FOXBORO — One of the many storylines in Sunday’s Broncos-Patriots game is Rob Gronkowski facing Broncos safety T.J. Ward for the first time since last December when Ward was his the Browns and he hit Gronkowski low on his right knee, tearing his ACL in the process and ending his season.

Gronkowski was asked if he has any hard feelings towards Ward for the hit, but the tight end sidestepped the question.

“Just going out there playing like I play every day,” he said. “Just going out there trying to make some plays and do my job out there on the field and play to my max ability.”

He was later asked directly if Ward ever reached out following the season-ending hit.

“No,” Gronkowski said.

Gronkowski had a monster game last Sunday against the Bears, catching nine passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns, before leaving with dehydration after catching his third touchdown pass at the beginning of the third quarter. He echoed what he said after the game, saying he’s just fine and could have returned if he had to.

“Very well,” he said of his health. “Like I said, I could have come back into the game very easily.”

As for this Sunday, Gronkowski is expecting a great atmosphere at Gillette Stadium going against the 6-1 Broncos, who like the Patriots, come in riding a four-game winning streak.

“The atmosphere is going to be unbelievable especially playing at home in front of the home crowd,” said Gronkowski. “It’€™s going to be a great game. The Denver Broncos are a very, very, very good team. One of the best in the league, if not the best team in the league.”

Obviously the biggest storyline, among many in the game, is the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning matchup and is something Gronkowski is looking forward to being part of.

“It’€™s honor to be out there with both of them,” said Gronkowski. “Brady versus Manning can’€™t get any better. [They are] two great quarterbacks and two legendary quarterbacks. It’€™s an honor to be a part of it. And I definitely want to be on the winning side.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Chris Price, WEEI.com, joins the show to talk about the Patriots upcoming game against Denver. Chris got in the the DB match-ups with Denver's receivers, some ideas on how to blitz Peyton, Welker's impact, and a prediction.

FOXBORO — Much was made of it at the time when Bill Belichick called it, “one of the worst plays [he's] seen” when Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker hit then-Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib on an apparent pick play across the middle of the field in last year’s AFC Championship game — knocking Talib out of the game with a hip injury and the Patriots lost the game 26-16, ending their season.

But, Wednesday in advance of the Broncos-Patriots matchup this Sunday, Belichick said he’s put that in the past and actually has “a lot of respect” for Welker.

“[I am] way past that,” Belichick said on a conference call with the Denver media. “I have a lot of respect for Wes and what he did for us and what he’€™s done for the Broncos and what he’€™s done throughout his career.”

Welker was a member of the Patriots from 2007-2012 before the Broncos signed him prior to the 2013 season as a free agent when Welker and New England couldn’t agree on a contract.

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

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork and the rest of the offensive line have protected Tom Brady well of late. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork, Dan Connolly and the rest of the offensive line have protected Tom Brady well of late. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — After Week 4’€™s blowout loss to Kansas City, the Patriots offense ranked 24th in the NFL averaging 20 points a game. After Week 8’€™s blowout win over the Bears, the Patriots offense now ranks third in the NFL averaging 29.8 points per game.

One of the biggest reasons why is the familiarity the offensive line now has with one another.

“Those guys have really dealt with a lot of change,” quarterback Tom Brady said before practice on Wednesday refercing to the unit getting a new coach in Dave DeGuglielmo after Dante Scarnecchia retired after 32 years in the NFL following last season.

“This year, it started back in the offseason, and [they] have really worked through that through training camp. And then different players have kind of come and gone and been injured from the start of the season, before the start of the season — with Logan [Mankins] and then being able to really adjust to that.”

Even though the Patriots have used three different starting offensive lines during the four-game win streak due to concussions for Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly, they have continued to rotate players in and out even within games, so everyone is ready to step in at any time and be on the same page as players who have been starting every week.

“I think those guys are really taking it as a challenge of the mental toughness,” Brady added. “At this point, [they've] really settled into kind of the group that they are and the group they want to be. They’€™re playing with a lot of toughness. They’€™re playing with a lot of commitment to what their coach is asking them to do. We’€™ve had some growing pains that we’€™re all trying to get used to earlier in the year, but I think we’€™re playing at a much better level.”

Although sacks are sometimes overrated when measuring the success or failure of an offensive line, Brady was sacked nine times in the first four games of the season, compared to only three the last four games. Sunday marked the first time Brady was not sacked in a game since Week 4 last year against the Falcons.

Brady has also been getting more time in the pocket to throw, which has allowed for the playbook to be opened up and not having to worry about Brady getting the ball out quickly to avoid pressure.

By our numbers, Brady had the most time to throw from snap to release of the season two weeks ago against the Jets –€“ an average of 2.58 seconds. Sunday against the Bears, he averaged 1.99 seconds from snap to release, the second-lowest of the season besides 1.96 seconds against Kansas City, but there was one major difference.

Against Kansas City on 17-of-24 plays (71 percent) Brady took less than two seconds to get rid of the ball. Against the Bears Brady took less than two seconds on just 15-of-35 plays (43 percent).

“It’€™s great communication — I think that’€™s really the key is having everybody on the same page and trusting each other,” Brady said. “Offensive lines, typically the longer they play together the better they get because they do develop a lot of trust in the guy next to them.

“The offensive line really is a metaphor for an offense and a team. Everyone has to complement each other. You’€™ve got to trust that the guy next to you is going to do his job because if he doesn’€™t and you don’€™t trust it, then it’€™s hard for you to do your job. And I think those guys have built a lot of trust in each other over the last eight weeks to the point now where they can go out and be aggressive and be really confident in what they’€™re doing, and what they’€™re teammates are doing.”

Brady’€™s individual numbers have also spiked the last four games, as he is 100-for-144 (69 percent) passing, for 1,268 yards, with 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. This is coming after over the first four games when Brady was 81-of-137 (59 percent), for 791 yards, with just four touchdowns and two interceptions. It’€™s also no surprise the Patriots are 4-0 in their last four games outscoring opponents 158-87.

Now at the midway point in the year, the second half will be much more difficult as they will be facing some of the best teams in the NFL in the Broncos, Colts, Lions, Packers, Chargers all in the next five weeks. With a schedule like that they will need Brady and the offense to continue to be clicking on all cylinders.

“This is really when it all matters,” Brady said. “We’€™re coming into the most meaningful part of the season and we play some of the best teams so we’€™ll see what we’€™re made of.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Walt Anderson will serve as the referee for Sunday's Patriots-Dolphins game. (Getty Images)

Walt Anderson will serve as the referee for Sunday’s Patriots-Broncos game. (Getty Images)

Referee Walt Anderson will work his second Patriots game of the season this Sunday, as he’ll serve as the lead official when New England meets Denver at Gillette Stadium, according to FootballZebras.com.

Anderson, a retired dentist and current Big 12 coordinator of officials, worked the 2014 season opener for the Patriots, a loss in Miami to the Dolphins. In his career, he’s worked two Super Bowls, Super Bowl XXXV (where he worked as a line judge) and XLV (where he was the lead official).

Here’€™€™s a look at who has worked as referees for New England’€™€™s games to this point in the season:

Sept. 7 at Miami: Walt Anderson
Sept. 14 at Minnesota: Tony Corrente
Sept. 21 vs. Oakland: Pete Morelli
Sept. 29 at Kansas City: John Parry
Oct. 5 vs. Cincinnati: Jerome Boger
Oct. 12 at Buffalo: Walt Coleman
Oct. 16 vs. Jets: Bill Leavy
Oct. 23 vs. Bears: Brad Allen
Nov. 2 vs. Denver: Walt Anderson

For more on Anderson and his work as an official, check out his page at Pro Football Reference, and for the complete list of referee assignments, check out Football Zebras.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — Alan Branch is coming to the Patriots with a clean legal slate.

FOXBORO — Alan Branch is coming to the Patriots with a clean legal slate.

Pro Football Talk, via a source, reports that the defensive tackle, who practiced for the first time with the Patriots on Wednesday, has resolved charges connected to a DUI arrest in August that led to his release from the Bills.

The resolution wasn’t critical to the Patriots but rather the NFL, which imposed a Nov. 1 deadline to all NFL players to resolve DUI charges under the new substance-abuse policy.

Branch will still be subject to a two-game fine, with a maximum forfeiture of $50,000 but, barring the unforeseen, will not be suspended.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia


FOXBORO — Tom Brady was in a joking mood talking about the 16th career meeting against Peyton Manning.

But as is usually the case, there’s a lot of truth in humor. Brady is 37 and Manning is 38. Brady came into the NFL in 2000 while Peyton Manning was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998. Brady holds a 10-5 advantage in the series, including 2-2 in the playoffs.

Brady was asked about what it is about the rivalry that gets him fired up every year.

“I’€™m pretty self-motivated,” Brady said. “He’€™s always been someone I’€™ve really looked up to, studied and admired. He is older than me. Maybe when I’€™m his age I’€™ll be playing as well as that.”

Brady then turned very serious and complimentary, detailing exactly why it is he respects Manning so much.

“Every week it’€™s so consistent, you can just count on a great performance,” Brady said. ‘€œA lot of people who have played don’€™t do it on a consistent basis. When you see someone who does it at a high level, I have a lot of appreciation for that. I understand what it takes. It’€™s not just a daily commitment, it’€™s a life commitment.

“Every decision you make is a conscious decision to try and help your team win, whether that’€™s in March, whether that’€™s in September, November. You just can’€™t flip the switch when it matters. You’€™ve gotta communicate that to all your teammates. The competition is always on. It never goes away. You’€™re either getting better or you’€™re getting worse. I’€™ve always respected him because he’€™s someone who’€™s chosen to get better.”

What was very apparent Wednesday is Brady’s understanding of his margin of error when Manning is running the offense on the other side.

“You just know you’€™re gonna get one of the best offenses in the league, so what that means to me is our offense has to be at our best,” Brady said. ‘€œYou can’€™t think you’€™re gonna go out and score 10 points and win the game. I don’€™t think any of our games have really come down to that. It’€™s really an important week for our team and all of us on offense have to play our best because we know we’€™re playing against one of the best offenses in the league.”

Does Brady ever get tired of the hype year after year when they meet?

“You wait a year to play this game,” Brady said. “You got one of the best teams in the league against us and we feel we’€™re a pretty good team. It’€™s why you play the game. Doesn’€™t get any better than this.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — Newcomers Alan Branch and Jonathan Casillas wasted no time joining their new team on the practice field as both were present at Wednesday’s practice held in shorts and shells on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium in preparation for Sunday’s game against the

FOXBORO — Newcomers Alan Branch and Jonathan Casillas wasted no time joining their new team on the practice field as both were present at Wednesday’s practice held in shorts and shells on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Broncos.

Branch, a defensive lineman, officially signed on Wednesday morning — this after being spotted in the Patriots locker room last week. Casillas, a linebacker, was traded to the Patriots from the Buccaneers Tuesday at the trade deadline.

Linebacker Akeem Ayers switched from No. 52 to No. 55, while Casillas took over No. 52. Branch wore No. 97.

Chandler Jones was once again missing, as his hip injury is expected to keep him out about six weeks.

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

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable