When it comes to talent, Pats can still pick it

191543.jpg

When it comes to talent, Pats can still pick it

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - The release of Brandon Meriweather on Saturday meant that not a single player from the 2007 draft remains on the Patriots. That draft - and the 2006 and 2008 ones - have been rightly labeled as awful and discussed throughout the last few days. But just how bad are the Patriots at collecting personnel? Despite those drafts, a look at the waiver wire claims on players the Patriots let go shows they still know how to collect useful players. A total of 16 teams put in claims on five of the players the Pats let go. Five claims were put in on tight end Lee Smith (he wound up in Buffalo). Four were put in on guard Thomas Austin (Houston). Three each were put in on tight end Will Yeatman and Brandon Tate (Miami and Cincinnati). And one was put in on Landon Cohen (Seattle). The Cowboys had the second highest level of interest in released players. Five total claims were put in on three of their players. Add in James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather, signed by the Falcons and Bears respectively in short order after they were cut, and it's obvious that the guys at the end of the Patriots roster are good enough to play elsewhere. Or at least seem to have value. As Bill Belichick points out, there are a number of ways to collect players. The draft - important as it is - is just one of them. Yeatman was undrafted out of Maryland and signed by the Patriots. Austin was picked up last September after the Vikings released him. Smith was a fifth-rounder. Tate was a third-rounder. Cohen was picked up after being waived last year by the Jaguars.The Patriots deserve to have those drafts bashed. And free agent signings during the same period like Adalius Thomas and Shawn Springs. But a more complete picture shows that they are still at the top of the league when it comes to collecting players and putting them to good use. Asked about the number of released players who attracted interest, Belichick said on Monday, "Ithink weve had a competitive camp. We have whatever it is, what 11 guys on other teams now. We had a competitive camp. We had a lot of guys battling it out in a lot of different positions. I cant really speak to what other teams did, but the fact that they are with other teams probably says something about what the level of competition was at different positions on our team."Undeniably. Belichick would have no doubt liked to have a shot at adding players like Yeatman and Smith to the practice squad. But he says he has no illusions about what might happen when a player is let go. "Anytime you release a player I think you have a pretty good expectation that hes not going to be here," Belichick explained. "If you want him then you keep him on the roster. Once youve put him out there then you can expect to lose him. "I just dont think you can release a player and expect to keep the player. If you do thats pretty its nice if it happens if thats what you want, but theres got to be a good probability that that isnt going to happen. Its certainly not anything you can count on; its not anything that we ever count on, I can tell you that. Once theyre on the wire then 31 other teams if anybody wants him, hes theres."Belichick downplayed the impact the rookie Yeatman can have in Miami where he can give the Dolphins intel on what the Patriots plans are for the season opener next Monday. "I think theres a lot more to it than that," said Belichick. "Could they tell you something that may be helpful? I dont know. I know we worked on a lot of things in training camp. We had however many practice it was for preseason games thats a lot of stuff. We hadnt begun our game plans for Miami yet, and I doubt that theyd begun their game plans for us either. I mean, theres a whole volume of stuff there its all on film. I think we have a pretty good idea of what Miamis going to do not exactly, but Im sure they have a pretty good idea of what were going to do. We play each other twice a year, so I dont know. "Whatever information anybody gets on that I think is very marginal, very marginal," he added. "In all honesty, sometimes it can be more harm than good. They do this, they do that, watch out for this, watch out for that, then they dont do it, then its just a waste of time working on stuff that you didnt know they had, and they still didnt use it. So, I think its marginal."Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran.

Curran: Ravens are the Patriots' most bitter rival

Curran: Ravens are the Patriots' most bitter rival

Who has been the Patriots' greatest rival of the Belichick-Brady Era?

There are a few candidates: There's no franchise the team hates more thoroughly than the Jets. The Steelers, just because of franchise tradition, are in the mix but the Patriots have had their way in most of the big games with Pittsburgh. The Colts? It's kind of a big brother-little brother thing. The Broncos? Definitely. But no opponent has provided the gripping games and the mix of animosity and respect that the Ravens have over the past decade. 

The first truly memorable Ravens-Patriots game came in 2007. Brian Billick was in his final season as Ravens head coach and Baltimore -- with Kyle Boller at quarterback -- was on its way to a 5-11 season. But that Monday night epic against the unbeaten Patriots was one of the most gripping games of the Belichick era with the Patriots erasing a 24-17 deficit in the final eight minutes thanks to a Ravens meltdown that included defensive coordinator Rex Ryan calling costly timeouts and Ravens players throwing penalty flags. The Patriots won, 27-24, on a touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left. It was probably the hardest the Patriots were pushed en route to 16-0.

Since then, there was the never-to-be-forgotten 33-14 2009 playoff rout at Gillette, which was probably the low point of the Belichick Era. That was followed by a pair of 23-20 Patriots wins before -- the second of those being a stirring AFC Championship win in the 2011 playoffs when Sterling Moore’s pass breakup and a hooked field goal attempt sent the Ravens home whining. But the Ravens broke Gronk in that game and -- with him hobbling around in the Super Bowl against the Giants -- they came up short, 21-17.

Early in 2012, again in prime time, the Patriots let leads of 13-0 and 30-21 slip away as the Ravens won 31-30 on a 27-yard Justin Tucker field goal at the buzzer. It was the Replacement Ref Game, the nadir of the horrific stretch of time in which we got an eyeful of how bad officiating can really be (thanks, Rog!).

The two teams saw each other again in the 2012 AFC Championship and the Patriots saw a 13-7 halftime lead evaporate in a hail of Joe Flacco throws to Anquan Boldin as the Patriots got out-toughed in a 28-13 loss. Late in 2013, the Patriots gave the Ravens a tremendous 41-7 beating in Baltimore to usher the Ravens out of playoff contention. It was the best win of the year for New England.

And the 2014 AFC Divisional Playoff win for New England was one of the best playoff wins of Belichick Era. The Patriots twice erased 14-point deficits to win 35-31 at Gillette. The Ravens made a public show of complaining about the Patriots formation trickery and saying they’d take it up with the league. Tom Brady chastised the Ravens for not knowing the rules and Ravens coach John Harbaugh -- who’s got a haughty streak in him to say the least -- made sure the rule got changed then spent 2015 running trick formation plays recreationally.

More damaging was the private maneuvering of the Ravens.

Their coaching staff -- specifically special teams coach Jerry Rosburg -- was dropping dimes to the Indianapolis Colts, encouraging Indy to be on alert for football shenanigans, alleging the Patriots monkeyed with the K-ball usage. Harbaugh initially denied any involvement in the mess that ensued after the Colts alerted the league to that concern and the purported deflating of footballs which was “well known around the league.” After it was demonstrated that the Ravens had communicated with the Colts, Harbaugh and the Ravens released a statement trying to establish distance. 

As much as Baltimore wants to maintain its distance, the communication with Indy and the fact that “independent investigator” Ted Wells interviewed both Rosburg and Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees during the DeflateGate investigation shows that the Ravens weren’t just minding their own business in this whole thing.

This will be the first time the teams meet since all that went down and it will be interesting to hear this week if there’s any latent bitterness on the part of the Patriots who -- despite the on-field rivalry -- had a strong relationship with Baltimore at the ownership level with Steve Bisciotti, at the personnel level with Ozzie Newsome and George Kokinis and with the coaching staff. Bill Belichick recommended Harbaugh to Bisciotti for the Ravens head job in 2008.

The surging Ravens have won four of five. They’re 7-5 and leading the AFC North. And -- unlike other teams that traditionally melt under the lights in New England -- the Ravens relish the chance to play the Patriots.

"We have to go up into a hostile place in New England that we really enjoy playing [at]," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It's going to be another important game in December up there on a Monday night, and it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to it, big time."

“Now we’ve got our toughest challenge and we’ll need to play our best football up in New England to win that football game,” said Harbaugh. “We believe we’ll have a chance to do that based on where we are right now. … They’ve got great players, a great organization and they’re always at the top and they’ve earned it. We’ve been honored to be in some big games with them over the years and that’s a place we want to be.”