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Thanks to Bill Belichick, SnapFace is going viral 01.18.17 at 1:39 pm ET
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Over the last couple of years, Bill Belichick has made a habit of botching the names of popular social media platforms. His apparent ignorance of the Internet came to the forefront again this week, when he was asked on Dale & Holley about Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown live-streaming a video of the team’s locker room on Facebook Live.

“Yeah, as you know I’m not on SnapFace and all that, I don’t really get those,” he said. “I’m just really worried about getting our team ready to go. I’m not really too worried about what they put on InstantChat, or whatever it is.”

While InstantChat is a new addition to Belichick’s repertoire, SnapFace is an old favorite. He first dropped the term around Patriots reporters last year and it seems to be picking up steam. According to NFL Network’s social team, “SnapFace” has been used on Twitter more than 12,000 times over the last day.

At his press conference Wednesday, Belichick referenced InstaFace, which might be an offshoot of SnapFace.

Malapropisms aside, it’s worth noting that the pre-fixes of Belichick’s fictional social media networks are up to date with the latest trends. Back in 2011, he was talking about MyFace. As John Tomase points out, maybe Belichick is more aware of the social media landscape than he likes to let us believe.

Read More: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots,
Steelers are bigger cheaters than Patriots 01.17.17 at 11:28 am ET
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Mike Tomlin (Kirby Lee/USA Today Images)

Mike Tomlin (Kirby Lee/USA Today Images)

Imagine if a video leaked of Bill Belichick calling his upcoming opponent “a–holes.” He would probably be eviscerated for his arrogance, condemned for not respecting the league. Maybe Mark Brunell would even cry.

At the least, it would be the lead story across sports for the entire day. Belichick’s surliness makes him an easy target. There’s a lot to be said for affability, because it allows you to skate out of trouble. Just ask Mike Tomlin; he’s made a career of it.

Sunday night, Steelers wideout Antonio Brown posted a since-deleted video on Facebook Live that caught Tomlin deriding the Patriots.

“We spotted them a–holes a day-and-a-half,” he said. “They played yesterday; our game got moved to tonight. We’re gonna touch down at 4 o’clock in the [expletive] morning. So be it. We’ll be ready for their [expletive]. But you ain’t got to tell them that we’re coming.”

The rah-rah speech, by all accounts, was standard football talk. Coaches across the NFL probably call their opponents –– and especially the Patriots –– a lot worse. But that’s not the point. Tomlin was recorded saying something incendiary. And yet, every talking head on ESPN’s Around the Horn, one of the network’s signature debate shows, laughed it off Monday. It’s difficult to believe everybody would’ve been so amused if Belichick were in Tomlin’s place.

Belichick gets treated differently than every coach, but few people represent the contrast more than Tomlin. All of the proof one needs to make that claim happened on Thanksgiving night in 2013, when Tomlin tried to trip Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones on a kick return in prime time. Belichick is called a cheater because the Patriots were caught taping opponents from the wrong area of the stadium and Tom Brady’s footballs lost air pressure in cold weather. Tomlin, meanwhile, actually tripped a guy on the field. But after a $100,000 fine, it all went away.

Speaking of Deflategate, the Steelers were also caught playing with under-inflated footballs against the Giants this season. According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, one ball was measured at 11.4 PSI and another one clocked in at 11.8. Or, in other words, numbers that are nearly identical to the PSI level of the Patriots’ balls in the 2015 AFC championship game.

But unlike Deflategate I, the sequel was quelled in roughly one hour. The NFL released a statement shortly after the original report, saying all game day procedures were followed and there were no “chain of command issues.” The league masterfully avoided the PSI issue, since the science says nothing nefarious happened to the Patriots’ balls. Now it’s all about “chain of command,” because Jim McNally took some footballs into the bathroom with him before heading onto the field. Keep in mind, McNally’s pregame whereabouts weren’t known until after the league had paid millions of dollars to Ted Wells to investigate the alleged crime.

Giants owner John Mara, who admonished the Patriots during Deflategate, said the whole fuss over the Steelers’ balls was “much ado about nothing.” Pittsburgh got off, whereas the Patriots lost Brady for four games and a first-round pick. (For those keeping score at home, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger also missed four contests after being accused of sexual assault.)

As ESPN reported, the league went so hard against the Patriots, because many owners believe Roger Goodell let them off easy during Spygate (New England lost a first-round pick, but apparently that wasn’t enough). If that’s the case, then the Steelers should face even more scorn. Former head coach Bill Cowher admitted to trying to steal signals, and he was never even investigated.

There’s a double-standard when it comes to judging the Steelers and Patriots. Pittsburgh is held up on a pedestal as a model organization despite committing the same, if not worse infractions than New England. Like most instances, the strongest message the Patriots can send will be on the field Sunday. Brady is 7-2 against the Steelers with a 114.2 passer-rating. Nobody can spin that.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers
Thursday’s Morning Mashup: Von Miller lists 3 Patriots as toughest he’s ever faced; NBA, NBAPA reach new CBA 12.15.16 at 8:12 am ET
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Good morning, here is your Thursday Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our WEEI.com home page or click here for the top stories and scores from our news wire.

THURSDAY’S BROADCAST HIGHLIGHTS: 
NHL: Anaheim at Boston, 7 p.m. (NESN)
NBA: Chicago at Milwaukee, 8 p.m. (TNT)
NBA: New York at Golden State, 10:30 p.m. (TNT)
NFL: Los Angeles at Seattle, 8:25 p.m. (NBC; NFL Network)
College basketball: Appalachian State at NC State, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Women’s college basketball: Texas-Rio Grande Valley at Texas, 8 p.m. (Longhorn Network)

AROUND THE WEB: 

Von Miller

Von Miller

— In his piece in The Players’ Tribune published on Wednesday, Broncos linebacker Von Miller lists “The Five Toughest Guys I’ve Ever Faced,” and three of them are Patriots.

Miller lists Tom Brady as the toughest quarterback, Rob Gronkowski as the toughest tight end and Bill Belichick as the toughest head coach.

“What makes him the best isn’t just his accuracy throwing the ball. His presnap vision is the best I’ve ever seen, bar none,” Miller wrote of Brady, adding: “The biggest challenge in playing the Patriots is simply getting off the field. You’re never worried about Brady hitting you for 70 yards, but he’ll chip away at you and keep drives alive, which wears you down. … Getting a consistent first step on a 15-play drive is pretty much impossible.”

Of Gronkowski, Miller wrote, “This term is almost overused in the media now, but Gronk really is a true game-changer. He’s almost like LeBron James in that his body type and skill set has never been seen before at his position. The NFL has never seen anything like his combination of size, speed and hands.”

As for toughest head coach, Miller said he likes Jack Del Rio, too, but “with Belichick, his genius comes from the fact that he always gameplans based on the personnel he has. He’s had Hall of Famers like Randy Moss, and he’s also had guys who you never heard of before, and no matter what, the Patriots are always contenders. Some of the packages we see from the Patriots, I’ve never seen before on a football field.”

Chris Ivory as toughest running back and Trent Williams as toughest offensive tackle round out the list.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, George Springer, rob gronkowski, Tom Brady
Thinking Out Loud: Patriots continue to be forward-thinking with trade of Jamie Collins 11.04.16 at 5:46 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering what really happened to Reggie Wayne a year ago?

— How soon we forget? Through various means, Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork and others all left New England, seemingly still in their prime. The Patriots’ trading of Jamie Collins this week really shouldn’t have come as such a shock, even if it did.

— It shocked me, but upon further review, I get it. It may not make the Patriots a better defensive team right “now,” but since when do the Patriots ever deal in the “now”? They always look with an eye to the future, and that’s how they’ve stayed at a high, championship level for 16 seasons.

— In Bill Do You Trust? Ya gotta admit, his batting average is pretty good — right, Steve from Fall River? You and I might not make this deal, or any one of several others, but we’re not Bill Belichick, either. He’s not perfect — I wouldn’t have sent Seymour packing in 2009, for instance. Thought that move potentially cost NE another Super Bowl.

— Maybe this move costs the Patriots another? It doesn’t make the defense better today, but there still are eight games left on the schedule — plenty of time to reach a level of competency that, coupled with the offense, makes you championship-worthy.

— Here’s the deal, as far as I can tell: Collins wasn’t re-signing, at least not at the number the team wanted him to sign. Get what you can for him while you can. And to those who wonder why they wouldn’t have kept him around until the end of the year, it’s really quite simple. Based on the compensation they will receive from Cleveland (a compensatory third-round pick), they have the chance to cultivate that compensation and “grow it” at a much faster rate than if they waited until the season’s end.

— Plus, you have to wonder this: If Collins was worth a third-rounder to Cleveland, what did other teams think of him? Not as highly thought of, perhaps? So, did we overvalue his talent, ability and worth?

— Bottom line: It doesn’t matter what we think. Fantasy and reality often are mistaken for each other when it comes to player evaluation in pro football. Pardon me, but … it is what it is.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Jamie Collins,
Friday’s Morning Mashup: Rex Ryan plays down impact of Deflategate on Patriots 01.30.15 at 8:08 am ET
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Welcome to Friday’s Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our WEEI.com home page or click here for the top stories from our news wire.

FRIDAY’S BROADCAST HIGHLIGHTS:
NBA: Rockets at Celtics, 7:30 p.m. (CSNNE)
NBA: Mavericks at Heat, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
NBA: Bulls at Suns, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)
College basketball: Harvard at Princeton, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)
College basketball: Monmouth at Fairfield, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
College basketball: Kent State at Buffalo, 10 p.m. (ESPNU)
NHL: Sabres at Canucks, 10 p.m. (NHL Network)
College hockey: Providence at Boston College, 7:30 p.m. (WEEI-AM)
College hockey: North Dakota at Nebraska-Omaha, 8:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
Tennis: Australian Open, 3 a.m. (ESPN)

AROUND THE WEB:

— New Bills coach Rex Ryan still might not want to kiss Bill Belichick‘s rings, but he also isn’t ready to pile on the Patriots coach regarding Deflategate.

Reporters caught up with Ryan on Thursday in Phoenix, and Ryan laughed when asked if he ever suspected that the Patriots deflated footballs.

“No, I never, you know, I don’€™t see that,” Ryan said (via MassLive.com). “And I think it’€™s unfortunate that this takes away. This is the biggest stage there is and here we’€™re talking about something like that. It is a black eye to the league and the league will handle it as they see fit. But they’€™re a great football team, and they’€™ve earned the right to get here. Same thing with Seattle.”

Ryan also said he doesn’t believe the legacies of Belichick and Tom Brady will be affected by this controversy.

“I don’€™t think that’€™s anything,” Ryan said. “I mean, when you look at, you’€™re going to have a guy that’€™s arguably going to end up being if not the best coach in the history of the game, at least in that conversation. Same thing about their quarterback. So I don’€™t think it’€™s going to be anything.”

Ryan also weighed in on the issue the Patriots have been having with the fire alarm in their hotel going off in the middle of the night.

“Let’€™s face it: Belichick probably did it himself,” Ryan joked. “He’€™s the one that pulled the thing and created a different story. Those things happen. You try to prepare your team in the offseason — training camps and all that kind of stuff. Would you pull a fire alarm or something? You may.”

Ryan claimed that alarms have gone off in his teams’ hotels during visits to New England, but he insisted he wasn’t getting his revenge this week.

“I was not there,” he said. “You can’t blame that one on me.”

— Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth is headed to jail for five days after pleading guilty Thursday to reckless driving for an incident in July in Virginia.

Werth admitted that he was driving his Porsche GT3 RS more than 100 mph on I-495 in Fairfax Country. A Virginia State Police trooper paced Werth driving at least 105 mph on an on-ramp, and Werth pulled way from the police cruiser on the highway, which has a posted speed limit of 55 mph.

Werth, who was cooperative after being pulled over and admitted he was “pressing his luck” by driving so fast, had been convicted of the charges in December. He appealed and was due for another trial next week before reaching a plea deal. He will serve his sentence on weekends.

“We are aware of the agreement reached today. It is clear that Jayson has taken this matter seriously and with great personal reflection,” the team said in a statement. “We do not condone reckless behavior, and we expect all members of the Washington Nationals organization to act in a responsible manner. We support Jayson, who is an integral part of the community and of the Washington Nationals family.

Werth, who declined comment after the hearing, is entering the fifth season of a seven-year, $126 million contract. He hit .292 with 16 home runs, 82 RBIs and a team-high .849 OPS in 147 games last season. He had arthroscopic shoulder surgery Jan. 9 and is expected to be ready to play in 2-3 months.

— One day after having season-ending shoulder surgery, Kobe Bryant said he intends to return in September for his 20th season.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Bryant told ESPN.

Bryant stopped by Staples Center to visit with former teammate Pau Gasol before Thursday’s Bulls-Lakers game, although Bryant said he wasn’t feeling well enough to go on the court.

Bryant will be heading into the final year of his contract in 2015-16, when he is slated to earn $25 million. The 36-year-old said he doesn’t pay attention to other people’s suggestions that he should retire.

“I don’t really listen much to what people have to say, to be honest with you,” he said.

ON THIS DAY TRIVIA (answer below): On Jan. 30, 1973, the Patriots had perhaps their best draft ever. Which three players did they select in Round 1?

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “His desire to be so competitive, I’€™ve never seen it. You could put him in the category of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, just some of the great athletes in this world, and I’€™€™m talking different sports, too. He has the fight, the will and the determination to go out there and destroy anybody who’€™€™s in his way. You see the results on the field, he’€™€™s awesome.” Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis on Tom Brady

STAT OF THE DAY: 25 — Percent decrease in recorded concussions in NFL games from 2013 to 2014, according to data released by the league Thursday

‘NET RESULTS (mobile users, check the website to see the videos): Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch play Mortal Kombat X on “Conan.”

Magic guard Victor Oladipo soars in for an impressive dunk against the Bucks.

Bulls forward Joakim Noah makes a nice behind-the-back pass to Pau Gasol for a layup against the Lakers.

TRIVIA ANSWER: Offensive lineman John Hannah (fourth), running back Sam Cunningham (11th) and receiver Darryl Stingley (19th)

SOOTHING SOUNDS: Phil Collins was born on this day in 1951.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jayson Werth, kobe bryant, Rex Ryan
Thinking Out Loud: We’ll never get complete truth about Deflategate 01.23.15 at 12:49 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud . . . while wondering whatever happened to John Linehan …

— The NFL’s investigation into Deflategate against the Patriots? It’s the first league investigation of improperly deflated balls that didn’t involve use of PEDs. Just sayin’.

— I get the integrity/fair play/honesty part. But having covered the NFL for more than 30 years now, I also understand what people do to gain an edge. The Patriots push the envelope as much as any team or organization I’ve ever seen … maybe as much as I saw the Oklahoma Sooners push it in the 1970s and ‘€˜80s under Barry Switzer. They were real, straight-out-of-the-West outlaws. It doesn’t make it right, but few teams with a winning mentality want to be left behind.

— If there was a willful violation of the rules that occurred, that’s one thing. If someone within the Patriots organization purposely flaunted the rulebook, well, they’ll pay. It doesn’t mean the players are all cheaters, or the coaches, or the announcers or the fans. I don’t believe we’ll ever get the exact answer we’re looking for. In this case, it makes the current mob mentality of the media a real embarrassment … and a byproduct of the digital era of immediacy in which we currently live. We want answers, and we want them now … in 140 characters or less. The truth, and the search for the truth be damned.

— It seems that most in the national media throwing their darts toward New England have forgotten a few things along the way. The Colts, at one time, allegedly piped in crowd noise to their stadium for an advantage. There also were real strong thoughts on Indy purposely losing in 2011 to gain an advantage in the Andrew Luck derby. How does the old saying go? Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones? Make note, NFL. Stupid is as stupid does.

— The national pundits have proven themselves to be nothing more than sanctimonious windbags this week, in reacting to this story. Forfeit the Super Bowl? Year-long suspensions? Over two pounds of air in a football? Yeah, let’s make this more important than PED use in the sport or domestic violence. Guys like Michael Wilbon and Stephen A. Smith — who I have respected as reporters and columnists for a long time — are simply throwing these things out there for shock factor … to gain ratings and notoriety as the media helps stir this story into a big deal.

— And the former football players’ comments on all of this? It’s laughable. For instance, former Jacksonville QB Mark Brunell — who lost an AFC title game to NE in 1996 — said he “did not believe what Tom [Brady] had to say.” Why don’t you at least have the guts to call him a liar? Jerome Bettis, who also lost a couple of big ones to the Patriots as a Pittsburgh Steeler, and whose teams reportedly had rampant PED use throughout the roster: “I’m disappointed in you, Tom Brady.” Really, fellas? I’m disappointed in the four-letter network that gave you a voice.

— Get a clue. We don’t like it because it affects us. But it is a story because of Spygate. It is a story because of the tuck rule. It is a story even because of the 1982 Snow Plow Game. It is a story because the Patriots win — a lot — especially over the past 20 years. It’s a story because everyone loves to see the king fall on his crown, so to speak, whenever possible. Cheating? If I wanted to cheat, I’d do more than just deflate some footballs … and I think the same holds true for Bill Belichick. My guess is he knows exactly what other teams do during the course of a season — to his team and others — but he’s not a rat. Like former J-E-T-S coach Eric Mangini was a few years ago, and like some in other organizations are now.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Deflategate, Super Bowl XLIX, Tom Brady
Thinking Out Loud: NFL’s integrity takes another blow with Ndamukong Suh flip-flop 01.02.15 at 2:27 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering if anyone actually tries to make good on New Year’s resolutions any more.

— Yeah, that “cleaning up the NFL” thing is going really well, don’t you think? Ndamukong Suh stomps on Aaron Rodgers, gets suspended, complains (says his feet were numb), gets reinstated and then ultimately fined $70K for his transgression. Uh-huh. That means, of course, you aren’t completely innocent. And ya know, if your brain wasn’t numb to begin with, big fella, forcing the NFL to pull an about-face here would never have happened in the first place.

— The league simply blew an opportunity to make good on the whole “integrity of the league is priority one” ideal, stated earlier in the season by commissioner Roger Goodell. I understand Detroit’s side of the argument — losing a player of Suh’s ability could be a deciding factor in a playoff game and largely an unfair disadvantage playing without him. But isn’t integrity above all more important? Guess not.

— I’ve got three New Year’s resolutions that I will be trying to fulfill during 2015. Not a big list, but then again, I’m a realist. Any more than three is just asking for failure. Let’s take a chewable bite out of the New Year, shall we?

— Resolution No. 1: I will stop saying, “Oh, that feels nice,” when the security guards frisk me at Gillette Stadium. And at the airport.

— It meant absolutely zero. But we’ll also find out next week if it actually meant something more than that. The Patriots’ loss to Buffalo was a sham perpetrated on the ticket-buying public, a preseason exhibition that just happened to occur during the regular season. The NFL’s attempt at creating more meaningful, more purposeful football at season’s end backfired here — and created a meaningless game for the Pats to plow through. Sure, that’s good in one way, as they largely kept away from further injury. But it’s also not so good in that there was no real chance to work out the on-field difficulties they currently are experiencing.

— Five straight weeks without scoring on the opening possession, after a period of steamrolling teams out of the gate. Trailing at halftime in four of the past five games. OK, how are these good things heading into the playoffs? Just sayin’.

— To my point, apparently Bill Belichick feels similarly, otherwise the team wouldn’t have held a blue-white situational scrimmage this week inside the stadium. And LeGarrette Blount was 100 percent correct when he said, “Nobody can stop us but us.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Browner, Ndamukong Suh, Roger Goodell
Top Boston Sports Stories of 2014, No. 1: Tom Brady overcomes early struggles, leads Patriots to AFC’s top seed 12.31.14 at 10:31 am ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com has been counting down the top 14 stories of 2014 in Boston sports. This is No. 1: Tom Brady overcomes early struggles, leads Patriots to AFC’s top seed. To read other stories in this series, click here.

Tom Brady overcome a sluggish start to lead the Patriots to the No. 1 seed in the AFC heading into the playoffs. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Tom Brady overcame a sluggish start to lead the Patriots to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Tom Brady finished the 2013 season with more than 4,000 passing yards for the sixth time in his career and looked to repeat this performance in 2014. But the Patriots quarterback had his doubters before the season began.

In a column for ESPN and during an interview with Dennis & Callahan, Sam Monson argued that Brady wasn’t among the elite NFL quarterbacks anymore. He said Brady was in a decline and no longer in the prime of his career.

About two months later, offensive lineman Logan Mankins was traded to the Buccaneers, leaving a void on the offensive line. Whether or not the trade played a factor, Brady struggled and appeared to fuel Monson’s claim from the get-go against the Dolphins in Week 1.

Brady completed 51.8 percent of his passes and was kept off of the scoreboard for the entire second half. He didn’t throw an interception, but he was strip-sacked twice by Cameron Wake and had trouble connecting with receivers when the Dolphins rushed him into quick decisions.

“Truthfully, I don’t think we were really jelling anywhere,” Brady said. “There wasn’t much positive from the quarterback position, the receiver position, the tight end position and the running back position. None of us can play like that and expect to win. All of us have to go out and do a much better job than we did today. We’ve got to take the coaching, understand what we need to do better and then go out and execute next week.”

Added Brady the following day on Dennis & Callahan: “When we’re open down the field I’ve got to hit them. I think that’s how I look at it. We’ve got to make more plays down the field to get more chunks, to shorten the field a little bit. It certainly wasn’t our best day passing the ball yesterday.”

Brady and the Patriots did recover somewhat for two straight wins against the Vikings and Raiders, although the quarterback threw for a combined 383 yards and two touchdowns. NFL analysts noted Brady’s play was unimpressive in the first three weeks. One of Brady’s former teammates, Tedy Bruschi, said he worried that New England’s mostly inexperienced offensive line would be a hindrance to Brady going forward.

“There’s been only limited improvement over the first few weeks, so that’s somewhat discouraging,” Bruschi said. “Is there still plenty of time? Yes. But I really worry. I really worry about the health of Tom Brady and the interior offensive line and what they’re doing there. To me, inside-out, it starts at the center position, which is a very valuable position now in the National Football League. It’s getting to be just as valuable as the left tackle, how you have to solidify the center of that pocket and the running game because that’s where all the pressure is going to come from. Especially when you have a pocket passer, which is what Tom is.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Darrelle Revis, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi
Top Boston Sports Stories of 2014, No. 6: Patriots lose to Broncos in AFC championship game 12.28.14 at 10:21 am ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 14 stories of 2014 in Boston sports. This is No. 6: Patriots lose to Broncos in AFC championship game. To read other stories in this series, click here.

Alfonzo Dennard and the Patriots couldn't keep up with Demaryius Thomas and the Broncos in the AFC title game. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Alfonzo Dennard and the Patriots couldn’t keep up with Demaryius Thomas and the Broncos in the AFC title game. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Patriots’ 2013 season was not quite like the ones fans are used to.

Sure, New England boasted a solid 12-4 record, clinched the AFC East well before season’s end, earned a first-round bye and breezed past its divisional-round opponent to reach its third straight AFC championship game. But this Patriots team limped its way through the season as a group pillaged by losses to a number of key players.

It started with tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was arrested weeks before training camp and subsequently released by the team before being charged with murder. But that was just the start of the Pats‘ woes, as the likes of Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Rob Gronkowski were lost for the season with major injuries.

However, fans still sought that coveted fourth Vince Lombardi trophy after the Patriots won five of their last six regular-season games to win their fifth straight division title, then crushed the Colts, 43-22, led by 166 yards and four touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount.

Up next, as expected, was Peyton Manning and the top-seeded Broncos. It would be the 15th time Tom Brady and Manning would square off, the fourth time they would meet in the playoffs and their second matchup of the season.

The Patriots rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit to beat the Broncos, 34-31, in overtime at Gillette Stadium in the regular season. But with a 13-3 record to end the year, the Broncos hosted the Jan. 19 meeting for the right to play in the Super Bowl.

With all that was unique and difficult about the Patriots’ season, one thing was similar to the year before: It ended with a disappointing loss in the conference title game.

This time, the Broncos manhandled the Patriots defense for 507 total yards in a 26-16 beatdown in a game that wasn’t as close as the scoreboard read.

“You can’t win when you can’t get off the field,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said after the game. “That’s basic fundamental football. They do a good job of keeping the sticks moving with various formations.”

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Read More: Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Demaryius Thomas, Peyton Manning
Top Boston Sports Stories of 2014, No. 14: Patriots trade Logan Mankins 12.24.14 at 12:43 pm ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 14 stories of 2014 in Boston sports. This is No. 14: Patriots trade Logan Mankins to Buccaneers. To read other stories in this series, click here.

Logan Mankins (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Logan Mankins was a stalwart for nine seasons in New England before being shipped to the Buccaneers. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Before the 2014 season began, it appeared that other than training camp roster cuts, the Patriots had their team set. By end of the preseason, however, the trade of a veteran player shook up the foundation of the team.

New England dealt six-time Pro Bowl selection Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick on Aug. 26. Wright, a second-year player, caught 54 passes and three touchdowns in his rookie season with the Buccaneers. The move gave the Patriots more depth in the passing game, but it came as a surprise to many that it was Mankins who was traded.

Mankins said he was disappointed about leaving the Patriots and people with whom he developed close relationships.

“€œI’ve talked to Tom [Brady]. I’ve talked to probably 99 percent of the team,” Mankins said after being dealt. “€œI’€™m not going to get into what we said. … I’€™ll miss Tom for sure, and I’€™ll miss a lot of those guys. I had a lot of good friends, a lot of coaches I was good friends with.”

“€œOnce you’ve been around this business long enough, you know anything’€™s possible. If you don’€™t understand that it’€™s a business, you’€™re lying to yourself.”

Brady had Mankins as a force on the offensive line for nine years in New England. The quarterback was mostly reserved about the situation and his feelings on it, but Brady said he hoped Mankins continued his successful career in Tampa Bay.

“€œI haven’€™t really spoken to anybody about it,” Brady said during an appearance on Dennis & Callahan. “€œI have my own personal feelings that obviously are very personal to me. Whatever those are, I just want our team to be the best it can be for this year. I love Logan, Logan was a great friend of mine. Nobody stood for Patriot football more than him. But he’€™s moved on. I hope he’€™s happy. We’€™ll keep in touch.”

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