Putting Ridley's fumbles in focus

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Putting Ridley's fumbles in focus

FOXBORO - Bill Belichick has long said that, whenever a player has the ball, he carries the fortunes of the entire organization in his hands.

Not surprisingly, Belichick hates the sight of the entire organization's fortunes skidding across soaking wet fake grass or tumbling slowly through the air with nobody's hand directing them.

Fumbles. Bill Belichick hates 'em.

More now, it seems, that he ever used to.

Sunday night, Stevan Ridley fumbled for the sixth time in his career in 339 carries. For the second time this season and third time in his career, that fumble was recovered by the opponent.
It was, as Belichick would say, not what you're looking for. But it was something we used to see from the Patriots much more than we do over the past three seasons.

Consider these statistics for fumbles and fumbles lost since 2001.

2012: 13 and 7
2011: 13 and 5
2010: 9 and 5
2009: 17 and 9
2008: 17 and 10
2007: 14 and 6
2006: 27 and 15
2005: 19 and 9
2004: 24 and 13
2002: 24 and 10
2001: 29 and 13

It's eye-opening to see how often the Patriots put the ball on the ground early in the Belichick-Brady regime. And a good chunk of that was attributable to Brady, who had 11 fumbles in 2002 and 13 in 2003.

These days, though, fumbling is cause for banishment. Last season, Ridley put the ball on the ground twice late in the year. One of those fumbles was lost. He was put on ice for the most part. We'll see what the outgrowth of Sunday's fumble is. The Patriots may chalk Ridley's fumble up to a perfectly-placed hit by safety Donte Whitner and not punish Ridley with a loss of playing time. Judging by his face right after the fumble occurred -- like a dog who just got apprehended for leaving a present on the living room floor -- Ridley understood he'd done wrong.

For his part, Brady says -- somewhat tepidly -- he's got confidence in Ridley.

"I have confidence in everybody," said Brady. "If you're on this roster, everyone has confidence in you. I love every guy that I play with. Those guys give everything that they got... Stevan's done a great job this year."

Turnovers for the Patriots are rare and they are not treated with a shrug.

"I know when we win, sometimes we feel like we do a lot of things really well, and we do," Brady explained. "And the other night we do some things really well and we do plenty of things that are the reasons why we lost. I think it comes back to, a lot of times, limiting turnovers. We had four turnovers. You lose the turnover battle and a lot of times, you lose the game. Weve got to try to protect the ball this week. Certainly, thats a big point of emphasis and hopefully we can do a better job."

In his opinion, is this year's model adroit at fixing issues?

"Well, well see," he predicted. "This is when it matters most. There are important games like this that you see how tough you are to put things behind you and to move forward. We had a pretty good streak there going of wins and it feels pretty good when you're on those winning streaks, and then when you lose, it feel like you havent won a game in three years. Theres evaluation and self evaluation and the coach gives you evaluation and you try to use it in practice this week to be better and to be as prepared as you can possibly be so you dont go out and lose again."

Turnovers lead to losses, there is no arguing that. The more Stevan Ridley puts the ball on the ground, the better the chance the Patriots lose.

What the Patriots need to figure out, though, is whether not using Stevan Ridley -- stray fumbles and all -- helps than win more than not using him.

NFL combine preview: Tight ends

NFL combine preview: Tight ends

With the NFL combine about to begin -- and the NFL Draft just about two months away -- we'll take a daily look at the collegiate talent available at positions where the Patriots might be looking for help. We start today with: Tight ends.

On Tuesday, players will arrive in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, with on-field workouts beginning Friday. 

The second group to take the field is the tight end group, which should be worth watching for a number of reasons. For starters, Todd McShay says that this is “a good year to need a tight end” given that there could be three first-rounders in O.J. Howard, David Njoku and Jake Butt.

Furthermore, Martellus Bennett’s potential departure and Rob Gronkowski’s durability questions make tight end a position the Patriots could target early come April 27. 

Here’s a quick look at each of the 19 tight ends invited to the combine: 

O.J. Howard, Alabama, 6-foot-6, 249 pounds

- NFL.com describes him as an “exceptionally gifted athlete” and says that his “play speed resembles a wide receiver’s when the ball is in the air.” They add he “appears passive” as a blocker and “need more muscle and mass to be an in-line blocker as a pro.”

David Njoku, Miami, 6-foot-4, 245 pounds

- Not the biggest guy in the world at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, but is considered a top-end athlete. NFL.com says he “should annihilate the combine with monster numbers in speed and explosion.”

Jake Butt, Michigan, 6-foot-6, 250 pounds 

- Does everything well, but could stand to fill out his frame a bit more. 

Jordan Leggett, Clemson, 6-foot-5, 250 pounds

- Not considered a great blocker and has admitted that he’s played lazily. Could the Pats fix his motor? 

Gerald Everett, South Alabama, 6-foot-3, 227 pounds

- Very interesting prospect. Primarily a basketball player in high school who played just one year of football (insert Antonio Gates basketball reference), Everett played at Alabama-Birmingham before the school cut its football program. Upon transferring to South Alabama, Everett showed his skills as a pass-catching tight end. 

Evan Engram, Mississippi, 6-foot-3, 236 pounds

- Itty bitty for a tight end, and he doesn’t have the greatest hands either. Described as a “move tight end only who lacks dependability as a blocker.”   

He was one of five who for second in the nation among tight ends with eight touchdowns last season. Other guys in that group were Njoku, Hayden Plinke,  Cole Hikutini and UMass’ Adam Breneman.

Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech, 6-foot-7, 245 pounds

- Just your average quarterback-turned-tight-end. The lanky Hodges would be a good fit for the Patriots simply because it would give Julian Edelman a break from the constant mention during broadcasts that he used to be a QB. 

Cole Hikutini, Louisville, 6-foot-5, 248 pounds

- A good athlete who isn’t much of a blocker.

Adam Shaheen, Ashland, 6-foot-6, 277 pounds

- Former college basketball player transferred from Pittsburgh-Johnstown to Ashland to focus on football and eventually established himself as a dominant player at the Division II level. He’s certainly got the size and strength, but questions will persist about just how similarly he holds up going from Division II to the NFL. 

Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas, 6-foot-5, 265 pounds

- Big, physical tight end with a solid stiff arm. Sprinkle was suspended by Arkansas for the Belk Bowl because he stole from a Belk department store after each player had been given $450 to spend there. He was arrested for the incident, as he stole $260 worth of extra items.

Pharoh Brown, Oregon, 6-foot-6, 245 pounds

- Not considered the athlete he was prior to a 2014 injury that nearly resulted in his leg being amputated. 

Michael Roberts, Toledo, 6-foot-4, 261 pounds

- Huge hands, which he uses to catch better than block. He led all FBS tight ends with 16 touchdowns last season. 

Jonnu Smith, Florida International, 6-foot-3, 245 pounds

- College career was ended prematurely when his pregnant girlfriend poured boiling water on him, resulting in severe burns throughout his upper body, including his head. He has good speed, but drops were an issue in college. 

Scott Orndoff, Pittsburgh, 6-foot-5, 256 pounds

- Figures to be a solid blocking tight end, but he also had five receiving touchdowns as a senior. 

Eric Saubert, Drake, 6-foot-5, 251 pounds

- Every draft pick is a gamble, but Saubert might be more so than others. An AFC regional scout says that Saubert is “body beautiful but he can’t catch. I don’t think it’s correctable, either.”

Cethan Carter, Nebraska, 6-foot-4, 240 pounds

- Elbow injuries figure to be a topic at the combine, and he had various injuries throughout his college career. 

Darrell Daniels, Washington, 6-foot-4, 246 pounds

- A scout told NFL.com that Daniels is "going to test through the roof and he's going to get overdrafted on the traits.” The Patriots don’t typically fall into such traps. 

George Kittle, Iowa, 6-foot-4, 250 pounds

- Only had one drop as a senior, but then again being believed to have had no drops in college doesn’t make a guy an NFL stud. 

Hayden Plinke, UTEP, 6-foot-4, 265 pounds

- Transferred twice in his college career, starting at Boise State, then Portland State and finally UTEP. Is considered a good blocker who grabbed eight touchdowns as a senior. 
 

Sanu on Patriots' Super Bowl comeback: Lady Gaga's long halftime hurt Falcons

Sanu on Patriots' Super Bowl comeback: Lady Gaga's long halftime hurt Falcons

Three weeks removed from his team blowing a 25-point, second-half lead in the Super Bowl, Mohamed Sanu offered a possible explanation for the Atlanta Falcons losing their edge against the Patriots.

Lady Gaga.

More specifically, it was the half-hour-plus halftime show that interrupted the Falcons' rhythm, the receiver said Friday on the NFL Network's "Good Morning Football."

“Usually, halftime is only like 15 minutes, and when you’re not on the field for like an hour, it’s just like going to work out, like a great workout, and you go sit on the couch for an hour and then try to start working out again,” Sanu said.

Sanu was asked if the delay was something you can simulate in practice. 

"It's really the energy [you can't duplicate]," he said. "I don't know if you can simulate something like that. That was my first time experiencing something like that."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick did simulate it. In his Super Bowl practices, he had his team take long breaks in the middle.

Sanu also addressed the Falcons' pass-first play-calling that didn't eat up clock while the Patriots came back.

"The thought [that they weren't running the ball more] crossed your mind, but as a player, you're going to do what the coach [Dan Quinn] wants you to do." Sanu said. "He's called plays like that all the time."