Tag Archives: National Football League

Positive Preseason for Pats

After last night’s game against the Eagles, the Patriots have completed half of their preseason schedule and we are beginning to see things that bode well for the regular season. Preseason wins and losses along with statistics are numbers that usually don’t provide an accurate representation of how a team is performing, however having watched the two games as well as some practices many things have stood out.

Training camp and preseason always provide the chance to see some unknown talent step up and show what they can do. These players don’t always pan out during the regular season (Zach Sudfeld last year), but many times they prove they can be useful players.

Defensively, the player that really caught my eye early was CB Malcolm Butler. The first time I watched him practice I saw a physical player who wasn’t afraid to compete. He hasn’t only impressed me, but he has impressed the coaching staff. Butler received the start in yesterday’s game and played more snaps than any other corner. He has played well and made plays when given the chance, taking advantage of any opportunity he has received. The question becomes if there is room for him on a team deep at his position. At this point I would be shocked not to see him make the 53 man roster. Kyle Arrington has been seeing time at safety, a position the team is not as deep at, plus Brandon Browner will be suspended the first four games of the season. If he continues to shine, these factors should help him make the week one roster.

Offensively, anyone who has watched a preseason game has noticed WR Brian Tyms. Granted he is playing against second and third team players, but he has shown the ability to get open downfield and the ability to make some circus catches. He too has had a very good camp and has forced the coaching staff to give him more reps, but like Butler he plays a position the team has a lot of depth at. However, I think he will survive cut down day for a reason one usually is not happy about. Tyms will be suspended due to Adderall use for the start of the season, so keeping him would not take up a roster spot. This gives the team more time to decide if he can play and provides insurance should a receiver get injured. Don’t be surprised if Tyms finds his way onto the roster.

While Tyms has been a bright spot for the second and third team offense, the team’s starters, specifically in the passing game, really stood out this week. Last year, Tom Brady and his receivers not named Julian Edelman had trouble getting on the same page for most of the season. While it was frustrating to watch, it is important to realize that most of them were thrown into the fire before they were ready. With a year under their belts, players like Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson should be more consistent and in sync with Brady. Against the Eagles starters in practice and the game, timing with all receivers was there that hadn’t been present all of last year. Look no further than the touchdown to Thompkins last night, as he turned around in the right position at the right time and was waiting for a perfect pass. Add in a healthy Rob Gronkowski and this has the potential to be a Patriot offense more accustomed to years past.

Overall it has been a very productive and positive camp, but there are still some concerns I have that haven’t been answered. One is the depth at tight end. The team has tried several different players out but so far none have produced. Right now the team has the injury prone Gronkowski along with Michael Hoomanawanui, but the team needs at least two more reliable options at the position before I am satisfied. James Develin has the potential to fill in, but the team likely won’t move him from his fullback position. I would also like to see the linebacker depth improve. The team’s defense is poised for a big year, however should Jerrod Mayo or Jamie Collins go down, the linebacker depth could be exposed. This isn’t a major concern, but I haven’t been impressed with the backups at the position.

So far this has been an exciting preseason with lots of surprises and anticipation. With Brady leading the offense and a top defense fully healthy, it should be a season to remember in New England.

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Patriots Broncos Preview

Another year, another AFC Championship game for the New England Patriots. For the 8th time in 13 years the Pats will be playing for the AFC title and for the third time the team will have to face Peyton Manning to advance. In this Brady-Manning rivalry the winner of that game also went on to win the Super Bowl, however this will be the first playoff bout between them since Manning signed with the Broncos. The last time these two teams met, the Patriots had one of the greatest comebacks in team history beating the Broncos 34-31 in OT.

Amongst the biggest takeaways from that game from a defensive standpoint was Denver running wild on New England. They rushed for an unbelievable 280 yards on 48 carries. This was part of the chess match being played as the Patriots had at least 5 defensive backs in every play to make sure Manning wouldn’t be the one to beat them. When Manning saw that he had a favorable run look, he audibled out of the pass to the run and was content to move the ball that way. The Patriots basically dared the Broncos to run it, and that’s just what they did. Stopping the run has been a problem much of the year for this defense, but it would seem likely that this is the strategy again. I still expect the Broncos to be able to run effectively, but not for 280 yards. The Broncos’ offensive line manhandled the Patriots defensive line most of the game, but since then the Patriots have had better play from this group. Sealver Siliga has stabilized that position since his arrival on December 1st and has really played well for the team. Chris Jones (90 snaps) and Joe Vellano (70 snaps), were not effective despite being on the field most of that game, so adding Siliga to that mix will certainly help stop the run. One thing to note is that Siliga has not played more than 55 snaps in any game this year, so it will be interesting to see the playing time each defensive tackle gets.

The world saw Jamie Collins’ coming out party in Saturday’s win against the Colts. With Brandon Spikes done for the season, Collins played all 65 defensive plays for the first time in his career, recording 6 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 interception. The young linebacker is learning on the fly but playing well for this team, showing promise every time he hits the field. As I touched on last week, Spikes is primarily a run stopper and a liability in pass defense while Collins is an upgrade in passing situations. Seeing as the team is primarily going to be focused on Manning, having Collins in the game over Spikes again should actually benefit the Patriots. Keep in mind that Collins played about 25% of the snaps in their previous match up, totaling a season high 10 tackles. He along with Dane Fletcher were effective in the game, so that bodes well for this defense.

In the secondary, this may be the healthiest the Patriots have been all year. Aqib Talib did a great job on Demaryius Thomas most of the game, but as Thomas became more physical down the stretch and the ball was forced to him, he had success against Talib. Now that Talib seems fully recovered from a hip injury, this is a match up that he must continue to take away. Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Devin McCourty, and Steve Gregory will all have to play well in order to stop this potent Denver passing game. This unit held Manning to a season low 150 yards passing as they keyed on taking away the pass. Arrington, who was replaced against the Colts in the second quarter, played well against Wes Welker in the slot and will likely get a chance to do it again as slot coverage is his strength. One offensive weapon that the Broncos could focus on is TE Julius Thomas, who didn’t play against the team in November. Jacob Tamme, his replacement in that game, had a solid performance against them so slowing Thomas down will be another challenge.

Offensively, the Patriots are known for changing their approach based on the opponent. They can pretty much attack this defense in any way they want. The Broncos have had a suspect defense all year long, specifically in the passing game where they were ranked only 27th. In the November 24th match up, the Bronco secondary took a hit when Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was injured and missed the second half of the game. The Patriots were able to capitalize on him being out and while he is a go for Sunday, top CB Chris Harris will be out with a torn ACL.

Its important to recognize that Rob Gronkowski will obviously be out of this game, so that gives the Broncos one less thing to prepare for. But without Harris this defense could get lit up by Tom Brady. Also, LeGarrette Blount hadn’t become the player that carried the Patriots’ offense to 355 yards rushing and 6 TDs over the last two games. The team had 116 yards rushing in a game where their running back situation was in flux, so now that they have developed this power running game it gives them many options. Pounding it with Blount and Stevan Ridley effectively sets up their pass game, and without a dominant receiver for the defense to focus in on like Gronkowski, play action should be there for the Patriots. Denver’s linebackers bit on play action last meeting and opened up the middle of the field for Brady. We saw the benefits last week when after several runs, a play action pass to Danny Amendola deep down field was wide open because the safety bit on the play. I see no reason why this can’t be a big factor in this game as well, especially if the Broncos focus on Blount. The Patriots also can get their play makers like Julian Edelman, Amendola, and Shane Vereen running room and screen passes, as quick throws should be there. If the Patriots can get receivers matched up on linebackers, that would be a huge advantage for New England.

If the Patriots are going to win this game, the defensive line and linebackers are going to have to contain the run game better than the last time. It starts with the defensive line not getting knocked back every play by Denver. They are also going to have to play as well as they did in the secondary to limit Manning, something easier said than done because of the amount of talent the Broncos have. The Patriots should be able to score on the Broncos consistently, so turnovers to me are the X factor in this game. Early turnovers put the Patriots in a deep early hole while late turnovers gave them a chance to come back. Protecting these quarterbacks is obviously important because given time they will not make bad decisions. Forcing them to make a quick throw could mean an interception and could mean the game. Without Von Miller for the Broncos, protecting Brady will be easier than protecting Manning.

The Patriots are the underdog in this game but this is going to be a great match between two all time greats. To me, the team that wins the turnover battle wins this game.

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Going Pro: Looking at the Pats, New England colleges in the 2013 NFL Draft

by TAYLOR SNYDER

The New England Patriots are coming off of a disappointing AFC championship loss that was heartbreaking to most fans. But in the offseason, they made some notable moves, which included bringing in wide Danny Amendola from the Rams and drafting some players on both sides of the ball.

Here is my breakdown on each of the New England Patriots’ draft choices:

Aaron Dobson, Marshall

The Pats went with a 6’3″ wide receiver out of Marshall with their first pick. For the most part, I do like this draft selection, because with the departure of Wes Welker, you will never know when the team will need a new guy to step it up. Dobson is a very fast and athletic guy and I feel like he will be a good fit in New England. In his four years at Marshall, he lead the team in receptions and was a pivotal key to the Thundering Herd. The downside is the fact he played in Conference USA, which is not quite a “top notch” defending league, so I don’t know how he will be able to handle these tight corners in the NFL. He has been known to be slow on his cuts which will be very tough for him because Tom Brady loves quick patterns in New England. Grade: C+

Jamie Collins, Southern Miss

The Patriots went with Jamie Collins on their second pick. In his four years at Southern Miss, he had a really good career and put up some really good numbers. He is an overall very good athlete and has shown that he can cut quickly with fast moving feet. However, he lacks a lot of upper body strength at the moment, which will eat him up in the NFL. He also needs to work on his hand speed. Grade: C+

Duron Harmon, Rutgers

The Patriots, with their 3rd pick, got a secondary player from Rutgers by the name of Duron Harmon. It is no surprise that the secondary has been a big issue for New England in the past years and I am glad that Harmon was chosen here. As we have seen in the past with secondary players out of Rutgers, they usually have potential (i.e. Devin McCourty). I like this pick for the most part. I think that he has good height for a secondary player, and from his Combine, it shows he is a very fast and athletic guy – a key at safety. Grade: B

Logan Ryan, Rutgers

I think it is interesting how the Pats picked back-to-back secondary players out of the same college, but a good idea because of some chemistry. For the most part, Ryan is a very hard hitter and very physical when guarding, who was also known to be a great team player. However, he is one of the slower corners at the Draft, but that will not matter if he is able to use his great hitting to be physical on press coverage. Grade: B

Josh Boyce, TCU

In his high school career, Boyce had the chance to work with Robert Griffin III for four years and was a huge part of TCU. He also had the chance to be Andy Dalton’s favorite target in 2010. He is a very fast guy, has very quick hands and awesome upper body strength and he has been known to be a very aggressive player. I like the idea of trying to get another wide receiver, but there are some setbacks to him. He is a very light guy (5’10″) and only can play in the slot. He has also been known to have been easily coverable in the past. He had a lot of opportunities to play against top notch secondary in college and had handled it quite well. There are still some question marks, so this pick gets a B-.

Michael Buchanan, Illinois

In my opinion, the Patriots took a steal and a player with a lot of potential in Illinois defensive end Michael Buchanan, checking in at 6’5″ and 235 pounds. In his past, he has faced a ton of big offensive lineman and will definitely have some experience coming into the NFL. He also has quick feet and has been very good at extending his arms, getting around linemen. However, he lacks upper body strength and his speed is not necessarily the greatest. On the positive side, he has been named one of the best defensive linemen in the Big Ten and is coming off a great season. I definitely will want to see some improvement over the offseason to increase his upper body strength, but I give this pick a C, only because of how low he was picked and his lack of strength.

Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers

Inside linebacker Steve Beauharnais closed the Draft for the Pats and was the third Scarlet Knight taken. Overall, not too much is known about Beauharnais, but from the scouting report, it shows that he is 6’2″ and awesome weight. He also is known for his fast movement and quick hands, but the Big East is not exactly known for the run game, so there may be a lack of advanced preparation seen at the next level. He is also known as an average player and is not near elite in the conference. I give it a C-, but I am interested to see if he can compete with guys like Jerod Mayo.

Other notable players drafted out of New England:

64. Dwayne Gratz, CB, Connecticut: 5’11″ | 201: Very fast and athletic guy, who will benefit the struggling Jaguars a lot in these next couple of years if they use him right.

70. BliDi WrehWilson, CB, Connecticut: 6’1″ | 195: If the name didn’t scare you enough, he is known to be a huge hitter and very fast guy. He will definitely help out the Titans a lot with their defense.

124. Trevardo Wilson, DE, Connecticut: 6’1″ | 241: He is a very big and heavy guy and his scouting report is not the best, but his size and quick feet will help the Texan defense only get better.

Harvard's own Kyle Juszczyk went to the Baltimore Ravens (Photo/Boston.com).

130. Kyle Juszcyzk, FB, Harvard: 6’1″ | 241: “Juice” made the great state of Massachusetts and the Ten Thousand Men of Harvard proud when he was selected by the Baltimore Ravens. I think it is great that the Ravens picked him because he is a hardworking and underrated player who could be very useful to a unit that lost some in the offseason.

201. Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut: 6’7″ | 247: This was a great pick for the Texans because of Griffin’s huge size. I think the Texans can combine him and Owen Daniels together and create a huge threat in the receiving game.

241. Jared Smith, DT, New Hampshire: 6’3″ | 302: Smith is a very good pick for the Seahawks because he will help boost the Seattle defensive line.

253. Michael Cox, RB, UMass: 6’1″ | 214: The Dorchester native had an awesome career at UMass, but was under looked during the first season of FBS football for the Minutemen. I think that he will get some looks with the New York Giants, but I do not know how much. It will be interesting to see how he will fit in, joining UMass’ own Victor Cruz.

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WR Amendola, Patriots agree to deal

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

by DANNY JAILLET

FOXBOROUGH, Mass.— According to a report from Gregg Rosenthal from the NFL.com’s Around The League blog, the Patriots and former St Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola have agreed on a five-year deal worth $31 million with $10 million guaranteed. The consensus is that Amendola will replace Wes Welker, who now of course is a Denver Bronco.

The former Texas Tech Red Raider caught 63 passes for 666 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games played last year. In four years of NFL experience, he has 196 receptions for 1,726 yards and seven touchdowns. Much like Welker, Amendola is a quick slot receiver. In that respect, he is comparable to Welker. However, he does not have the same durability that Welker possesses. As the report notes, Amendola missed the entire 2011 season and five games in the 2012 campaign for what the report calls “heal, foot, and clavicle problems.” In contrast, Welker has missed a total of three games since the 2005 season.

The $10 million in guaranteed money is the same amount that Wes Welker left New England for (two years, $10 million). That fact alone is interesting. Whatever the case may be, Amendola has some big shoes to fill. It remains to be seen whether he can put up Pro Bowl-like numbers, but there is a very good chance that he will be a solid replacement for New England come the 2013 campaign.

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Report: Welker signs with Denver Broncos

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

by DANNY JAILLET

ENGLEWOOD, Colo..— According to a Tweet from Adam Schefter, New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker has agreed to join forces with Peyton Manning, signing with the Denver Broncos for two years and $12 million. Schefter tweeted the following earlier this afternoon.

“Wes Welker lands a two-year, $12 million deal from the Broncos. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker. Have fun, Peyton.

Last season, Welker was New England’s top receiver finishing with 118 catches and 1,354 yards as well as six touchdowns. Consistency has been a trademark during Welker’s time with the Patriots. In six seasons with the team, he has eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark five times. His best season came in 2011 when he recorded 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns.

There is little doubt as to whether New England has boosted Welker’s value on the market. Welker has truly had career years with the Patriots and as a result has 8,580 career receiving yards and 38 touchdowns in his career. He thrived in New England’s offensive system as a slot receiver and was quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite target when he was in a jam particularly on third down and distance plays.

Now, he is going from one Hall of Fame quarterback to another. It will be interesting to see how the Broncos utilize Welker. In addition, it is interesting that the New England did not match Denver’s two-year offer. One has to wonder if they have something in store on the defensive side of the ball.

Either way, it will be strange to see Welker in a new uniform next season wearing Broncos’ Orange, Navy, and White instead of Red, White, and Blue.

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For Te’o, hoax was to his benefit

Matt Cashore/US Presswire

By DANNY JAILLET

Before you decide if you want to read this piece or not, let me give you a two-word summary of what it’s about: Manti Te’o. However, let me assure you that I will not rehash everything that has gone on in the past two months or so. I will not retell his bizarre story and every detail that has gone along with it. Rather, I will take a look at his story and tell you how it has benefited him. Yes that’s right, I said that this whole humiliating scandal, one that has made him undergo a quick transformation from decorated football player to terrible punch line has benefited him. Before you pass any judgment, just please hear me out.

The whole girlfriend story started in the fall of 2012. Supposedly Teo’s girlfriend and grandmother died on the same day. From that point on it was a storybook season for both Te’o and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Notre Dame ended up finishing the regular season undefeated, and Te’o finished third in the 2012 Heisman Trophy voting. In addition, he won the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Dick Butkus Award, Maxwell Award, Bronco Nagurski Award, Vince Lombardi/Rotary Award, Walter Camp Award, and the Lott IMPACT trophy. To put it simply, he was one of college football’s most decorated players. He finished the year with 113 total tackles, which ranked him second in the nation. In addition, he finished with seven interceptions. He was a defensive “beast” and played like one throughout the majority of the season.

However, the National Championship Game was a stark contrast to his regular season performance. He totaled 10 tackles, which is a small number when you consider that he had more than 10 in three regular-season games. Even though he was less than stellar on the biggest stage, he still had a very good season.

However, what he have gotten all the recognition if it were not for his suspect story? Would he have finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting had America not fallen in love with the underdog who suffered great personal loss? Being a linebacker, the fact that he had a chance to win the award was an accomplishment in itself. Heisman Trophy candidates have been either running backs or quarterbacks the majority of the time and it is very rare to see a defensive player win college football’s most coveted award.

From his point of view, people are calling him everything from stupid to gullible to ignorant. But how stupid is he? Whether he believed or not, he was smart enough to go along with it. After becoming beloved by the sports world, winning accolades and finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting why wouldn’t you go along with it? Why wouldn’t you go along with a story that catapulted you from college football star to national celebrity?

We can laugh at him, degrade him, and berate him all we want but the fact of the matter is, he has the potential to be a first-round draft pick. Granted, he did have the opportunity to be a top-five draft pick before this whole hoax but even still, he is closer to his NFL dream than ever before.

He will be the subject of many jokes for the rest of his NFL career, but in the end, he will be living his dream. What if this hoax never happened? Would he be in this position today? Chances are he probably would not be, which is why at the end of the day this hot mess was his benefit.

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Report: Brady, Patriots agree to extension

( Rich Schultz /Getty Images)

By DANNY JAILLET

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — According to a report from Peter King of Sports Illustrated.com, the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady have agreed to a three-year $27 million contract extension. This contract lasts until 2017, when Brady is 40 years of age. This puts him in a position to retire as a Patriot.

This deal will pay him an immediate $3 million signing bonus in addition to $7 million in 2015, $8 million in 2016, and $9 million in 2017. According to King, with this new deal, the Patriots will save $28.6 million in the next two years, which amounts to $15 million worth of savings on the salary cap. His original deal would have amounted to $43.6 million on the team’s cap, a hefty price in comparison with this new deal.

Now, this gives New England the flexibility to sign multiple players to long-term deals. One has to wonder if a reduced deal means that Wes Welker is returning as a Patriot. Either way, it is honorable for Brady to take a smaller salary for the benefit of the organization and it speaks to his selflessness and team-oriented nature.

Last season, the eight-time Pro Bowler threw for 4,827 yards, 34 touchdowns, and just eight interceptions. However, the end result was disappointing for both fans and team alike as New England lost 28-13 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.

In what has been a very busy offseason for the Patriots, another key signing has taken place. Now, New England has additional chances to go for their fourth Super Bowl with Brady at the helm.

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Northeastern alum Vega signs with Patriots

(Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

By DANNY JAILLET

BOSTON — According to a report from CBSBostonSports.com, the Patriots signed a player with local ties today as Brockton, Mass. native Jason Vega inked a deal that was confirmed and made official this morning.

The defensive lineman spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, recording 66 tackles and 12 sacks during that period.

The 25-year-old played college football at Northeastern University for four seasons (2005-09) His best season came in 2009, as he registered 64 tackles (29 solo, 35 assisted) in 11 games. In those four seasons, he appeared in 39 games totaling 139 tackles and 13 sacks. Vega joins Armond Armstead , who was signed in January, as the second lineman the Patriots have signed from the CFL this off-season.

This move will add depth to the Patriots defensive line and as the report notes “With only five draft picks in the April’s draft, Vega could have a good shot at making the team.” Needless to say, Bill Belichick and his staff are always working, even in the offseason, as the team tries to capture that elusive fourth Super Bowl

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On Football: Baltimore Ravens Win Super Bowl XLVII; Patriots Offseason Talk

Baltimore QB and Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco holds the Lombardi Trophy after the Ravens 34-31 in New Orleans (Picture/Sports Illustrated).

by CAMERON MERRITT

NEW ORLEANS – From a 33-minute blackout to a 22-point rally, big runs to a battle of brothers, and the final game of a future hall of famer, this year’s Super Bowl was definitely a memorable one.

The Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 to win the franchise’s second Super Bowl. Quarterback Joe Flacco was named the game’s MVP, throwing for 287 yards with three touchdowns in his first ever trip to the big game. It was also, of course, the final game of linebacker Ray Lewis’s career, and the always emotional veteran was going out a champion.

When the game started, all the talking, the speculation, and pre-game ceremonies was over. It was time for a champion to be crowned, and nothing mattered more than what happened on the field. It was the game every football player dreamed of playing in, and winning, and that dream was about to become a reality for one side’s players, many of which, including the both Flacco and 49ers backup turned starter sensation quarterback Colin Kaepernick, had never made it to the big stage before.

The Ravens struck first, scoring on their first drive with a leaping grab in the end zone by wide receiver Anquan Boldin off of Flacco’s 13-yard pass. The PAT following by Justin Tucker put Baltimore up early with a 7-0 lead. The 49ers would get on the scoreboard later in the quarter, but only on a 36-yard field goal by David Akers to make it 7-3. The quarter ended with an interception thrown by Kaepernick, the first time in Super Bowl history a Niners quarterback had done so, and the Ravens would make them pay.

Ten plays later, the Ravens capitalized on the turnover with a one-yard pass to tight end Dennis Pitta to give the team a wider 14-3 lead over the favored 49ers. That lead would grow even more a few minutes later with a 56-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jacoby Jones that made it 21-3. San Francisco, being unexpectedly outplayed, was able to manage another field goal before the end of the half, as Akers put it through the uprights from 27 yards out on his second chance, after the Ravens had been called for roughing the kicker on the previous try, which Akers had missed. A disappointed Niners, and an exuberate Ravens, team walked into the locker room with an unexpected 21-6 Baltimore lead.

After a halftime that featured Beyoncé and a reunion of her famous girl group Destiny’s Child, the 49ers came out hoping to get themselves back in the ballgame, but matters only got worse as Jacoby Jones returned the kickoff a Super Bowl record 108 yards and the Ravens were now up 28-6, inn what looked like to many was about to become a Big Easy blowout.

However, that was not to be as an unexpected power outage left half of the Superdome in darkness early in the third quarter. After 33 minutes of confusion and repairs, the game was back on, and so were the 49ers, who came out of the darkness as an entirely different team. Kaepernick connected with one of his favorite targets, Michael Crabtree, for a 31-yard touchdown to close the gap a little bit more, to 28-13. On their next drive a few minutes later, running back Frank Gore made a six-yard touchdown run, and on their next drive, a 34-yard field goal by Akers brought San Francisco within a touchdown of the Ravens, who still lead 28-23, but had seemingly switched roles with their opponent since the lights came back on. The Ravens also lost veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata came out of the game late in the third quarter with a knee sprain.

The Ravens started to fight back early in the fourth quarter when a 19-yard field goal by Tucker made it more than a one score game at 31-23. However, Kaepernick lead the 49ers down the field on the next drive, including his own 15-yard touchdown run, to put the game at a much closer 31-29, but the attempt at the two point conversion to tie the game failed as Kaepernick could not connect with one of his receivers and the ball went wide of them.

When Baltimore got the ball back, all they could manage was a 38-yard field goal, and San Francisco now had the ball with the chance to win it with a touchdown. The 49ers would end up brining it to the red zone, but the Ravens defense stood up and shut them out on all four chances from scoring the game winner.

The Ravens, with the ball and only seconds remaining, had their punter Sam Koch run time off the clock & take a safety, which made it 34-31. After the Niners couldn’t finish off the run on the next punt, both Ravens fans, players, an coaches exploded with excitement as Super Bowl champs.

“It’s no greater way, as a champ, to go out on your last ride with the men that I went out with, with my teammates,” said a joyous Lewis in the post game celebration. “And you looked around this stadium and Baltimore! Baltimore! We coming home, baby! We did it!”

Flacco, who threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions throughout the entire playoffs, including three in the Super Bowl, was named the game’s MVP. During the first half especially, he had been unstoppable, managing to make big passes for first yards even as he was under serious pressure or getting hit.

“They have to give it to one guy and I’m not going to complain that I got it,” joked Flacco.

A disappointed Kaepernick walked off the field and a dejected Gore was spotted sitting on the bench has purple and black confetti rained down. Coming back from such a large deficit to only lose in the final seconds made the defeat even more crushing.

“It’s very tough,” said 49ers coach John Harbaugh, after losing to his brother Jim’s Ravens. “It’s a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. It’s very painful.”

The two brothers met at midfield, as coaches do, and while emotions were still high, they were still brothers.

While it was hard for Niners Nation to swallow the loss, there was also disappointment in Patriots Nation, watching the team that had beat theirs in Foxborough only two weeks before, being crowned champions.

The Patriots, like the Ravens the year before, will bow have vengeance and redemption working towards them next year, as they’ll look to surpass the Ravens, make their way back to the big game, and try to finally get that fourth ring that has eluded the Brady-Belichick pair for almost a decade.

Perhaps the Pats will have a champion from this year joining them. Some have speculated that veteran Ravens cornerback Ed Reed, who made the game’s only interception of a pass intended for former Patriot Randy Moss, will test free agency and could be shipping up to Boston to provide needed help to a secondary that struggled over the past season, especially in the AFC Championship Game when Aqib Talib went out in the first quarter. Reed and Belichick are known for their mutual respect, and Reed has possibly hinted at joining him someday, saying he could see himself as a Patriot someday.

The 2012 NFL season has come to close and the offseason has begun. Teams will meet again in April for the 2013 NFL Draft, then new and old pieces will join together in July for training camp, and looking forward to new chances in a brand new year.

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Looking ahead to Possible Patriots draft targets

by T.J. HORGAN

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Tavon Austin of West Virginia is an excellent option as a versatile slot receiver (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images).

As the National Football League season winds down, and the “Har-Bowl” is decided, April’s draft looms over the needy hearts of NFL junkies, and could not come too soon. Belichick abandoned the customary New England tradition of trading down picks last year, and having witnessed Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower’s remarkable rookie seasons, Belichick’s draft prowess cannot be questioned.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s draft strategy is anyone’s guess, and predictions in regards to a draft pick usually turn out about as well as the decision to pick JaMarcus Russell first overall (This is not a Russell comeback article).

However, as of when this article is being written (1/24/13), New England owns the 29th overall pick. There are two players who I would be ecstatic to see join the Patriot’s roster, come April 25.

One player who has caught my attention throughout his senior season is Alabama’s nose tackle, Jesse Williams. Williams’ tenacious playing style was valued with high regards in Nick Saban’s 3-4 defense. Williams plays a Wilfork style nose guard, and is rarely dislodged from his territory in the middle of the line.

At 6’3,” 320, Williams’ unyielding firmness would make him a staple in any defense. However, if New England managed to land him, their defense’s future would be built around him. Currently, Vince Wilfork congests the middle of Belichick’s 3-4 defense, however, Wilfork is 31, and when his contract ends in 2014, he will be 33 years old, and requesting more money than Belichick would ideally pay for a nose tackle on the decline.

Jesse Williams is an inch taller, and just five pounds lighter than Wilfork. Both Williams and Wilfork are known for their size and ability to cause havoc in the middle of the field. The only negative comment to be said about both is their mediocre pass rush. Other teams have to create schemes built around avoiding these men.

Lastly, Williams can bench over 600 pounds and is speculated to break the NFL combine’s record for bench press. His versatility was exhibited throughout the year as Saban often utilized Williams in goal-line sets as a fullback.

CBS Sports’ Rob Rang predicts Williams going 17th to Pittsburgh, which is a reasonable assumption, considering Casey Hampton’s deteriorating performance, and lack of a suitable replacement. No drafts that I have seen have Williams going in between Pittsburgh and New England, so if the Steelers pass on the big guy, Belichick has to make his move.

While the possibility of Williams going early remains, there is one man, entering the 2013 draft, whose explosiveness could bring a new dimension to New England’s offense. Tavon Austin, from West Virginia was an incomparable go-to man in his four years with the Mountaineers.

Austin collected 114 receptions his senior year, putting him second in all of college football. Meanwhile, his 1,289 receiving yards earned a spot at 11th in that category. However, Austin is surely not a one-trick-pony. He caught 12 touchdown passes, good enough to tie for eighth in the nation.

I have not lauded Austin’s versatility to only showcase superb receiving stats. Austin carried the ball 72 times in 2012, averaging just below 9 yards per carry. His three trips to the end zone aren’t too shabby, either.

Although he is not a primary running back, his unique playing style will bring an unpredictable dimension to the team on which he lands. However, with Welker getting older and requesting more money, Belichick could be frustrated with franchising him again in 2013.

At 5’9,” 175, Austin is just ten pounds lighter than Welker. With some work in the weight room, Austin could transform into one of the NFL’s best options in the slot. He would be the subject of many successful “End Around” plays, in addition to attainment in the slot. With Austin’s adroitness in the run, a fair comparison would be a mix of Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead, who have both thrived in New England’s offense.

Jesse Williams, if available, would be the safer pick for New England. His ability to consummate at least 2 linemen every down is valued in the Patriots’ 3-4 defense. However, Tavon Austin could complement an already fast-paced offense in New England, with unmatched explosiveness and unpredictability. If either one of these men were to be drafted by the Patriots, Belichick would have drafted successfully.

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