No Huddle: Brady comfortable in no-huddle

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No Huddle: Brady comfortable in no-huddle

BALTIMORE, MD -- From Tom Brady to Torrey Smith, there were plenty of players talking on both sides after Sunday night's 31-30 Baltimore win.
Here are some of the highlights.

Quarterback Tom Brady on if he was comfortable in New England's no huddle offense Sunday night:
"Yeah, I thought it put a lot of pressure on those guys. I don't think they fooled us very much with their different looks. They just played well when they needed to, especially in the red area."
The Patriots went 3-for-5 in the red zone (60 percent). On the first failed opportunity, New England got to the Baltimore 20 in a hurry after Brady connected with Wes Welker on a 59-yard bomb. But after that: Handoff to Stevan Ridley for no gain, handoff to Ridley for 1 yard, and on third-and-9 Brady went back into shotgun and tried to find Julian Edelman. No dice.
The next chance stretched from the end of the third quarter into the fourth. Score 27-21 Patriots, it was first-and-10 on the Baltimore 18. Ridley gained 14 on the carry. With just 4 yards to go, Brady went no huddle and Ridley got the ball again, but Bernard Pollard was ready. He stuffed Ridley for a huge 4-yard loss. Fourth quarter. Patriots again go no huddle. Woodhead gets the ball -- no gain. On third-and-8 Brady found Welker for 6 yards. The 20-yard field goal was good. Baltimore's defense was better.
Ravens cornerback Cary Williams on Brady having an active night:
"He's Tom Brady, man. He's not 'Joe Schmo.' He's a future Hall of Famer. He came out and did what he was supposed to do.
Ah, Williams should know.
Brady went 28-for-41 for 335 yards, one touchdown, and a 101.2 quarterback rating. His seventh drive was a 12 play, 80-yard monster that featured six first downs and some nifty passing: An 11-yard gain on first-and-10 for Brandon Lloyd (Williams on the tackle), 11-yard gain for Welker on third-and-5 (Williams), 10-yard gain for Lloyd on third-and-6 (yup, Williams), and 9 more yards to Lloyd on second-and-7 (Williams!).
Ravens running back Ray Rice on Justin Tucker's game-winning kick:
"I was already sending my farewells. I've seen him make those kicks in practice all the time."
True, the field goal was only 27-yards, but that's a lot of pressure on an undrafted rookie like Tucker. There was some controversy among Patriots regarding whether or not the kick was actually good. Vince Wilfork said, "A game like this, you have to" review such a close call. But it can't be done -- a ball that flies above the uprights cannot be reviewed because there's no reference point to measure against.
Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones on whether he watched brother, Patriots DL Chandler Jones, from the sideline:
"I checked him out a little bit and Baltimore tackle Michael Oher did a great job on him. Today wasn't one of his better days, but he's young and strong, and he's going to be one of the great ones."
More controversy -- and not just in the Jones family home this Thanksgiving. Where the Baltimore opinion may be that Oher "did a great job" on the dynamic rookie, there is another opinion out there that Oher "did a great job" of holding Jones all night. Unchecked holding was a problem with the replacement officials through the first two weeks of football and looked to be on Sunday as well.
Deion Branchon the number of controversial calls:
"It's not the first time we've played in a game with a lot of controversial calls. It was happening on both sides of the ball. I'm sure they were upset about some of those calls, too. But honestly, when we're doing what we do best, we take the game out of the referees' hands."
Leave it to Branch to be diplomatic. And he has a point -- of Baltimore's 28 first downs, just five came via penalty.
Former Patriot, current Raven, James Ihedigbo on playing against his former team:
"When you think about it, any time you get a chance to go against your former team, it's kind of personal. I went into this game with that kind of mentality, and when you put the history of these two teams on top of it, it just became a very personal and emotional thing. It was great the way it turned out. It couldn't be any sweeter."
Ihedigbo was picked up by Baltimore two days after being released from the Patriots on August 31. He served as a captain for Sunday night's coin toss. Jedi mind trick? Either way, he seems very happy with the Ravens.
Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, on his emotions of the day after losing his younger brother:
"I didn't know how I would hold up, but thanks to my teammates and coaches and all the support from really everyone around the league, just everyone, everwhere. You know, I was getting texts and people were telling me on my Twitter. I just thank everyone on behalf of my family."
Smith's brother, Tevin Jones, was just 19 when he died in a motorcycle accident Saturday. The Ravens held a moment of silence before the game to honor Jones' memory. Smith paid tribute on his own by pointing skyward after his first touchdown reception Sunday night.

Foster playing catch-up, could help his cause vs. Panthers

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Foster playing catch-up, could help his cause vs. Panthers

FOXBORO -- When DJ Foster took the field for Patriots OTAs, he looked as advertised: quick, a crisp route-runner, and the owner of a pair of dependable hands. But that was back when players wore shorts to every practice. Since then, the undrafted rookie running back out of Arizona State hasn't had the opportunity to do much other than work on his conditioning while the majority of his teammates practiced. 

That could soon change. Though Foster has dealt with what he calls a "nagging" injury throughout much of training camp, he felt well enough this week to return to practice, and on Friday night he is likely to see preseason game action for the first time this summer.

The reason Foster's preseason debut could carry some importance is that he happens to play a position that may qualify as the thinnest on the Patriots roster right now. Because sub back extraordinaire Dion Lewis will not be healthy enough to start the season, and because coach Bill Belichick opted to part ways with veteran Donald Brown recently, the team is low on numbers in their running back room.

If Foster can capitalize on the opportunities he's given, he may make a case for a roster spot. James White, who is expected to be Lewis' primary replacement, is the other lone true sub back on the roster. Brandon Bolden can fill in at that role on an emergency basis, and Tyler Gaffney has shown he can catch the football when asked, but neither has the kind of pass-catching upside of Foster, who played receiver for the Sun Devils as a senior and racked up 222 receptions during his four-year college career. 

Foster has only so much time to prove he's worthy of a job. The Patriots have to reduce their numbers to 75 by Aug. 30. They need to be down to 53 by Sep. 3. Foster could be a tantalizing prospect to stash on the practice squad, but surely he'd like to make a push for a greater role. 

He explained this week that, despite his recent physical limitations, he won't be holding back whenever he does get a chance to prove himelf. 

"The coaches do a great job at just kind of making sure I'm OK and stuff," he said. "For me, when I'm in there, do what I can, give everything I got -- every rep, every chance I get with the reps. Stay in the playbook, stay involved in the meetings, and just try to learn as much as I can. Whenever I do get an opportunity, go out there and make the most of it."

Against the Panthers, the Patriots coaching staff will have to balance the need to evaluate players like Foster against good competition versus getting the entire team ready for Week 1. For example, they'd like to get a good look at Foster, whose practice reps were next to nil before this week. They'd also probably like to get White as many reps as possible so that he's prepared for the Cardinals. 

Who should play when? And how many snaps do they need? 

"You can’t see D.J. Foster play in this league. You have Arizona State film but that’s all you have, and some of the spring work that he did which is obviously encouraging," Belichick said earlier this week. "We still have him, but there’s just no body of work. Donald Brown, you can see Donald Brown . . . Players like D.J., it’s hard. You don’t have much to go on. But maybe he’ll be able to do more. We’ll get an evaluation of him soon, hopefully."

Friday night could be the night. 

Patriots vs. Panthers: Five things to watch

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Patriots vs. Panthers: Five things to watch

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HOW LONG FOR TOM?

Somehow, Tom Brady’s stated desire to play this preseason devolved into discussion of whether he’s selfish, whiny and power-mad. Eh, it’s a living. How much will practice-game reps in August help him in October? I don’t know. You don’t know. But he apparently thinks they’ll help so let the guy prepare to do what you pay him a lot of money to do – play quarterback for a little while. “How little?” is the question. In my opinion, letting Jimmy Garoppolo take the first two drives then turning it over to Brady for 20 plays would give Garoppolo the chance to see the Panthers early, make adjustments after the first drive and then yield to Brady. My impression is that there’s nothing etched in stone as to who will play how long, rather, it’s something Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels will let develop as they see fit.

CAN MINGO MAKE A GO

Will the Patriots unveil their brand-new Barkevious? Barkevious Mingo did reportedly make the trip to Charlotte so he’ll be on the sidelines at least soaking up some of what the Patriots do defensively. What will Mingo do defensively is a bigger question. He’s 6-4, 250 and built more like an NBA small forward than a standard edge defender. His strength lies in his burst and moving upfield, though, so giving Mingo some of Geneo Grissom’s late-game reps on the edge would give the team some early impressions on which to work.

WHICH SHIFTS DO KNIGHTON/BRANCH GET

Seeing Terrance Knighton on the field late in the fourth quarter last week against the Bears was a bit of an eye-opener. Did it signal that he is a down-the-roster player like most of the other players on the field at that juncture in the preseason? Or was he out there because the Patriots needed someone at DT and Knighton was the guy. Phil Perry contemplates Knighton’s role on the roster here. Meanwhile, Branch is just back from a week-long team suspension for undisclosed agitations. He may not be ready to go, having missed a few days of practice, but if he is I wouldn’t be stunned to see the Patriots playing him right up until the final gun as a test of his willingness to play in 2016.

SECONDARY CHALLENGES

Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn all bring something to the table which will test the Patriots secondary. Benjamin is a huge and athletic wideout that brings the size component into play; Olsen is one of the league’s faster, more surehanded tight ends and Ginn is a jet. The Patriots have let up some plays on the perimeter in each of the first two preseason games. The Bears’ first two drives last week were 10 plays and 11 plays long. Getting off the field on third down early against Carolina’s potent offense would be an encouraging sign. 

BETTER TEST FOR RUNING GAME

Last week, the Patriots ground attack showed some life against the Bears. It had been a long time coming. Tonight, the test will be much more stiff. The Panthers have the league’s best linebacker in Luke Kuechly, another outstanding one in Thomas Davis and a front that features Star Lotuleilei, Kawann Short, Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy. While the progress made against Chicago was nice, make some headway against this group and then you can really get optimistic.