Warren and Patriots: A perfect fit

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Warren and Patriots: A perfect fit

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Ask fans who the I-beams of the Patriots are right now and the answers will be predictable: Tom Brady, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker. Maybe even rookie corner Devin McCourty.

But ask the team about Gerard Warren.

The praise he gets from the guys who know him best speaks volumes. They'll tell you that the defensive lineman is invaluable to the 12-2 Patriots.

"He's brought a lot of experience,'' Bill Belichick said on Wednesday. "He's a smart guy and a versatile player. He can play inside and outside. He can play it on the nose, both ends. He's a smart guy. He sees things. Very professional. Ready to work every day. Tough. He's banged up like a lot of guys are but he stays out there and fights through it. He's been a very dependable player for us.''

It has taken him a while to get here.

Gerard Warren was the third overall pick in 2001. The 6-foot-4, 330-pounder was convinced the Patriots would draft him but he went earlier, selected by the Browns three picks before Richard Seymour.

For most of his first nine seasons in the NFL he was trapped in dysfunctional and unsuccessful franchises, bouncing from Cleveland to Denver to Oakland.

Finally, last March, a chance to sign with a new team surfaced. It was Seymour who recommended the Patriots. Warren was signed in April as a role player.

"I think when you sign a player like that, I don't know if you know what their role's going to be,'' Belichick said. "When you haven't had him before, and even if you have, you wait to see how their performance relates to everybody else that you have, put it all together and see how it works out. Kind of go back to that Roman Phifer situation."

The coach picked an apt comparison. Phifer was signed by the Patriots in 2001 after 11 seasons in the league. He'd played for Belichick in New York in 1999.

New England handed Phifer a veteran minimum contract and an unspecified role. By the end of the 2001 regular season, the outside linebacker had 93 tackles. By the end of the playoffs, he had a Super Bowl ring. He won two more rings in '03 and '04.

"I told Phifer that I thought he would have a limited role,'' Belichick said. "We had a role for him, I wasn't sure what it was. That role ended up being that he played 98 percent of the plays.

"You just don't know how it's all going to work out with your team from year to year. Some of that's a function of that player. Some of it's a function of what's going on around them. Some of it's a function of who you're playing."

The injury to Ty Warren forced Gerard Warren into more minutes. Despite a knee injury, he has played in all 14 games (9 starts) in New England's stunning 2010 season. He has racked up 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

What he wants is the hardware that Roman Phifer got his hands on.

"Wish I woulda had a lot more Super Bowl rings on my fingers,'' Warren said. "That's what I judge it on winning and losing. I been in the league for 10 years, so I'm blessed for that."

He has believed for a while now that playing for the Patriots is the solution. In May, Warren said he was tremendously impressed with New England's attitude.

"It's all business,'' he said. "Come in. Play winning football. Have fun. Family environment. When you walk in through the doors, its all business. Very appealing."

Six months later Warren cites his time in New England as "one of the most beautiful journeys" in his life. The defensive stats are nice, but the reason this is a great year is because he's playing for an organization "thats got a mission and a plan and a purpose." Because he's finally got a chance to make a difference with a Super Bowl contender.

"That's one guy that came here with all the intentions of helping this ball club win,'' Vince Wilfork said Wednesday. "Great player. Great person. What he's done for us has been great. From his leadership standpoint, playing skills, you name it. However he can help he's helped."

Wilfork's especially high on his new teammate. Though Warren is listed as a defensive lineman, his ability to play over the center or at tackle has allowed the Patriots to be more exotic with how they use Wilfork.

So how come the folks buying Patriots jerseys aren't scrambling for Number 92? Without a Pro Bowl nod or Super Bowl ring, some might call him a bust. But Warren's been more a victim of circumstance.

Even now with the Patriots, the 3-4 defense isn't built to make stars of defensive lineman. Doesn't matter much if the fans don't notice him though. The players do.

"Sometimes I find myself asking him questions," Wilfork smiled. "He'll kind of look at me crazy like, 'Man, I just got here.' It's just a respect factor. He's been around the game for a long time. That's a guy that I've seen a lot of film on, if he was out in Denver, Cleveland or Oakland. I've watched a lot of film on him because there's something about his game I like."

Just another underrated acquisition for Bill Belichick.

"I never try to tell a player exactly what his situation's going to be because it's always subject to change," Belichick said. "This is where we're going to start. Where it ends up? Sometimes it's where you start and sometimes it isn't.''

Gerard Warren is seeing a hell of a lot more of the gridiron than anyone expected last spring. For both the player and the Patriots, this is a really good thing.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rawls leads Seahawks to 40-7 rout of Panthers

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SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rawls leads Seahawks to 40-7 rout of Panthers

SEATTLE - Behind Thomas Rawls bouncing off and through tacklers and a big-play punch from Tyler Lockett, the Seattle Seahawks rediscovered their offensive star power on Sunday night.

It came at a significant cost to their defense.

Rawls ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, Lockett took a reverse 75 yards for a score to open the second half and the Seahawks routed the Carolina Panthers 40-7 on Sunday night.

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Curran: Outcome expected, Patriots can still build off win vs. Rams

Curran: Outcome expected, Patriots can still build off win vs. Rams

FOXBORO – So they did precisely what they were supposed to do. Poleaxed a bad team that had come cross-country to get its whipping and then return home.

It’s hard to downgrade the Patriots for that. Not this time. Even though they were facing a rookie quarterback making his third NFL start in Jared Goff, even though the Rams were without wide receiver Tavon Austin, the net the Patriots threw over the Rams offense was so stifling that those qualifiers don’t count.

The Rams went 1-for-9 on third down. They were 0-for-8 before the late conversion. They didn’t get over 100 total yards until their final drive of the game and that required a breakdown by Malcolm Butler on Kenny Britt. Britt, the Rams best offensive player this season, hadn’t had a catch before that.

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

So what if the Patriots used the Rams as their step stool to get to the next rung? So what if they were supposed to do exactly that? They’d had other matchups this season when they hadn’t choked out lesser opponents. This time they did.

And some of the players who figured prominently are precisely some of the players who’ve had their struggles.

Jabaal Sheard, benched two weeks ago, forced a pick and three passes defensed. Logan Ryan, who’s seen his role change and playing time dwindle, had a sack on a corner blitz and had two quarterback hits to go with five tackles. Kyle Van Noy, still fitting into the defense, had a pick, a pass defensed and four tackles. Alan Branch, who hasn’t struggled but had an NFL suspension hanging over his head until the league rescinded it Saturday, was his normal nuisance up front. Chris Long and Shea McClellin, both new to the team this year, had sacks.

“That happens around here,” explained Dont'a Hightower. “The next-man-up mentality has been here for a few years. Guys don’t play early then later in the season, they get right whatever it was that wasn’t right and they come back and we play well. It’s about us playing together.”

Hightower has steadily proclaimed that the defense has the talent and self-belief necessary to get where it needs to be on a consistent basis.  

“I feel like every week should be like this regardless of who we’re playing,” he said. “We had a great week of practice. Everyone was all in the same mindset, the same focus. (Defensive coordinator Matty Patricia) again did a great job of calling the game, mixing it up. We just went out there and executed.”

As the Patriots head into the final four games of their schedule, the caliber of their competition will rise. The next opponent, Baltimore, has won four of five including a 38-6 demolition of the Dolphins on Sunday.

The Broncos are up after the Ravens and that game will be in Denver, never an easy spot for the Patriots to say the least.

The Patriots close at home with the always-annoying Jets and then have to go to South Florida to play Miami in the New Year’s Day finale.  

“We’re just one week at a time,” said Ryan. “You can’t break this season off a couple weeks. Next week, we see what Baltimore [Ravens] just did, they’re a real good team. We know how that’s been in the past so it should be a nice game, a competitive game, competitive atmosphere. We’re just one week at a time, we’re happy we got this game and we’re on to the next one.”

It’s hard to point to this game and say, “All’s fixed.”

It was the outcome expected and there was no letdown. Part of the process.

“It’s December, time to play our best football,” said Devin McCourty. "We’ve been at it for a while now dating back to the beginning of training camp. Things we’ve talked about working on and things we’ve talked about improving, it’s time to start improving on those things and getting them done. Bill [Belichick] said it over and over that who we play each week is not going to matter if we don’t come and fix the things we need to fix and play the way we need to play. I think the whole team understands that and it starts with him, but [also] us echoing it as captains and as leaders. Today I think showed that when we do those things, we go out there and play well.”

The principals in this win – players like Sheard and Ryan – signaled that concerns over buy-in and locker room fissures appearing after playing time was shifted and personnel was shipped out were probably unfounded.

It’s a tough place to play because performance matters and there’s not a lot of, “That’s ok, you’ll get ‘em next time…” with this coaching staff.

It’s mentally challenging.

“That might be an understatement,” laughed Hightower. “But that’s part of the process, that’s part of the Patriot way and we try to adapt to it.”