AFC East: New England Patriots

Gronk ready for reunion with T.J. Ward

October, 29, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The last time New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski faced Broncos safety T.J. Ward, who was then on the Browns, Ward delivered a crushing hit to Gronkowski’s right knee, tearing Gronkowski’s ACL and ending his 2013 season.

Gronkowski made a catch and planted his right foot onto the field when Ward came in low with a hit he would later be criticized for as he slammed his shoulder into Gronkowski’s right knee. Gronkowski’s knee bent back in a way knees are not supposed to bend.

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Gronkowski
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After the hit, Ward went down on one knee and then approached Gronokwski to shake his hand as the tight end was carted off the field.

A season later, as the two prepare to face each other again Sunday, the hit by Ward on Gronkowski emerges again. So Gronkowski was asked if Ward ever reached out to him to apologize.

“No,” Gronkowski said.

While it has yet to be determined who will be covering Gronkowski, it is likely Ward will be involved in plays with Gronkowski. Another player who could see time on Gronkowski is former teammate Aqib Talib, who was with the Patriots in 2012 and 2013.

“Whatever the situation is, you have to prepare for everyone,” Gronkowski said. “You never know what they are going to pull until you play the game, so you have to be prepared for any situation. If it’s Aqib covering me, then it’s Aqib covering me.”

Gronkowski is ready for the challenge of playing against an improved and tough Broncos defense.

“They have very good pass rushers, a very good secondary, and they have good linebackers, so just overall they have a very solid defense,” Gronkowski said. “They are playing very well together and they are a very good team.”

Gronkowski didn’t stop there in giving praise to the Broncos.

“I feel like Denver is the best team in the NFL right now,” Gronkowski said. “They have a solid offense and a very, very solid defense, great rushers. A very good team. So we have to be ready. We have to be prepared. We have to bring all that we have to compete out there.

“The atmosphere is going to be unbelievable, especially playing at home in front of the home crowd. It’s going to be a great game. The Denver Broncos are a very, very, very good team.”

With all eyes on Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in this matchup between the Patriots and Broncos, Gronkowski acknowledged the magnitude of playing on the same field with two of the all-time greats at quarterback.

“It’s an honor to be out there with both of them,” Gronkowski said. “Brady versus Manning can’t get any better. [They are] two great quarterbacks and two legendary quarterbacks. It’s an honor to be a part of it.”

Setting aside all the talk of facing Ward again and the Brady-Manning rivalry, Gronkowski is focused on one thing.

“I definitely want to be on the winning side.”
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rookie linebacker Deontae Skinner, an undrafted free agent who played more than expected on defense early this season, was waived by the New England Patriots on Wednesday. The open roster spot was created to accommodate the previously reported signing of veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch, which the club formally announced.

Skinner
Skinner, out of Mississippi State, played in seven games with one start this season, and coaches credited him with nine tackles and one sack. When starting middle linebacker Jerod Mayo sustained a season-ending torn patellar tendon on Oct. 12, Skinner was elevated from the fourth spot on the depth chart to the third, meaning he often came on to the field in the 4-3 base defense.

Skinner's release came four days after he missed a tackle early in Sunday's victory over the Chicago Bears, and after two trades over the last week in which the Patriots acquired linebackers Akeem Ayers (Titans) and Jonathan Casillas (Buccaneers).

At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Skinner is more of a downhill run-thumper who also played on the "big four" special teams units -- kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage and punt return. Coaches credited him with five special-teams tackles this season.

Casillas, who has proven to be a solid special-teams player in his first six NFL seasons, is likely to fill Skinner's void in that area.

Should Skinner clear waivers, he likely will be re-signed to the Patriots' practice squad.

Tom Brady on Pats-Broncos: Doesn't get any better

October, 29, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots-Broncos game Sunday will be the 16th matchup for Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and the rivalry with Manning never gets old for Brady.

“You wait a year to play this game,” Brady said during his news conference Wednesday morning. “You get one of the best teams in the league against us. And we feel like we are a pretty good team and that’s why you play the game. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

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Brady
Brady, who has a career record of 10-5 against Manning, doesn’t look for extra motivation when facing his rival.

“I’m pretty self-motivated,” Brady said. “He’s always been someone I really look up to and study and admire. I mean, he is older than me. He has more playing experience than me. So maybe when I’m his age, I’ll be playing as well as that.

“Peyton has been a phenomenal player, so consistent, so durable over a long period of time. We’ve had a great rivalry in the AFC and this year is no different. It’s a great matchup.”

With Denver averaging a league-best 32.0 points per game and the Patriots in third with 29.8 points per game, Brady is more than aware of the potential for this contest to turn into a shootout.

“He’s a great player and I think that you just know you are going to get one of the best offenses in the league,” Brady said. “So what that means for me is that our offense has to be at our best. You can’t think you are going to go out and score 10 points and win the game.

“I don’t think any of our games have ever really come down to that. It’s really an important week for our team and all of us on our offense have to bring our best because we are playing against one of the best offenses in the league.”

In the regular season last year, the Patriots trailed the Broncos 24-0 at halftime and staged the greatest comeback in franchise history by scoring 31 straight points en route to a 34-31 overtime win. Brady stressed the importance of avoiding the same start as last year.

“They have challenged a lot of teams this year,” Brady said. “They have gotten ahead of a lot of teams this year and really put the nail in the coffin. That’s a Halloween reference. We are going to have to be able to do the same thing to them.”

The Patriots are underdogs despite playing at home in Gillette Stadium, where they are 96-18, including the postseason.

“We expect to go out and win,” Brady said. “That’s what the expectation has always been. It’s certainly not to go out there, run around, break a sweat and lose the game. So we have to do everything we can to put the pressure on them, score as many points as we can. That’s what it’s going to take.”
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are welcoming back 17 of the 22 players who were part of their three Super Bowl championship teams (2001, 2003, 2004) and will honor them at halftime of Sunday's highly anticipated game against the Denver Broncos.

Of the 22 players who earned three Patriots Super Bowl rings, only Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri are still playing. In addition, Larry Izzo (New York Giants), Mike Vrabel (Houston Texans) and Adrian Klemm (UCLA) are currently on active coaching staffs and will not be able to attend this weekend. The 17 other players from those three Super Bowl teams are listed below and expected to return to Gillette Stadium to be honored at halftime of Sunday’s Patriots game against the Broncos:

OL Joe Andruzzi
OL Tom Ashworth
WR Troy Brown
LB Tedy Bruschi
LB Matt Chatham
S Je'Rod Cherry
RB Kevin Faulk
LB Ted Johnson
CB Ty Law
OL Matt Light
OLB Willie McGinest
OL Stephen Neal
RB Patrick Pass
WR David Patten
LS Lonie Paxton
LB Roman Phifer
DL Richard Seymour

"Collectively, these 22 players will always share a special bond,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. “While individual Super Bowl teams will certainly be celebrated in the future, these 22 players represent the greatest era in franchise history and one of the greatest accomplishments in NFL history. It is always fun to participate in reunions with former players. The stories they share from their playing days are always entertaining and it is always fun to see the ovations the players get from our fans. I look forward to seeing them and sharing those experiences with them."

Bill Belichick on Peyton Manning: He has no weakness

October, 28, 2014
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Bill Belichick is used to facing Peyton Manning, but Manning’s near-flawless skills as a quarterback continue to amaze the New England Patriots head coach.

“He’s good because he does everything,” Belichick said during a conference call Tuesday. “But, really, I don’t think there are any bad points in his game.”

Belichick proceeded to list off everything that makes Manning such a remarkable quarterback and competitor: “He’s very smart. He has a great understanding of concepts, timing, game management, clock management, situation football, third down, red area, great utilization of the field from sideline to sideline, attacking the deep part of the field, accurate, great decision-maker, quick release, has very few negative plays.”

Belichick and his own future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady are 10-5 (including playoffs) in their careers against Manning. They have seen Manning with Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark in Indianapolis and now with Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and the familiar Wes Welker in Denver. No matter who Manning has on his offense, he plays into their skills.

“It doesn’t really matter who is out there with him,” Belichick said. “Whoever it is, he finds a way to utilize him. He has had different players at different positions in different combinations, and guys have been out and other guys have been in. But no matter who it is out there, he does a good job of finding ways to utilize those skills of the group that is out there relative to the defensive matchup.

“It seems like he causes every defense a problem for the last 15 years or however long it has been.”

Belichick knows his defense has a tall task ahead of it to contain Demaryius Thomas and touchdown machine tight end Julius Thomas. And that's before getting to Sanders, Welker, and running backs Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson.

“You have to know who the people are out there,” Belichick said. “Everybody has to do their job to defend them. You can’t just stop one guy or one thing. But [Manning] does a great job of utilizing his players, his resources relative to what the defense is giving him or what looks best -- a combination of his personnel and where the defense looks soft.”

Belichick brushes aside trade questions

October, 28, 2014
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The NFL trade deadline of 4 p.m. is looming. And the question is whether the Patriots will make a move in the hours leading up to the final tick of the trade clock.

In four of the past five years, the Patriots have been active at the trade deadline by acquiring a player. The Patriots already made one move last week when the team traded a sixth-round pick to the Tennessee Titans for linebacker Akeem Ayers and a seventh-round pick.

Head coach Bill Belichick was asked during a conference call on Tuesday if he could shed some light on whether the team was looking to make another move at the NFL trade deadline. He gave a classic response.

“Yeah, I’ve been watching Denver film all morning,” Belichick said. “That’s all I can tell you.”

In typical Belichick fashion, he kept all insights locked away, if there even are any details to provide.

There have been minimal trade rumors so far throughout the day.

While Belichick has been known to stir up trades at the deadline, the Patriots are not looking to overpay. Depth and injuries become factors in trades at this point of the season, and Belichick said on Monday that trades are easier to make prior to the start of the season as opposed to halfway through the season.

Patriots RB Jonas Gray seizes the day

October, 27, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Twelve days ago, New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray was on the Pats' practice squad, like he had been for two years with Miami and Baltimore, just itching to make his mark in the NFL. On Sunday against the Chicago Bears, Gray led New England with 17 carries and 86 yards on the ground.

For a player who has waited so long for his chance to shine, Gray seized that opportunity with his first carry of the day -- a 19-yard burst on the Patriots' second offensive play.

"It actually shocked me that it was that open," Gray said. "When you are in there you are doing everything you are supposed to do -- you are reading, you get your vision -- I'm like, oh, whoa, I just started sprinting full speed and couldn't believe that it just opened up like that. I was thinking I was supposed to score. I was so mad because I kind of stumbled a little bit. If I just hit it, I would have scored."

[+] EnlargeGray
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsGray had a breakout game on Sunday, leading the team with 17 carries and 86 yards on the ground.
Gray's first run gave him a boost of confidence and set the tempo for him to carry the football a lot throughout the game. He displayed energy and confidence while showing his passion for the game.

"Man, it's crazy because when you go into the game you don't even know how many carries you are going to get," Gray said. "I'm thinking it could be like last week -- only a few carries, blitz protection, get some routes -- but when you get a heavy workload like that, your first run goes for a long gain, it's confidence, more and more confidence."

Gray carries himself with that positive attitude in the locker room and on the field. He shows the determination to be a reliable teammate.

"I know these guys trust me," Gray said. "They think I'm dependable, so just keep building off that, keep being consistent."

Gray maintained that consistency by averaging 5.1 yards per carry with good vision to find the holes created by the Patriots' offensive line.

"The line did a good job blocking all night," Gray said. "They were hyping me up in the huddle, like 'let's get these yards!' "

While Gray didn't get into the end zone, he said that's the next step for him from an individual standpoint. But a win against Denver is what is on his and everyone's mind this week.

"The next step is [getting in the end zone], but I know it will come," Gray said.

After waiting for more than two seasons for his NFL chance, Gray is making the most of it. And while it is still a somewhat surreal feeling, Gray feels at home in New England.

"It's crazy because I used to watch Tom [Brady] and I'm like you have to be crazy to play with Tom Brady," Gray said. "Now, I'm back there with him and it's a real feeling.

"I know that I belong."

Banged-up Patriots defense up to challenge

October, 26, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In their first game without defensive captain Jerod Mayo last week, the New England Patriots' defense struggled mightily against a typically weak New York Jets offense and barely escaped with a win.

So when news broke that Chandler Jones, the team's best pass-rusher, also would be out for up to a month starting with this week's game against one of the league's more talented offenses in the Chicago Bears, it would only get worse, wouldn't it?

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsThe Patriots' defense did a good job of keeping Matt Forte and the Bears' offense within arm's length.
The Patriots defied that expectation on Sunday, taking the punch out of the Bears' offense for a majority of the game while doing plenty of scoring of their own en route to a 51-23 blowout.

The Bears scored only once in the first half, adding scores in both the third and fourth quarters well after the game was out of reach.

"I thought that was a really solid effort by our team today," coach Bill Belichick said. "Our players did a good job all week in practice. I thought we had good execution, good energy and came out and played with it in all three phases of the game."

While quarterback Tom Brady and the offense will get plenty of attention for their performances, the defense can't be forgotten.

It starts with the secondary, which was facing the tough task of covering the likes of Pro Bowl receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, a playmaking tight end in Martellus Bennett and a versatile running back in Matt Forte, who led the league in receptions entering Sunday's game. While Darrelle Revis had no problem performing to his usually high expectations, Brandon Browner impressed as well, looking much more polished in his second game of the season after appearing exhausted against the Jets.

Browner credited his improvement to extra running that he did after practice this week.

"[I felt] a lot better," Browner said. "I didn't get tired or anything out there."

A physical cornerback, Browner made his biggest mistake on the Bears' touchdown drive in the third quarter. With quarterback Jay Cutler looking for Bennett in the end zone on third down, Browner committed a pass interference penalty, seemingly giving the Bears another set of downs. However, Bennett, falling to his back after contact, still made the catch, beating Browner for the score.

"It got me sick to my stomach that I gave that up," Browner said. "He made a good play on the ball. My hat is off to him."

On the defensive line, the Patriots figured to have their hands full with Forte, but they were able to keep him contained for the most part. Forte ended up rushing for 114 yards, but the effort was a big improvement for the defense after allowing 218 yards rushing to the Jets last week.

"We know everybody is going to come and try to test us on the ground," defensive captain Vince Wilfork said. "Until we show we can consistently stop the run, teams are going to do that. Even though Chicago is a passing team, they came in the first two drives wanting to establish the run game. We knew it, but I think we got off to a good start."

That good start, Browner said, set the tone for the rest of the game.

"That's what you always want to do, start fast. That's what we did," he said. "That was the game plan, hit them up early, try to get them to shut it down. We put up points early and it had them trailing, fighting from behind early on."

Late in the first half, defensive end Rob Ninkovich added a defensive score with a 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Rookie Zach Moore, who shared the bulk of Jones' usual duties on the line with fellow rookie Dominique Easley, sacked Cutler to force the fumble.

"A good overall team play there," Ninkovich said. "I was able to just scoop it up, didn't feel anyone around me, stand up and run it in. Right? Is that what you're supposed to do?"

What the Patriots were supposed to do, as their game against the Jets suggested, was have a tough time handling the Bears defensively. Instead, the team executed its game plan and walked away with a win that is sure to give everybody in the locker room a whole lot of confidence heading into next week's matchup against the Denver Broncos.

"It was just good coming out here and getting the win," defensive back Devin McCourty said. "We took advantage, I think, of our preparation time and it showed out there.

"We'll enjoy tonight and get ready to go," he added. "We know it's going to be a tough game [against Denver] and we've got to be ready to go for next Sunday."

Rob Gronkowski at home in end zone

October, 26, 2014
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videoFOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's no secret that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski loves scoring touchdowns. And he added three more TDs Sunday in a 51-23 win against the Chicago Bears to bring his career total to 49.

"I like scoring touchdowns for sure," Gronkowski said. "That's why when I get in the red zone my eyes light up."

Gronkowski had touchdown catches of 6, 2 and 46 yards. The 46-yard touchdown saw Gronkowski throw a Bears defensive back off of him and win a foot race to the end zone. The play had his teammates in awe of Gronkowski's exceptional abilities.

"Man, if you watch me, I'm just standing 20 yards behind him just turning my body just oh, oh, oh, he made it?" wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. "Oh, he's about to dive? I was a fan for a whole six seconds. I love it."

Gronkowski explained what allows him to make big plays with consistency in the receiving game.

[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsRob Gronkowski had nine catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns against the Bears.
"Being a big guy, obviously I'm not as fast as the DBs and the safeties and stuff and some of the linebackers are really fast too," Gronkowski said. "I have to use my body as leverage to outflank the guy to use it as a basketball move, like to box out."

But on his 46-yard touchdown, Gronkowski used his speed as well as his size.

"I mean, maybe I was the fastest that play," Gronkowski said. "But, just have to go out and go full speed and things happen."

Gronkowski left the game after scoring his third touchdown as he was dealing with dehydration.

"Yes, it was [dehydration]," Gronkowski said. "Just came in, got some fluids in me. Everything's good.

"I could have easily come back into the game, no doubt about it, no questions about it. I could have easily come back. I wanted to come back."

Gronkowski doesn't expect it to be an issue going forward.

"I have to make sure I don't get dehydrated, you know, got to keep on drinking," Gronkowski said.

The Patriots will continue to turn to Gronkowski to lead the attack in the receiving game, as he looked nearly unstoppable against the Bears.

"He's big, fast, strong and when he plays like beast mode, he's tough to stop," quarterback Tom Brady said.

While Gronkowski didn't call his play "beast mode," he did liken his performance to an NBA player catching fire shooting the basketball. After one touchdown, Gronkowski was feeling it and itching to score more.

"Yeah, definitely. When you are hot and you are feeling it, keep feeding you the ball," Gronkowski said.

Gronkowski attributed his and the offense's success against the Bears to the Patriots' opening first-down conversion.

"It's always important to get the offensive rhythm going, especially early," Gronkowski said. "Once we get a first down, I feel like we can keep picking it up from there. Everyone starts clicking."

The Patriots will need to keep their offensive momentum going and keep Gronkowski hot as the team will be taking on the Denver Broncos next.

Gronkowski took a page out of coach Bill Belichick's playbook with a statement similar to "we're on to Cincinnati."

"Denver is a very good team," Gronkowski said. "We definitely have to move on to them. Right when tomorrow clicks, it's on to Denver."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New England Patriots' 51-23 victory over the Chicago Bears:

Offensive line delivers. There haven't been many days when Patriots offensive linemen could feel great about their performance this season, but this was one of them. With the same line that produced a big victory over the Bengals intact again -- left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Dan Connolly, center Bryan Stork, right guard Ryan Wendell and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer -- quarterback Tom Brady wasn't sacked and was hardly touched. The results were explosive. "There's a certain feel that we get as an offensive line, that if we're doing our job, he's going to start making plays," Solder said. "It comes down to us doing our job and everyone being on the same page."

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'Beast mode' for Gronkowski. Brady summed up tight end Rob Gronkowski's performance this way: "He's a tough matchup. He's big, fast, strong. When he plays like 'beast mode,' he's tough to stop."

Play physical on defense. Cornerback Brandon Browner, who started for the second straight week and brought a physical edge to the defense, recapped the thought process entering the game. "That was the game plan -- hit them in the mouth early and try to get them to shut it down," he said.

Ayers excited about debut. Newly acquired linebacker Akeem Ayers, who played as a designated pass-rusher in sub packages and was part of the punt-coverage and kickoff-coverage units, flashed a wide smile when recapping his cleanup sack in the second quarter. "It felt good," he said. "I haven't played a game in seven weeks, and if you want to include last year, it had been a while. I couldn't have planned it out any better." Ayers' former team, the Titans, is 2-6. Meanwhile, the Patriots are 6-2. "It's a huge turnaround," he said. "The guys here expect to win, and it's contagious."

Already thinking about Denver. With the Denver Broncos coming to town next Sunday, it had some players reflecting on last year's loss in the AFC Championship Game. "We know that feeling we had walking off that field in Denver," safety Devin McCourty said. "We know it's going to be a tough game, and we've got to be ready to go."

Ups and downs for the Patriots

October, 26, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At an initial glance, and without the benefit of film review, a look at which New England Patriots are "up" from Sunday's win against the Chicago Bears and those at the opposite end of the spectrum:

Up

Brady
Tom Brady -- Quarterback finished 30 of 35 for 354 yards and five touchdowns as reports of his demise earlier this season were premature; he's been mostly lights out since the loss to the Chiefs on Sept. 29.

Brandon Browner -- While the cornerback had two penalties, the physical approach he brings to the secondary makes a difference.

Jonas Gray -- First-year running back from Notre Dame is the Patriots' new "big back," filling Stevan Ridley's void, and he showed on this day that he's capable of handling the load.

Rob Gronkowski -- He was immense in two-plus quarters of work (he left with dehydration after his third-quarter touchdown and didn't return), showing why he's arguably the most complete tight end in the NFL when healthy.

Brandon LaFell -- Receiver had his best day since signing with the Patriots this offseason, with Brady looking his way early and LaFell making things happen after the catch.

Darrelle Revis -- He wasn't used as a matchup option but instead stayed on the left side and was his typical solid self, adding an interception late in the second quarter when Jay Cutler threw one up in a Hail Mary type situation.

Down

Julian Edelman -- Normally sure-handed receiver dropped two passes.

Bryan Stork -- Center was penalized three times in his return to the lineup.

Standard pass rush -- Not much pressure from the four-man rush early in the game, but when the Patriots brought extra rushers, the results were solid.

Patriots will spend a week in California

October, 26, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With back-to-back road games against the Green Bay Packers (Nov. 30) and San Diego Chargers (Dec. 7) later this season, the New England Patriots will spend the week in between those games in California, team president Jonathan Kraft said Sunday during his weekly pre-game interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

"Another late game, a 4:30 game in Green Bay, so you are flying back, you get back here at midnight on Monday and I think Bill [Belichick] would have taken the team out on Friday for that Sunday game (against the Chargers), so you really have a condensed window of time at home again," Kraft said.

"So instead, let's leave Green Bay, let's go west. You are going to land out there with the time change, instead of it now being midnight it's going to be 8, 9 at night on the West Coast. Get adjusted, get a day or two off out there and get ready to play what appears to be a very, very tough Chargers team. And I think that's the way you help take that stretch of games and break up some of the monotony of it."

The Patriots are no strangers to spending a week in California, something they did twice in 2008 when playing back-to-back road games in the Pacific time zone.

That season, they beat the 49ers 30-21 on Oct. 5, then lost to the Chargers 30-10 on Oct. 12.

Later in the season, they beat the Seahawks 24-21 on Dec. 7 and then beat the Raiders 49-26 on Dec. 14.

Thoughts on Patriots' inactives

October, 26, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Thoughts on the New England Patriots' inactive players Sunday against the Bears: OL Jordan Devey, CB Alfonzo Dennard, OL Cameron Fleming, S Nate Ebner, WR Aaron Dobson, OL Chris Barker and DE Chandler Jones.

Dennard registers as a surprise. The Patriots are six deep at cornerback and have been mixing and matching combinations in recent weeks, with Brandon Browner's return shaking things up. Last week, for example, top slot corner Kyle Arrington played just one snap while Dennard played 50. This week, Dennard is a healthy scratch, with rookie Malcolm Butler getting the nod over him. Look for Browner to increase his workload from the 41 (of 87) defensive snaps he played last week.

Top offensive line back intact. The Patriots have both left guard Dan Connolly and center Bryan Stork back after they missed time with concussions, which gives them a chance to have their top offensive line for this game -- left tackle Nate Solder, Connolly, Stork, right guard Ryan Wendell and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. With 10 offensive linemen on the 53-man roster, there was a strong likelihood the club would have three inactive Sunday when forming the 46-man game-day roster. That's the way it unfolded, with Devey and Barker obvious choices, and then Josh Kline getting the nod over Fleming. Kline's versatility to play all three interior spots might have been the clincher.

Ebner's finger knocks him out again. With Ebner missing his fourth straight game with a finger injury, that should keep safety Patrick Chung as the personal protector on the punt team and thus Danny Amendola once again serving as the primary kickoff returner.

Tyms edges out Dobson. The Patriots' top three receivers are locked in with Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Amendola, so when forming the game-day roster, the Patriots essentially were choosing between Dobson and Brian Tyms. With Tyms showing a knack for going up and getting the deep ball in 50-50 type situations, and Dobson not having much special-teams value, it tilts things in favor of Tyms.

Four running backs for second time. With rookie James White active for the second time this season (at Kansas City, Sept. 29), it gives the Patriots four running backs -- Shane Vereen, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden and White. This could be to account for Vereen not being 100 percent after missing Friday's practice with an illness.

Injury report: Chandler Jones lone Patriot who doesn't practice

October, 22, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' injury report confirmed that defensive end Chandler Jones has a hip injury. According to earlier reports, Jones will be out for a month.

Jones did not participate in practice Wednesday.

As Jones is expected to miss multiple games, the Patriots are preparing for the next man to step up. The team could turn to rookie defensive linemen Dominique Easley and Zach Moore to fill in for the injured Jones.

While the Patriots lost Jones to injury, Tom Brady (ankle), cornerback Brandon Browner (ankle), safety Devin McCourty (rib) and linebackers Dont'a Hightower (knee) and Jamie Collins (thigh) returned to full practice participation.

Offensive lineman Dan Connolly (concussion) and rookie center Bryan Stork (concussion) returned to practice after missing all of last week. Connolly missed the game against the Jets, and Stork missed two straight games. Both were limited participants Wednesday.

Core special-teamer Nate Ebner (finger) and rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (finger) also returned to practice, though they were limited participants Wednesday. Both were spotted at Tuesday's practice wearing braces/casts on their right hands. Ebner's right thumb was protected by a cast.

Other limited participants include Easley (shoulder/knee) and core special-teamer Matthew Slater (shoulder).

Rookie Zach Moore could be 'next man up' on defensive line

October, 22, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The mantra in the New England Patriots' locker room is "next man up."

With defensive end Chandler Jones reportedly sidelined for one month with a hip injury, that "next man up" could be rookie Zach Moore.

[+] EnlargeZach Moore
Steven Senne/AP PhotoPatriots rookie DE Zach Moore could see plenty more action on the field this season given the recent injury to Chandler Jones.
"Yeah, most definitely," Moore, a sixth-round pick, said when asked about his preparedness to step in. "But, it's kind of the philosophy out here, 'next man up.' Guys go down left and right.

"So you have to fit in where you can, take your opportunity because you never know when you could get another one. So just trying to stay prepared and go out to practice every day and show that I can step up and be there for the defense."

Moore said he doesn't put pressure on himself because he has great teammates around him, but he recognizes the magnitude of being a potential next man up.

"I do feel like I need to step up for my team so we can all strive toward the same goal," Moore said.

What makes this opportunity even more special for Moore is that he attended Simeon Academy in Chicago, and he and his family are Bears fans.

"Yeah they will be out here to cheer, definitely for the Patriots though," Moore said. "I was a big Bears fan growing up. Loved the defense. I still kind of am a Bears fan, I love the Bears. But, it's Pats Nation."

Moore grew up watching elite defensive players on the Bears, and now he has the chance to have a big role for the Patriots' defense in a game against his favorite childhood team.

"Growing up, definitely Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, when he was there -- that's my favorite player in the NFL -- and Charles Tillman, he's an excellent player," Moore said.

Moore, who is a humble player from Division II Concordia-St. Paul, talked about being awestruck and the realization that he is going to be playing on the same field as Briggs, a player he looked up to as a kid.

"It's crazy when I think about it," Moore said. "I was actually today at practice when I was walking off the field. I was thinking at this time last year I was playing at a Division II college stadium in front of no more than like 1,000 people, so it was kind of a reality check.

"It's a blessing, a great opportunity. I'm very thankful to be here. I'm proud to be a Patriot and will try to do the best I can to get a win for the team."

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