Tim Wright has caught 23 passes on 26 targets this season, the best target rate on the team. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Tim Wright has caught 23 passes on 26 targets this season, the best target rate on the team. (Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Tim Wright is in some rarefied air.

In his first season with the Patriots, the tight end has proven himself to be an eminently reliable part of the passing game — he has 23 catches on 26 targets. Even with the understanding that one of the targets was a throwaway by quarterback Tom Brady (an uncatchable ball), that’€™s an 88 percent catch rate, the best on the New England roster when it comes to players who have been targeted by Brady at least 20 times.

If he continues at his current rate, he’ll set a new standard for the Patriots. Since 2006, no member of the Patriots who has been targeted at least 20 times has a reception rate of better than 80 percent.

Of course, none of this is particularly new for Wright — last season with the Bucs, he proved equally sure-handed, as he caught 71 percent of the passes (54 receptions on 76 targets) that were thrown his way. But his target numbers this year — combined with his six receiving touchdowns (second on the team to fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski), have made him one of the surprise success stories when you’re talking about the 2014 Patriots offense.

Part of Wright’s success is rooted in the fact that most teams are solely focused on stopping Gronkowski, and have usually dedicated at least two defenders per play in hopes of trying to slow down the big fella. But it’s another thing altogether to take advantage of the opportunities when they’re presented to you, and Wright has done just that.

“Every time we throw to him it’s a touchdown — we’ll try to find him more down there,” Brady said after Wright’s two-touchdown performance against the Lions. “He does a great job in the coverage and finds the open spots.”

While the touchdown ratio is impressive — more than one-quarter of his catches have resulted in touchdowns — his work as a reliable target has really distinguished him from the rest of the field. Since 2006 — when targets were first tallied, on five different occasions, a New England pass catcher who was targeted at least 20 times caught 77 percent of the passes that were thrown in his direction. The latest high-level connection came in 2010 when running back Danny Woodhead caught 34 of the 44 passes that were thrown his way.

Prior to that, veteran running back Kevin Faulk did it three times: Faulk caught 58 of the 75 passes thrown his way in 2008, while both wide receiver Wes Welker (112 of 145) and Faulk (47 of 61) hit the 77 percent mark in 2007. And Faulk caught 43 of the 56 passes thrown his way in 2006 to reach the same plateau. (While Welker was targeted more than any other receiver between 2007 and 2012 and was consistently over 70 percent between 2007 and 2011, he never topped the 77 percent mark.)

According to Wright, the key to being a good target is simple.

“The key is just finishing the route and always thinking in the back of your mind that the ball can come to you on every play,” he said. “When you prepare like that, you go out there and you play physical and you play strong, you put yourself in a position to receive the ball. When it comes to you, you just have to make the play. That’s my job description — to catch the ball, and to block as well. But when the ball is thrown to me, I have to come down with it. That’s my mentality.”

Wright also added that Brady makes it fairly easy.

“It’s awesome. It’s awesome — just a guy who has been doing it for 15 years,” said Wright, who caught passes from Mike Glennon and Josh Freeman last year with Tampa. “It’s just amazing to see how his tempo is, how he reaches out to his players on the things he sees when you’re out there running routes and what has been working for him for his whole career. An amazing arm and an amazing leader. It’s been a fun ride.

“Me coming in just a few months ago and him working with so many other guys, it’s just a testament to how he can adjust to the people who come in with him and play alongside of him,” he added. “He puts the ball in the right place and a good position so you can attack the ball only. He’s just a great quarterback.”

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — Usually when Bill Belichick speaks glowingly about the opposing team or a star quarterback like Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck, he gives the usual calculated response about their amazing abilities.

But on Wednesday, in describing Aaron Rodgers, Belichick offered up the normal compliments and then just shook his head at the end.

Asked to compare his quarterback with Mr. Rodgers, Belichick did crack a smile.

“They both wear 12,” the coach said.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — The Patriots have re-signed long snapper Charley Hughlett to the Patriots practice squad, according to his agent.

Hughlett was with New England this spring and summer before being cut loose at the end of training camp. The 6-foot-4, 251-pounder has been with the Cowboys and Jaguars. As a collegian, he handled all long snapping duties for four seasons at Central Florida.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the Patriots have signed special teams specialist Matthew Slater to a 2-year, $4 million contract extension through the 2016 season. His contract was set to expire at the end of this season.

FOXBORO — According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the Patriots have signed special teams specialist Matthew Slater to a 2-year, $4 million contract extension through the 2016 season. His contract was set to expire at the end of this season.

Slater, a special teams captain and the Patriots’ player representative, has been a member of the team since 2008 after being selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft. He has made three Pro Bowls in his previous five full seasons (he didn’t play in 2010), a big accomplishment for a player who plays almost strictly special teams.

For more Patriots news, check out

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Over the last 10 seasons, Tom Brady and the Patriots have been plenty hot down the stretch in the regular season, but that late-season momentum hasn't paid off with a title.</p>
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We get our weekly NFL update with SI/MMQB's Peter King. Peter talks AFC East, first round byes, Jonas Gray/LeGarrette Blount and much more.

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[0:06:16] ... and they will this weekend I'm not sure people understand. How good Aaron Rodgers is and as Bill Belichick told Michael and me yesterday. They're basically running out the clock in the second quarter of the way that offense is getting out of the starting blocks. The amazing thing I think about Aaron Rodgers when you watch him. Is there are a lot of guys who were really good in the pocket. And they are a lot of guys who were good mobile quarterbacks. I saw step the other day it's Aaron Rodgers at age 72%. Passer. When he throws the ball. On the run I don't know if that's true because. If you serve ...
[0:07:11] ... be a great number look. But to me when I look at Aaron Rodgers right now. 81 vote utterly preposterous. That. That the guy has. Thirty touchdowns and three interceptions we don't know that. But but ...
[0:08:01] ... a guy right now where everybody as well in eight innings courier Tom Brady's career to a lesser degree currently breeze career. And say watch this guy watching you right now. You never know when guys like gamble on the tight again. To me yet no idea if you're ever going to see a player like Aaron Rodgers. And I mean Egypt's you don't know auditing is tilted toward the quarterback. But here's a guy who just played it absolutely perfectly just one other note about Rogers. I really believe that. In retrospect. Right in Jacksonville Jaguars had it absolutely right when they said. We're gonna simply portals this year we're just gonna happen learn the position it's what the Cincinnati Bengals it would Carson Palmer. And it's what when Aaron Rodgers was drafted in Green Bay remember this first three years that every racer what do wasted draft pick. Nobody is saying that anymore. If you had to pick one of those guys Rogers Manning Brady ought to win a big game as you like to say neutral field in Omaha. You usually I talk about what odds are a Peyton Manning uses all the use Wichita. Yeah I would hear the guy I would take right now I pick up Brady because I think Tom Brady shows them mastery is our aunts. And it absolute own selfishness. In playing the game he reminds me of the wait till ...

Every week, we list the Patriots’ “offensive touches,” a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Here’s a breakdown of the 2014 New England offense after 11 games:

RB Shane Vereen: 122 (78 carries, 44 catches) 3 negative catch, 6 negative runs
RB Stevan Ridley: 98 (94 carries, 4 catches), 8 negative runs
WR Julian Edelman: 78 (8 carries, 70 catches)
RB Jonas Gray: 70 (70 carries)
TE Rob Gronkowski: 58 (58 catches)
WR Brandon LaFell: 48 (48 catches)
QB Tom Brady: 19 (19 carries), 14 sacks, 7 kneeldowns
TE Tim Wright: 24 (1 carry, 23 catches), 1 negative rush
RB Brandon Bolden: 17 (16 carries, 1 catch), 2 negative runs
RB LeGarrette Blount: 12 (12 carries), 1 negative run
RB James White: 12 (9 carries, 3 catches)
WR Danny Amendola: 11 (11 catches)
FB James Develin: 7 (1 carry, 6 catches)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 6 (6 catches)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: 6 (6 carries) 2 sacks, 6 kneeldowns
WR Aaron Dobson: 3 (3 catches)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 2 (2 catches)
WR Brian Tyms: 1 (1 catch)

Notes: The Patriots had five negative plays from scrimmage on Sunday against the Lions — two negative runs from Vereen and one from Blount, as well as two negative pass plays to Vereen. … On the season, New England has run 758 plays from scrimmage, and 38 of them have gone for negative yardage (5 percent), not including kneeldowns. … Against the Lions, the Patriots ran 73 plays with 50 of them coming in shotgun (68 percent), a season-high. In addition, the game-book lists them as having run 14 of their 73 plays in no-huddle (19 percent), also a season-high. … On the season, the Patriots have run 67 of their 758 plays out of no-huddle (8 percent) and 256 snaps in shotgun (34 percent). … By way of comparison, over the course of the 2013 regular season, the Patriots were in shotgun for 42 percent of their offensive snaps and they ran no-huddle on 11 percent of their snaps. … One more note: Brady was not sacked for the second consecutive game. For all the struggles the offensive line endured at the start of the year, it’s worth noting that through 11 games this year, he’s only been sacked 14 times. Through the first 11 games of 2013, he was sacked 31 times. While that’s all not the result of the offensive line — Brady has displayed increased mobility, a greater ease with his receivers, and has had a rejuvenated Gronkowski — it’s a sizable difference, and the offensive line deserves some kudos for the better numbers.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Akeem Ayers has already made his presence felt in New England. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

Akeem Ayers has already made his presence felt in New England. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

With long-term injuries to important players on the Patriots defense so far this season — Chandler Jones (out since Week 7), Jerod Mayo (season-ending injured reserve) and Sealver Siliga (short-term injured reserve designated for return) — the Patriots have had a number of players step up to fill the voids.

A few of those players weren’t even with the team at the start of the regular season.

On Oct. 21, linebacker Akeem Ayers and a seventh-round pick in next year’s draft were traded to the Patriots for a sixth-round pick, also in next year’s draft. Ayers played in that Sunday’s game against the Bears and recorded a sack and five tackles. In his four games with the Patriots, Ayers has recorded a sack in three of the four games.

On Oct. 28, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, along with a 2015 sixth-round pick was traded to the Patriots from Tampa Bay for a 2015 fifth-round pick. Casillas played in the Nov. 2 game against the Broncos and recorded three tackles, but has been most known for his contributions on special teams.

A day later, Oct. 29, the Patriots announced they had signed veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch. Branch also played in the Denver game that Sunday, and has been a major contributor in stopping the run.

With all these new players joining the team and learning a new system, it wouldn’t be a surprise for each player to take a few weeks to settle in, but that hasn’t happened — the players have fit in right away. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia says a lot of that has to do with the leaders the Patriots have on defense, and to go along with the work ethics of all three new players.

“Specifically talking about [Casillas and Ayers] I will say those guys work extremely hard,” Patricia said on Tuesday’s conference call. “They are true professionals as far as their ability to study, learn the game, understand what we are doing from the systems standpoint and have matriculated into what we are trying to do defensively fairly quickly from their study and their work ethic. They have really fallen right in line. We have great guys on defense.

“I say this all the time, but I can’€™t stress to you the importance of the leaders that we have on defense — Vince Wilfork and Dont’€™a Hightower and Devin McCourty and [Darrelle] Revis and [Brandon] Browner, the list goes on. The way that these guys approach and attack each week to try to learn the opponent, study their film and prepare themselves to play every week is really a tribute to their professionalism. I think that’€™s something that can’€™t be understated. As a group, these guys work extremely hard to get ready to compete every week. We have a difficult task every week and this week is no different than the next. It’€™s a very huge challenge for us to get ready to handle.”

With Branch being the last guy to sign, he still may be a few steps behind Casillas and Ayers, but Patricia has still been impressed with what he’s seen.

“Specifically just to Branch, coming here later in the season, he’€™s trying to adapt to the different techniques and the different systems that we run here,” said Patricia. “He’€™s a big guy, has some power, some length and is strong [and has] some good quickness off the ball. He can present a problem for an offensive player. I think we are just trying to get him on board with what we do here and how we play technique and how we play with the front. Certainly, he’€™s trying to improve and get better every week.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable