AFC East: New England Patriots

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Much was said after the New England Patriots' 34-9 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, but it was hard to find a more decisive statement than what was delivered by cornerback Darrelle Revis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O-line continues to protect Tom Brady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sealver Siliga back at practice for Patriots after IR stint

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

Siliga had not practiced since Week 3 of the season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrington the right call against T.Y. Hilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offensive line pushes Patriots over the top

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W2W4: Patriots' key areas vs. Colts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colts vs. Patriots preview

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
8:00
AM ET
video When: 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis TV: NBC

INDIANAPOLIS – This isn’t simply about Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady between the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots.

Those two quarterbacks are definitely worth paying attention to, but playoff seeding in the AFC is the priority in the matchup between the two teams at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts need the victory to own the tiebreaker over the Patriots because it’s unlikely they’ll pass the Denver Broncos, who beat Indianapolis in Week 1. New England currently has a one-game lead over the Colts for the No. 2 seed, which gets you a bye in the first weekend of the playoffs.

ESPN.com Patriots reporter Mike Reiss and ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells preview the game.

Wells: Mike, you’ve covered Bill Belichick for a long time. You’ve watched as he’s gotten the upper hand on some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The Colts watched it with Peyton Manning early in his career and they’re watching it again with Luck (seven interceptions in two games vs. New England). What is it about Belichick’s style that makes it so tough on opposing young quarterbacks?

Reiss: Mike, I wouldn’t necessarily say Belichick always has the upper hand, as we could look at some games this year in which more inexperienced quarterbacks such as Oakland’s Derek Carr and the New York Jets’ Geno Smith had notable success. But one of the things I think Belichick’s defenses generally do well is take away the one or two things an offense wants to do, and make the opposition go to something else. In essence, his defenses take offenses out of their comfort zone. The other thing that stands out is the role turnovers play. The Patriots are traditionally one of the NFL’s leaders in turnover differential, and they currently rank tied for first at plus-12 (18 takeaways, 6 giveaways). As cornerback Darrelle Revis said earlier this year, the Patriots are at their best when playing physical and creating turnovers.

What have you noticed from Luck that is different this season compared to the previous two?

Wells: It’s no secret that Luck is an underrated runner. You were there when Brady talked about it during his news conference with the media earlier this week. I think Luck’s biggest growth this season has been his ability to not be predictable. It would be easy for him to constantly look for T.Y. Hilton, his big-play receiver, or Reggie Wayne, his security blanket in the time of need, but Luck is not doing that. He’s avoiding zeroing in on one or two targets when he’s in the pocket. The playmakers around him have made it possible for him to be able to spread the ball around. He’s completed passes to at least seven players in all nine games this season. He’s completed passes to nine players three times. I think that will help Luck against Belichick, the master of disguising his defense, on Sunday.

Colts fans don’t like to hear this, but I believe there’s no quarterback in the NFL, Peyton Manning included, who does a better job of getting the most out of his receivers and tight ends than Brady. Brady puts up numbers and wins every year even when you have to Google to see who some of his targets are. Is it Brady or the offensive system in New England that makes it happen?

Reiss: If I had to pick one, it would be Brady because I don’t think you can just put another quarterback in this system and expect the same results. He’s special in so many ways. At the same time, the system is part of it, too. It’s a “game plan” approach that morphs into something new on a week-to-week basis based on the perceived weaknesses of the opposition. Combine the fact that you have a Hall of Famer running the offense who has been in the same system for his entire 15-year career and it’s a pretty powerful force. Brady’s accuracy and decision-making are as sharp as ever and he’s been extending plays more in recent weeks by using his feet to buy more time. It’s been impressive to watch.

What do the Patriots have to be concerned about most when it comes to the Colts’ defense?

Wells: That’s a tricky question, Mike. The Colts have 23 sacks this season against quarterbacks not named Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger. Like any team in the league, the Colts are at their best when they’re able to get pressure on the quarterback. Roethlisberger picked them apart for 522 yards and six touchdowns last month. Brady will have similar success if Indianapolis defensive coordinator Greg Manusky isn’t able to put together a scheme that makes Brady uncomfortable in the pocket. Linebacker Robert Mathis supplied the majority of the pressure on the quarterback in the past. He’s out for the season with the torn Achilles, so Manusky has put together a package that allows a number of players to “eat,” as the Colts call their blitzes. You might see nickelback Darius Butler on one player. Mike Adams might come in from the safety position. The linebackers will also rush. The goal is to not be predictable with their blitz packages. It’s worked so far this season, as the Colts are tied for 10th in the league in sacks with 24.

Brandon Browner was in Seattle last season when Hilton (five catches, 140 yards and two TDs) went off against him and Richard Sherman in the Colts’ victory. How do the Patriots plan to slow down one of the NFL's most talented young receivers?

Reiss: The Patriots have been solid this year when it comes to protecting against the big play. Hilton, of course, is a big play waiting to happen. I’m anticipating the Patriots playing most of the game in their sub packages, which they’ve been in 67 percent of the time this season, and that ties in to how I’d envision they attempt to slow him down -- plenty of safety help over the top and physical play at the line of scrimmage. This is why safety Devin McCourty is a key player for the Patriots. A converted cornerback, he has very good range, is a solid tackler and plays a big part in limiting the big strike.

What should Patriots followers know about former New England Patriots players (kicker Adam Vinatieri, cornerback Darius Butler, safety Sergio Brown, injured guard Donald Thomas) and their roles and futures with the Colts, as well as the Boston College bookends on the offensive line, left tackle Anthony Castonzo and right tackle Gosder Cherilus?

Wells: Belichick hit it on the head about Vinatieri when he said he doesn’t see an end in sight for the ageless kicker. Vinatieri’s backing it up, as he’s currently on a streak of 26 consecutive made field goals. I know some people might not think much of nickelbacks, but Butler is very valuable to the Colts’ defense. He's so valuable that they keep him on the slot receiver even if starting cornerbacks Vontae Davis or Greg Toler go down with an injury. Butler missed two games earlier this season because of an ankle injury and there was a significant drop-off between him and Josh Gordy, the team’s fourth cornerback. Brown has proved over the past five games that he’s more than just a special-teams player. He stepped into the starting lineup after LaRon Landry was suspended four games for using performance-enhancing drugs. Many thought that would be a short-term situation until Landry returned. Landry is back, but Brown will be starting alongside veteran Mike Adams at safety on Sunday. Castonzo will continue to protect Luck’s blind side for the next 10 years. The interior part of the Colts’ line was supposed to be the weak link this season, but Cherilus has struggled, too. He’s been dealing with an assortment of injuries, including a groin injury that kept him out of practice some this week.
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Vince Wilfork, Darrelle Revis break down Colts' attack

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
5:08
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The past few weeks haven't been easy for the New England Patriots' defense. Sunday’s matchup against the Indianapolis Colts figures to grant no reprieve.

After strong performances against the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos, the Colts represent perhaps the greatest challenge as the league’s top scoring team. Two of the Patriots' key defensive players, cornerback Darrelle Revis and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, broke down the matchup during their media sessions Thursday afternoon.

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“They’re playing good ball -- real good ball,” Wilfork said. “You talk about a team that plays well together. Offense, defense and special teams. Especially at home. Sunday night, we know it’s going to be a battle. They’re a physical football team. They have a quarterback that’s so competitive. He hates to lose. Every play they compete. We see that.”

It starts third-year quarterback Andrew Luck, who leads the league in passing yards (3,085) while ranking second in touchdowns (26) and just outside the top 10 in completion percentage (63.6). Although Luck has struggled in his two career games against New England, including last year’s divisional-round playoff matchup, the Patriots are well aware of the threat he presents on the field.

“He’s a complete quarterback when you look at it,” Wilfork said. “He’s going to be a great one at this level. You can just tell, the way he operates that team. Put him in a situation, he’s unfazed. Get hit, he’ll get up. He’s just a tough quarterback all around. He’s probably one of the toughest quarterbacks in this game, physically and mentally. Just watching him play, playing against him a couple of times. He has the tools to be great and he’s been showing it.”

Revis is also impressed.

“He’s a talent,” Revis said. “He makes plays with his legs; he makes plays extending plays and he makes some great throws down the field. I give him all the accolades that he deserves.”

Much of Luck’s success stems from the receivers, most notably T.Y. Hilton. Hilton has been the Colts' top receiving option this season, especially in recent weeks. The third-year receiver has three touchdowns in his past four games, averaging 139 yards per game in that span.

“He’s very fast and very explosive. He makes big plays,” Revis said. “I think he’s a No. 1 receiver at making big plays.”

Don’t forget about the Colts' other receiving option, Reggie Wayne. Currently in his 14th season, Wayne has returned from an injury-riddled campaign last year to again being a top option. He’s the team’s second-most-targeted receiver behind Hilton.

“He’s just an elite receiver,” Revis said. “He’s been doing it for 14-plus years now. You never see any downfall. I never see a downfall in his game, so that tells you something.”

Wilfork had similarly high praise for Wayne, whom he described as being like family due to their University of Miami connection (Wayne played there from 1996-2000, Wilfork from 2001-2003).

“I don’t care what anybody says -- coaches, media, whatever it may be -- we’re family,” Wilfork said. “It’s good to see him still playing at the rate that he’s playing it. It goes to show you a lot about what football means to him. He’s very prepared. I know him personally. I know we’re going to get his best. I know he’s going to be ready to play.”

Not to be forgotten is the Colts' running game, anchored by Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. The two virtually split equal time in the backfield, with Richardson getting the majority of the reps on the ground while Bradshaw is a more dangerous receiving option (six touchdowns through the air, second on the team). Of course, the Patriots are very familiar with Bradshaw from his work with the New York Giants, especially in Super Bowl XLVI, when he fell into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

“I think he’s so underrated as a running back,” Wilfork said. “He’s a small guy, but he packs a punch with running the ball, [blocking], [catching] the ball out of the back field, yards after contact. He’s a complete back. Like I said, he gets overlooked by a bunch of big names nowadays in the league but I’ll tell you what, we don’t overlook him.

“When they can get that running game involved and get Luck to get the ball out to his receivers and tight ends, they’re a tough team to stop.”

Reggie Wayne: Best Patriots secondary he's seen is current group

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
4:50
PM ET
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne said Thursday that the secondary he will match up against Sunday night is the Patriots’ best unit he will have faced in his 14 seasons in Indy.

And he faced the Patriots when Ty Law and Rodney Harrison were roaming the secondary.

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Wayne said the intense coverage and physical play of the secondary allows the Patriots to be a better defense as a whole, particularly up front.

“It allows them to do more things up front with their front seven guys that they had previously done in the past years,” Wayne said.

In last season’s AFC Championship Game between the Colts and Patriots, Wayne did not play because he was out with a knee injury. While the Patriots had Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan as their main cornerbacks in 2013 (and were obviously without Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner), Wayne is looking back at that film to learn what he can about the defense.

“You can look at the game because [the Patriots] still have the same coaches,” Wayne said. “Now they can come in with a whole new game plan, but you want to look at that game and see what they did because if it pops up again, you know how to counterpunch off that.

“That’s something in our paths that we looked at. We know that a Coach [Bill] Belichick-coached team is not going to keep using the same thing, but at the same time you do want to look at the prior games to see what they did so you are ready for it.”

With Revis’ elite lockdown abilities and Browner’s size, physicality and intensity, the Patriots’ secondary has taken a new form.

“They are very talented,” Wayne said. “They are ball-hungry. They are definitely talented. It gives them a little bit to where they can be a little bit more of risk-takers with blitzes and things of that nature.”

In 2012, when Wayne was a free agent, the Patriots pursued him. But his heart remained in Indianapolis.

“No,” Wayne said when asked about if he was close to coming to New England that offseason. “I was Colts Nation all day. I’m blue and white -- that’s the only thing I can see.

“Everything worked out. I was able to come back here and finish out my career and I’m still running to that finish line each day, so we will go from there.”

Brandon LaFell back at practice; Dominique Easley absent

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
12:23
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell returned to practice on Wednesday after reportedly missing Tuesday’s practice with strep throat (per the Boston Herald). Meanwhile, rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley missed his second practice in a row as he was not spotted on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Easley had a pair of crutches resting in his locker. He was seen for a brief moment as he walked through the locker room with no signs of a limp.

Last Wednesday during the team's bye week, Easley was present for practice but pulled up during the stretching session and was tended to by athletic trainers. He did not participate in the team’s individual drills on that day.

The only other absence was defensive end Chandler Jones, who continues to miss practice with a hip injury.

The Patriots moved inside to the Dana-Farber Field House for practice as the team is preparing for the dome conditions of Lucas Oil Stadium.

Players were in full pads.

The Film Don't Lie: Patriots

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
11:00
AM ET
A weekly look at what the New England Patriots must fix:

With 79 accepted penalties, the Patriots are on pace to shatter the record for most accepted penalties in a season under coach Bill Belichick. Coming off the bye, this is an area Belichick has, naturally, identified as one that has to improve.

"I think it just creates more opportunities for our opponents," Belichick said this week. "It gives them extra plays on defensive penalties, and it negates yardage on offense and puts us in long yardage. We’ve been able to overcome a few of them, but they’ve also gotten us into a lot of trouble. In the long run, it’s certainly not the way we want to go. We want to try to play penalty-free and take advantage of extra opportunities that our opponents give us and not give them to them.

"We’re going to continue to work hard on it. It’s certainly an area that hasn’t been good for us over the course of the first nine games, and we’re trying hard to correct it. I think if we don’t correct it, it’s going to cost us, so we’re going to do all we can to coach it better and hopefully play it better."

The past two Super Bowl champions, Baltimore and Seattle, were among the league's most penalized clubs.

That serves as a reminder that a high penalty total isn't always a bad thing. But more than anything, the Patriots know they have to clean up some of the bad penalties that are a result of a lack of focus, such as false starts.

Quick hits from Bill Belichick on Colts

November, 10, 2014
Nov 10
2:10
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick hits from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s conference call on Monday:

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Colts’ tight end usage. The Colts’ offense likes to utilize all of the tight ends (Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle) to create matchup problems and boost blocking along the line. “They’ve done a good job with those guys and they use Doyle some, too,” Belichick said, adding that identifying where the tight ends align at the snap will be a key. “So a lot of times they have three tight ends on the field. They have a good mixture of one tight end, two tight end and three tight ends in their offense.”

On Fleener and Allen. Fleener is labeled the receiving tight end, though Allen provides a strong threat, especially in the red zone. “Both Fleener and Allen have been tough matchups in the passing game,” Belichick said. “There are times when they are out there together and there are times when it’s one or the other, but they both have done a good job of creating separation and making plays in the red area.” Belichick also gave high praise to Allen’s traditional tight end skills as a blocker. “I’ve been really impressed with Allen’s blocking,” Belichick said. “He’s one of the best blocking tight ends that we will see.”

Wayne keeps making plays. Belichick has had to scheme against Colts veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne many times throughout his coaching career. Belichick is still impressed by Wayne’s skills, even at 35 years old. "[He's] still really good at everything," Belichick said. "Obviously a real smart and experienced guy knows how to set up routes, make all of his routes look the same. [He] does a great job of releasing, and at the top of his routes, he creates separation at just the right time when the quarterback is ready to throw. He’s been a key guy for them in critical situations.”

Checking in on former Patriots. The Colts have two familiar faces on defense, with former undrafted safety Sergio Brown and Patriots 2009 second-round pick Darius Butler. “Darius is pretty much in the same role he was in last year -- the nickelback,” Belichick said. “[Greg] Toler and [Vontae] Davis usually outside and Butler usually in the slot. And Sergio has had a big role in the kicking game, and then when [LaRon] Landry [was out] the last four or five weeks he’s had a lot of playing time at safety and [has been] less involved in the kicking game. He’s been in those two roles and looks like they are independent of each other.”

Hoyer and Mallett showdown. Two former Tom Brady backups in Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer and Houston’s Ryan Mallett, who will be making his first career start, will be facing off this weekend. Belichick is proud of both of his former players. “Both those guys worked really hard here and both did a good job for us,” Belichick said. “A lot of respect for both of them and a personal liking for both guys. We wish them well.”

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