FOXBORO — It was a highlight grab that showed NFL scouts everywhere what kind of freakish skills Aaron Dobson had entering the NFL.

With Marshall trailing East Carolina 17-10 late in the first half, Dobson ran his route into in the end zone. The defender grabbed his left arm. Not to worry. The 6-foot-4 receiver went airborne, cupped his right hand and grabbed the ball and clutched it to his hip.

“I made a catch like that back in college. I made a one-handed backhanded catch back in college. It was crazy,” Dobson told WEEI.com. “It freaked me out that I did it. I was trying to catch it with two hands and the defender actually grabbed my arm and spun me and I just caught it backhanded.”

That was then and this is now. The one-arm catch has become all the rage early on in this NFL season.

Antonio Gates made a sensational diving grab with his left hand for a touchdown against the Seahawks in San Diego’s win in Week 2. Hours later up the coast, Brandon Marshall led the Bears back from the dead with a pair of one-handed grabs in the end zone as the Bears spoiled the opener of Levi’s Stadium, 28-20.

Those are just two examples, and in each case, the touchdowns don’t get made without the receiver going all out. The one-handed catch is the last resort for receivers when you can’t get both hands on the ball but the pass is still salvageable.

“I definitely feel like you can put yourself in a position by bodying a defender, holding him off maybe with one arm and catching it with the other arm,” Dobson said. “Most of the time, it’s just instincts. It just happens like that. So, I feel like you can do little things that will help you like that.

“Maybe not so much in practice but as far as after practice, if you’re on a JUGS machine just ‘boom’ catching one-handed or throwing back-and-forth [with coaches], doing little drills like that. It can help your hand-eye coordination so if you can’t get two hands on it, you can get one and bring it in. I think you can do little drills like that that will help.”

From a coach’s perspective, is the one-handed grab something you can teach?

“We coach catching all the different types of balls that a receiver can catch: high, low, to the side, in front of him, behind him, over the shoulder, trying to have to torque his body and adjust to the catch, one-hand, two-hand, all those,” Bill Belichick said. “It’€™s repetition, experience and concentration. Certainly skill is part of it as well. I wouldn’€™t underestimate that. Yeah, that’€™s all part of it. We do that on a daily basis ‘€“ before practice, after practice. Those guys probably catch over 100 balls a day one way or another.

“It’€™s not just standing there playing catch; putting the ball in different locations, having to extend and use their hands and not being able to body-catch it. Again, with the ball behind them, with the ball in front of them, high, low. Yeah, that’€™s what they do. They catch a lot and work a lot on their ball skills and their catch skills in all different locations.”

Rob Gronkowski brought new meaning to expanding the “catch radius” in New England, and has made a few one-handed grabs in his day. But while it might look spectacular, Gronkowski said it’s not nearly as easy as some great receivers make it appear.

“We don’t sit there and try and make one-handed grabs,” he said. “That just comes naturally. That just comes with where the ball is thrown. From what the coaches always taught me, you want to catch the ball with both hands and tuck it away. It’s cool seeing all the highlights and everything but you always want to try and catch it with two and make the grab a little bit easier.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Michigan men Charles Woodson and Tom Brady will meet again on Sunday. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Michigan men Charles Woodson and Tom Brady will meet again on Sunday. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Here’€™s everything you need to know about Sunday’€™s season opener between the Patriots and Raiders:

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:

1. Quarterback Tom Brady against free safety Charles Woodson: At 37, Woodson is no longer the elite-level defensive back he once was, but to paraphrase Darrelle Revis, he’€™s still able to make plays. (The level of respect for Woodson is so great that Bill Belichick apparently put on film of Woodson’€™s work in team meetings this week, a reminder that the surefire Hall of Famer is still capable of pulling off some impressive plays.) Brady talked fondly about him on Wednesday, and Revis added to the praise on Thursday. The byplay between Brady and Woodson should be engaging on Sunday; maybe one of the most compelling matchups on what might otherwise be a relatively uneventful afternoon. Woodson has had 57 picks over the course of his 17-year career (he’€™s had at least one a year dating back to 1998), but has never been able to get one against Brady. While nothing is set in stone, this might be Woodson’€™s final chance to get one off his old college pal. At the very least, Woodson would love to gain a small level of revenge for the Snow Bowl/Tuck Rule contest.

2. Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork against running back Darren McFadden: In his seventh season, McFadden is no longer the elite multidimensional threat he once was, but he’€™s still able to do plenty of damage offensively. The 6-foot-1, 218-pounder had a good week last week against the Texans, running well between the tackles. While the numbers weren’€™t overwhelming — 12 carries, 27 yards and a touchdown — with Maurice Jones-Drew a question mark because of a hand issue, he could be the Raiders best shot on the ground against the Patriots. Wilfork and the rest of the New England defense has been excellent against the pass, but struggled against the run, yielding 122.5 rushing yards per game (tied for 21st in the league). Oakland loves running between the tackles, which means it’€™ll be Wilfork who will likely handle the bulk of the duties. From this viewpoint, if Derek Carr is going to have a chance, he’€™s going to need plenty of good complementary football from the rest of the Raiders, and on offense, that starts with a big contribution from McFadden and the rest of the running game.

3. Left tackle Nate Solder against outside linebacker Khalil Mack: Mack is probably the best young defensive prospect the Raiders have had in some time, and over the course of his first two games, has appeared to line up mostly opposite the left tackle. Used both as a linebacker in their regular defense and a defensive end in Oakland’€™s sub packages, the rookie out of Buffalo has flashed very positively on occasion, working as a disruptive force off the edge. (Though two games, he has 12 tackles, two of them for a loss, as well as one pass defensed.) He’€™ll likely get a healthy dose of Solder, who has held up relatively well over the course of the first two games of the season. If the Patriots follow the same course of action they did last week against the Vikings (and it wouldn’€™t be a surprise to see them do this, given the fact that the Raiders are the worst run defenses in the league), expect an extra tackle to work as a tight end to provide help in the running game. (Last week, it was rookie Cameron Fleming.) Bill Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Mack this week, calling him ‘€œdisruptive,’€ as well as ‘€œfast’€ and ‘€œexplosive.’€ It’€™ll be interesting to see how he matches up with Solder.

4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’€™ fans need to know: There are a handful of offensive skill position players who are relatively anonymous faces, but one relatively intriguing prospect who might get a chance against the Patriots is Latavius Murray, a second-year player out of Central Florida. He didn’€™t play last season (a foot injury landed him on injured reserve) but had 23 carries for 94 yards in the preseason for the Raiders. Murray has flashed positively as a kick returner this season, averaging 24.3 yards per return in seven chances ‘€” and if  Jones-Drew continues to have issues with his hand, Murray could get an opportunity against the Patriots.

5. By the numbers (tie): 4 — Per NFL gamebooks, the number of Patriots who have played every single offensive or defensive snap to this point in the season. On the offensive side of the ball, it’€™s Brady and Solder. On defense, it’€™s been linebackers Jerod Mayo and Dont’€™a Hightower. (Last year after eight games, the Patriots had eight players who hadn’€™t taken a single snap off: Brady, Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty, Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer and Logan Mankins.)



6. Quote of note: No single phrase stood out for us this week more than the word “savvy.” On four different occasions, this reporter heard Patriots players use it to describe Oakland, usually in conjunction when asked about the collective age of the Raiders. (They are, on average, the oldest team in the league.)

7. Patriots fans should be worried about… the fear of the unknown, particularly when it comes to Carr. Sunday will mark his first ever start against New England and only his third career start at the NFL level. The Fresno State product has distinguished himself with two decent performances to this point — the 6-foot-3, 214-pounder has gone 47-for-74 passes for 414 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions while adding 55 rushing yards in two games, both losses for the Raiders. The simple fact that they haven’t faced him is enough in itself to insure that Belichick has been able to keep his defense a little wary about the prospect of facing a rookie signal-caller. If Carr has the ability to surprise, it could come with his ability to keep plays alive with his feet and maneuver out of the pocket once things break down. (To that point, several defensive players we spoke with this week talked about the importance of gap discipline when facing a potentially shifty quarterback like Carr.) As we wrote here, it’s worth mentioning that Carr has the opportunity to make history against the Patriots: Since 2001, no rookie QB in his first or second start against the Patriots in his first year in the league has beaten Belichick in New England. (In that span, Belichick has faced rookie quarterbacks on 19 occasions, and New England is 14-5 against them. However, none of those losses have come at home.)

8. Raiders fans should be worried about… the Patriots executing their offensive game plan, which involves jumping to an easily lead and sitting on the ball over the course of the second half with a bunch of grind-it-out drives. The Raiders enter the contest as the worst team in the league against the run, having yielded an average of 200 yards per game in their first two contests. Expect a heavy dose of Stevan Ridley throughout the contest — dating back to last November, the LSU product has put together a regular-season and playoff streak of 98 consecutive touches without a fumble. If he can build on his 101-yard performance last week against the Vikings and reach the century mark again, chances are good New England will win — since 2001, the Patriots are 38-1 when they have a running back hit the century mark. Given Ridley’s recent run and the Raiders woes against the run, it seems like a safe bet for Sunday.

9. One more thing: It’€™s interesting to watch the continued attempts to try and get tight end Rob Gronkowski up to speed. The big fella has played less than half the snaps to this point in the season — 38 of 86 in the opener against Miami, and 28 of 67 last week against the Vikings — and is still clearly working his way back to 100 percent. From this viewpoint, the Patriots appear to be gradually increasing his workload over the start of the regular season, with an eye toward having him as something close to a full-go next week when they head to Kansas City for a date with the Chiefs. They would then be able to build on that the following week against the Bengals, and have him at full strength for a five-game stretch from early November to early December that includes tough road games against the Colts, Packers and Chargers. Ultimately, as it relates to this week, it appears he’€™d be in the 50-75 percent range when it came to total snaps.

10. Prediction:

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
The Patriots enter Sunday 11-1 in home openers at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

The Patriots enter Sunday 11-1 in home openers at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — It’€™s no secret the Patriots are one of the most dominant teams in the NFL at home.

Since 2002 New England is 81-15 in the regular season at Gillette Stadium — the best winning percentage (.844) by almost 100 points to the second best team in the NFL — the Ravens at .755. Home openers have also gone in the Patriots favor as since the stadium opened in 2002, they are 11-1 in home openers, winning by an average of 9.2 points.

To no one’€™s surprise, the team is looking forward to Sunday’€™s first game of the season at Gillette Stadium when they host the Raiders.

“Honestly, personally I can’€™t wait,” defensive end Chandler Jones said. “I really can’€™t wait to run out of the helmet here at Gillette Stadium — just the feeling that we have playing here at Gillette Stadium is a feeling you can’€™t explain and I can’€™t wait for it.”

Sunday’€™s game will be a special one for running back Stevan Ridley whose dad’€™s favorite team was the Raiders and he has 14 family members coming to town for the game.

“€œMy mom’€™s very excited about it — the family is going to be here so it’€™s going to be an exciting atmosphere coming back to Foxboro and getting in the home stadium,” said Ridley. “€œWe’€™re looking forward to it not being on the road — coming back to New England and playing Patriots football.”

Ridley had a strong game the last time the Patriots faced the Raiders in 2011 when he ran for 97 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in a 31-19 Patriots victory. The game was played at the O.co Coliseum.

After playing the first two games on the road this season, the team is ready to open their home portion of the schedule.

“€œIt’€™s good when you’€™re at home playing in front of your own fans,”€ Ridley said. “We go to away stadiums and our fans are way up top in the nosebleeds somewhere and you don’€™t really hear them. There is nothing like being here. We know they love the Patriots here. We love playing at home. It’€™s going to be exciting and we just have to start a streak here this year. It doesn’€™t matter what we’€™ve done in the past, let’s get off to 1-0 right here at home.”

Oakland comes into Sunday’€™s game 0-2 — traveling back to the East Coast for a second time in three weeks before going to London after the game for their Week 4 matchup with Miami. Even with the struggles Oakland has had, being outscored 49-28 in the two games, the Patriots are focused on opening the year with a win at home.

“That will be a great statement to get in a win in front of our home crowd and that is our goal, just to get a win,” Jones said.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Roger Goodell came in for severe criticism from players on Friday.</p>
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FOXBORO — Shane Vereen (shoulder) and Jamie Collins (thigh) were among six Patriots players listed as questionable Friday on the final injury report before the home opener against the Raiders Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Jamie Collins

Jamie Collins

FOXBORO — Shane Vereen (shoulder) and Jamie Collins (thigh) were among six Patriots players listed as questionable Friday on the final injury report before the home opener against the Raiders Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Ryan Wendell and Alfonzo Dennard were also listed as questionable. Dennard, Wendell and Collins all missed last Sunday’s game in Minnesota, with Dennard being added to the injury report officially this week.

A total of 10 Patriots were again listed as limited at sweats and shells practice on Friday as the Patriots had perfect attendance for a second straight day. Dan Connolly, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Sealver Siliga were also limited but all are designated as “probable” to play.

For the Raiders, linebacker Sio Moore (ankle) did not practice all week and has been ruled out for Sunday in Foxboro. Receiver Rod Streater (hip) practiced Friday for the first time this week and is questionable. Streater is one of seven Raiders listed as questionable, joining running back Maurice Jones-Drew (hand) and corner Carlos Rogers (knee). Defensive lineman Justin Tuck (illness) was at full strength Friday and is probable.

Here’s the complete report:

Limited
S Don Jones (hamstring) QUESTIONABLE
DE Michael Buchanan (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
RB Shane Vereen (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
OL Ryan Wendell (knee) QUESTIONABLE
LB Jamie Collins (thigh) QUESTIONABLE
CB Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
OL Dan Connolly (knee) PROBABLE
WR Julian Edelman (back) PROBABLE
TE Rob Gronkowski (knee) PROBABLE
DT Sealver Siliga (hand) PROBABLE

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

In the wake of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s press conference Friday afternoon, several current and former players took to Twitter to mock the commissioner and his performance. Here’s a sampling of some of their reactions:

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

In a press conference that ran just shy of 45 minutes, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged Friday afternoon that “over the past several weeks, we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong, [and] that starts with me.”

In his first public statements in over a week, Goodell addressed many of the questions that have arisen in the wake of several high-profile domestic violence cases involving the NFL, as well as the league’s handling of those situations. In the case of the Ray Rice incident, Goodell said they mishandled that case, adding that the “same mistakes can never be repeated.”

Goodell said he has not considered resigning at any point during this, adding, “I’m focused on doing my job.” He was asked about the possibility of giving up some of his power when it came to disciplinary cases, and said that “everything was on the table.”

He added that as far as he knows, he has the support of the league’s owners.

“I believe I have the support of the owners,” he said. “That has been clear to me.”

More updates to come.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — Brandon LaFell admits he’s still not quite on the same page with Tom Brady but he’s getting there. With all the talk this week about the trust factor between Brady and the receiving corps, LaFell was asked Friday his feelings on where his rapport stands with the quarterback.

Brandon LaFell hauls in a touchdown against the Eagles in preseason action. (Getty Images)

Brandon LaFell hauls in a touchdown against the Eagles in preseason action. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Brandon LaFell admits he’s still not quite on the same page with Tom Brady but he’s getting there. With all the talk this week about the trust factor between Brady and the receiving corps, LaFell was asked Friday his feelings on where his rapport stands with the quarterback.

LaFell caught six passes for 59 yards in the preseason, including a 25-yard TD from Jimmy Garoppolo. But he has yet to catch a pass from Brady in the first two games that count. He was targeted six times in the opener and didn’t catch a ball. Last week, he didn’t even get targeted. Is he having trouble getting on the same page?

“I think the guys that have been here, they’ve got a better understanding of where Tom wants them to be,” LaFell said. “More so than me. But I think I’m getting there, the more and more reps I get in practice, I think I’m getting there. I’m not where I wanna be yet, but I think I’m getting there.”

LaFell says he’s working on that chemistry at at every possible free moment around the complex.

“His locker right next to mine. In the morning before practice, during practice,” LaFell added. “When the defense on the field, when we on the other field running routes and doing things like that. So we talk a lot.”

Who starts the conversations?

“Tom. If he sees me standing around I’m not doing anything, if there’s a special teams period I’m not involved in. ‘Hey, LaFell. Let’s go. Let’s go to the other field.’ Run whatever routes they got me running that week. He pulls me aside every time he sees me standing not doing anything.

“On the field, he is the coach. When we line up on Sundays [we] listen to the coaches all week, but on Sundays, it’s what 12′s saying in the huddle, that’s what goes.”

The other issue LaFell is facing is competition from Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, a competition that ramped up last week when Dobson returned and Thompkins was a healthy scratch. All three are downfield threats. But it’s pretty clear that all three are not likely to be active at once, barring injury.

“It’s definitely like that man,” LaFell said of the competition. “Me, AD, KT, we out there at the “X” position. We go out there everyday and compete. But at the same time we push each other to get better.

As for wanting to get more touches after not even being targeted last week, LaFell admitted he’s hungry for that first catch.

“Like any other receiver, man, I would like to get the ball every snap if I can,” LaFell said. “But within this offense, we just go out there and we just do whatever the defense gives us. Defense comes out there and allows us to run the ball, we gonna run it down they throat. If they get back there and try to stuff the box, we gonna throw the ball.”

LaFell said he feels as if he’s been getting open in his routes but understands why Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman have been getting the majority of the targets (32 combined in first two games).

“Yeah I think I’ve been getting open,” LaFell said. “At the same time when I’m getting open, other guys like Jules and Gronk they’ve been open too so you can’t complain when you not getting the ball when other guys are open
and getting the ball.”

LaFell has always used his size and strength to get open off the line of scrimmage but there’s an art to it.

“It’s a lot that goes into that,” he said. “You can get open right off the line of scrimmage but you got a 20 yard route so it don’t make no sense to get open that quick. It’s just going out there and playing within the offense. Doing your job on every play. Getting open, making sure you’re at the spot Tom wants you to be, and make sure you have enough
spacing on the field.

Have the new rules helped?

“The new rules, man, they call it when they wanna call it,” he said with a beaming smile. “Cornerbacks are gonna still go out there and grab and hold. We still gonna push off and get physical. The new rules are the rules, but you still gotta get open.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia