Branch release ties in to tight ends


Branch release ties in to tight ends

FOXBORO - Bill Belichick has said that official titles don't matter. Usually, he's referring to members of his coaching staff. He might as well be referring to his players too. The release of Deion Branch on Friday leaves the Patriots with just two single-purpose veteran wideouts on the roster: Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker. The other veteran players who carry a WR next to their names are also special teams staples (Julian Edelman and Matt Slater). The tenor of feedback I've received Friday afternoon on this news has been, "Two wide receivers on the roster?! HERESY! They need more guys! Who are they bringing back? Is this a temporary thing?"
Hold on. What does one call Aaron Hernandez?He's certainly closer to a wideout than a tight end. So that brings the count to three wideouts. And Rob Gronkowski? Classic tight end shape, but he'slined up wide and in the slot as well. Three-and-a-half?Meanwhile, tight ends like Daniel Fells and the phantom, Visanthe Shiancoe, have been signed to take up Hernandez' slack (don't forget, Hernandez and Gronkowski were the only tight ends to do anything at all last season). Better to maybe call these guys "perimeter targets"and forget what convention demands they be described as. Which brings us to Branch. Brilliant player. Certainly capable of catching 40 to 50 balls this year. But his time is running short and the team's offensive emphasis has moved away from players like him. There are better targets out there. Might they bring Branch back? Or Jabar Gaffney? Maybe. But for now, this is what they'll run with at the top of the perimeter target list. Sometimes, the Patriots make out-of-the-blue moves and, after a second's reflection, you see where they were coming from. Branch fits that bill. Two other big releases made simple sense as well, Dan Koppen and James Ihedigbo.
Koppen's release was expected. He's having trouble getting to the second level of the defense, he's 32 and he's coming off an injury that stole his 2011 season. Plus, he only plays center and all the other guys who play center can also fill in at guard. Koppen is probably just about done. He was a free agent this offseason and only got a nibble from the Titans who ultimately passed.. As for Ihedigbo, the emergence of Nate Ebner as a Big Nickel safety who can go and play at the linebacker level and also cover kicks rendered the hard-working Ihedigbo moot.

Roethlisberger to Brady: I've never done this before but . . . can I have your jersey?

Roethlisberger to Brady: I've never done this before but . . . can I have your jersey?

Tom Brady has fans everywhere, apparently. Even in Pittsburgh. Even on the Steelers roster. 

Showtime's Inside the NFL caught video of Brady meeting with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger before Sunday's game between New England and Pittsburgh. 

The pair hugged near the 50-yard line at Heinz Field. Brady called Roethlisberger "big guy." Roethlisberger, who was out with a knee injury, told Brady he wanted to play "so bad."


Then Roethlisberger became a fan. And like many of them, he had a request. 

"Um, hey, listen," he said. "I've never done this before, but I would love to get a jersey at some point. It'd mean...There's not many I want to put in my office. You're the best, dude."

Brady was happy to oblige. Just not right at that moment. 

"Sure, I'd love to," Brady said. "I'll get you after the game."

Rex Ryan: Zero focus on 'extracurricular things' vs. Patriots


Rex Ryan: Zero focus on 'extracurricular things' vs. Patriots

FOXBORO -- Seems as though the Bills don't quite have their stories straight. 

On the one hand, you have Bills players, who say that they won't hesitate to retaliate if a Patriots player gets near one of their pregame warmup drills, as Jacoby Brissett did in Week 4. 

On the other hand, you have the Bills coach, who sounded less eager for there to be any kind of scrap before this weekend's game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. 

"No, I mean with us, just go out and warm up," Ryan said in a conference call Wednesday. "That’s what you do, but any of the extracurricular things, you know, there’s absolutely zero focus on that, and shouldn’t be any focus on that. It’s just about playing games.

"I mean if people want to show how tough they are, put the boxing gloves on and get in the ring or something. That might be more impressive -- I don’t want Gronk by the way.

"But I definitely don’t want to see that happen, and our focus is 100 percent on the game and doing the very best we possibly can."

It's an interesting comment from a coach who has made it very clear that he wanted to build a "bully" in Buffalo. His team shut out the Patriots after trying to intimidate New England's rookie quarterback before the game. Did his team not benefit somehow from what occurred before kickoff that day?

He doesn't think so.

"It had nothing to do with our team . . . Absolutely nothing," he said. "You know, those things happen every now and then but it was no big deal. It did absolutely nothing for us."