Patriots

Sunday kickoff: Flacco's better than you think

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Sunday kickoff: Flacco's better than you think

BALTIMORE -- Joe Flacco is either fifth or sixth in line when it comes to media tongue baths among Baltimore Ravens.

Theres, of course, Ray Lewis. Then Ed Reed. Then Ray Rice and Terrell Suggs. Then comes either Flacco or head coach John Harbaugh. By that time nobodys listening anymore.

Looking at his value as a fantasy football option or as a guy who will move the needle in terms of name recognition, hes weak. Just Joe.

But if you look at Flaccos actual resume record, hes better than okay or pretty good. Hes one of the leagues most effective quarterbacks.

The Patriots arent concerned tonight about how many fantasy points Flacco amasses. Theyre concerned about the player who is 45-21 as a regular-season starter, the guy who has thrown 83 touchdowns and 47 interceptions in his four-plus seasons (69 and 35 if you take away his rookie season, when he was a 23-year-old out of Delaware). He has never missed a game and his output is bizarrely consistent 3,613, 3,622 and 3,610 have been his regular-season yardage totals the past three season. At 27, Flacco has played in as many big games as any quarterback in the league in his first four years.

The Ravens have gone 5-4 in Flaccos nine postseason games. Hes played in two AFC Championship games 2008 as a rookie, and again in 2011 and while he spit the bit against Pittsburgh in 2008 with three picks, he did everything he could eight months ago to get the Ravens to the Super Bowl. The name Sterling Moore will forever haunt him if Flaccos career ends without a Super Bowl appearance.

Flacco got lampooned earlier this year when he asked where he ranks among quarterbacks. He said I think Im the best.

To me, that answer was less about hubris and more about Flacco articulating the mindset he believes EVERY quarterback has to have.

The whole response?

I assume everybody thinks theyre a top-five quarterback. I mean, I think Im the best. I dont think Im top five, I think Im the best. I dont think Id be very successful at my job if I didnt feel that way. I mean, cmon. Thats not really too tough of a question.

"But that doesnt mean that things are gonna work out that way. It just means that thats the way it is, thats the way I feel it is, and thats the way I feel it should be.

Flacco hasnt had to be the best in Baltimore because the team hasnt been constructed around the quarterback. Its been defense first and Ray Rice second. After that, its been Flacco throwing to old guys like Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and Todd Heap.

This year, more is on his plate as the Ravens have gone up-tempo offensively and Flaccos got some more talent on the outside, especially with promising young targets like wideout Torrey Smith (who may not play tonight after the tragic death of his brother in a motorcycle accident) and tight end Dennis Pitta.

Im not sure if Flacco is in the top-five, top-three or top-10. All that stuff is week-to-week anyway, it seems. What I do know is that, more often than not, Joe Flacco is part of the reason the Ravens win. And that as opposed to Q-rating is what matters.

When the Patriots started populating their roster with players Josh McDaniels coached in Denver or St. Louis (or, in some cases, both), the connection was duly noted. Now, the performance ought to be as well. So far, tight end Daniel Fells has been a non-contributor, Brandon Lloyd has been the Patriots' top target in the passing game but has a way to go to satisfy his potential, Greg Salas was released and re-signed to the practice squad, and Michael Hoomanawanui was horrendous last week. Im not sure what the expectation level for each of these players ultimately is, and theres a long way to go, but mining for gold on the roster of a 2-14 team (thats what the Rams were last year) is an aggressively counterintuitive move.

If the Patriots beat the Ravens tonight, the career record of Tom Brady as a starter including playoffs will be 142-42. The 142 wins (and counting) amassed by Brady and Bill Belichick is going to be extremely hard to break. And it would be even higher if the ACL injury of 2008 never occurred. Consider, Don Shula and Dan Marino are running in second place at 117 wins as a duo. Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy are 47-24. To get to 150 when Rodgers is 35, the pair would have to win 103 more games by 2018. Thats an average of 14.7 per year.

Waaaaayyyy too much air and interest expended on the way teams treat the kneeldown play. Think about it: The one play out of about 140 in each game on which there is literally almost nothing happening, and we get a weeks bluster and focus on it because its sensationalistic and conversation generating. A day? Two days? Sure. I like to see personalities revealed too Greg Schianos and Tom Coughlins being the two in this instance. But the inanity of fixating on it and asking coaches about the end-of-game KNEELDOWN play for a week? As my buddy Mike Reiss often says when the media poop hits the fan, What are we doing here? Can we step back for a second?

Can someone please make a cogent argument about why the Patriots would be pissed off at Wes Welker for signing the franchise tag and showing up for minicamp, training camp, preseason, etc? Like one that trumps this argument: The Patriots are NOT pissed because they can now go year-to-year with a 31-year-old slot receiver, they're not on the hook for 2013, and still get all of Welkers services in 2012 (such as they decide to use them). Co-hosting in August 2011 on WEEI, I said that Welker - while incredibly talented - was not a unique talent. That slot receiver is a replaceable position and that Julian Edelman could approximate Welkers work. After last years 122-catch season, I had to admit that Welker is unique. And maybe the best slot receiver ever. But my initial inclination that slots are replaceable remains the Patriots belief.

Youre not going to find a bigger proponent of sleep than me. Im a world-class napper. I placed third in the Southeast Massachusetts Sleep-Off held in 2008, in which I had to fall asleep on a bed of nails while sailing on a garbage scow sailing through the Cape Cod Canal. I sleep while driving. And I still dont have any idea why the Jets would broadcast their consultations with a sleep specialist this week. It may do a world of good. So might a hypnotist, witch doctor or group cry. When youre running a team, you have to measure how news will reflect on the brand and be spun. For instance: It seems Bart Scott needs a nap.

Ex-Patriot Chris Long donating his salary to educational equality program

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Ex-Patriot Chris Long donating his salary to educational equality program

PHILADELPHIA - Chris Long is donating the rest of his year's salary to increase educational equality.

The Philadelphia Eagles' defensive end already gave up his first six game checks to provide two scholarships for students in Charlottesville, Virginia. Now, he's using the next 10 to launch the Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign.

"My wife and I have been passionate about education being a gateway for upward mobility and equality," Long told The Associated Press. "I think we can all agree that equity in education can help affect change that we all want to see in this country."

Long signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Eagles, including a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.5 million guaranteed. His base salary in 2017 is $1 million.

The charitable initiative encourages people to make donations to improve equal education opportunities. Long began his career in St. Louis in 2008 and played for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots last season. Long's foundation has selected four organizations whose missions focus on making education easily accessible to underserved youth while also providing students the support they need to develop strong social and emotional character.

The four organizations are based in the three communities in which Long has played during his NFL career. The city that raises the most money during the season will receive an additional $50,000 donation.

"There's a lot of opportunities to help out and they're wonderful organizations," Long said. "We have such a great platform as football players and hopefully fans get behind it."

Long grew up in Charlottesville and starred in high school at St. Anne's-Belfield before going to the University of Virginia. He was moved to start the scholarship program following the violent protests in Charlottesville in August.

"Our hometown is a wonderful place and I feel like people got the wrong idea about what the residents of Charlottesville are all about," he said.

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Gronkowski advises Hayward to treat rehab like anything else -- dominate

Gronkowski advises Hayward to treat rehab like anything else -- dominate

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski's never suffered a break like the one Gordon Hayward did on Tuesday night, but he has been through enough to know what lies ahead as the Celtics forward stares at a lengthy recovery period.

"I saw it. I mean, I wish him nothing but wellness," Gronkowski said on Wednesday. "Hopefully he heals ASAP. You never want to see that with a player in any sport. When my friend showed me that last night, you get that feeling in your body, like, your heart drops. I wish him well.

"I can't wait to see him back. I know he's going to bounce back. Being here in Boston, he's going to be a hard worker it feels like. I can't wait to see him back."

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Multiple back surgeries, a plate in his arm, a surgically-repaired ACL . . . Gronkowski has put in his share of rehabilitation work. Asked if he'd give Hayward any advice as he embarks on his road back to normalcy, Gronkowski's message was simple.

"Just go into rehab just like you go into anything else. Dominate it," Gronkowski said. "Come back when you feel ready. Come back when you're 100 percent . . . He wouldn't be where he is now if he wasn't a hard worker. I don't know the guy. Never met him. But it's not something you want to see as an athlete happen to anyone else."

Gronkowski acknowledged that in his experience, one of the biggest hurdles following an injury like that is the mental one. You quickly go from being a powerful athlete to a patient in need of help with even the smallest of tasks. 

"There is a big mental challenge, definitely, with that," Gronkowski explained. "It's not just not being able to be with your teammates and all that. It's outside of football, too. Because it takes away your whole life, going out like that . . . You can't do anything. You can't walk. You gotta have people do [things for you]. You get really frustrated. You just want the people around you to help you out and keep you in the best mindset throughout the whole process."

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