might be their defense, though, so McDaniels and the offense will need to continue the progress that was evident in the 30-23 win on Sunday over the Falcons.

"I think they really have solid players and disruptive players at all three levels. That to me is a big challenge any time you play a defense that has playmakers, guys that can create turnovers at all three levels of the defense," McDaniels said. "That always presents challenges for the offense because you have to do a good job of, first of all, taking care of the line of scrimmage against this team.

"This is a really disruptive front. They do a good job of creating negative plays in the running game, penetrating and getting in the backfield."

Brady: Wilfork injury 'tough to swallow'

Posted by Staff October 1, 2013 08:56 AM

Injuries have been a problem for the Patriots, but quarterback Tom Brady knows there is little sympathy around the NFL.

"No one really feels sorry for the Patriots and we're going to have to go out and try to win regardless," Brady said during his weekly appearance on WEEI's Dennis & Callahan program.

The biggest injury yet came on Sunday when the Patriots lost defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to an Achilles' injury that will likely sideline him for the season.

"It's a such a disappointment to lose him. He's irreplaceable and we'll have to find a way to collectively as a team fill the void," Brady said. "Injuries are a part of the game but the season-ending ones are tough to swallow."

A 30-23 victory over the Falcons Sunday improved the Patriots to 4-0.

"Our team has found ways to improve over the course of these few weeks ... that's really the trademark of a Bill Belichick-coached team," Brady said.

Sunday's win in Atlanta featured a stellar performance from cornerback Aqib Talib, who leads the league with four interceptions in the first four games and also has a forced fumble and seven passes defended.

"I go against him every day and he has a unique combination of size and speed," Brady said. "He's so hard to throw over the top of with his reach and wingspan. When you make a mistake, you pay."

The Patriots await the return of star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has missed the first four games as he continues to rehab from offseason back and arm surgery.

"He comes out and does whatever the team has asked of him. He's been able to practice and we're trying to work him back in," said Brady of Gronkowski. "Who knows what level he'll be back at?"

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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