Spikes tries to make a statement with his hits

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Spikes tries to make a statement with his hits

FOXBORO -- Between the white lines, Brandon Spikes is as animated as they come. But for all of his mouthiness the cameras catch on the field, Spikes says it doesn't stop there.

"The whole time on the sideline I'm preaching," Spikes said Thursday. " 'Somebody make a play. Don't sit back and wait for the next man to do it.' Once one guy make a play, it goes through the whole defense. You feel the energy. You can see it."

Lately, he's answered his own call. Against the Bills in Week 4, Spikes laid game-changing hits to force two fumbles, both of which the Patriots recovered. One came on the goal line just before halftime, jarring the ball loose from Bills running back CJ Spiller. The next came in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots up seven, when Fred Jackson was knocked so forcefully that he let go of the ball.

Spikes finished the game with eight tackles in all, and his two forced fumbles were his second and third of the season, tying him for the league lead. It was a performance that inspired Patriots Hall of Famer and Comcast SportsNet analyst Troy Brown to call him the best run-stuffing linebacker in the NFL.

Generous characterization or not, it's clear Spikes is beginning to pop up on radars as one of the game's hardest hitters. And it's a reputation Spikes hopes to build upon.

"I just wanna kinda try to make a point," Spikes said. "When I hit a guy I want them to get him like, 'Oh that was Spikes who hit me. I know that already.' "

For those that don't know right away, they likely find out soon thereafter. All they have to do is listen, really. Spikes admits he's an excitable player, and after he makes a big play, he makes people aware. Oftentimes he'll yell or waive his arms or head-butt teammates.

His fellow Patriots don't seem to mind the young linebacker's energy, though.

"The way we try to play defense, you need someone like that," said Vince Wilfork, who singled out Spikes as the one Patriot by whom he'd never want to be hit.

"He gets us riled up off of hits, off of the things he says, the way he's bringing the game to him," Wilfork added. "He doesn't let the game slip away. He wants all the contact in the world. He's almost like a lineman, because of all the contact he looks for. That's a positive for us."

Spikes considers himself to be an old-school linebacker, big and unafraid. But he knows he needs to adapt his game to the here-and-now, especially when it comes to pass coverage. His performance against the Bills was a tale of two players, in a way. Yes, he showed impressive brute strength when he forced the two fumbles. But he also missed a chance to jam Bills tight end Scott Chandler before Chandler came down with a 20-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.

"Right now, as far as my performance, I've been inconsistent," Spikes said. "So if I can do all the little things and getting better each week, I feel like I'll have a great season."

Spikes has missed significant time in his short career due to injuries and a four-game suspension in 2010. He knows he's a big part of what the Patriots do on defense, and he believes that as he's matured, he's learned how to stay on the field.

"Whenever my number's called I wanna go out and play at a high level," he said. "But at the same time I gotta do all the smaller things when I'm not on the field as far as eating right, taking care of my body. When I was younger, when I first came into the league, I was still immature. I was trying to do it my way. I got a lot of great examples of guys on the Patriots I can learn from, great professionals. I just been watching them and just trying to just mimic those guys."

Something that's always been a part of his routine is playing basketball. Spikes, who fancies himself a finesse player on the court, claims it has helped his agility over the years.

And though he says hoops was his first love, it's clear by the effervescence with which he plays football that he's found his game.

"It's just something that comes natural," Spikes said. "I always have been like that. Ever since I was little I played with a lot of emotion, and I just love the game, as you can see. You can tell I'm having fun playing so it's just a part of me . . . I don't know any other way to play."

If his style continues to lead to big hits and game-altering plays, he'll never have to change.

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

The Patriots and Raiders and neck-and-neck as the race for home field in the AFC turns for home. And, with four games left, the Raiders are ahead by a nose. The tiebreakers between the 10-2 teams in play currently? Common games followed by strength of victory. 

The first tiebreaker – conference record – is a deadlock as both teams are 7-1 in the AFC (the Brady-less Patriots lost to the Bills back in Week 4.

After conference record, it's the teams record in common games. 

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

So far in common games with the Texans and Bills, the Patriots have gone 2-1 and the Raiders have gone 2-0. The Patriots play the Ravens next week. Oakland beat them. The Patriots play Denver after that. Oakland beat them as well but have one more game against Denver in Week 17.

So if it comes down to common games the Patriots really need to win these next two games.

Or hope the Raiders stub their toe a time or two in their final four games which are at the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos with a home game against Indy in Week 16.

As for strength of victory, that too goes to Oakland at this point. The Raiders’ strength of victory is at .471. The Patriots’ is at .370.

But the tiebreaker that kicks in after conference record and before strength of victory – common games – is very much unresolved.The remaining picture as it stands right now? The Ravens are the No. 3 seed with a 7-5 record that leads the AFC North. The Texans’ 6-6 record is good enough to lead the AFC South. The 9-3 Chiefs are the top Wild Card. The 8-4 Broncos are the No. 6 seed.

The Patriots play the Ravens and Broncos over the next two weeks. Currently, the Dolphins (7-5) and Steelers (7-5) are on the outside looking in.

The Titans (6-6) will have a chance to get even with the Texans in Week 17 in head-to-head matchups but they host Denver and play at Kansas City the next two weeks so they have obstacles to clear before they get there.