AFC East: New England Patriots

Running back Stevan Ridley is one of several New England Patriots players scheduled for unrestricted free agency on March 10, and he shared his mindset on the process during an appearance on Sirius XM NFL Radio’s “Movin’ the Chains” program on Friday.

“I’m excited about it,” Ridley told co-hosts Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan. “As a player coming into the league, you get there and your first contract you kind of have to establish yourself and see what you can do. Everybody is a good player if you get to make it to the NFL, but there is something to be said if you get to that second contract.

“Where I’ll be playing, and who I’ll be playing for, is still unknown, but I know I’ve come in and done my job up to this point and now I have to put it in my agent’s hands to get me on another team, or stay where I’m at, and make sure I’m in pads playing ball somewhere next year. I know if you think about it too much it will worry you sick.”

[+] EnlargeRidley
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsStevan Ridley has rushed for 2,817 yards and 22 touchdowns in four seasons with New England.
Ridley’s free-agent status is affected, in part, by the torn ACL he sustained Oct. 12 in a game against the Buffalo Bills. He explained his thought process along those lines in the Sirius interview.

“I take what I do to heart. It’s not really all about the dollar bill to me. Of course, every player wants to be paid for the work they’ve put in, but to me it’s bigger than that,” he said. “I think you see a lot of guys that work hard and get to that second contract and they kind of get complacent. With me, I believe the Lord takes you through certain things to develop you as a person and you really find out who you are. For me to have this injury going into my contract year, I really think that is going to make me that much more hungry going into this next season. I have something to prove. I have something to play for.”

Ridley expressed confidence in what he can do on the field in 2015.

“I take it personal to any team or anybody that says I can’t be a very productive player on whatever team I land on,” he said. “I’ve been playing ball my whole life, I’m going to come in and be a leader, and I’m going to be a guy that comes in and busts his butt in the weight room and busts his butt on the field. I’m a good teammate, I have fun with my guys, but when the lights come on Sundays, it’s all business and I plan on going out there and making plays.”

Asked what’s important to him in the free-agent process, Ridley went with the bottom-line answer of simply having an opportunity to play.

“Being in New England the last four years, four AFC Championships, two Super Bowl [appearances], that’s really hard to replace, to go to another team somewhere,” he said. “But going to another team could mean more opportunities, and could mean more carries, and could mean another team that doesn’t have the winning tradition that is up in New England and has been established there.

“So for me, really I just want to be playing ball somewhere. That’s the big thing. That’s what I have to rely on my agent and make sure I have the right people around me to put me in that position. So I’m not really worried about where. I just want to be playing ball somewhere. I know that. ”

Three other sound bites from Ridley’s interview:

Coached by Ivan Fears the last four years: “He’s been there as long as the dinosaurs have been around. I don’t think he’s really going anywhere. I’d love to be there, love to be part of that program. It’s been an awesome experience. Coach Fears is a great coach and he taught me a lot about the pro level.”

Playing with Patriots teammates: “I love my guys. I love who I play with. Tom Brady, regardless of his age, is the best quarterback in the game of football right now. You look at my tight end with [Rob] Gronkowski. You look at my wide receiver out wide, Julian Edelman, you look at Danny Amendola, you look at my college teammate [at LSU] Brandon LaFell. It’s pieces around. Not to mention it’s a solid offensive line up front. So that all plays a part in being a productive running back. You can’t get it done by yourself. You have to have pieces around you if you want to be a good player in this league. … When you have weapons around you, and coaches that put you in a position to win like Coach Belichick, like Josh McDaniels, it makes your job a lot easier.”

Setting the individual benchmark for each game: “My personal goal, week in and week out is to have 100 yards on the ground, man. That’s what I try to set myself up for. If I don’t have 100 yards, I’m not happy. That’s been my goal since junior high. … Every game that is under 100 yards, I look at it as a failure. … My best season was my second season, when I actually got the opportunities and I got the carries and the touches that I could [to] be the back that I know I am. I feel like I can be a 1,000-yard back every year if I just get the opportunities. But that’s not always my call and I’m a team guy first. It’s not about my individual stats as long as we’re getting that W at the end of the day.”

Following up on LB Brandon Spikes

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
When the New England Patriots and linebacker Brandon Spikes parted ways after the 2013 season, both seemed to think a fresh start would benefit each side.

Spikes, who had stayed away from voluntary workouts that year in hopes of proving he could become a three-down linebacker, ended up signing a one-year deal with the Bills. He had a good season in Buffalo, where he was named a captain.

But now he finds himself back in the same spot he was in New England: Still looking for a club to give him a shot as a full-time linebacker.

This is what Bills general manager Doug Whaley said on the "John Murphy Show" late last week: "Brandon is one of my favorite players. We're going to reach out to his representation and see how he would fit in this new defensive scheme ... Whether it would fit [depends on] how he sees himself as a player. So it'll be more of, 'Hey do you want to come back and be a one- or two-down player? Or do you want to try to go out and still be an every-down player [elsewhere]?' So that one is going to be a kind of seeing what works for him and what works for us."

Spikes played 504 of 1,087 defensive snaps for the Bills (46.3 percent) in 2014 and finished with 54 tackles, three passes defended and one forced fumble.

For a comparison, here is Spikes' playing-time breakdown from his time with the Patriots:

2010 -- 31.7 percent
2011 -- 40.1 percent
2012 -- 66.2 percent
2013 -- 59.7 percent
It has been noted that former New England Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who retired following the 2013 season, has been helping the team scout prospects at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

We can also add veteran special-teams coach Scott O'Brien, who retired following Super Bowl XLIX, to that list.

O'Brien has been assisting in the team's evaluation of specialists, many of whom met with reporters Wednesday and will be working out Thursday and Friday. This isn't a major surprise when considering the Patriots noted O'Brien would still be working with the club in some capacity following his retirement.

Head coach Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise of O'Brien when announcing his retirement, saying, "I have never worked with a coach better ... Scott is second to none at preparation, strategy, teaching, techniques, fundamentals, scouting and virtually any other aspect of team building, game planning or player development that exists in football. I thank Scott for making me a better coach, finding and developing countless players and being such a tremendous asset at both organizations we worked together. Scott O’Brien is undoubtedly one of the finest coaches of his generation and he deserves having his final game be a Super Bowl championship. While we will miss his contributions in coaching, we look forward to continuing to work with him in other capacities.”

Those "other capacities" include scouting, as evidenced by O'Brien's presence at the combine.
New England Patriots defensive end/linebacker Akeem Ayers was a guest on NFL Network’s "NFL AM" program Monday, as he sat alongside Terrell Davis and Jordan Babineaux.

One part of the interview that stood out was when Babineaux, a former teammate of Ayers in Tennessee, shared his impressions of Ayers from his 2011 rookie season.

Babineaux: “That was Mike Munchak’s first stint as a head coach, the transition happened with Coach [Ken Whisenhunt], and then now you had to play under Bill Belichick. How was that process leading up to where you are now, because I remember when Akeem came in as a rookie, I couldn’t get the guy to do special-teams looks in practice. Then I turn on the film [with the Patriots] and see you running down and making tackles on the punt team and leading that charge. Talk about the growth and where you came from.”

Ayers: “It’s been a learning experience, just coming up as a rookie, you’re just learning the game and how things go. You take stuff from guys, like yourself, being a young guy. You learn what’s expected of you. I’m having a lot more fun and just really taking advantage of every opportunity I got to be on the field.”

A few more sound bites from Ayers’ "NFL AM" interview:

Expectations upon arriving in New England: “I didn’t really know what to expect. Just being traded to another team, midseason, I tried to go with the flow and get with a couple guys on the team. Everyone accepted me when I got there. Things were pretty much 100 miles [per hour], I hit the ground running and tried to get in the playbook. I didn’t know what position I was playing -- end, linebacker. There was really a lot going on.”

When it hit home that he is a Super Bowl champ: “It really doesn’t hit you right away. At the time, you’re full of so much emotion, you really don’t know how to act, especially in our game when we thought we were going to have to [force] overtime or find some way to win the game, and [Malcolm Butler] comes up with a huge play for us. You’re full of so much emotion; it really takes you a few days [to say], ‘Wow, we just really won the Super Bowl.’”

Preparing to face Russell Wilson: “Just trying to keep him in the pocket. He’s really good when he extends plays. It’s really hard for the guys to cover for a long period of time, no matter how good our DBs are. Keep him in the pocket, make him throw the ball on time, don’t let him extend the plays; that’s when he can really hurt you with his legs, getting out of the pocket, scrambling and scrambling to throw the ball.”
New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty is scheduled to become a free agent March 10, and he shared some initial thoughts with Dan Duggan of NJ Advance Media on Sunday.

"I'm excited for the process to see how it will all work out," he told Duggan. "I haven't really thought about it that much even though the season is over, and that's kind of the top thing on the list. I think just coming down off the Super Bowl run and winning that, maybe next week or the week after it will really start to set in as it really gets closer to the whole free agency, franchise tag and all of that."

McCourty's brother, Titans cornerback Jason McCourty, told Duggan he would make a hard recruiting pitch come March 10. But he doubts he might have the chance.

"As March closes in he'll get a chance to see what New England wants to do, and I know he wants to be back there," Jason McCourty said. "He feels like that's home. I think that's where he'll want to play his entire career. ... It's going to be hard to get him out of New England."

Leftovers from WR Brandon LaFell

February, 11, 2015
Feb 11
A few leftovers from New England Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell's appearance on NFL Network's "NFL AM" program Wednesday:

Thoughts on Jermaine Kearse's on-his-back catch: “I was like, ‘Man, out of all the ways to lose a game, I don’t want to lose this way.' Once he caught the ball, I was [thinking] I hope the coaches let them score so we can get the ball back with at least 50-40 seconds. They haven’t been able to stop us the whole fourth quarter, and it was going to be the same way if we got the ball back, I felt like.”

Seahawks not handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch at the end: “It was the best play call in history on my side of the field. The play before, Lynch almost scored, so I was like, there is no doubt in my mind he’s going to get the ball again. When they didn’t hand him the ball, [it was], ‘Yes, man.’ In that situation, the red zone, it’s a tight situation, things happen that much quicker.”

Growing a beard since the loss to the Chiefs Sept. 29: “We were struggling at the time. Big loss, and I was like, 'Man, I’m tired of getting haircuts and all this. We’re not cutting it until we win the Super Bowl.'"

When duty calls in parenthood and his wife Kristen misses his TD catch in the Super Bowl: “I actually found out that she was at the restroom yesterday. I thought she saw the touchdown and she was like, ‘No, I was taking Jordyn to the restroom; only thing I saw was the touchdown dance. I was walking back to the stands, and everybody [said] you all just scored, your husband just scored.’ She just told me yesterday. She had told someone else to tell me.”

Celebrating a Super Bowl championship under the confetti: “It was a great feeling. Two weeks before, we had the confetti in Foxborough and I was telling everyone, ‘Hey, man, there’s a better feeling than this.’ I haven’t played in a Super Bowl, but I’m pretty sure everybody would want to feel that confetti more than this confetti. To have your kids come up to you at the end of the game and say, ‘We did it, daddy!’ That’s a great feeling.”

Live blog: Patriots Super Bowl parade

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
Boston will have a victory parade for the Super Bowl XLIX-champion New England Patriots on Wednesday beginning around 11 a.m. ET. will bring you coverage, including fan reaction, and photos of the parade, which will begin at the Prudential Center and end at City Hall.

You can watch live coverage of the parade on ESPN3 beginning at 10 a.m. ET.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Cleaning out another overflowing Super Bowl XLIX notebook from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's point of view:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady, Bill Belichick
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyCoach Bill Belichick said the Pats had enough fight in them to beat Seattle and win Super Bowl XLIX.
1. Belichick admitted the NFL's investigation into underinflated footballs affected preparations for the game as his attention was directed elsewhere at times. "We got off to a little bit of a slow start last week," he relayed. "But Matt Patricia and his defensive staff, Josh McDaniels and the offensive staff, Scott O'Brien [and] special teams, those guys did a great job of putting the game plan together, preparing for this game for our team while I was doing some other things. I was able to catch up. I couldn't have done it without those guys, for sure. I just can't say enough about the job that our coaching staff did, as well as the players."

2. What was Belichick doing the morning of the game? Still watching film of the Seahawks, of course. Specifically, he said he was watching Seattle's 27-24 overtime win against the Buccaneers from last season. The Seahawks had trailed 21-0 in that game before roaring back. This is another reminder to the level of detail that coaches take when preparing for a game.

3. Belichick was pretty witty after the game when asked if he's ever seen a catch like the 33-yarder that Jermaine Kearse made on his back. "Yeah," he responded. "I've seen two of them." Of course, he was referring to David Tyree's on-his-helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII.

4. The response when asked if controversy relating to the NFL's investigation makes the win sweeter: "I think our team deserved to win. I don't know what more we need to do. This team deserves to be champions and that's why they're up here."

5. Belichick's opening remarks concluded with a personal touch. "The last time I won and got Gatorade [over the head], my dad was here. I was certainly thinking about him tonight, and I'm sure he was watching. I hope my mom is watching too. So, 'Hi, Mom.'"

6. He repeated something he said in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, noting that halftime of the loss to Kansas City on Sept. 29 was the season's turning point. "We weren't close to winning," he said, "but the fight and competitiveness was there. That gave me a lot of confidence going into the next week's game."

7. Asked about undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler, Belichick reflected on how he first came to the team. "He was a rookie tryout guy. We had already had our draft. We had already signed our free agents after the draft [so] he was part of what we like to call, 'the few, the proud, the free.' He came in and did a great job in that rookie minicamp [and] we created a roster spot by juggling some other guys around, signed him, and he had a good training camp. That's a big jump from West Alabama to the NFL, but Malcolm competes hard."

8. There was no interest in speaking on what he accomplished on a personal basis, such as tying legendary Steelers coach Chuck Noll with four Super Bowl victories as a head coach. "This isn't about me right now," Belichick said. "It's about our football team, these guys, and what we've accomplished as a group that a lot of people never thought we had a chance to accomplish." Belichick's opening statement also referred to the team being "counted out many times through the course of the year by a lot of people."

9. With two timeouts left prior to the second-and-goal play from the 1 that Butler intercepted, Belichick said he was holding them for if the Seahawks ran the ball on the play and the Patriots stopped them.

10. Asked about the Patriots' two long drives in the fourth quarter, Belichick said, "I've been in a few of these games and we've been on the other side of it. It's just hard to rush the passer for four quarters in a game like this. You just expend so much energy. Our offensive line did a great job, but I think as the game wore on, that probably helped neutralize the pass rush a little bit."

11. This will go down as one of Belichick's favorite Patriots clubs. "This is a great team," he said. "A great group of competitors who never gave in, never lost their will, mentally and physically as tough of a group as I've been around, and I've been around some. These guys are really special."
videoGLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the New England Patriots plotted and schemed to attack the Seattle Seahawks' defense, it was clear Rob Gronkowski's night was going to be about far more quality than quantity.

The Patriots knew it would be about picking the right time for Tom Brady to try to get the ball to Gronkowski and not forcing the issue against the Seahawks' top-end secondary.

"We didn't expect this to be a game we would come in and Gronk dominate the whole game because they don't play much man-to-man coverage," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "We were patient, he was patient, he made his plays when he had his opportunities."

Gronkowski finished with six receptions for 68 yards in the Patriots' 28-24 win in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday night. In his previous 18 games this season, Gronkowski had six games with more catches and 10 games with more receiving yards. With Brady aware of when the Seahawks were going to play man-to-man coverage on the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end, he found Gronkowski on two of the game's bigger plays for the Patriots.

Just before halftime, with the Patriots on the Seahawks' 22-yard line in a 7-7 game with 36 seconds left in the second quarter, the Patriots lined up in a three-wide receiver set. The Seahawks elected to match up linebacker K.J. Wright on Gronkowski in the open space to the right side of the formation.

It's a matchup that's worked for the Seahawks this season, but Brady identified it and locked in on Gronkowski, who won the battle at the line of scrimmage. Brady lofted a pass that Gronkowski reeled in high over his head as he crossed the goal line, two steps clear of Wright's pursuit.

"I just attacked the defender. It was a go route, just gave him a little move, Tom threw a nice ball, it was a nice play," Gronkowski said.

With 4 minutes, 47 seconds to play and the Patriots trailing 24-21, Brady again saw a matchup he liked. He hit Gronkowski for a 20-yard catch-and-run on second-and-11 with Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, who was wearing a brace on his injured left knee, in tow.

The play moved the ball to the Seahawks' 32-yard line. Two plays later, Brady found Gronkowski again for a 13-yard gain, and the Patriots took a 28-24 lead four plays later.

"A lot of times there's not a lot of space, [but] they were conscious of Gronk," McDaniels said. "He made a couple of huge plays, the huge play on the crossing route there in the fourth quarter to really get us down there in their end. It's a zone team and they played a lot more zone than man tonight and when they played man, Gronk had a big night on some of those plays. You have to make them cover somebody and displace somehow, in the zone coverages, and bring somebody else into that spot where somebody left."

"It's just go out there and do what we gotta do," Gronkowski said, when asked he if he needed to be more patient in the game. "It was awesome."

Super Bowl XLIX was the final piece in Gronkowski's recovery from a torn right ACL and MCL he suffered against the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 8, 2013.

Gronkowski did not play in any of the Patriots' preseason games. However, he did not miss a game in the regular season or in New England's postseason run that ended with the team's fourth Super Bowl title. It is their first title since Gronkowski was the team's second-round pick in the 2010 draft.

"My whole goal, my whole mission when I went down was to get back to this point, to get back to where I need to be to help the team and get back to the Super Bowl," Gronkowski said. "I just worked my tail off all year long to be where we are now. Just to come out healthy, come out of the Super Bowl healthy. This is awesome."

Best, worst of Super Bowl XLIX

February, 1, 2015
Feb 1
videoGLENDALE, Ariz. -- Super Bowl XLIX, which appropriately featured the best two teams in football, was a pick 'em at kickoff.

The score was 14-14 at the half.

Even when the Seattle Seahawks rolled to a 24-14 lead, you got the gnawing feeling it wasn’t over. The New England Patriots, after all, had come back from two 14-point deficits in the divisional playoff round game against Baltimore.

Sure enough, the Patriots came back, with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Tom Brady, who broke the Super Bowl record for touchdown passes previously held by his idol, Joe Montana. The 3-yard score to Julian Edelman came with 2:02 left on the clock and gave the Patriots a 28-24 lead.

This was the game we imagined, the game we deserved at the end of another rousing NFL season.

Then Jermaine Kearse became David Tyree.

After Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler tipped the ball, Kearse -- lying on his back -- bobbled and reeled the ball in at the 4-yard line.

Game over? Not so much. With one of the best running backs in the league in their huddle, Seattle threw the ball. And Butler intercepted it to preserve the Patriots’ win.

It was one of the most cathartic endings in the history of the ultimate game.

Thus, the Seahawks failed to become the first team since the 2004 edition of these Patriots to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

What about New England? After winning three Super Bowls in a span of four years under the stewardship of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the Patriots narrowly lost their next two. Now Brady and Belichick have four Lombardi trophies -- something only Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll also achieved.

Here are the rest of the best and worsts in this zany contest:

Worst parting gift: With the first half winding down, Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril committed an unconscionable act when he lurched into the neutral zone ahead of the snap and was flagged five yards. The problem was it was third-and-3. The Patriots accepted the penalty, and three plays later, Brady dropped in a sweet, 22-yard pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski to give New England a 14-7 lead. Which led to ...

[+] EnlargeJulian Edelman
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJulian Edelman's 3-yard touchdown catch gave the Patriots the lead for good late in the fourth quarter.
Best milestone: Brady’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Edelman with 2:02 left in the game was his record 13th in a Super Bowl -- two more than his boyhood idol, Joe Montana.

Best roll of the dice: Seattle head coach Pete Carroll, like his Patriots counterpart, Bill Belichick, loves to gamble. With six seconds left in the first half and the ball on the Patriots’ 10-yard line, most coaches (hello there, Mike McCarthy) would have gone for the safe play -- a field goal to make it 14-10. Not Carroll. Russell Wilson fired a pass to Chris Matthews, who beat cornerback Logan Ryan and drew Seattle even at 14. It was a massive momentum-changer. Seattle, which won the coin toss and deferred, could then look forward to getting the ball to start the second half.

Best job cornering the market: With Richard Sherman already ailing with a sprained elbow, Seattle nickel corner Jeremy Lane went out after a hit by Julian Edleman (he lost his helmet on impact) following Lane's first-quarter interception. On the Patriots’ subsequent drive, they twice went after Lane’s replacement, Tharold Simon, who gave up the game’s first score, an 11-yard touchdown from Brady to Brandon LaFell. It was Brady’s 50th career postseason touchdown pass.

Worst decision by a usually sound decision-maker I: Brady, under pressure and pulling away from Michael Bennett's pass rush, let loose a horrific throw that Lane fielded like a punt on the goal line. The interception was Brady’s third in his six Super Bowls, and it was his first postseason, red-zone pick since the 2007 season. The pick ended a 13-play, 58-yard drive that had consumed nearly eight minutes -- a telling swing that cost New England at least three and possibly seven points. That led to the first scoreless opening quarter of a Super Bowl since the Patriots faced the Eagles 10 years ago.

[+] EnlargeChris Matthews
AP Photo/Matt YorkChris Matthews gave Seattle a burst of momentum with his touchdown catch right before halftime.
Worst decision by a usually sound decision-maker II: Brady was trying to force a ball to Gronkowski midway through the third quarter, but Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner snatched it for a nifty interception. After Marshawn Lynch got the Seahawks near the goal line, the Patriots likely expected another dose of Beast Mode. Instead, Wilson faked a handoff and floated a nice pass to a diving (and wide open) Doug Baldwin. The play left celebrated cornerback Darrelle Revis pointing fingers after he was screened by an official, and the Patriots found themselves in a daunting, 24-14 deficit. This was the first time Brady threw multiple interceptions in a Super Bowl appearance.

Best 12th-Man moment: During the national anthem, performed by Idina Menzel, the in-stadium video board flashed the dour image of Belichick. The crowd, probably more than 75 percent Seahawks fans, booed lustily and momentarily drowned out Menzel. Even the traditional jet flyover didn’t do that.

Best over-the-top play: Wilson lofted a lovely ball to Matthews down the right sideline, and the wideout reeled it in with Patriots corner Kyle Arrington all over him. The play was good -- OK, great -- for 44 yards, and it put the Seahawks in business at the Patriots’ 11-yard line. It was also the first catch of Matthews’ NFL career. Lynch rushed on the three subsequent plays, including a 3-yard touchdown to tie the score 7-7 with 2:16 left in the first half. To that point, Wilson had just two pass completions, compared to 15 by Brady.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Thoughts on the New England Patriots' inactive players for Sunday's Super Bowl XLIX: DE Zach Moore, WR Josh Boyce, WR Brian Tyms, DT Joe Vellano, OL Jordan Devey, RB Jonas Gray and RB James White:

Accountability check: A 7-for-7 effort in projecting inactives for Super Bowl XLIX. Thus, no surprises here.

Eight offensive linemen: With starting center Bryan Stork (right knee) returning to action -- but with the Patriots likely wanting an added layer of insurance should things trend in the wrong direction -- the team has eight offensive linemen active for the game. That is one more than the usual seven linemen for the Patriots. Another factor to consider: The value of rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming as a sixth blocker/eligible receiver contributes to the decision to go with eight. Fleming is No. 4 on the pure offensive tackle depth chart (with Marcus Cannon No. 3), but his niche role adds significant value to the 46-man roster.

Butler vs. Gray: In our pre-game projection, the debate came down to rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler vs. Gray for the final spot. With the Patriots still having LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden at running back, and with Butler's potential contributions in sub packages and on special teams in mind, his value was deemed to trump Gray's on the 46-man game-day roster. Furthermore, specific to running backs, the coaching staff seems to have more confidence in Blount, which is another layer to consider in this highest-of-stakes game.

Three receivers: As they did in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots are going with just three receivers, with both Tyms and Boyce inactive. Part of that is because Tyms and Boyce have limited special-teams value. Also, with No. 3 tight end Tim Wright essentially like a fourth receiver and Vereen also a factor in the passing game, one could say there is still some receiver-type depth there. Special-teams captain Matthew Slater is an emergency option.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Welcome to University of Phoenix Stadium, where the New England Patriots face the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX (6:30 p.m. ET Sunday).

Weather conditions: It has been rainy for much of the last four days here, and there was a heavy fog outside this morning, which has delayed some flights coming into Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport. This stadium has a retractable roof, so weather conditions aren't a huge factor. However, the roof has been opened for the game.

A feel for University of Phoenix Stadium: Opened on Aug. 1, 2006, this still has the feel of a sparkling new facility. The normal seating capacity is 63,400 and can be expanded to 72,200. This is where the Arizona Cardinals play their home games, and it is also the site of the annual VIZIO Fiesta Bowl. There are chair-back seats circling the field entirely, with the majority of them "cardinal red" and some others silver. Behind the Seahawks' end zone, the chair-back seats are temporary and on bleachers. A mural with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and safety Devin McCourty, along with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and safety Earl Thomas, is hanging high above one side of the stadium, above the Patriots' end zone. There is a large NFL logo on the center of the field and two Super Bowl XLIX logos at each 25-yard line.

Seven players to declare inactive: The Patriots have seven players to declare inactive, and those decisions are finalized and announced around 90 minutes before kickoff. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday that everyone on the roster should be ready to play from a health perspective, including starting center Bryan Stork.

Patriots to wear white: The Patriots are in their white jerseys Sunday night. They are 1-1 in Super Bowls in white.

Vinovich gets the call: Referee Bill Vinovich has been assigned his first Super Bowl. He most recently worked the Patriots' victory over the Ravens in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs. ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote more on Vinovich in the days leading up to the game.

TV broadcast: Sunday night's game is on NBC, with Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analysis) and Michele Tafoya (sideline) on the call.

Opening coin toss: The Patriots have won 14 of 18 opening coin tosses this season. They have deferred each time.

National anthem: Performed by Idina Menzel.

Halftime: Performed by Katy Perry.

Sparkling Super Bowl program: The official Super Bowl program, selling for $20, has a picture of the Lombardi Trophy in the middle of the logos from both teams.

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- With New England Patriots players available to reporters for three straight days leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, and with those sessions between 45 minutes to an hour, there was much to digest. Little nuggets were picked up along the way, and we've pieced a lot of them together for a few upcoming "cleaning out the notebook" updates.

For example, here's one thing -- receiver Danny Amendola on the dynamics of the receivers -- that struck as good insight into the inner workings of one aspect of the team:

“Start with [Brandon] “JoJo” LaFell. Great guy from Houston. We’re both from Houston. We remember watching each other play in high school. JoJo’s funny. He’s always quoting movies, singing songs, keeping the mood light.

"[Julian] Edelman and I have been good friends for four or five years now. We’re always joking around. We’re always ripping on each other.

"[Matthew Slater] is like The Equalizer. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie with Denzel [Washington], but Slate is like the father figure in our group. He gets us all right. If we mess up, he’s going to get us right.

"B.T., Brian Tyms, he’s like our loose cannon. He’s a great player, fast, can take the top off coverages. Great guy to be around.

"[Practice squad player] Jonathan Krause, young cat, Vanderbilt, rookie. Just kind of wide-eyed but works hard every day, plays the game the right way, great athlete.

"Josh Boyce, great athlete from TCU. He’s been like a little brother to me since he’s come here. We’re both from Texas. He’s from Dallas, from central Texas, Dallas area. I’m from Houston, so we can relate that way.

"That’s it, really.”

W2W4: Patriots' key areas vs. Seahawks

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots face the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday (NBC, 6:30 p.m. ET), and after a week of hype, let's drill down and highlight the areas deemed most critical for the Patriots from this perspective:

Stopping Lynch and read-option: In our film study on the Seahawks, some of the best examples of opponents having breakdowns against the read-option was the season finale against the Rams (for example, 5:42 of the first quarter, 15:00 of the second quarter). Defensive ends and the linebackers have to work together on the edges, reading keys and being patient. The Rams sometimes just blindly rushed toward quarterback Russell Wilson off the edge, and when the defensive end was sealed to the inside, it opened up huge running lanes. The Patriots must be much more disciplined and this is why ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, and linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, are key players to watch closely Sunday night. The Seahawks give a defense a lot of action to contend with, and as defensive tackle Alan Branch said in our weekly P.A.T.. feature, it all starts with "building a wall" in the running game.

Gronkowski vs. Chancellor: Cornerback Brandon Browner, who has been teammates with both Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (6-6, 265) and Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor (6-3, 232), said it best about this projected matchup. "That's going to be one for the ages," he said. It's the NFL's best tight end against arguably the NFL's best strong safety. The Seahawks have been effective covering tight ends in the playoffs the last two years, but Gronkowski is their biggest challenge yet. One thing to watch: Chancellor went down late in practice Friday with a knee injury. Could that limit his effectiveness? If so, Gronkowski could have a big day, or force a change of plans with a linebacker such as K.J. Wright having a bigger part of the coverage responsibilities.

Capitalizing on special teams edge, starting with punt return: Special teams has played a big part in past Patriots Super Bowls. As it relates to this matchup, the feeling here is that New England has the edge in most areas. The Seahawks only had 17 punts returned against them during the regular season, a league-low, so their coverage unit hasn't been tested often. Patriots returner Julian Edelman is as fearless as they come in that area of the game (the Patriots had 41 returns in the regular season) and this is one of the "games within the game" we'll be watching closely. Edelman projects as a big difference-maker in a potential low-scoring game in which good field position is at a premium.

Discipline in pass rush to keep Wilson in pocket: Remember when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had almost 12 seconds to throw before firing incomplete in the Patriots-Packers game on Nov. 30? We envision a similar plan from the Patriots with their pass rush, focusing on a disciplined, conservative plan in which the ends sink at the line of scrimmage and never allow themselves to get too far up the field. That way, Wilson can't escape the pocket and extend plays. The Patriots might mix in a few more blitzes against Seattle than they did against Green Bay, but overall, the mindset seems to be keeping Wilson in the pocket and seeing if he can consistently win as a pocket passer. The Patriots know Wilson will extend some plays regardless, and when that happens, defensive backs will focus on the "plaster" technique.
PHOENIX -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft's absence from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's annual Super Bowl news conference was noted in this space, in part because Kraft publicly expressed his displeasure with the league's handling of the investigation into underinflated footballs as it relates to leaks in the media. Kraft is usually in attendance at Goodell's news conference.

I've learned more about Kraft's absence.

Kraft decided to stay back with the Patriots, who had a team meeting scheduled at that time Friday. Kraft also went to practice after the team meeting.

Kraft's decision to forgo Goodell's news conference reflects how he is approaching this Super Bowl experience, looking to maximize the time with his players and coaches.