Patriots' Dennard doesn't disappoint in NFL debut


Patriots' Dennard doesn't disappoint in NFL debut

FOXBORO -- Rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard showed up at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon, not knowing what his game-time status would be.

With his hamstring injury seemingly healed, the seventh-round pick was activated for the first time in his career. He didn't find out until today, but that doesn't mean he didn't feel prepared.

"I know I had a pretty good jump in practice," said Dennard after the Patriots' 31-21 win over the Denver Broncos. "I participated like they wanted me to. And they just told me, the more you compete, the more you get a chance."

Dennard got his first chance in the second quarter, and Peyton Manning targeted him right away, when the Broncos needed a first down.

With Denver trailing 14-7 with under six minutes left in the first half, Manning tried to force a 3rd-and-5 rocket over the middle to Brandon Stokley. Dennard made good of his first chance to make a big play, and batted it down, forcing the Broncos to punt, which led to a Patriots 93-yard drive and a field goal to give New England a 17-7 lead at the end of the half.

"It felt pretty good, going against Peyton Manning," said Dennard after the game. "I know he's a great quarterback, and I had a lot of comfort from Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, all of them just told me to go out there and play my game, and everything will come to you."

Dennard admitted to being nervous in his first NFL appearance. He also admitted to being rusty. Neither is usually a good mix when going up against someone like Manning's stature.

"Ya, I kind of felt a little rusty," said Dennard. "Basically because I wasn't practicing enough, because I was out with a hamstring injury. So, I was kind of like shaky going out there. I was thinking too much, basically. I think it's like a mental error."

That shakiness didn't necessarily translate into failure for the rookie on Sunday. And after his big third-down break-up in the second quarter, Dennard was in on another big break-up late in the game.

With the Broncos trailing 31-14, Manning tried to force a pass deep down the left sideline to Eric Decker, but Dennard was there to break it up. It was a big play, but would have been even bigger, had the rest of the Patriots defense done the same. Instead, the Broncos recovered from Dennard's effort, and scored their third touchdown of the game minutes later on the other side of the field.

It wasn't enough for Denver's offense though. And Dennard can walk away from his first career NFL game knowing that he did his job. And he did it in big spots.

Still, as it goes in New England, there's always room for improvement.

"I feel like I have to do a lot more work," said Dennard. "Technique-wise, I was kind of sloppy. I've got to watch the film first.

"I feel like I haven't done anything to be all hyped about," he added. "You know, because I haven't gone on the field and did anything. So, tonight I feel like I did an alright job. I've got to watch film and see what my correction is."

"It looked like Dennard was in on a few plays," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick after the win. "Well take a closer look at it on film. I think there are a couple other things that werent so hot, but he did show up and make a couple plays, so that was good . . . We had a lot of guys contribute, but it was good to see Alfonzo out here. Good to see."

Patriots training camp: Who will be this year's Zach Sudfeld?

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Mike Giardi and Phil Perry continue their Countdown to Camp as they discuss several story lines that we will hear a lot of.

Jets coach Todd Bowles: 'Garoppolo can play'


Jets coach Todd Bowles: 'Garoppolo can play'

The Jets don't have to play the Patriots during the first four weeks of the season, but they'll be watching as their division rivals go to work with Jimmy Garoppolo behind center. 

Jets head coach Todd Bowles is expecting more of the same from New England despite Tom Brady's four-game suspension.

"Garoppolo can play," Bowles told the New York Daily News. "They don't worry about who they have. They just have a system in place and they go play football. I think people underestimate that. You still have to knock off the champs. It's theirs until somebody takes it from them."

The Patriots haven't had a quarterback other than Brady take snaps of consequence since Brady tore his ACL in Week 1 of the 2008 season. Garoppolo is still a relative unknown given his 31 total pass attempts over the last two years, but with coach Bill Belichick still on the sidelines, and Belichick's system still in place, Bowles is assuming the Patriots will be a very good team once again -- even without their best player for the first month of the season. 

"They got a good team," Bowles said. "It's not just us. It's everybody. We split 1-1 (against them last year). They're a tough team. They're a tough out. They've had a coach and a quarterback and a system in place for a long time. There's a bunch of ways to skin a cat. They've found pretty good ways to skin it. They do what they have to."

Patriots celebrate 15-year anniversary of 2001 team with videos, Hall exhibit


Patriots celebrate 15-year anniversary of 2001 team with videos, Hall exhibit

The Patriots have announced a series of initiatives to celebrate the 2001 Super Bowl championship team on the 15th aniversary of their title-winning season.

Throughout the course of the 2016 season, the Patriots will feature special content online and on Patriots All-Access that will lead up to Dec. 4, when Gillette Stadium will host a reunion of the 2001 team during halftime of the Patriots-Rams regular-season matchup. 

The Patriots have already featured images of moments from the 2001 campaign on tickets for their eight regular-season home games. They'll also have a special exhibit dedicated to the 2001 team at The Hall at Patriot Place beginning in the fall. In addition, issues of Patriots Football Weekly this year will include posters of shots from the 2001 season. 

"The Super Bowl XXXVI win over the Rams was the first championship for our team and will always hold a very special place in our hearts," Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft said in a statement. "The victory made everyone that ever wore a Patriots uniform or rooted for the Patriots on the bleachers at Foxboro Stadium feel proud to be a fan. I know I am looking forward to reliving some of those great memories throughout the 2016 season."

The Patriots said that video vignettes focused on the 2001 season will launch this week on Twitter and Facebook as well as on