Belichick: Valentine could handle a bigger workload if asked

Belichick: Valentine could handle a bigger workload if asked

FOXBORO -- Patriots rookie defensive tackle Vincent Valentine played in 18 snaps during last week's win over the 49ers, almost half the number of snaps given to fellow defensive tackles Alan Branch and Malcom Brown -- both of whom saw 35. But in the playing time he received, Valentine made an impact. 

On back-to-back plays at the end of the first half, he recorded a run stuff for no gain as he worked his way down the line of scrimamge, got off of his block, and wrapped up running back Carlos Hyde. On the very next play, he showed good burst to work a game with Branch and get to quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He flushed Kaepernick from the pocket, eventually leading to a strip sack by defensive end Rob Ninkovich.

Valentine, who also had a tackle for a loss in the game, earned some praise from coach Bill Belichick on Friday morning when Belichick was asked if Valentine's latest performance was his best as a pro.

"I thought he did a good job," Belichick said. "He, I'd say, has good plays every week. And there are plays he could play better on in the games that he's played. He's definitely, I'd say, an improving player. It's headed in the right direction. He's certainly had some positive plays, I'd say pretty much in every game. Might've been a couple more last week, but it's trending the right way."

The 6-foot-3, 320-pound third-round pick out of Nebraska missed three games earlier this season with a back injury, and in the games he's played he's seen time in 27 percent of New England's defensive snaps. The team may need more from Valentine in the near future depending on how Branch's appeal of a four-game suspension turns out. 

Branch has been the teams most consistent interior defensive lineman this season and is on pace to play in 675 snaps, which would be second-most in his career after the 691 he saw in 2011 for the Seahawks. If he misses time, Valentine would be the next man up with fellow rookie Woodrow Hamilton potentially seeing some work as well.

Belichick said that if Valentine was called upon for more -- his season-high for snaps this season is 23, while Branch's is 59 -- he feels as though the rookie would be able to handle more from a conditioning standpoint. 

"I don't think that's an issue," Belichick said.

In fact, Belichick said he's appreciated how all of his team's big-bodied athletes have handled their conditioning this season -- particularly the rookies, for whom it can sometimes be difficult as they adjust to the demand of life as a professional. 

"I think, really, all our players are in good condition this year," Belichick said. "I think Moses has done a good job. Guys like Branch have played more snaps than he's ever played. Malcom played a lot of snaps. Vincent. Our offensive line, those guys have played a lot of snaps. I'm talking about the bigger guys now.

"I think our conditioning has been good. We've had a lot of guys play in those positions, and a lot of those guys have played a lot of football, a lot of snaps. I haven't gotten the sense . . . Last week was a good test defensively because of the tempo of the game and so forth. It didn't feel like that was an issue.

"I think overall the team's trained hard. They trained hard in the offseason. Worked hard in training camp. Again, we've been relatively healthy so we've been able to stay out there a lot of times. A lot of times the conditioning declines a little bit when the player misses three, four, five weeks then comes back. He's back, but he's maybe not in the same condition he would be if he hadn't missed that amount of time.

"I'd say all those guys are doing a good job. But, look, it's always a little more of a chalennege for the rookies. Overall this group, we haven't had any issues with any of them. Especially on the weight end of it. [Joe] Thuney, [Ted] Karras, Valentine, Hamilton. None of those guys have had weight issues at all."

Eagles announce Wentz has torn ACL, out for rest of year


Eagles announce Wentz has torn ACL, out for rest of year

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles star quarterback Carson Wentz has a torn left ACL and will miss rest of the season and playoffs, coach Doug Pederson confirmed.

Wentz, a favorite in the NFL MVP race, had an MRI on Monday that revealed the severity of the injury. Wentz was hurt late in the third quarter Sunday at Los Angeles. Backup Nick Foles rallied the Eagles (11-2) to a 43-35 win over the Rams that secured the NFC East title and put them in first place in the conference with three games remaining.

The Eagles have overcome several key injuries and now have to move forward without their most indispensable player. Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, return specialist/running back Darren Sproles, star linebacker Jordan Hicksand special teams captain Chris Maragos already went down for the season.

"If there's ever an opportunity for me to rally the troops as the football coach, now might be the time," Pederson said. "You can't lose faith. This has been a resilient football team all season long."

After starting all 16 games as a rookie, Wentz made a giant leap this year. He passed for 3,296 yards and set a franchise single-season record with 33 touchdown passes while only tossing seven interceptions.

Foles led the Eagles to a pair of field goals on consecutive drives against the Rams. He is 20-17 as a starter in six seasons with the Eagles, Rams and Chiefs.

Pederson insisted the offense won't change with Foles.

"He's a highly intelligent football player," Pederson said.

A third-round pick by former Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2012, Foles in his second stint in Philadelphia. He replaced an injured Michael Vick in 2013 and led the Eagles to an NFC East title during Chip Kelly's first season as coach. Foles tied an NFL record with seven TD passes in a game at Oakland in November 2013 and finished that season with 27 TDs and only two picks. The Eagles lost at home to New Orleans in the playoffs. Foles went to the Pro Bowl and was the offensive MVP.

But Kelly traded Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford after the 2014 season. Foles spent a year with the Rams, a season with the Chiefs and returned to Philadelphia as a free agent this season.

Second-year pro Nate Sudfeld is Philadelphia's No. 3 quarterback. Pederson said he hasn't spoken to personnel boss Howie Roseman about adding a third quarterback yet.

"I'm absolutely ready to go - need be," Foles said after the win over the Rams. "I prepare every day."

Brady winning MVP might not be ideal for Pats fans, according to one important stat. . .

Brady winning MVP might not be ideal for Pats fans, according to one important stat. . .

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A fan base would have to be crazy not to want its star player to be recognized as the NFL's best, right? 

With 14 weeks of the NFL season nearly in the books, Tom Brady is now the favorite -- according to Bovada and OddsShark -- to win the league's MVP award. Former MVP front-runner Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL on Sunday, leading to the recent shift in the odds. Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and a trio of Steelers -- Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell -- round out Bovada's top-six. 

Brady has captured the award twice previously in his career in 2007 and 2010, and there's a reason Patriots fans might be OK with someone else taking home the hardware this season. 

Since 2000, no NFL MVP has won the Super Bowl. 

Call it circumstance. Call it a curse. Call it whatever you want. That's how it's worked out. Matt Ryan kept the streak alive last season. 

The last MVP to hold the Lombardi was Kurt Warner when he led the Rams to a title in 1999. MVPs ending the season with a win was actually pretty run-of-the-mill that decade. Terrell Davis (1998), Brett Favre (1996), Steve Young (1994) and Emmitt Smith (1993) all were MVPs and Super Bowl champs. 

In the Super Bowl era, MVPs have won championships 10 times in 51 years. So history isn't totally stacked against for the game's best player. It's just that recently, MVPs have had a hard time carrying their teams to the finish. Ryan, Cam Newton (2015) and Peyton Manning (2013) were all named MVP on the eve of the Super Bowl -- NFL practice since 2010 -- and lost. 

Things set up pretty nicely for Brady to have a strong finish and solidify his standing as "most valuable" since he'll face three divisional opponents -- two at Gillette Stadium -- and a Steelers team built for shootouts. 

And despite what recent history says about MVPs and the Super Bowl, Wentz's injury could help make 2017 the year that trend is altered. Bovada now has Brady and the Patriots as 9/4 favorites -- up slightly from 12/5 -- to win the championship, with the Steelers (4/1) and their three MVP candidates following closely behind. The Eagles, meanwhile, fell from 6/1 odds to win it all to 9/1.