Tag Archives: New England Patriots

Tons of free agent possibilities for the Patriots – Boston.com

Reinforcements are on the way, but that doesn’t mean the Patriots can’t improve through free agency.

The Patriots don’t necessarily need to revamp. After a 12-4 season, and only one win away from a Super Bowl berth, they have the players in place to make another title run. And considering that seven players, five of whom were starters, were placed on injured reserve over the course of the 2013 season, relief is expected to come in the form of health.

That’s right. Reinforcements are on the way.

But that doesn’t mean the Patriots don’t have an opportunity to upgrade at key positions, including but not limited to the team’s tight ends group, its inside linebackers, interior defensive linemen, wide receiver, and cornerback. Production was abysmal without Rob Gronkowski. The run defense was hobbled without Vince Wilfork. The secondary was one Aqib Talib injury away from being rebarbative. And outside of Julian Edelman, a free agent himself, the Patriots were less than threatening in the passing game.

Here’s who the Patriots can target in free agency that will change that. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll be playing in Super Bowl XLIX.

Editor’s note: See the list of possible free agents on Boston.com, Patriots free agent targets.

So which Patriots players are on the bubble? – Boston.com

Patriots wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is going to have to prove he belongs with the Patriots one more time in 2014. (Elise Amendola / AP photo)

If the Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl, they have to upgrade a select number of positions and bring in some capable competition.

A cursory look at New England’s roster will show that two positions immediately need revamping: defensive tackle and wide receiver.

That’s where the 2013 Patriots underachieved the most.

But that doesn’t mean all of the players in those positions should fear for their jobs. Just some of them.

And there are others, too, who should be concerned about their standing going into 2014. The Patriots tinker quite a bit with the bottom half of their roster in the offseason with hopes of creating a competitive environment come training camp. There are a select number of players on the team, either because of their performance or because of their contract, who have to face the fact that they are sitting on the bubble.

That includes:

Kenbrell Thompkins — Given a 3-year, $1.493 million contract with $5,000 guaranteed after winning a job out of training camp, he was less than stellar in an injury-riddled season. He caught 32 passes for 466 yards and four touchdowns. But he also had a number of drops (5), plays that kept him off the field while coaches favored fellow rookie Aaron Dobson. He had two fantastic games, catching the final touchdown against the New Orleans Saints and tearing up the Atlanta Falcons for 127 yards and a score. There’s also the issue of the number of bodies for Thompkins. He still has to compete with Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Julian Edelman for snaps, all of whom were outside wide receivers. Edelman is the only free agent of the bunch while Dobson and Joyce are Patriots draft picks, making the other rookies much more valued commodities.

Editor’s note: See the entirety of this post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

What the Patriots can learn from the Seahawks – Boston.com

Seattle Seahawks coach built a winning team by favoring defensive linemen. (Ted S. Warren / AP photo)

Outside of stealing Seattle’s talent, there’s quite a bit to learn from former Patriots coach Pete Carroll’s Super Bowl-winning Seahawks in terms of the value he has placed on position players.

Culturally the Seahawks are as sound as they come, benefitting from a young and hungry group of players that average only 4.1 seasons of NFL experience on their 53-man roster. None had ever participated in a Super Bowl prior to Sunday’s massacre of the Denver Broncos. With such a large infusion of youth, the Seahawks were able to establish a loose and fun atmosphere where competition was routine and no job was ever safe. It bred camaraderie.

That’s eerily close to how the Patriots operate, with less emphasis publicly placed on how those competitions fare. You won’t hear about “Competition Wednesday” here.

Editor’s note: See the rest of this post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Patriots 2013 season

DENVER — With an offensive explosion by the Broncos — and a key defensive injury — the Patriots’ hopes of a Super Bowl title were dashed Sunday against a team with superior offensive weaponry.

That shouldn’t be a surprise. The 2013 Patriots were depleted on defense and offense, they lacked a pass rush against the league’s top quarterback, they were down two of their top linebackers, and played without their top cornerback for the final two and a half quarters of their AFC title bout.

It marks the ninth year in a row in which coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady either couldn’t reach, or couldn’t complete, their ultimate goal.

But that shouldn’t take away from the accomplishments this team has had. With a season worth of memories to go on, here are our five takeaways from the 2013 Patriots.

1. Bloodied but unbowed — Go back to the second cut day, Aug. 31, 2013. That’s when the bleeding started. The Patriots placed safety Adrian Wilson — long forgotten — on injured reserve. The veteran safety was supposed to be a boost for the secondary. Things only got worse when Vince Wilfork, the team’s monster nose tackle, went down with an ACL injury against the Atlanta Falcons Sept. 29. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who had already been nursing a knee injury, was placed on IR Nov. 2. He was supposed to be the team’s other run stopper. Top linebacker Jerod Mayo (Oct. 16) and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (Oct. 29) were both shelved with season-ending injuries. In another blow to the offense, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a devastating hit to the knee against the Cleveland Browns Dec. 8 after only playing seven games. It didn’t stop there. Wide receiver Josh Boyce (ankle) was placed on IR Jan. 2 and linebacker Brandon Spikes was put on IR, reluctantly, four days later. Despite all of this, Belichick was able to lead the Patriots to the AFC Championship without five of his projected defensive starters and two of his top offensive starters. That’s miracle work. It shouldn’t be surprising that the best offense in the history of the NFL was able to get a jump on the Patriots, let alone pile up 507 yards total yards. What the Patriots were able to accomplish, often hobbled every week with the players that remained active, is an astounding feat to be proud of.

2. The Patriots found different leaders each week, never quitting — The injuries created an adverse situation for New England, but calls for the “next man up” rang loudly in Foxborough, with each player passing the torch on a week to week basis. Against the Falcons, the Patriots could’ve wilted in the Georgia Dome. But Tom Brady and Aqib Talib were not having it. Shane Vereen, who missed eight games with a broken hand, played through the very same injury in Week 1 to help the Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills. It was seismic effort, much like the team’s come-from-behind win against the Broncos in Week 12. Or their come-from-behind wins against New Orleans, Cleveland and Houston. Kenbrell Thompkins caught a game-winning touchdown pass against the Saints. Danny Amendola caught one against the Browns. Stephen Gostkowski made three game-winning kicks. Logan Ryan had a key interception and sack against Baltimore. LeGarrette Blount came on as a force to be reckoned with in Week 17. And Julian Edelman proved to be a workhorse throughout. The Patriots never allowed themselves to be taken out of a game, with their greatest margin of defeat at six points. Nine of the Patriots’ 16 regular season games were decided by four points or less. There was a feeling, all the way up until Sunday’s loss to the Broncos, that each game would go down to the final possession. There was no such thing as quit for this team.

3. Youth in action — It wasn’t anticipated, certainly because of injuries, but the Patriots featured one of the youngest teams in the postseason. Seventeen players had never played in the playoffs before hitting the field against the Indianapolis Colts. A number of them were expected to just provide depth and develop this year, but were thrust into regular action. Rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins were expected to be integral parts of the team’s passing attack despite frequent injuries. Between them, they totaled 69 receptions for 985 yards and eight touchdowns. Defensive backs Logan Ryan (35 tackles, 5 interceptions, 1.5 sacks) and Duron Harmon (31 tackles, 2 interceptions), both out of Rutgers, helped shore up the team’s secondary as injuries took out defensive leaders Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory in spurts. And with Wilfork and Kelly out, Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, and Sealver Siliga worked extensively as the team’s interior pass rush. Jones had six sacks, Siliga had three, and Vellano finished with two. Linebacker Jamie Collins, who was kept to special teams duty for most of the regular season, exploded onto the scene in the playoffs as one of the team’s top linebackers. He had an interception and a sack against the Colts along with six tackles. He had seven tackles against the Broncos. They were all pivotal players in a season when none of them were expected to be.

See the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

W2W4: Patriots at Broncos

DENVER — The AFC Championship won’t be like the Patriots’ last matchup with the Denver Broncos.

The weather in Denver, expected to hit a high of 60 degrees, won’t resemble the wintry conditions felt on Nov. 24, 2013 when the temperature at kickoff was 22. The Patriots won 34-31 in overtime with the weather feeling closer to 6 degrees thanks to the wind chill. Winds were gusting up to 22 miles per hour.

That heavy wind led to some interesting decision-making by the Patriots, who elected to kick off in overtime after winning the coin toss. But it also likely led to some keen decisions by the Broncos as well, who ended up running the ball 48 times.

That likely won’t be the case Sunday, making for one-on-one matchups to carry greater importance for the AFC Championship tilt.

Here’s what we’ll be watching:

1. Jamie Collins against Julius Thomas — The Patriots rookie linebacker will be tested against one of the NFL’s top tight ends in Julius Thomas. Thomas did not play in the first bout between the Patriots and Broncos. But after he caught 65 passes for 778 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 regular season games, he is a well-known threat. With Thomas at 6-5 and 250 pounds, Collins (6-3, 250) may be the only Patriots player with the size to cover and compete with him.

2. Aqib Talib vs. Demaryius Thomas — Demaryius Thomas caught four passes for 41 yards and a touchdown last time around against the Patriots. He got the best of Aqib Talib in that matchup, catching three of those passes with Talib in coverage, including the touchdown. But he made sure to make things difficult for Thomas in overtime, denying him a pass on 3rd and 14. How Talib handles one of the league’s top boundary receivers in Round 2 will have huge implications on the game.

3. Containment of Shaun Phillips — Denver’s outside linebacker has replaced Von Miller as the team’s top pass rushing specialist. He tallied two sacks against his former team, the San Diego Chargers, in the AFC Divisional round and 10 sacks this season. Containing him should be a point of emphasis for the Patriots’ offensive line.

4. Peyton Manning’s foibles — The league’s top quarterback has had well-known meltdowns in the postseason. His 10-11 record in the playoffs is littered with games in which he has thrown an untimely interception, was unable to convert on a key play, or failed in the red zone when his team needed a touchdown most. For as much as this game is about how the Patriots can somehow limit the league’s top offense, led by the league’s top quarterback, it’s just as much about whether Manning can maintain his high level of play at a time when the best is expected of him.

5. Bill Belichick’s gamesmanship — Whether the goal is to shut down the Broncos’ passing attack or somehow rein in their running game, which was prolific in Week 12, the Patriots coach’s game plan has to somehow confuse and confound Broncos coach John Fox and Manning enough to render the best offense an average counterweight. In the Patriots and Broncos’ first meeting, there was an open-door sign for the Broncos to run on every down, with the Patriots benefiting greatly from the wind and Manning taking a backseat to Knowshon Moreno (224 yards). By the time the Broncos really started attacking the Patriots through the air, New England had already scored 28 straight points. That sort of gamesmanship, while successful against the Broncos with Jack Del Rio at the helm, likely won’t work twice. But that doesn’t mean Belichick won’t have something else up his sleeve.

To see the rest of this post, view the original on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

AFC, NFC championship picks

There’s a sharp contrast between the AFC and NFC Championship games, with the former featuring the league’s hallmark quarterbacks and the latter featuring the game’s up-and-coming stars.

It’s hard not to notice when considering the juxtaposition that will arise in the Super Bowl, whoever the contestants are. It’s also hard to ignore that given the talent of each team, and the rivalries between each opponent, Sunday’s conference championships are much harder to pick than usual. One could, with a simple coin flip, make an argument for either and have some pretty good numbers to back them up.

But when you look at the line, there’s a clear divide between the AFC Championship and the NFC Championship. And that helps guide my conference championship picks.

49ers (-3) at the Seahawks (+3) — The Seattle Seahawks have won four of their last five games against the San Francisco 49ers at home, including this season’s matchup. In those five games, they’ve outscored the 49ers 139-58. Seattle is 16-1 at home in the past two seasons. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick not only has troubles at Seattle’s noisy CenturyLink Field, but every time he’s faced Seattle’s sterling No. 1 defense. He’s 2-2 against the Seahawks, completing 50.54 percent of his passes while throwing two touchdowns and five interceptions. Every time he sees these guys, he just doesn’t do well. The 49ers need him to play at his best, which I just don’t think is possible given the opponent and the location.
My pick: Seahawks

Patriots (+4) at the Broncos (-4) — After the Patriots stormed back to beat the Broncos 34-31 in overtime in Week 12, helped in part by conservative play-calling in 22-degree weather and Rob Gronkowski (7 receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown), they’re facing a different climate and mindset in Denver going into Sunday’s game. Peyton Manning, who is 4-10 against Tom Brady, aggressively attacked the San Diego Chargers last week, throwing the ball down the stretch despite having the lead. That’s a huge change from what the Patriots previously saw and could affect the dynamics of the game should the Broncos procure another lead. But Denver has been notorious for allowing opponents an opportunity to steal the game away, much like they did for the Chargers, who had the Broncos stuck at 3rd and 17. The Patriots can certainly steal a win against the AFC’s No. 1 seed if Brady and the passing game gets going against a diminished Broncos secondary. The injury to Denver cornerback Chris Harris certainly opens things up. I expect it to go down to the final possession. Maybe even a field goal.
My pick: Patriots

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Bills second game

FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots finish the season on a strong note, downing the Buffalo Bills, 34-20, while securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Now, the Patriots can rest up and get healthy for their next opponent, either the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, or Kansas City Chiefs.

Here are our five takeaways from the game:

1. Bullish on Blount — It’s not too often that one player can affect a game so dramatically in at least two phases, offense and special teams. LeGarrette Blount, with his punishing running style and ability to gain yardage after contact, was able to do just that. He ran for a career-high 189 yards on 24 carries and added 145 return yards for a team record 334 all-purpose.

“I’m feeling good,” said Blount, with a crowd of reporters leaning on his every word. “I mean, especially after getting the win and performing like that. I’m feeling amazing. I don’t have words to explain it.”

The Patriots ran a season-high 43 times with Blount and Stevan Ridley (17 carries, 64 yards) getting the bulk of the load. The team finished with 267 yards, a season high. But it was Blount whose mix of speed and power that stole the show, breaking away for touchdowns of 36 and 35 yards.

While for the span of the season observers of the Patriots have considered Stevan Ridley as the most talented running back on the team’s roster, Blount’s increased role as the starter has given those same observers cause to re-think that assertion. Because of injuries and Ridley’s benching, Blount was at one point the de facto lead running back. But now, after such a vivid performance, he can truly be considered the featured back.

2. Whatever is needed, any given game — The Patriots have an ever-changing offense, geared weekly for each opponent. That ability to game plan, using a motley crew of receivers and running backs, has allowed the Patriots to flip from being a running-dominated team, like Sunday against the Bills, to a pass-happy team whenever necessary.

There were doubts at different points this season whether the Patriots could stick with the running game, but with the rain on Sunday, they had to force themselves to feed Blount and Ridley. The results just happened to be fantastic.

“It was tough to throw the ball, tough to catch it,” Belichick said. “We saw a bunch of balls on the ground, more so than usual. That was definitely a factor. It got worse as the game went along. Yeah, it was definitely a running game.”

That kind of flexibility, to rely on different aspects of the offense and players each and every week, makes the Patriots a dangerous opponent in the playoffs.

See all of my takeaways in the original post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

W2W4: Patriots vs. Bills

FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots’ history of dominance over the Buffalo Bills should play no part in planning for this week’s matchup, which holds the added caveat of having playoff implications in the AFC.

The team has said as much this week, and players have set themselves up mentally to go out and earn the win, including a first-round bye, and possibly home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That’s their motivation.

But how do they get there? Here’s a few things we’re watching that will help the Patriots achieve that goal.

1. Dealing with the two-headed monster — The Patriots will have to contain running backs Fred Jackson (836 rushing yards, 8 TDs) and C.J. Spiller (822 rushing yards, 2 TDs). The duo have helped the Bills become the second best rushing offense in the league (142.5 yards per game), a source of strength for a team that has had to deal with a fluctuating cast of quarterbacks under center. The Patriots are allowing 131.7 yards per game on the ground. Run stuffers Brandon Spikes (85 tackles) and Dont’a Hightower (91 tackles) will have to be on top of their game.

2. Containing Thad Lewis — Bills quarterback Thad Lewis, while not as well regarded as a runner as E.J. Manuel, is still well respected by the Patriots for his ability to scramble. He has only 22 carries for 48 yards (2.2 ypc) and a touchdown. The Patriots have done a good job of limiting the movement of quarterbacks of late, especially after the fiasco in Carolina.

See the rest of this post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Ravens game

BALTIMORE — The New England Patriots didn’t need a miraculous comeback or have to make last-minute defensive stand in order to bag their 11th win of the season, a 41-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday afternoon.

With a stingy defense and some ball control, the Patriots were able to wipe the floor with last year’s Super Bowl champions.

Here’s what we can gather from Sunday’s game:

1. Defense at the forefront — Forget the defensive touchdowns for a second, which can be considered as garbage time points anyway. Instead, note the team’s effort on third and fourth downs, holding the Ravens to 5 of 14 conversions on third down and 0 for 3 on fourth. There were some crucial stops that helped keep the Ravens from building up any rhythm, including two interceptions by Logan Ryan. And consider what the Patriots defense was able to accomplish in the red zone, holding the Ravens to 1 of 3 in these crucial scoring opportunities. It spoke volumes about Sunday’s effort and how it deserved a special place for this team with all of the injuries New England has endured.

The takeaways were also the Patriots’ first since Week 13 against the Houston Texans, ending a two-week drought.

It was the kind of performance that was commendable on a number of levels.

2. Adding up the bodies — Devin McCourty left Sunday’s game with a head injury, likely a concussion. Shane Vereen left as well with a groin injury. Steve Gregory had to leave the game temporarily. Dont’a Hightower was shaken up. Alfonzo Dennard was limited to a few snaps. And that’s on top of players like Nate Solder (concussion), Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), and Josh Boyce (ankle) missing with their respective ailments.

If there’s one thing Patriots fans are going to have to come to terms with, it’s this talk of the “next man up.” The Patriots have been preaching it for some time now after suffering season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork, Sebastian Vollmer, Tommy Kelly, and Jerod Mayo.

“That’s been the whole season, not just the whole game but the whole season,” said Chandler Jones. “Everyone has to be ready and everyone has to know what they’re doing. And as you can see a lot of guys stepped up and made plays.”

The Patriots have clearly bought into the “next man up” philosophy.

See the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.