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Julian Edelman, the most versatile player in the NFL

Julian Edelman (Courtesy of Beth_Hart on Flickr)

Is there anything this man can’t do on the football field? Julian Edelman is the ultimate football player. He does everything Belichick asks of him, and he does it all well. Just look at his last two games.

Let’s begin with the game against the Colts in which the Patriots won 59-24. His first score of the game came on a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter. He would later catch a touchdown pass from Tom Brady before finishing the game with five receptions for 58 yards. Oh and by the way, he had one rush for 47 yards on top of it. The man does it all, but he wasn’t done yet.

Edelman’s performance on Thanksgiving against the Jets was just as impressive. He recovered a fumble on a kickoff and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Just under six minutes later, he caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from Brady to make the score 35-0 at the time. He would finish two catches for 64 yards.

How many NFL players can say they’ve caught a pass for a touchdown, returned a punt for a touchdown and returned a fumble for a touchdown? It’s unlikely that anyone in the NFL today has ever done it, let alone accomplish it over the course of two games. Edelman’s versatility is invaluable to the Patriots, so they better hope his concussion doesn’t sideline him for long.

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Top Ten things Boston sports fans should be thankful for

Despite the state of the Red Sox and no Bruins hockey to look forward to, Boston fans still have much to be thankful for. So in the spirit of the holiday season and in no particular order, here are the top ten things to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy!

1. A Patriots run game – With Gronk likely out the rest of the regular season, the Pats will have to rely more on their 5th ranked rushing attack headed by Stevan Ridley.

2. John Farrell – The absolute correct choice to be the new manager of the Red Sox.

3.Rajon Rondo’s passing ability – He leads the league with 12.3 assists per game and currently has a 33-game streak of double-digit assists.

4. Tom Brady – No explanation needed.

5. Patriots @ Jets – It’s always better when your team plays on Thanksgiving day.

6. Big Papi’s two-year deal – The face of the franchise will be back in Boston for two more seasons. No matter what people say, he is and will continue to be a much-needed leader in the clubhouse.

7. Jared Sullinger – He turned in the best two games of his rookie season against Toronto and Detroit and put up his first double-double. What better a situation for the young rookie to be in, learning from Kevin Garnett, one of the best power forwards ever.

8. The Boston Bruins – They will play at some point in time, and the core of the Cup-winning team will still be in place when they do.

9. A first place Pats team – As ugly as some of their wins have been this season, the Pats still sit comfortably atop the AFC East.

10. The last decade – If you don’t know what I’m talking about or need to think about it, and you consider yourself a Boston sports fan, you probably aren’t one.

Midseason NFL contenders/pretenders

The NFL has reached the halfway point through the season. Clear contenders in the Bears, Falcons and Texans have emerged, but many teams still remain question marks. Here are three pretenders and three contenders midway through the year.

Pretenders

1. Baltimore Ravens (6-2) – Ray Lewis is not expected to return anytime soon to a defense already struggling. The Ravens are a team built on defense, however, they currently are ranked 24th in total yards allowed this season. With the Steelers right on their heels, it will be up to Joe Flacco and the offense to pick up the slack of the defense. Can Flacco carry his team with an aging defense? Look for the Ravens to struggle the rest of the way.

2. Indianapolis Colts (5-3) – As good of a story as Andrew Luck and the Colts are, they should be considered a pretender. Luck is a young quarterback and will have his share of growing pains the rest of the way. Four of the Colts five wins have come against the Browns, Titans, Dolphins, and Vikings. With two games left against the Texans, it will be difficult for the less-experienced Colts to compete for the division.

3. Minnesota Vikings (5-4) – The Vikings were once a promising 5-2 team, but their last two games are proof that they are pretenders. The Vikes were blown out at home against the Buccaneers 36-17 and failed to rebound, losing in Seattle. Their remaining schedule may be the most difficult in the NFL: two against the Bears, two against the Packers, and one against the Texans. The Vikings will not finish this season above .500.

Contenders

1. New England Patriots (5-3) – The Patriots still have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. They sit in first place in perhaps the weakest division in the NFL and play five of their remaining eight games in Foxboro. New England’s offense ranks first in the league in total points scored and total yards. Look for the Patriots to finish the season as a strong contender in the AFC.

2. Seattle Seahawks (5-4) – The Seahawks have proven themselves to be a true contender this year in their wins against the Patriots, Packers, and Vikings. They are currently in a wild card spot and play extremely well at home. With a strong defense and a favorable schedule the rest of the way, look for the Seahawks to be in the thick of the playoff race.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3) – Although the Steelers got off to a slow start, they have won four of their last five games and have looked strong on defense. In those four wins they allowed 14, 17, 12 and 20 points. Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knows how to win football games, plain and simple. With the loss of Ray Lewis, the Ravens will falter, leaving room for the Steelers to make their move.

Patriots defense falters in loss to Ravens

With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the young Patriots defense collapsed under the pressure of a big moment. Joe Flacco and the Ravens took over on offense down by nine and with less than eight minutes on the clock. In less than three and a half minutes, Torrey Smith caught his second touchdown of the game to cap off a 92 yard drive down the throat of the New England defense.

Just moments later, the Ravens had the ball back with only two minutes to play and a field goal away from victory. Again, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick turned to his defense for a stop to seal the game. In one minute, Flacco led the Ravens to the New England 7-yard line while targeting tight end Dennis Pitta and  wide receivers Jacoby Jones and Anquan Boldin along the way. An obvious third down pass interference penalty on Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty setup the Ravens for a 27-yard field goal attempt.

Baltimore’s rookie kicker Justin Tucker trotted onto the field hoping to give the Ravens revenge for last year’s AFC Championship loss against the Patriots. At first it appeared the ball went directly over the right crossbar, but the replacement referees raised their hands signaling for a good field goal. The Ravens ran on the field in relief, sending the Patriots to a losing record for the first time since 2003.

With revenge in mind, and as indicated in Ray Lewis’ pre-game speech to his team, the Ravens defeated the Patriots 31-30 in Baltimore late Sunday night. The New England defense looked no better than last years as Ray Rice and the Ravens offense powered for 503 total yards. Rice alone netted 150 ground and receiving yards. Flacco contributed with a whopping 382 pass yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Torrey Smith turned in the performance of the game after hearing of his brother’s death early Sunday morning. He caught two touchdowns and had 127 total receiving yards.

Although the game came down to the last play, momentum shifted constantly throughout the evening. The Patriots got off to a quick 13-0 in the first quarter as the defense looked sharp to start off the game. Safety Steve Gregory intercepted a shaky Joe Flacco that would lead to a 2-yard touchdown run by rookie running back Brandon Bolden.

Momentum favored the Patriots until the Ravens finally achieved a first down on a penalty at the beginning of the second quarter. The drive would lead to a 25-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Smith to put the Ravens on the scoreboard. Momentum shifted as the Ravens would cap another drive off with another Flacco touchdown pass, this time to Pitta.

Tom Brady almost immediately turned the momentum back in the Patriots favor as he orchestrated the two-minute offense brilliantly before halftime. After spreading the ball out to Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Danny Woodhead, Brady’s touchdown pass to Julian Edelman put the Patriots up 20-14 at the half.

The Ravens and the Patriots traded touchdowns to begin the second half before the Patriots took a nine point lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Momentum would shift one more time in favor of the Ravens and ultimately led to the breakdown of the Patriots young defense. When it counted most, the experience and toughness of the Ravens defense put pressure on Brady as they stopped two England drives in the fourth quarter. They put the ball in Flacco’s hands, and he took advantage.

The replacement officials took heat from both Belichick and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh periodically throughout the game and even after the game ended. The officials flagged Harbaugh for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for coming too far onto the field. Belichick on the other hand might be in a little more trouble. He appeared to reach for and make contact with an official as he ran onto the field to dispute the field goal call after the game ended. He will almost certainly be hearing from the league for his actions.

On a high note for the Patriots, Welker caught eight balls for 142 yards. Likewise, Brand Lloyd had a strong performance, catching nine balls for 108 yards.

The real concern for the Patriots, however, is to  the defense. The line failed to rattle Flacco, only sacking him once and rarely putting any pressure on him at all. Cornerbacks McCourty and Kyle Arrington each missed interception opportunities and were beat constantly all game long by Smith, Boldin and Jones. After a strong first two games, the Patriots defense took a major step backwards against the Baltimore Ravens tonight. Yes, they are young, but only time will tell if they are for real or not.

Patriots week one report card nearly a 4.0

Did anyone really expect the Patriots to lose week one to the Titans? Not to say that it wasn’t a solid win overall, but it’s no surprise that it came fairly easy for Tom Brady and company. Second-year running back Stevan Ridley sparked the offensive attack as rookies Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones teamed up on the defensive side of the ball to force a fumble returned for a touchdown. The rest of the Patriots defense held tough as well, holding Chris Johnson to only four yards rushing on 11 carries. It is only week one of the NFL season, but this game does give hope to Patriots fans that the defense may have improved enough to make yet another Super Bowl run.

Quarterback 

A-

Tom Brady played as well as one would expect in a ninth straight season opening win. Sunday marked his 33rd consecutive game with at least one touchdown pass, throwing for two against Tennessee. Although it was only week one, Brady already looked poised for another great season.

Running Backs

A+

Run Ridley, run! Boy did Stevan Ridley run all over the Titans defense in week one. He looked like a five-year veteran as he ran for his first 100-yard rush game. Even when the Titans threatened a comeback, Ridley helped jump-start the Patriots offense in the second half on a key drive where he ran for 35 yards and a touchdown. He gives the Patriots hope that they just might have a run game this season. The only question is, can he duplicate this performance next week against the Cardinals?

Wide Receivers

B-

Patriots wide receivers Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman had only 9 catches and 90 receiving yards combined of Brady’s 236. That being said, the wide receivers were not targeted a lot as the Patriots ran the ball more than they threw it on Sunday. Lloyd did have an opportunity to start the scoring off for the Patriots on their first drive but misjudged a long pass from Brady that led to an incompletion. Lloyd did go on to run great routes proving his pure athleticism and ability to be a deep threat. He led all receivers on the day with 69 receiving yards.

Tight Ends

A

Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez received the majority of Brady’s passes as they continue to be the Patriots biggest offensive threat. Combined they caught 12 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Together they might be the most troublesome matchup that any NFL defense will face this season.

Offensive Line

A-

Considering the many questions surrounding the Patriots offensive line coming into this season, they played extremely well. Brady was only sacked once and hit only three times all game. Nate Solder made the only mistake, allowing Kamerion Wimbley by him to hit Brady hard. Despite the one mistake, the line allowed for Ridley to run wild against the Titans defense as Patriots running backs combined for 162 yards on the ground. Let’s put it this way, if the offensive line plays this well for Brady all season long, opposing defenses should be more than a little nervous.

Defensive Line

A

What more could you ask of a young defensive line against one of the top running backs in the NFL? Pro-bowl back Chris Johnson was frustrated enough to nearly throw his helmet on the sidelines as he was stuffed all day long by a suffocating Patriots run defense. He ran for four yards on 11 carries. Ouch! Rookie Chandler Jones helped come up with the biggest play of the game forcing Jake Locker to fumble the ball close to his own end zone. The only times Locker looked comfortable were the beginning drives of each half.

Linebackers

A

Veteran linebacker Jerod Mayo led the defense with nine tackles and four assists. Rookie Dont’a Hightower was in the right place at the right time in the second quarter. He picked up Jones’ forced fumble on Locker and ran it in for a touchdown that turned out to be the play of the game. It will certainly be interesting to see what Hightower and Jones can combined to do for the rest of their rookie season.

Defensive Backs

C+

The first mediocre grade of the week goes to the Patriots defensive backs. Despite the one interception by rookie Tavon Wilson, the defensive backs did not play all that well. When Locker felt comfortable and had time to throw, the Titans marched down the field at ease at the beginning of the game and the second half. It almost looked like a horrifying flashback of last years defense. Again, it is only one game, but this might be the one area that makes all Patriots fans nervous.

Special Teams

B+

Overall, the Patriots special teams unit had a solid week. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski made two field goals and even contributed a nice tackle on a Titans kick return. The only downside was when Julian Edelman refused to call a fair catch on a punt return. Fortunately for him, the Titans defender got too close and a penalty was called after Edelman could not catch the ball cleanly.

Coaching

A-

As usual, coach Bill Belichick prepared the team for another season opening win. It’s to no surprise the Patriots didn’t have any turnovers and looked almost flawless on both sides of the ball. The defense was prepared to stop Chris Johnson and confuse Locker enough to force him to turn the ball over.

Overall Grade: A

If the Patriots can play this well on the road to start the season, who knows what’s in store for the Arizona Cardinals in Foxboro for week two?