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Top stories of 2010, No. 1: Tom Brady’s MVP-caliber season 12.31.10 at 7:50 am ET
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For the final 10 days of 2010, WEEI.com has counted down the top 10 stories of the year. The countdown ends with No. 1: Tom Brady’s MVP-caliber season.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: Kevin Garnett’s return to form
No. 9: Patriots’ playoff meltdown vs. Ravens
No. 8: Marc Savard-Matt Cooke incident and aftermath
No. 7: Red Sox derailed by injuries
No. 6: Bruins’ playoff collapse vs. Flyers
No. 5: Patriots’ Randy Moss saga
No. 4: Red Sox’ signings of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford
No. 3: Patriots’ resurgence
No. 2: Celtics’ playoff run

Also, make sure to cast your vote in WEEI.com’s poll for the 2010 Boston Athlete of the Year.

The Patriots exit a frigid Ralph Wilson Stadium, having just defeated the Bills, 34-3, to clinch the AFC East title, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and a first-round bye. Tom Brady, who has just broken former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar‘s record by 11 after attempting his 319th consecutive passes without an interception, enters the bus. He lets the win marinate for a bit, yelling and clapping with his teammates. But after a half-hour of enjoyment, the quarterback takes out his laptop, pops in some film of Miami, and begins studying for the next game.

According to tight end Alge Crumpler, who was on the receiving end of one of three Brady touchdown passes that day, this is probably how the trip         home unfolded for Brady. It’s also why Crumpler, and many other players and football experts, have pegged Brady as the favorite to win the 2010 NFL MVP award.

“Because when we get on this bus, headed out of here, he’ll have his computer on and he’ll be studying Miami,” Crumpler said after the win. “Nobody works harder than Tommy.”

Sure, the stats have been nice. His 34 touchdowns and 109.8 passer rating are the second best of his career, trailing only the absurd, record-setting 50 TDs and 117.2 rating he posted in 2007, when he won his first and only MVP award so far. The four interceptions this season are a career low, and he’s thrown 24 touchdown passes since the last time he recorded a turnover back in Week 6 against Baltimore.

The embarrassing loss to Cleveland clearly stung Brady, as he’s played arguably the best football of his career since. He’s thrown 20 touchdown passes in those seven weeks. His passer rating hasn’t dipped below 107. But most importantly in the quarterback’s eyes, his team has gone undefeated in that span. Four of those wins ‘€” against the Steelers, Colts, Jets and Bears ‘€” came in matchups against teams atop their division at the time. Yes, his play in these games has been nothing short of phenomenal.

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Read More: New England Patriots, Tom Brady,
Top stories of 2010, No. 5: Patriots’ Randy Moss saga 12.27.10 at 6:41 am ET
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For the final 10 days of 2010, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year. In what was a memorable 12 months for all four of Boston’s major professional teams, there was a plethora of compelling storylines. The countdown continues with No. 5: The Randy Moss saga.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: Kevin Garnett’s return to form
No. 9: Patriots’ playoff meltdown vs. Ravens
No. 8: Marc Savard-Matt Cooke incident and aftermath
No. 7: Red Sox derailed by injuries
No. 6: Bruins’ playoff collapse vs. Flyers

Also, make sure to cast your vote in WEEI.com’s poll for the 2010 Boston Athlete of the Year.

The Patriots began the 2010 season with what many fans and analysts considered to be the best offense in all of football, topped off with star quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Randy Moss. The two teamed up to form the best quarterback-receiver duo in 2007, Moss’€™ first year with the Patriots. Brady highlighted the year with a single-season-record 50 touchdown passes, and 23 of them were to Moss. It was an incredible run that set the bar high in the eyes of New England fans for future seasons.

So, at the beginning of the 2010 season, when contract discussions surrounding Moss’€™ future with the team took over training camp and the first few preseason weeks, many began to wonder what the receiver known for his outspoken and attention-seeking ways would do. There were games toward the end of the 2009 season when Moss was accused of taking certain plays off, including ones in which he was targeted by Brady. When the 2010 season began, Brady and starting offensive tackle Logan Mankins were the two players drawing the most concern about contract extensions, leaving Moss to feel left in the dark.

The Patriots opened the season at Gillette Stadium against the Bengals, a game that featured three of the most controversial receivers in the league on the field at the same time in Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and Moss. And after the Patriots handed the Bengals a 38-24 loss, it was, surprisingly, the New England receiver who stole the postgame show.

‘€œIf you got a boss, you would like to feel appreciated,’€ Moss said in a press conference following the Patriots’€™ win. ‘€œThis is the last year of my contract, and there hasn’€™t been anything discussed. There hasn’€™t been anything said; not a letter, not nothing. I’€™m not saying that I want to stay here, but I love playing here. If the future of my job lets me go to another team, then that’€™s what it’€™s going to be.’€

The comments stunned players, coaches and fans alike. Why had Moss chosen to bring his contract situation up now? Thus began the downward spiral of Randy Moss’€™ days as a Patriot.

In Week 2, the Patriots traveled to the new Meadowlands to face the Jets, their division rivals who received league-wide attention in the offseason for their big mouths and even bigger egos, as demonstrated by “Hard Knocks,” the HBO reality show. After jumping out to a nice lead (helped by a touchdown on a fantastic catch by Moss), Brady and the Patriots surrendered to the Jets in the second half, eventually dropping a 28-18 contest. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez could do no wrong in the second half, while Brady struggled to find any receivers, especially Moss, who was thrown to a number of times. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie shut down the veteran receiver, filling in nicely for the injured Darrelle Revis.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, Randy Moss, Tom Brady
Report: Patriots work out Sam Aiken, two others 12.21.10 at 9:01 pm ET
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According to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com (via twitter), the Patriots worked out three free agents: wide receivers Sam Aiken and Andy Fantuz as well as defensive lineman Landon Cohen. The Pats reportedly have an open roster spot after waiving defense lineman Louis Leonard.

Aiken is the most familiar of those names, having spent the 2008 and 2009 seasons with New England as a special teams player and wide receiver. He set a career high with the Pats in 2009 by making 20 grabs. But he was released at the end of training camp this year and signed for the Browns, for whom he played three games before getting released in mid-October.

Fantuz plays for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. He led the CFL in receiving yards this year with 1,380, and was named the Most Outstanding Canadian in the CFL.

Cohen, a seventh-round draft pick in 2008 by the Detroit Lions, was a backup for the Lions in 2008 and a starter in 2009 before getting cut by the Lions on the final day of training camp. He signed with the Jaguars and played two games with Jacksonville before getting cut. He is listed at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds.

Read More: andy fantuz, canadian football league, landon cohen, New England Patriots
Rumor: Preview of the 2012 Nike Patriots jersey 11.19.10 at 1:25 pm ET
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Back on Oct. 12, the NFL broke news that Nike would be replacing Reebok as the official jersey provider of the league. Dramatic changes were promised, and if these “leaked” photos are actually the models, then it’s true. Warning: Peter King tweeted this in regards to the jerseys: “New England’s are worse than hideous. Rebel, Bob Kraft.”

Without further ado …

Read More: jersey, New England Patriots, Rumor Mill,
Patriots- Vikings: Favre will start 10.31.10 at 3:02 pm ET
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Word has come from Foxboro that Brett Favre will start against the Patriots after testing out his injured foot and ankle before the game. Favre had been expected to play after indicating that his injuries were healing quickly, although it’s not that much of a surprise that the veteran will be on the field for his start streak to 292 games.

Favre has struggled this season after posting his greatest statistical season in 2009. The veteran QB has thrown for 1191 yards, seven touchdowns, and ten interceptions while posting a completion percentage of 58.1%. His passer rating of 68 is below most starting quarterbacks in the league after posting a rating of 107.2 last season.

Read More: brett favre, New England Patriots, Rumor Mill, Vikings
Ravens’ Heap will start against Bills 10.24.10 at 12:51 pm ET
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Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap, who was on the receiving end of a helmet-to-helmet hit from Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather last Sunday, will start for the Ravens on Sunday against the Bills. Heap had been listed as questionable in Baltimore’s final injury report. For the full list of inactives in the Ravens-Bills game, click here.

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Brandon Meriweather, New England Patriots, Rumor Mill
Twitter helps sell out Patriots-Chargers game 10.23.10 at 9:31 am ET
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It was widely assumed that the San Diego Chargers would not sell out Sunday’s game against the Patriots due to recent struggles by the Chargers. Fanhouse reports that the Chargers’ team Twitter account asked fans to buy tickets to avoid a local television blackout. The Patriots responded with their own account. “Hey Patriots fans on the West Coast, if you want to see the Pats play the Chargers, go to Chargers.com to buy tickets,” the tweet read.

After the tweet, all remaining tickets were purchased within a couple hours, with half of them purchased by Patriots fans. The game will be played in San Diego at 4:15 ET.

Read More: New England Patriots, Rumor Mill, San Diego Chargers, Twitter
Quick Fixes for Patriots Pass Rush 12.08.09 at 6:06 pm ET
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The Patriots lost a tough one on Sunday ‘€” the defeat to Miami marked their first back-to-back losses in three seasons. When you lose a close game, it’s usually because something wasn’t clicking. For the Pats, it appeared that their pass rush had stayed out too late, enjoying South Beach. Their sluggish effort netted one sack on the day — Tully Banta-Cain and Jerod Mayo shared the action.

It’s become evident the loss of Mike Vrabel (48 sacks in eight seasons) and Richard Seymour (39 sacks in eight seasons) has hurt the Pats ability to rush the passer and create pressure without blitzing. While this is far from great, it is possible to fix. If the Patriots follow the suggestions below, they can turn around their pass rushing woes. The best part, all they have to do is sign these guys off the street.

Andre Tippett
Tippett holds the Patriots franchise record for most sacks with 100. He knows how to play in a 3-4 and could bring some good pressure off the corner on third down situations. Plus, he’s currently the Pats’ Executive Director of Community Affairs, so really, he’s already signed. A quick in-house memo is all that’s required to get him on the field. Plus he can mentor Mayo.

Deacon Jones
Why not hire the person who invented the sack to help the pass rush? Jones played during an era when the sack wasn’t a recorded stat. However, in 1967, according to Jones, he recorded 26 sacks in 14 games.

Jones is a little older, and maybe not able to play, but as a defensive line coach, if nothing else, he can inspire Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork and Mike Wright to get after it.

Howie Long

Sure, he’s on TV now, but look at him. He can strap on a helmet Thursday and be effective. Long might not have as many sacks as others on this list, but his ability to play any defensive line position would be crucial to get other members of the the D-line some much needed rest during games. Plus he’s from Charlestown. Can’t the Pats get a hometown guy?

Bruce Smith
Smith is barely six years out of the league. He has to be itching to get back on the field. Not only that, he’s the official all-time sack leader in the NFL. The Patriots couldn’t use that? Plus he doesn’t have a ring. Picture it: “Bruce, come back for four games, add a few more sacks to your total, win a Super Bowl ring.” Sounds like the perfect pitch. Check out his highlight reel.

Reggie White
The “Minister of Defense” died in 2005. Still, film sessions focusing on his work could be used to motivate the defensive line.

With four games left, the Pats have a chance to turn their lackluster pass rush around. They have the talent to be productive, so perhaps some inspiration by these all-time greats is all that is needed.

Read More: Andre Tippett, Bruce Smith, Deacon Jones, Howie Long
The Pursuit of Perfection, Part 2 11.27.09 at 9:25 pm ET
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Earlier this week, we talked about the Colts as they work towards a perfect regular season. The New Orleans Saints is the other undefeated team in the league, and they face off against the Patriots on Monday. You’re probably asking “Who Dat?” So, it only seems fair to do a comparison between the 2009 Saints and the 2007 Patriots, so let’s have at it.

The Streak

Obviously, the Saints are undefeated through 10 games, just like the Patriots were in 2007. The Saints have 369 points for, with 204 points against. Despite having more points for, they are in second place in the league because the Colts have less points scored against them (157). (As we previously mentioned, the Pats had 411 points for with 157 points against after Week 10.) While not the same as the Pats in 2007, the Saints are clearly on pace to shatter all the scoring records set by that year by New England. Hear them talk about it, the Saints hit many of the same notes as the Pats did that year. But before we write the Saints off as some upstart super-offense let’s not forget that in ’91 they went 7-0 to start the season. Maybe the players on this team haven’t been there, but the franchise has a winning history.

Games Played

This is where the Saints come up short as it pertains to perfection. The last few weeks have provided real tests for the vaunted offense. At the end of October, they played Miami and came back from a 21-point deficit to win, so kudos. They outlasted the Falcons a week later despite coughing the ball up four times. Well played. However, they only beat the St. Louis Rams by five two weeks later. The Rams are not good. (Sure, the Saints beat up Tampa Bay, but everyone beats up Tampa Bay.) What is interesting is that four out of their last five games have been closer than expected. We see that, the Saints offense can put up points, but how well can their defense hold up? That leads us to the next segment.

Players

We can go down the line for either team on this one. In 2007 the Pats lined up Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Laurence Maroney and Ben Watson to name a few. That year, they led the league with 411.2 yards per game. The 2009 Saints have Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and Jeremy Shockey. It’s no wonder they lead the league in average yards per game (420.5). But the focus has to be on the defense. With guys like Tracy Porter out of practice or Jabari Greer and Randall Gay, there will be pressure on the defense to stop Brady who, this year, have the second most yards per game at 416.1.

Like the Patriots of 2007, the Saints are dealing with key injuries that could hamper them down the stretch. At quick glance, the rest of their schedule, after the Patriots, may seem light, but Atlanta did play them close and there is no reason to suspect they won’t do it again.

On Monday, the Patriots get a second chance to play spoilers. They may have struck out the first time around, but hope springs eternal.

Still, I know you wonder!

Read More: Ben Watson, Drew Brees, Jabari Greer, Jeremy Shockey
Pursuit of Perfection, Part 1: Mercury (Morris) Rising? 11.25.09 at 12:57 pm ET
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OK, I’ll just say it, since it’s on everyone’s mind. The Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints might go undefeated in the regular season. There, now it’s out in the open. At 10-0, both the Saints and the Colts look like they could make a run for 16-0 and beyond. With that in mind, these teams bear comparison to the Patriots of 2007 and the Dolphins of 1972. Starting with the Colts, let’s see how they stack up.

The Streak

The Pats ended up going 18-1 in the 2007-08 season. Obviously, they missed perfection, but we don’t need to get into that just yet. Through the regular season, the Pats triumphed over everyone they faced. Thus far, the Colts have done the same. Through 10 games, the Colts are undefeated, with 269 points for vs. 157 points against. It’s the best differential in the league. After 10 games in 2007, the Patriots had 411 points for and 157 points against. The fact that over the same span of games, the Pats were significantly more prolific on offense doesn’t bode well for the Colts even though they have been here before.

Games Played

Besides the Week 9 game against the Colts, it was in the 11th contest that the Patriots began to play close games. An Eagles team, sans Donovan McNabb, played them like it was Super Bowl XXXIX and almost came away with a win. This season, the Colts have played four close games, decided by three points or less. With six games left, this is the point in the season that the Colts have to focus, because in 2005 they went 13-0 and inspired talk of a perfect season before dropping two in a row.

Players

It is rare that a single player can alter the outcome of a game or change how well a team plays, but it’s clear that the loss of Bob Sanders makes the Colts defense much weaker. We all recall how, in 2006, the Texans’ Ron Dayne (remember him?) ripped off 153 yards on the ground and two TDs, all while Sanders watched from the sideline with an injury.

Around the same time of the year in 2007, the Patriots suffered the loss of Rosevelt Colvin, which forced Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau to play at the same time, which, later in the season, hurt the team because Bruschi and Seau are older players and the standard wear and tear of the season got to them.

The question becomes, can the Colts hold opposing running backs down, especially with Tennessee’s Chris Johnson coming to Lucas Oil in two weeks? Even though the Pats smoked the Steelers in 2007, Willie Parker still had 124 yards rushing, and in the final game of the regular season, against the Giants, Eli Manning looked like a rock star, throwing for 251 yards and four TDs.

However, what we all really want to know is why hasn’t anyone from the only undefeated team said anything? Why hasn’t Mercury Morris voiced his opinion about the Colts? It was around this time that he became the mouthpiece of the ’72 Dolphins, making sure any and all media outlets recognized the ’72 Dolphins as the original perfect team.

Read More: 1972 dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, mercury morris, New England Patriots