Saints be praised: Gregory, Pats defense embrace new challenge

833471.jpg

Saints be praised: Gregory, Pats defense embrace new challenge

FOXBORO -- Steve Gregory rushed in off the edge of the Patriots defensive line and made a beeline toward Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Coming in on a safety blitz, Gregory wasn't allowed to finish off the play full speed; Brees, along with every other quarterback on the field, was wearing a "no contact" red jersey. Still, the Patriots safety explained that Tuesday's joint practice with New Orleans was an effective simulation of what Patriots players might see once games begin.

"It simulated a game a little bit more than going against your own guys for so long," Gregory said. "It kind of gave that game atmosphere a little bit. You kind of had to be on top of your stuff, play your schemes, against something where you don't really know what's coming at you so. It was a good test for us."

Gregory signed a three-year deal with the Patriots this offseason after six seasons in San Diego. He said his new team's first practice with the Saints helped him and the rest of the Patriots secondary get better at their on-field communication as they saw formations and plays they haven't seen for the last two weeks. He admitted that as the Patriots defense went against the Patriots offense so frequently during camp, players began to pick up on each other's tendencies, making it easier to be in the right place at the right time to make a play. Tuesday was different.

And going against the Saints -- one of the best offensive teams in football in recent years -- made it an especially challenging day.

"To get out there and communicate with each other, against another team, in a situation that would be game-like, that was great," said Gregory, who picked off a Brees pass in 11-on-11 work. "It was great for us to grow today and get better back there.

"The Saints have a lot of talented guys out there, especially Drew, their running backs, receivers and tight ends. It poses challenges for defenses so it's good for us to go against an offense like that."

Gregory will be back at it again later this morning, trying to get a handle on Patriots coverages at something close to full speed. And even though he's not allowed to sack Brees, Gregory hoped he'd be at the line again, rushing in hard, not letting up until the last second.

"It's awesome man," Gregory said of the two opportunities he had to rush the quarterback on Tuesday. "DBs, we always think we're the best blitzers on the field. Any time we get a chance to go, we love it."

Patriots release DT Darius Kilgo, reportedly sign WR Griff Whalen

Patriots release DT Darius Kilgo, reportedly sign WR Griff Whalen

The New England Patriots have announced that they've released defensive tackle Darius Kilgo. 

The move creates an opening for wide receiver Griff Whalen, who they have reportedly signed to a one-year deal, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Kilgo, a sixth-round pick out of Maryland in 2015, did not make an appearance for the Patriots after being claimed off waivers from the Broncos last week. He played 81 snaps for Denver this season.

Whalen, 26, played in two games for San Diego in 2016 where he caught two passes for a total of 22 yards. 

The former Colts wideout is perhaps best remembered in New England for his part in Indianapolis' disastrous fake punt against the Patriots last season.

 

 

 

John Harbaugh: Ravens’ trickery different than Patriots ‘deceptive’ formation

John Harbaugh: Ravens’ trickery different than Patriots ‘deceptive’ formation

FOXBORO – John Harbaugh explained on Thursday the difference between the rules loophole his Ravens exploited recently and the one the Patriots exploited in the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoff Game that caused him to cry, “Foul.”

What it boiled down to? Everyone knew about the loophole the Ravens took advantage of when they committed an en masse holding penalty at the end of the game against the Bengals. 

Nobody had seen what the Patriots successfully pulled off when they made eligible receivers ineligible and vice versa and went on a touchdown drive that changed the tenor of the game.

“You’re right. I don’t want to get into all that,” Harbaugh said when I asked what the difference was. “That’s all been hashed out. I believe what I believe and I think it’s all been proven to be right.

“The point about [the punt hold] is, it’s been talked about, it’s been looked at, it’s been something that’s been used for 20 years so it’s nothing new,” he explained. “It’s nothing that hadn’t been addressed before by officials or the competition committee.”

Harbaugh said that, in Super Bowl 47, his Ravens used the tactic and his brother Jim, coach of the Niners, took it up with the Competition Committee. John Harbaugh supported the change, he said. The league declined.  

“Everybody knew about that so it didn’t create an unfair advantage for anybody,” said Harbaugh.

LISTEN: New Quick Slants podcast w/ more stories of Ravens antics

After the Patriots beat Baltimore in a tremendous game, Harbaugh was in a snit in his postgame press conference alleging the “nobody’s ever seen that [eligible-ineligible trickery] before.” He said the play was “illegal” and “deceptive.”

I mentioned that Alabama had run the play in a nationally televised game against LSU and that the Titans had done the same thing on a game-ending play against the Jets a few weeks earlier.

Aside from whether or not the information was accurately communicated by the officials, the tone of Harbaugh’s comments left little room for interpretation. He indicated the Patriots were underhanded and that his comments seemed to discredit New England.

“That was not the intent and if you go back and read my comments at the time and the tone of it anybody that takes it that way is taking it the wrong way,” said Harbaugh. “That was not the point of it at all. You had an eligible receiver that wasn’t identified and an ineligible receiver that wasn’t identified as such. The official had no way to identify that for the defense so there was no signal or any other way that they could do that. That was something that was addressed the very next week. If somebody wants to look at it some certain way, that’s not my concern.”

When I offered that referee Bill Vinovich not only identified Shane Vereen as being ineligible but added, “Don’t cover 34…” over the stadium mic, Harbaugh wasn’t having it.  

“That’s not something that had ever been gone over,” he insisted. “Players were never taught don’t cover that player. When you’re on the field, you can’t hear that microphone. That’s not something you can even hear or are listening for. The next week there was a tweak.”

Indeed there was. And not just with the officials then being on the hook to make more detailed announcements. The further tweak, perhaps spurred by the formation chicanery and Tom Brady’s recommendation that Baltimore “study the rules” came when the Ravens passed on intel to the Colts for the AFC Championship Game. One of the recommendations from Ravens special teams coach Jerry Rosburg was to watch that the Patriots’ sideline staff didn’t monkey with the kicking balls. That was included in a letter to NFL Operations man Mike Kensil along with an allegation that it was “well known around the league” that the Patriots deflate footballs before the game and that the league needed to keep an eye on that.

Harbaugh hasn’t hidden from the fact he found Brady’s comment offensive.

"I was pissed off," he said this past summer. "It was uncalled for. And the rules are deeper than that, and I know the rules, and I stand by why that play shouldn't have been allowed...So yeah, that should never have been said."

He has, however, disavowed any talk by his staff about the Patriots allegedly deflating footballs. "Any conversation that was had with the Colts had nothing to do with deflated footballs, which is what we've been saying since the very start," Harbaugh said in 2015. "I know that we've answered the questions from the beginning to the end very simply. Our yes is yes. Our no is no. We've answered questions directly and honestly and straightforward from the start."

Whether the Patriots’ formation plays and the Ravens response to it led to a $30M investigation that hijacked the NFL’s attention for 20 months and resulted in a four-game suspension for Brady is still not definitively known. Could Rosburg and the Colts equipment man have possibly discussed kicking ball chicanery without sharing notes on the belief the Patriots deflated footballs? Rosburg and former Patriots defensive coordinator and current Ravens coach Dean Pees were both spoken to by investigator Ted Wells. What did they offer

Just like everything else between Ravens and Patriots, it’s complicated.