It remains the same as yesterday: Jabar Gaffney (shoulder) was limited; Tom Brady (right shoulder) had full participation.
The following is the pool report filed by Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune:
Quarterback Tom Brady's ankle injury continued to look like a non-factor in practice Thursday. Brady moved well, threw well and did not appear to limp. His ankle was not taped over his shoe.
Receiver Jabar Gaffney's participation in practice was limited because of a shoulder injury.
After an inconsistent showing Wednesday, the Patriots had a crisp practice on a sunny day at Sun Devil Stadium Thursday. The Patriots don't always wear pads on Thursdays, but they did in preparation of Super Bowl XLII.
Coach Bill Belichick said his team practiced better. "Another day always helps," he said. "These guys care. They want to practice well. When we make mistakes we've got to correct them. They want to get it right the next time."
Asked where the team was in terms of overall preparation, Belichick said, "We're pretty close. We'll review some stuff tomorrow. There won't be hardly anything new. Just reviewing situations., We're as ready as we're going to be. We could spend four weeks preparing for the Giants. But we'll be ready to go."
Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli were both asked yesterday about New England's draft class this year, which initially saw just three players make the active roster: Brandon Meriweather, Kareem Brown and undrafted quarterback Matt Gutierrez. Oscar Lua and Mike Richardson were placed on injured reserve.
Belichick fairly bristled at the notion that the Pats had a bad draft.
"Our second round pick was Wes Welker and our fourth round pick was Randy Moss, so even though they weren’t draft choices, they’ve been significant players on our team," he said in a gross understatement.
When Pioli was asked about only one draftee being on the current roster (Brown was cut and picked up by the Jets), he answered in much the same way as Belichick.
"The way I look at it, our second-round draft pick was Wes Welker and our fourth-round draft picj was Randy Moss," he said.
New England traded its second round and a seventh-round pick to Miami for the rights to Welker, who went on to set a franchise record with 112 receptions, and the team sent a fourth-round choice to Oakland for Moss, who set a new league record with 23 touchdown receptions this season.
Many of the Patriots' assistant coaches have gotten attention this week, partly because they're never heard from, and some (Josh McDaniels) because the world is trying to figure out if they'd be a good coach for their franchise.
Pepper Johnson's appeal lies in the fact that he played for the Giants during their glory days in the late 1980s and into the '90s and now works under his former coach, Bill Belichick. The first player to be a two-time captain at Ohio State and a member of the Buckeyes' All-Century team and Hall of Fame, the Detroit native played in 193 games over 13 seasons with the Giants, not missing a practice or game for the first 11 plus years of his career. Playing at inside linebacker, he accumulated over 1,200 tackles and 25.5 sacks with New York.
Two years after his retirement, in 2000, Johnson joined Belichick's staff through the NFL's summer coaching fellowship; he spent the season with the team as a defensive coaching assistant. The next year, he became the team's inside linebackers coach; in '04, he took over the defensive line, arguably one of the best D-lines in the NFL.
"I think Pepper had great leadership skills... and we saw that at the Giants, even early in his career," Belichick recalled this morning. "I remember there were certainly times when I was the defensive coordinator at the Giants and we would be sitting there on the sidelines, and of course we liked to play a lot of Cover 2 back in those days, with the safeties back there deep. There was one game in particular where they were running the ball against us and I called the team over and I said, 'OK, look, we’re going to play a little more Cover 3 and bring the safety down into the front to help us in the running game.' Pepper said, 'No, no. You don’t do that. You keep those safeties back there. We’re going to take care of the run. We don’t need any help. You guys stay back there and play the pass – We’re going to handle the running game. We don’t need any help.' That’s a great attitude to play the game."
As a coach, Belichick said, Johnson brings the same type of confidence he had as a player to his current job. And on Fridays, it has become tradition that Johnson lead the kickoff drills, his booming voice counting off players and then shouting, "We gets down!" when it's time for Stephen Gostkowski to kickoff.
Johnson also runs the Show Team, what New England calls the defensive scout team.
"Those players take a lot of pride in it, as Pepper does. They do an awesome job of getting our defense ready to play on a weekly basis. I’m sure that [Tom] Brady and all of the other offensive players would tell you how good of a job our defensive show team players do of getting us ready to play the game, and Pepper has great enthusiasm. He does a tremendous job on that.
"I can’t say enough about Pepper. He’s been a great player for me, a great coach for me and a great friend through the years. I have great respect for everything that he’s done in the National Football League and in football."
In case you're wondering, Johnson's given name is Thomas; an aunt gave him the nickname Pepper because the young man sprinkled pepper on his breakfast cereal.
During the Patriots' media-access period, Mike Vrabel was one of six players at risers ringing the tent outside the hotel. At one point, a television reporter asked what was the dumbest question Vrabel's been asked or that he's heard.
Vrabel replied that he heard a few of the players got marriage proposals (the infamous TV Azteca wedding dress "reporter"), but to him, it "demeans the sport when you ask stupid questions" actually gave those of us in the New England media corps props for working so hard at what we do.
Then, without missing a beat, the same reporter asks, "Who's the funniest guy on the team?"
Not the dumbest question in the world, but not wondering how the Pats will shut down Bradon Jacobs, either.
Transcript: Bill Belichick's Thursday press conference
It was good to be back out on the practice field yesterday. We got a lot of things done and certainly need to have another good day today and try to build things up, cover all of the situations and be ready to go on Sunday. Really, that’s pretty much about it. We’re trying to have kind of a normal week of practice here, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday leading up to a Sunday game, and we’ll try to stay on that schedule today.
On what the thought process was in drafting Logan Mankins and the advancements he’s made since coming out of Fresno State)
When we took Logan, we of course had seen his outstanding career and Fresno and his ability to play left tackle. Fortunately, our left tackle situations have been pretty stable here, and Matt’s [Light] done a good job there. I think that Logan has a lot of position versatility for us, but given our situation when he came in -- and it really hasn’t changed much in the last three years – he’s done a great job for us there at left guard. A player at that position goes up against a lot of different types of athletes and he’s up against inside linebackers, some of the big, 350 pound defensive linemen and some of the real quick pass rushers, like a guy like [Justin] Tuck that we’ll face this week. Logan has a good versatile combination of skills where he can play with power, he’s athletic enough to play in space and pass protect and I think that he could have good position flexibility across the board, if we needed it. That hasn’t been the case, but for right now he’s done a great job for us at right guard.
On if anything has changed in the team’s approach to this game and where they are in their preparation)
It certainly hasn’t changed this week. I don’t think you’re ever where you want to be. There’s always more to do, there’s always things that you’ve done that you wish you could have done a little better or an adjustment you’ve made that it would have been a little bit smoother if you’d gotten it right in the first place. That’s always a process of getting ready for the game. You put the things in, you work on them, you modify and adjust them. You don’t have time to go back over everything because you have to move ahead to other situations – third down, red area, two-minute, short yardage, goal line – all of those things, so you can’t just keep going back and back and back over things. You have to move ahead. I’m sure that we’ll be ready to go by game time – as ready as we’re going to be. As I said earlier in the week, playing against a team like the Giants, as many different things as they do and as wide an attack that they have, you could probably take a month to get ready for this game and still not hit everything. We have enough time to be ready. We’ll be ready on Sunday. It probably won’t be perfect, but it will be as good as it can be.
On the evolution of Stephen Neal as an offensive lineman and why he thought a college wrestler would be good at that position)
Steve’s a real interesting story. Over the summer of 2001, we worked Steve out, just as an athlete, really, just as you said, as a former wrestler with no football background since the eighth grade. We worked him out and were impressed with his athletic ability and his size, and his overall body balance. I felt that even though he didn’t have much experience playing football that athletically he would certainly be able to compete with players on the line of scrimmage, because of his leverage and his ability to run. In my brilliance, I decided to put him on defense and he was over there for about two or three weeks, and really was totally lost. It was really hard for him to react to all of the different things that the offense was doing – their different blocking schemes, reading run and pass, getting in the proper gaps and so forth and so on. After a period of time we moved him over to offense, but he was so far behind at that point that he really didn’t have much of a chance to compete there. He just ran plays off the scout team. Then when we signed him at the end of the season off of Philadelphia’s practice squad, he was much further along as an offensive football player, and he made great strides in the ’02 season. Then even in the ’03 season when he was injured [he improved]. Then by ’04, he really had taken all of the classroom work and the individual instruction drills and things like that and was really able to transfer them to the field and play very well – remarkably, really, considering his lack of overall football experience. When Steve started, he really didn’t even know where to go in the huddle. I mean, it was really starting from square one, but Steve’s a smart kid, he works hard, he’s very diligent, he’s tough, very athletic for his possession and has been able to absorb a lot of information and process it and play to a high level. He’s come a long way, but he’s worked hard. He certainly deserves everything that he’s gotten, but I’ve never coached a player that’s traveled the distance from where he started to what he’s become as a football player, and he’s great for our football team. Nobody works harder or is tougher or gives more of himself to our team than Steve Neal.
On this year’s draft class and why most of their contributions have come from Brandon Meriweather)
Our second round pick was Wes Welker and our fourth round pick was Randy Moss, so even though they weren’t draft choices, they’ve been significant players on our team. We’ve had a couple other players that are on injured reserve, so their seasons were cut a little bit short. Brandon is the only true rookie we drafted, and then of course Matt [Gutierrez], our third quarterback, had a good preseason and made our roster. That’s where we’re at. We made our decisions based on what we [felt] was best for our football team back in September, when we cut out roster to 53. As I said, a couple of those players on [the] injured reserve list, so we’ll see how their careers develop as we go forward.
On who the best quarterback he ever saw was)
Oh, boy. That’s a tough one. That’s a tough one. I was pretty young – Johnny Unitas was very impressive, and I loved watching him. Of course, I grew up in Annapolis and watched Baltimore play for years. They were kind of my team, so watching Unitis and Berry and Lenny Moore and all of the great players that the Colts had there, that was pretty special. He was pretty good. He was pretty good, and he was a great leader. So, I think there are probably a lot of other people that are more qualified to answer that than I am, but I’ve had the fortunate experience to work with some outstanding quarterbacks, certainly Phil Simms in New York was a tremendous quarterback for our football team. Tom Brady has been the same here. Vinny’s done a great job for us in Cleveland and at the Jets, and even in his role here at the Patriots. Burt Jones. As a pure passer, I don’t think I could put anybody ahead of Burt Jones. I know he had a short career and had a shoulder injury and all of that, but when I was there and when he was just starting his career, the success that he had, his ability to throw the ball, just as a pure passer and an athlete, it would be hard to put anybody ahead of Burt Jones at that point in time.
On what he thinks of when he hears the name Tedy Bruschi)
[A] football player.
On Bruschi’s comeback following suffering a stroke)
I think it’s tremendous. Tedy’s meant so much to this organization, to this team, and really to the entire community. I know his impact is felt nationwide, as you said, just on what he’s gone through. But, again, if I were to open the dictionary to “football player” and see Tedy Bruschi’s picture there, that would be fitting. He’s all about football. He knows how to play. He knows how to play from a team standpoint. He’s very instinctive. It doesn’t really matter what you ask Tedy to do, whether it’s the running game, passing game, special teams. He just always seems to do the right thing. [He] shows up on the ball at the right time. Sometimes you’d think he would go over a block and he ends up going under it, and he makes the right the choice. The next time it’s just the opposite. Sometimes it seems like he’s a little deep, but that’s really where he should be. The next time it seems like he’s a little short, but that’s really where it should be. He just has a great knack for finding the ball, knowing where to be in the right place at the right time, and how to feed off his teammates without it slowing down his aggressive style of play. He’s a great leader, he’s a great worker, he’s very unselfish. There isn’t a player on our time, I don’t think, that doesn’t look up to Tedy Bruschi’s attitude, toughness and consistency as a football player. We’re really lucky to have Tedy on our team, and the comeback he’s made since the beginning of the calendar ’05 year after the ’04 season has truly been remarkable. He’s a special guy.
On accusations that Richard Seymour and Matt Light are dirty players and if he finds that offensive or uses it as motivation)
Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. I’ve looked at our team play and we’ve moved on from all of those situations. I think our players work hard, they play hard and I support the way they play the game. Not that we don’t make mistakes along the way. Sometimes we do, and we’ve been penalized for them. That’s part of football. I think all of those – I think our players play hard, they play clean and I support the way they play the game.
On Eli Manning’s performance in the regular season finale and how he’s improved since then)
I think Eli’s had a good year, and I think that’s reflected by the team’s record. Eli, mechanically, I think is a very good quarterback. His fundamentals are good, his footwork, his ball-handling, release, accuracy and so forth. I think he has good pocket presence. I think he’s athletic enough to have [a] good presence in the pocket and hit receivers accurately, down the field and in the short and intermediate range. I think he manages his team well and he’s a good football player. He has good players around him and he’s able to get the ball to them and let them be productive and make plays. I think that’s really what the quarterback’s job is, is to get the ball to players on your offensive team that can get the ball in situations where they can be productive and they can utilize their skills, and Eli’s done a great job of that. I think he’s done it all year and he’s certainly done it the last few weeks. He did it against us – no question about that. He killed us.
On how Pepper Johnson has come along as a coach and if there was something he saw in him as a player that made him think he would make a good coach)
I think Pepper had great leadership skills, and that was evidenced in part by his election as a two-time captain at Ohio State, which I believe at that time was the first player that had ever received that recognition. That gives you some sense of the type of leadership that Pepper has, and we saw that at the Giants, even early in his career, his rookie year. I remember there were certainly times when I was the defensive coordinator at the Giants and we would be sitting there on the sidelines, and of course we liked to play a lot of Cover 2 back in those days, with the safeties back there deep. There was one game in particular where they were running the ball against us and I called the team over and I said, “OK, look, we’re going to play a little more Cover 3 and bring the safety down into the front to help us in the running game.” Pepper said, “No, no. You don’t do that. You keep those safeties back there. We’re going to take care of the run. We don’t need any help. You guys stay back there and play the pass – We’re going to handle the running game. We don’t need any help.” That’s a great attitude to play the game. Pepper plays with a lot of confidence, and that confidence carries over to his teammates and the rest of the team. And as a coach, he’s done that, whether it be coaching the linebackers, the defensive line or – One of Pepper’s – The thing that he probably does that everybody on our team will talk to you about, is the way he runs the defensive scout team, what we call the Show Team. Those players take a lot of pride in it and Pepper does. They do an awesome job of getting our defense ready to play on a weekly basis. I’m sure that [Tom] Brady and all of the other offensive players would tell you how good of a job our defensive show team players do of getting us ready to play the game, and Pepper has great enthusiasm. He does a tremendous job on that. I can’t say enough about Pepper. He’s been a great player for me, a great coach for me and a great friend through the years. [I] have great respect for everything that he’s done in the National Football League and in football.
On how much trepidation he had replacing Adam Vinatieri and what made him think Stephen Gostkowski could handle that role)
We all know in free agency players change teams, and that happens every year. Stephen had an outstanding career. We scouted him and thought that he would be able to kick in this league. He’s come in and done a good job for us. [He] did an excellent job last year and this year, both in his kickoffs and his field goals. We have a lot of confidence in him. He’s kicked in all different kinds of conditions this year. I think that’s something that has been a little more challenging for him this year than it was last year, but he’s made some big kicks for us in the last couple seasons. He’s given us a good degree of consistency throughout his game, both on kickoffs and field goals. He’s a young player, he works hard, there’s still room for improvement and nobody works harder at his job than Stephen does. He has a good temperament for the game. He has a good degree of confidence, but certainly not overbearing. Athletically, he works out with the other players. He doesn’t really isolate himself as a kicker. He fits into the team chemistry very well.
On how much he still enjoys the teaching aspect of coaching)
I love coaching, and coaching comes in a lot of different forms for me. In the spring, when we draft the rookie players out of college and bring in the rookie free agents and all of that, we usually have about 20 guys or so, somewhere in that vicinity, and we start with them on the most basic fundamentals – our basic formations, our basic running plays, our base defense, our base coverage – and just really start from square one. You’re talking about stance and footwork and the simplest reads that we can have in our system. I really enjoy the fundamental aspect of that, going back and talking about the – just the real little specific plays to run a play right. And then as you build and build through the course of the season, you get to working with some of the real special players in this league – guys like Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau and Tom Brady and Randy Moss and Wes Welker. You can just go right down the line – that have exceptional skill and that are very intelligent, that can handle multiple, multiple variations of a play of a situation or a route or a coverage. Sometimes I don’t even know if they could articulate exactly what they see or how they’re seeing it. They just know it and they just can do it. When you can say to a player, “Look, in this situation, can you see this? Can you do that?” and he says, “Oh, yeah, sure. That’s not a problem,” it’s awesome as a coach to be able to work with those types of talented players. So the whole spectrum, from the stance to recognizing a play that you’re maybe only going to see once in the game – maybe you’re going to see the play two or three times a year – that a player can recognize and you can say, “OK, let’s play it this way when you see it,” and he can do it. It’s a tremendous experience as a coach. Or to take a situation and say, “OK, when there’s this much time on the clock, here’s the situation. We have to gain 20 yards. We don’t have a time out. We have to go up and clock the ball. Here’s the play. Here’s how we’re going to run it,” to have the team be able to go out and execute and do it is a very high level of coaching. It’s thrilling to be a part of that and to be able to coach that way, just as much as it is to teach a linebacker how to deal with a cut-block. I enjoy all of that and it’s fun to coach all of the different players at all of those different levels.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- All three of New England’s Super Bowl victories this decade have been decided by a field goal.
Four of the Patriots games this season have been decided by four points or less. Patriots veteran safety Rodney Harrison said that the Patriots are able to win close games because they have veteran leaders who know what to do during crunch time.
“We practice a lot of situational football,” Harrison said. “Bill wants smart, tough guys that can play well under pressure, and that’s what I think we have. We have a bunch of veteran guys. They say we’re old. They say we can’t play defense but we’re fourth overall in scoring defense. We’re 18-0 but none of that matters. It’s all about what we do and how we execute on Sunday and that’s what it comes down too.”
Harrison said that it’s good to have fast players on defense like the Giants do, but being fast doesn’t always make a player a better defender.
“The common theme is speed, speed, speed, but if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to get there a lot faster but you’re going to be in the wrong spot,” Harrison said. “I think our guys are veteran players that are smart. That play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. We’re well prepared and we play extremely hard.”
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Patriots Pro Bowl wide receiver Randy Moss has dreamt several times that not only do the Patriots win the Super Bowl on Sunday, but that he also has a big game.
“I’m daydreaming every day, all day,” Moss said. “I’ve already [dreamed that I] played three games in the Super Bowl and all three of them have victories with me having a big game…That’s just me daydreaming and that’s just common.”
On today's sports cover, Jim Donaldson profiles the ultimate NFL survivor: Patriots assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia, who has been with the team since 1982. Shalise Manza Young writes about the memory of Marquise Hill, and Paul Kenyon reports on the URI Rams' victory over Richmond.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- With Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress saying earlier this week that the Giants were going to beat the Patriots, 23-17, in the Super Bowl on Sunday, Patriots safety Rodney Harrison went on record today with a little guarantee of his own.
"I guarantee you we are not going to play as poorly as last time...," Harrison said of the Patriots defense, which allowed Giants quarteback Eli Manning to throw for four touchdowns.
The Giants scored 35 points in that game.
“We played our worst defensive game of the year,” Harrison said. “We gave up 35 points. We’re fourth in the league in points given up and we gave up 35 points which is very uncharacteristic of our defense and we played terrible…I guarantee you we are not going to play as poorly as last time but we walked away with a win and everyone is chomping at [us giving up 35 points]. A win is a win and we're not concerned about what happened in the last game of the season."
Moss dislikes being in the spotlight off of the field
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There is a lot of public interest in Randy Moss and for good reason.
The Patriots Pro Bowl wide receiver set an NFL record for touchdown receptions in a season, 23, in helping lead the Patriots to a perfect regular season record, 16-0.
As much as Moss enjoys being in the spotlight on the field, he said that he hates being in the public eye off of the field.
“It’s hard knowing that my kids don’t really understand when people come up nagging me for autographs, bustle me and talk trash to me because I won’t sign an autograph because I’m trying to be daddy that day,” Moss said. “It’s kind of hard because there’s a certain image that you have to portray and as you all know over my 10 year career, that’s not me.
“I live for the moment and I live for my family so as far as being in the spotlight and being a celebrity and stuff like that, I still don’t see myself like that. Other people do but I try not to let them see me that way. I hate it.”
Moss said that when he does go out in public, often times he wears a sweatshirt with a hood and he pulls the hood up over his head so people don’t know that it’s him. He said that he stays secluded mostly at home, but once and awhile he does venture out with his family.
“I like spending time with my family. I like going out. I like going to amusement parks and I like going to movies and Chuckie Cheese and stuff like that,” Moss said.
Multimedia: Projo PatsTalk with Shalise Manza Young
Before beginning her day on Thursday, Patriots writer Shalise Manza Young spoke to Mike McDermott for this multimedia show. The topics: Tom Brady, Plaxico Burress, stopping New York's running game, and honoring Marquise Hill. Click the play button below to listen and watch. Shalise will file multimedia reports tomorrow as well.
Multimedia: Patriots Super Stories Part 5: Super Bowl XXXVIII
This is the fifth edition in a six-part series by sports columnist Jim Donaldson. Jim, who has covered each of the Patriots' five Super Bowl appearances to date for The Journal (he'll make it six next weekend) looks back in these audio slideshows at each of the games, and his thoughts are accompanied by pictures from Bob Breidenbach, who has photographed each of the games. Today's presentation focuses on Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers in a thriller.
Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune, the Patriots' pool reporter for this week, has filed the following practice report for New England:
Quarterback Tom Brady's injured ankle was not much of an issue during the Patriots practice Wednesday.
Brady participated in all phases of practice and moved better than he did Monday. He did not have his ankle taped outside of his shoe and he was not limping noticeably. The Patriots did not list Brady's ankle on the injury report.
Asked about how Brady moved, coach Bill Belichick said, "Everybody practiced. They're fine."
Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney's participation in practice was limited because of a shoulder injury, however.
Though Brady did not appear affected by his ankle, the passing game was a little uneven. Asked about the practice, Belichick said, "I've seen better. There's always things to work on. We have plenty of them."
In a two-hour practice at Sun Devil Stadium under sunny skies, the Patriots wore pads for the first time this week. "We tried to get the tempo up a little bit and we did that," Belichick said.
He is quite possibly the quietest member of the Patriots' defense in the locker room, but James Sanders has announced himself to NFL opponents.
The third-year safety out of Fresno State started 15 games this season, first in place of Rodney Harrison, who was suspended for the first four games of the year, and then for Eugene Wilson, who was first hurt and then surpassed by Sanders.
A hard worker who had responsibility thrust on him at a young age when he helped his mother care for his five brothers and sisters, Sanders had a career-high 73 tackles during the regular season along with two interceptions, five passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
He has learned at the knee of Harrison, one of the hardest hitters and most versatile safeties of his era.
"Each and every year, I come in and I work extremely hard. I learn from Rodney. I try to come in each year like I'm a rookie," Sanders said. "I constantly learn, ask questions, and always try to get better and more consistent on the field."
Bill Belichick lauded Sanders' work ethic recently, and clearly his friend and former assistant Pat Hill, the coach at Fresno State, was right when he undoubtedly recommended Sanders to Belichick before the 2005 draft.
He was thrust into a starting role last year, when Harrison suffered different injuries in the latter half of the season. He recorded 17 tackles in three postseason games, including a key third-down sack against San Diego in the divisional round.
But Sanders said he really felt comfortable midway through this season.
"In the Indianapolis game, I went out there and was just playing my game off emotion and playing physical. The coaches had my back; they didn't tell me too much, just let me play the game," he said. "I didn't have to look over my shoulder and worry about doing something wrong. I went out there and played my game. I think that might have been the game when I turned the corner."
It was the result of more than two years of hard work: "I kept grinding and I kept working hard. I just knew when that opportunity presented itself, I would be ready," he said.
The NFL today released the full roster of officials for Sunday's game.
The referee will be Mike Carey, the first African-American to referee a Super Bowl. Carey, in his 18th season as an NFL official, was also the referee when the Patriots and Giants played on Dec. 29. This will be his 14th playoff game as an official.
The umpire will be Tony Michalek (six years NFL experience, two prior playoff games); Gary Slaughter is the head linesman (12, 7); Carl Johnson is line judge (7, 4); Boris Cheek is field judge (12, 6); Larry Rose is side judge (11, 7) and Scott Helverson is back judge (5, 3).
Under the NFL's officiating program evaluation system, the highest-rated officials at each position with the appropriate experience earn the right to work the Super Bowl. Super Bowl officials must have five years of NFL experience and previous playoff assignments.
Bill Belichick took to the podium for his press conference today in yet another different style of shirt: a red Rutgers lacrosse windbreaker with a number 23 on the arm.
“It’s my son’s. He used to wear my stuff, so now I’m getting into his closet," Belichick explained.
Stephen, the middle of Belichick's three sons, is a freshman defenseman for the Scarlet Knights. His daughter, Amanda, plays at Wesleyan, and youngest Brian does as well. Belichick was a midfielder at Wesleyan.
SCOTTSDALE -- It's taken him 20 years, but Jeff Feagles finally has made it to a Super Bowl.
And talk about coming full circle.
Feagles, who's been the Giants punter since 2003, began his NFL career with the Patriots, who signed him as a rookie free agent in 1988 out of the University of Miami, where he was a member of the Hurricanes' national championship team as a senior in 1987.
Although Feagles won all-rookie honors with New England, he played only two seasons for the Pats, who waived him in the spring of 1990. He was picked up by the Eagles and spent four years in Philadelphia before signing with the Cardinals as a free agent in 1994.
A free agent again in 1998, Feagles signed with Seattle, spending five years with the Seahawks before going to the Giants as a free agent in 2003. He averaged 40.4 yards on 71 punts this season, with a net average of 36.0, and had one blocked, by the 49ers.
He has been even better in the postseason, averaging 40.7 yards on 15 punts, with a net of 38.5.
"This is spectacular," Feagles said. "I tell the younger guys how long I've waited to get here, and how special it is. I want them to understand how difficult it is to get here."
This is a homecoming for Feagles, who played high school football at Gerard High in Phoenix and spent a year as a Fighting Artichoke at Scottsdale Community College before going to Miami.
"It's been a long journey," he said, "and it's been quite a story as to how I've gotten here, with a lot of hard work, a little luck, and a lot of organizations that believed in my talents over the years. Coming back to Arizona is so surreal right now. I'm just taking it all in."
Although he'll be 42 in March, Feagles says he has no intention of retiring from football.
"I'm enjoying the game still at my age, and I want to keep going as long as there is a team that wants me to play for them."
SCOTTSDALE -- New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese thinks his counterpart in New England, Scott Pioli, has done a marvelous job.
"You kind of sit back," he said, "and marvel at what they have done, because I don't think this league is built for teams to be this dominant six or seven years in a row. (The Patriots) continue to put a tremendous product on the field and my hat is off to them."
SCOTTSDALE -- Randy Moss says he thinks he would have enjoyed playing with Packers quarterback Brett Favre, but knows he would not have liked playing in Green Bay.
"I think Brett Favre wanted to talk to me," said Moss, who wanted to get out of Oakland after a couple of dismal seasons with the Raiders. "Green Bay was in the picture. But things were told to me about manuevering money around and making it a good fit. The Packers were really talking about the wrong things, and not the right things. When they started talking more about the wrong things, I just hung up the phone and didn't want to talk to them any more.
"I thought, at first, it was something that could have worked, for the fact that Brett Favre was there. But I think, as the conversations occurred, I didn't really want to go to Green Bay.
"They were just talking about their team concept and the wide receivers and Donald Driver. It was like they were telling me that they were going to somewhat take a chance on me, but saying: 'If you do come here, these are things you have to watch out, and be on your best behavior, and Donald Driver is the top receiver here, so don't come in and try to step on his toes.' Things like that.
"I didn't think that was right because, my whole career, I have been taken out of context sometimes, but, at the end of the day, all I wanated to do was win games. I didn't really feel they wanted me. I felt that Brett Favre wanted me, but I didn't really feel the Packers wanted me."
Giants receiver Plaxico Burress predicted earlier this week that the Giants would beat the Patriots, 23-17, in the Super Bowl.
Earlier today he said that he stood by those comments.
"What I said is what I said," Burress said. "I believe in my guys just as much as they believe in me. It is very evident. They stand by me and what I say, and we believe in each other. I really don't consider us to be teammates or a team. It's more like a brotherhood. That is how close we are as a team. We have so much respect for each other, and guys go up and beyond to do things to get the job done. We play hard for each other. I think that has shown in some of the games we've won and the way that we've won them. There is no quit in this football team. We don't know what that word means."
No team has held the Patriots to 17 points this season. The Patriots averaged an NFL-best 411.2 yards per game and 36.8 points per game during the regular season.
"I'm not taking anything away from what they've done in the conference or what they've done in the NFL records," Burress said. "Tom Brady is a great quarterback and is the NFL MVP and a three-time Super Bowl winner. Randy [Moss] set a record, and they have two guys with over 100 receptions. I'm not taking taking anything from those guys. The numbers don't lie of what they've done. It's going to be tough matchup for us. I know we can't stop them, but for us to win the game we have to control the ball, be effective on third down, and keep them off of the field."
Burress, who said that the score 23-17 was the first score that popped into his head, said that none of his teammates are upset by his prediction.
"I don't think anyone is upset," Burress said. "They don't have to say anything to me. They know I'm going to go out and performa at a high level, and I think we expect that of each other. We all expect for us to play hard. There is nothing else to be said. The rest of the talking is going to be done on the football field."
SCOTTSDALE -- Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia cited two reasons it is all-important that his players protect quarterback Tom Brady.
"He can't run out of sight if you gave him three days."
"He's our franchise. He's our best player. If we give him time to do what he's supposed to do, he's awful tough."
As high ankle sprains go, Brady's apparently is the least serious
BY MIKE SZOSTAK
Journal Sports Writer
The Patriots are extremely fortunate that Tom Brady suffered what was apparently the mildest possible high ankle sprain. Had the injury been more serious, he might not be available to play in the Super Bowl Sunday.
A high ankle sprain is damage to the ligaments that connect the lower portions of the tibia and fibula, the two bones that extend from knee to foot. It is more serious that its cousin, the simple ankle sprain, because it involves weight bearing structures and can take twice as long to heal. Athletes with high ankle sprains can be sidelined as long as 12 weeks.
Kim Bissonnette, head athletic trainer at the University of Rhode Island and the lead trainer for the URI football team, agreed that the Patriots took the proper approach with Brady by having him avoid any undue stress on his right leg last week. The All-Pro quarterback caused quite a stir when he was photographed wearing a protective boot while walking in Manhattan.
“Take the initial window of three days and extend it to four or five days and let him rest,” Bissonnette said. “Then tape it up and see what happens.”
Brady practiced Monday and completed the entire workout, even running a couple lengths of the field with the rest of the squad. A pool reporter noted that was limping slightly. If Brady did, indeed, suffer a low-grade high ankle sprain, the limp could have been the result of putting weight on that right ankle.
The Patriots never disclosed the specific injury.
A simple ankle sprain, usually the result of the foot twisting inward (or rolling so the arch faces up), involves stretching or tearing of the ligaments that connect the small bones in the ankle joint. Treatment involves rest, ice, compression and elevation to reduce swelling and provide support. Depending on the severity, recovery can take a few weeks.
A high ankle sprain, or syndesmosis injury, named for the rough edges of the two leg bones held together by the ligament, is usually the result of the foot being twisted out (so the arch faces down) or by the toe being forced up. There can be pain in the middle of the ankle joint and tenderness in front of the ankle but less swelling than in a simple ankle sprain.
Athletic trainers and doctors will suspect a high ankle sprain when squeezing the calf or rotating the ankle out causes pain. An x-ray made when the ankle is stressed will show abnormal motion of the lower ends of the leg bones in a high ankle sprain victim.
“The higher the soreness, the longer the person will be out. You can have pain going all the way up the leg,” Bissonnette said.
- Mike Szostak, projo.com
Sources: clevelandclinic.org, orthogate.org, about.com and thedisabledlist.com
Patience is a necessary virtue in healing a high ankle sprain. Patients must let the ligaments heal so they can maintain the proper distance between the ends of the tibia and fibular. The proper functioning of other bones in the ankle joint depends on correct spacing.
Bissonnette said that athletes who come back too early run the risk of further injury that could require surgery to correct. Serious high ankle sprains can necessitate the insertion of screws through the fibula and into the tibia to stabilize the joint.
High ankle sprains account for about 10 percent of ankle sprains, although they seem to be occurring with increasing frequency.
“We have seen a lot more of them,” Bissonnette said. He is not sure if medical personnel are more knowledgeable than they were a generation or two ago or if the forces to which athletes are subject are greater because athletes are bigger, faster and stronger than a generation or two ago.
Randy Moss was shocked to find out that Josh McDaniels, who is 32-years-old, was the Patriots offensive coordinator when he first met him.
"When I first got to Massachusetts, I flew in to take my physical and Josh picked me up at the airport. He told me he was the offensive coordinator and that he calls the plays, and he told me his age. I was kind of overwhelmed because we are in the same age bracket, and I really didn't know what to think to be honest with you.
"Being with the New England Patriots, I figured he must know something. After being here during mini camp and training camp and seeing how the offense was made and designed, I thought he was probably if not the best, one of the best offensive coordinators in the League when it comes to scheming, calling plays and making adjustments.
"Once I heard he might be up for a head coaching job I went to him and said, `Dude, you didn't tell me what's going on.' I have a lot of respect for Josh and I don't think age plays a factor at all with coaches in the NFL. The good thing about it is he's young and his upside is very high. The bad side of it is that I don't know how long he'll be a Patriots coach."
Multimedia: Projo PatsTalk with Shalise Manza Young
Before beginning her day on Wednesday, Patriots writer Shalise Manza Young spoke to Mike McDermott for this multimedia show. Click the play button below to listen and watch. Shalise will file multimedia reports tomorrow and Friday as well.
Multimedia: Patriots Super Stories Part 5: Super Bowl XXXVIII
This is the fifth edition in a six-part series by sports columnist Jim Donaldson. Jim, who has covered each of the Patriots' five Super Bowl appearances to date for The Journal (he'll make it six next weekend) looks back in these audio slideshows at each of the games, and his thoughts are accompanied by pictures from Bob Breidenbach, who has photographed each of the games. Today's presentation focuses on Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers in a thriller.
PHOENIX -- Offensive tackle Matt Light's hair has gotten so long that he sometimes ties it into a pony tail in back, prompting center Dan Koppen to nickname him "Fabio," after the similarly-maned male model who has been frequently featured on the covers of romance novels.
"I appreciate Dan's support," said Light, "but the truth is that I've been too lazy to go to the barbershop. My barber, Chuckie, is about 74 years old and has a shop in Franklin, Mass. He's a third-generation barber. I know it looks grotesque, but it's going to stay this way 'til I can get there."
PHOENIX -- He was talking about the qualities he looks for when he hires coaches, but Bill Belichick's wise words were applicable to a much wider array of life situations:
"The most important thing," he said, "is to identify what you are looking for. Once you have a good job description, then you can look at people and try to figure out if that is what you want. If you know what you want, you have a better chance of finding it, rather than just taking a list of names and picking one out."
PHOENIX -- Great line about the Super Bowl from friend Bob Reinacher, a longtime trainer of thoroughbreds I first met several summers ago at Saratoga, and who currently is at the winter meet at Gulfstream Park, in Hallandale, Fla.
"If Eli Manning wins this weekend, Archie's stud fee is going to go through the roof."
Hobbs respects Burress's Super Bowl upset prediction
Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs respects guys like Pittsburgh safety Anthony Smith who guaranteed a victory over the Patriots, and Giants receiver Plaxico Burress who predicted that the Giants would beat the Patriots, 23-17, in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
“I always give my hats off to a guy like Anthony Smith or Plaxico for the confidence that they have in saying that because it speaks volumes. It speaks volumes in the confidence that you have coming into a game of this magnitude.”
There has been a lot of talk about Laurence Maroney’s running style and he doesn't like it.
He runs upright instead of getting low to the ground like most NFL running backs, but Maroney believes that just because he runs with a different style, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
After all, he’s been running that way his whole life and has been very successful at it.
He was selected the St. Louis Player of the Year while attending Normandy High School where he was a four-time All-Conference selection and rushed for 4,808 yards in his career with 56 touchdowns.
At the University of Minnesota, Maroney became one of only three players in Big 10 history to rush for over 1,000 yards in each of their first three seasons (Ron Dayne, Wisconsin, and Sedrick Irvin, Michigan State). He finished his three-year college career ranking second on Minnesota’s all-time career list with 3,933 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns.
And he’s rushed for 550 yards and six touchdowns over his last five games.
Those numbers are outstanding so Maroney doesn’t plan on adjusting his running style.
“Well you know, a lot of people always talk about adjusting your style, but you know, I continue to do what I do,” Maroney said. “That’s what got me here. I really don’t try to change too much of nothing, you know, I just go out there and have fun. I really don’t know what my style is.
Some games it may be speed and some games it may be power. It just depends on the atmosphere.
Maroney said that showing off his talent in the Patriots two playoff games in front of a national audience meant a lot to him. Maroney had 122 rushing yards and a touchdown in both of the Patriots playoff games.
“To be able to go out there and run the clock out on them having the confidence in me to run the clock out means a lot,” Maroney said. “…You know, one of the things I wanted to do was go out there and take advantage of the opportunities they give me and make them believe that we can run the ball when we need to.”
Not only can Maroney move the chains running the ball, but he also doesn’t turn the ball over either. In fact, none of the Patriot running backs or wide receivers have fumbled the ball resulting in a turnover.
“It is a good bit of us, but a lot more of Bill [Belichick],” Maroney said for the reason why the Patriots don’t fumble. “Every day he tells us, `protect the ball. Protect the ball.’ We don’t give teams turnovers…We work hard on ball protection every day.”
So how does Maroney plan on attacking the Giants on Sunday?
“Downhill,” Maroney said. “You know, when you have a physical defense like they do, you go down hill and hopefully they get tired of tackling.”
Maroney said that he will attack the Giants both inside and outside.
“It doesn’t matter; wherever the hole is at,” Maroney said. “I can go inside or outside. It really doesn’t matter.”
Maroney said that he is looking forward to Sunday.
It's only 10:30 a.m. here, but it's already been a full day for those of us following the Patriots during Super Bowl week. New England began its media access for the day at 8 a.m. with Bill Belichick's press conference, and then the players and assistant coaches were brought in for their chat sessions.
Today was the first day we were at New England's team hotel, the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, a gorgeous facility with its own golf course about 20 miles from the Media Center in downtown Phoenix.
There was a large tent/temporary structure set up for the media time, which overlooked the course and had beautiful mountain vistas just beyond. The rest of the week, media-wise, won't be as wacky as yesterday's circus, and the team clearly is getting down to the business at hand, which is putting in its final preparations for New York.
Not being the morning person -- that's colleague Rob Lee -- it was a struggle to get up at 5:20 a.m. to be on the bus out there at 6:45 a.m., but as my husband reminded me, I'm in Arizona for the Super Bowl, so it can't be all bad. And he's right.
New England will practice later today, and when the pool report is filed, we'll let you know about Tom Brady and The Ankle.
It's Media Day at the Super Bowl, where the usually glib Randy Moss was at a loss for words, and the non-stars shine as brightly as the stars. Also, the Red Sox won by losing Johan Santana to the Mets.
Another prediction! Giants co-owner says his team will win
Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Co-owner Steve Tisch predicts his New York Giants, after winning three playoff games as underdogs, will beat the undefeated and favored New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
"I'm going to put out there, 21-17 New York Giants when that clock ticks down to zero," Tisch, who co-owns the team with John Mara, said in a Jan. 25 interview airing this weekend on Bloomberg Radio's "On the Ball" program.
The Giants, with a 13-6 record, are 12-point underdogs against the 18-0 Patriots and their record-setting offense for the National Football League championship game on Feb. 3 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona.
Tisch said the Giants, led by fourth-year quarterback Eli Manning and 15-year defensive end Michael Strahan, have bonded as a team since losing their final regular-season game to the Patriots 38-35 on Dec. 29.
Tisch, 58, said it was a turning point in the season.
"People were referring to the game as insignificant," Tisch said. "I think it became one of the most significant games this club has played in the last 20 years. We played the Patriots head-to-head, play-for-play and we almost won that game. Ironically, we're facing them in the Super Bowl and we're going to beat them in the Super Bowl."
Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress had a similar prediction, forecasting a 23-17 win for New York.
"We didn't come here just to play, we came here to win the game," Burress told reporters yesterday. "It's okay to want to win and predict and dream."
Multimedia: Patriots Super Stories Part 4: Super Bowl XXXVI
This is the fourth edition in a six-part series by sports columnist Jim Donaldson. Jim, who has covered each of the Patriots' five Super Bowl appearances to date for The Journal (he'll make it six next weekend) looks back in these audio slideshows at each of the games, and his thoughts are accompanied by pictures from Bob Breidenbach, who has photographed each of the games. Today's presentation focuses on Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Patriots became world champions for the first time, thanks to a stunning upset of the St. Louis Rams.
Mike Vrabel was asked about Bill Belichick's now-iconic grey hooded sweatshirt today, and offered...
"That is his little 'woobie.' That's his little security blanket. He has got that pouch and he keeps all his stuff in it. You would like to see what's inside that pouch, I bet."
We googled 'woobie' and found a website dedicated to Golden Retrievers that defines it as: "a beloved object, often carried in the mouth for extended periods of time; constant companion, sometimes revered and sometimes abused."
Given that Belichick is so frequently sporting the grey hoodie, its sleeves cut to his elbows, the definition seems to fit.
For the record, the coach was wearing a blue pullover Pats' shirt, jeans and sandals today.
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Brown graduate Zak DeOssie, right, and Giants teammate Reggie Torbor.
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
A mysterious "reporter" who offered predictions.
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Adalius Thomas, left, and Pierre Woods with BET's Toccaia. She asked if they had a prediction for the game, and they answered in unison, "Someone's gonna win and someone's gonna lose."
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Jason Rader, left, and Kyle Bissinger with former Miss USA-Rhode Island Claudia Jordan, who was working the event for ET.
AP photo / The Arizona Republic / Rob Schumacher
Madison Hedgecock of the Giants sports red high-heeled shoes as he poses with former American Idol contestant Kellie Pickler.
AP photo / Stephan Savoia
Bam Childress with reporter Marisol Gonzalez.
AP photo / Stephan Savoia
Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress.
Tedy Bruschi, while not an Arizona native, is a legend in the state thanks to his exploits while playing for the Wildcats' football team. The All-American tied the NCAA record for sacks, with 52, and was a two-time finalist for the Lombardi Award, given to the nation's best collegiate lineman.
But when he sat down at his podium today at Media Day, in his return to the state where he enjoyed so much success, Bruschi was greeted by a nameplate which said:
A few days ago, the Giants' wideout stirred the pot when he said New York's wide receiver contingent was better than that of the Patriots'.
But now he's stepped into Anthony Smith territory by predicting that New York will beat New England by a score of 23-17 in Super Bowl XLII on Sunday.
Today he said he came up with that score because his high school basketball number was 23; he wears 17 currently with the Giants. He also stood by his word.
"Are predictions guarantees?," he said. "We want to win this game. As far as professional sports and playing in this game, it's OK to want to win, think big and dream. We're going to take this thing back to New York City."
Burress, who did not practice for much of the season due to an ankle injury, also said he'd like to see the G-Men be even bigger underdogs than they already are: "why not make it 21 or 28?," he wondered. (New York is currently 12-point underdogs.)
"We are a confident bunch. Why not be? We were a 10-6 regular-season team and now we're in the Super Bowl. We got here the hard way," he said. "We had three road (playoff) games. We played against the No. 1 defense in Tampa Bay. We played against the Dallas Cowboys, who had their whole offense and defense make the Pro Bowl. Then we played the Green Bay Packers. Look at us."
Burress' teammate Osi Umenyiora, who has had a few things to say about the Pats himself in recent weeks, basically supported his claim.
"He's a confident guy. If that's what he says, hopefully we will go out there and prove him right, but I'm not going to make any predictions or guarantees."
For their part, the Patriots weren't really biting on Burress' words.
"I didn't hear that. Good for him," Asante Samuel said.
"I always feel like talk is cheap," Richard Seymour said. "Someone can get out here and talk about it all day. But Sunday, I think the team that plays the best is going to be the champion. You can't talk about winning the game, you have to go out and execute and get it done when it's time to get it done.
"Talk is cheap. You need to put some actions behind that."
Donte Stallworth was so upset when he heard that Randy Moss said that Moss, not Stallworth, was the fastest wide receiver that the Patriots have, that he interrupted Moss’s Media Day session to see if Moss would say it again.
“Who is the fastest receiver on the team,” Stallworth yelled out.
“I say the quickest receiver on the Patriots team is Randy Moss,” Moss said.
“Whose the strongest receiver,” Stallworth asked.
“The strongest receiver on our team is Bam Childress or Randy Moss,” Moss said. “Next question. Get out of here Stallworth.”
Throughout his entire career, Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been perceived by many NFL experts as a bust.
He grew up in the long shadows of his father Archie and his older brother Peyton and he hasn’t lived up to many of the expectations that were put on him after he refused to play for San Diego, who drafted him with the first pick in the 2004 Draft, and was then traded to New York for Philip Rivers (the fourth pick), a 2004 third-round pick, and a 2005 first and fifth round selection.
Manning was winless in the playoffs prior to this season. But he has been nearly flawless this postseason.
After throwing 20 interceptions in the regular season, Manning has yet to throw a pick in the postseason and he has completed 62.4 percent of his passes along with four TDs and 599 yards for a 99.1 quarterback rating.
The Patriots certainly respect his turnaround.
“He’s playing very well,” Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel said. “Starting from the last game we played them, he’s just been outstanding. We’ve got to go out there and rattle him a little bit so he can’t be at the best that he’s at right now.”
“He is playing great,” Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel said. “…This is a young guy that still has a lot to prove. He has been playing under the shadows of his brother for a lot of years, and now it is his time and we are going to have to play well.”
“I think he’s a guy that doesn’t get rattled easily,” Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour said. “He’s an elite player. He’s shown that he can lead his football team…From a mental standpoint, I think he’s on the right page. I think he has the right mentality to play in the league, especially at that position.
When the Patriots played the Giants in the final game of the regular season, Manning torched New England’s secondary for 251 yards and four touchdowns. He only threw 10 incompletions (22-for-32, 68.8 percent) in that game.
"Eli Manning is a guy that if given the opportunity, he can put points on the board," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said.
Maybe it’s for future Hall of Famers like Randy Moss and Junior Seau who have never won a Super Bowl.
Whatever the case, the Patriots are going for their fourth Super Bowl title in the last seven years and many of them are just as excited to play in this one as they were in all of the other ones.
“It doesn’t get old,” Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft said. “Every time we come it is almost like our post-game party; we plan it like we might not be here ever again. It is very special. Actually each trip is sort of like a different child. Those of us who are blessed to have more than one child know that each child is special and unique. This trip is pretty special coming here 18-0 and doing something that we wouldn’t have believed would be possible in today’s modern age. It is pretty special.”
“It’s fun to be back,” Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel said. “It’s fun to enjoy this and the excitement around this and we can’t lose the sight of football on Sunday.”
“You cherish the moments and enjoy the festivities because this is one of the biggest events in the world,” Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel said.
“I just think that there’s a lot of excitement around this game,” Vrabel said. “They wouldn’t call it `Super’ if it wasn’t the best.”
GLENDALE -- Stephen Neal, the Patriots' starting right guard, was sporting a flowing moustache that extended down to his chin at Media Day.
"I'm trying to do something to take attention away from my belly," he joked.
"I'd rather have people look at this (pointing to his moustache), instead of this (pointing to his bulging waistline.)
Neal, who did not play college football -- he was a standout wrestler at Cal State-Bakersfield -- is 6-foot-4 and weighs 305 pounds.
Bothered by a shoulder injury, he started just eight regular season games, but has returned to the lineup in the postseason, helping to clear the way for Laurence Maroney to rush for 122 yards against both the Jaguars and Chargers.
Not surprisingly, the first question Tom Brady heard at today's Media Day was about his sprained right ankle, which he practiced on yesterday.
"My ankle feels good. My ankle feels great," he said. "I practiced a full day yesterday. I think we had one incompletion in practice. It feels great."
The NFL MVP said the bye week definitely helped.
"I'm glad we had the week off and I had the chance to rest a little bit. I really feel that by the game it's going to feel great, and there will be no issues. Not that I can run anyway, but hopefully I'll be able to skirt around some of those guys who are trying to tear my head off."
Randy Moss said he isn't worried about having his quarterback out there come Sunday afternoon.
"Me, personally, no," Moss said. "Tom is a warrior. I don't think that a high ankle sprain can keep him out of the game. Hopefully he's ready and I look forward to seeing him out there on Sunday."
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Former Patriots tight end Don Hasselbeck says his son, Tim, is surprised more free agents don't sign with the Arizona Cardinals.
"He said to me: 'You think anyone else in the league knows you can play golf every day after practice?' "
The younger brother of Seattle Seahawks starting QB Matt Hasselbeck, Tim has bounced around the NFL as a backup since graduating from Boston College.
He started five games for the Redskins in 2003, coming off the bench after Patrick Ramsey was injured. He had the best game of his undistinguished career in a 20-7 victory over the Giants, when he completed 13 of 19 passes for two touchdowns, without an interception. The following week, however, he had a quarterback rating of 0.0 in a 27-0 loss to the Cowboys in which he completed just 6 of 26 passes, for only 57 yards, and threw four interceptions. He hasn't thrown a pass in a regular-season game since that season.
Tim spent the 2005 and 2006 seasons with the Giants, as the backup to Eli Manning. Released by the Giants prior to the start of this season, he signed with the Cardinals in October after Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner were injured.
He is married to the former Elisabeth Filarski of Cranston. They met at Boston College. After appearing as a contestant on Survivor, she has become a television star, and now is co-host of The View.
Tim's mother, Betsy, also may be seen on TV, appearing in a commercial for Campbell's Soup. She's doing some promotional work for Campbell's this week in Phoenix.
Matt Hasselbeck played in the Super Bowl two years ago, when the Seahawks lost to the Steelers.
Don, who was a tight end for the Patriots from 1977-83, has long been an executive with Reebok.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tedy Bruschi has three Super Bowl Championship rings, plus an AFC championship ring from his rookie year in 1996, when the Patriots lost to the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. He says he wears them a lot more in the offseason than he does during the season.
''That's when I make more personal appearances,'' he said. ''When I go to things like that, people always ask me: 'Where's the ring?'
''I like to show them. Sometimes, I'll let a little kid hold it.
''But,'' Bruschi added with a smile, ''I don't let them go very far away with it.''
As Pats look forward to the game, Pioli looks forward to next year
BY JIM DONALDSON
Journal Sports Writer
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- While Bill Belichick, his coaching staff, and the Patriots players are totally focused on winning Super Bowl XLII, Scott Pioli and his people are planning on how best to position the Pats for Super Bowl XLIII.
''The reason I was late coming down here,'' Pioli said Tuesday morning while seated in the stands at the University of Phoenix Stadium during the Patriots' portion of Media Day, ''is that I spent Sunday with the college scouts, preparing for the draft, and then spent Monday with the pro scouts, preparing for free agency.''
As New England's V.P. for Player Personnel, Pioli combines with Belichick to give the Patriots a 1-2 front office punch that's second to none.
''This is wonderful,'' said Pioli, looking at the wild and wacky scene along the sidelines at the site of Sunday's game. ''But we're six weeks behind now. On the flight home, I guarantee you we're going to spend some time talking about our plans for the draft and free agency.''
Journal photos / Bob Breidenbach
NIne-year-old Brock Domann of Colorado Springs, Colo., working for Scholastic News, interviews Patriots punter Chris Hanson.
Laurence Maroney shares a laugh with a teammate.
Tom Brady answers a question from 10-year-old Jason Krause, of Chicago, who was at the event for ESPN.
Brady says hello to former player and current analyst Deion Sanders.
Tedy Bruschi answers a question.
AP photo / Arizona Republic / Michael Chow
Ines Gomez Mont, a reporter from TV Azteca in Mexico, wears a wedding dress as she is carried by center Lonie Paxton while interviewing him during media day for the Super Bowl XLII football game Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008, in Glendale, Ariz, Gomez Mont was in a wedding dress to ask Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to marry her.
We're here at the amazing University of Phoenix Stadium and have just wrapped the Patriots' portion of the circus known as Super Bowl media day.
Any kind of character you can imagine is here, and most of them were in front of Tom Brady's booth. A woman in some sort of R-rated wedding getup asked Brady to marry her; former American Idol contestant Kellie Pickler was doing interviews for The Tonight Show; one guy had a hand puppet to talk to players and there was some dude in a gold turban.
With media from all over the world and every type of outlet, every player gets a microphone stuck under his nose at some point, even though some would rather not say much.
The Giants' session starts at noon local time (2pm EST).
Multimedia: Patriots Super Stories, Part 3: Super Bowl XXXI
This is the third edition in a six-part series by sports columnist Jim Donaldson. Jim, who has covered each of the Patriots' five Super Bowl appearances to date for The Journal (he'll make it six next weekend) looks back in these audio slideshows at each of the games, and his thoughts are accompanied by pictures from Bob Breidenbach, who has photographed each of the games. Today's presentation focuses on Super Bowl XXXI, when Bill Parcells' team met Brett Favre, Reggie White and the Green Bay Packers.
PHOENIX -- Matt Light was asked yesterday what made Bill Belichick different from other NFL coaches.
"One of the biggest things he does is, he doesn't accept any excuses. He tells it to you like it is. You have to have thick skin at times. The one thing I can tell you for sure is that he's going to demand everything out of you. In turn, he's going to give you everything that he's got.There's nobody that spends more time in that building than him."
One remarkable stat that has gone overlooked this season is the fact that none of the Patriot receivers have lost a fumble this season.
Patriots receiver Wes Welker said that the Patriots focus on the importance of ball security every day in practice because one turnover can mean the difference between a win and a loss.
“I think it’s basically being conscience of it and making sure that we do take care of the football and that’s goal number one,” said Welker, who fumbled twice against Dallas but both times the Patriots recovered the ball. “We can’t turn the ball over. We just have to make sure that we do that on a weekly basis. It’s something that we focus on and concentrate on.”
No team in the league had fewer turnovers than the Patriots in the regular season – 15 (nine interceptions and six fumbles). Their 15 turnovers were the fifth fewest in franchise history.
New England coach Bill Belichick said that one of the reasons why the Patriots have been so successful running the ball lately is because of the exceptional downfield blocking by the Patriots’ wide receivers.
“I think that our receivers have done a good job all year of blocking, probably the best that I’ve had since I’ve been with the Patriots,” Belichick said. “…I think these guys have blocked well all year. They’ve been an important part of the running game. You can’t have good runs unless the secondary people get blocked or screened off by the receivers…It’s been an important part of our running game. It’s been an important part of some of our big runs along with Laurence [Maroney], and Sammy [Morris] and Kevin [Faulk’s] running.”
Maroney has rushed for 122 yards in both of the Patriots postseason games, and he has amassed 550 yards six rushing touchdowns in his last five games.
“I think all of our receivers have done an excellent job of getting into the secondary or getting on some of the guys that are tight to the line of scrimmage,” Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light said. “[They have thrown] some key blocks to free the running backs to get to the second level. As a lineman, when you have a guy like Wes [Welker], who is not the biggest receiver we’ve had around here, flies around and throws his body in front of people. That’s a lot of fun. Our crew has done a great job all season.”
Welker said that the receivers take a lot of pride in blocking.
PHOENIX -- Just call him Mr. Sunshine.
"It good to be out in the warm sunshine in Arizona," said a bubbly Bill Belichick, doffing his favorite hoodie and donning a suit to meet with the media at the Convention Center downtown after the Patriots practiced Monday at Arizona State in neighboring Tempe.
"We just got off the field a little while ago. It was good to get out and review some of the things we worked on in Foxboro last week, and also a couple of new things. We still have a lot of work left to do. The Giants are a very hard team to prepare for."
Naturally, Belichick was asked if wanted to comment on how Tom Brady, hobbled by a sprained ankle, looked in practice.
"No, not really," he replied. "He was out there, along with everybody else."
Patriots' practice report: Brady and the tape / Photo
With his right ankle taped to just under his calf, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady runs a drill at the start of football practice at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., today.
During his press conference, Bill Belichick said it was nice for him and his team to practice in the warm weather today at Arizona State University, where the Patriots are using the facilities this week.
"It's good to be out in the warm sunshine in Arizona. It was good to get out on the field and review some of the things we worked on in Foxboro last week and also ingest a couple new things in situations," Belichick said.
As mentioned earlier, Tom Brady was at practice. At the Super Bowl, only one pool reporter attends practice, and Dan Pompei filed this report on New England's session:
"Tom Brady's injured right ankle did not prevent him from practicing at Sun Devil Stadium Monday afternoon.
Brady had his ankle taped but he participated in all phases of practice, including jogging the length of the field twice at the end of drills. Brady appeared to have a slight limp.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick did not want to talk about Brady other than to say, "Everybody practiced. The injury report will be out Wednesday."
The Patriots had ideal conditions to work in -- bright sunshine and a pleasant breeze. The footing on the stadium's grass was firm despite recent rain. "Practice was fine," Belichick said of the session, which lasted an hour and 40 minutes. "There are always things to work on and clean up."
After having the Patriots practice in full pads last week, Belichick called for shorts and shells Monday. "We just wanted to get a good crisp practice and work on our timing. We had a lot of contact last week," he said."
Even though the Patriots are 18-0 and are the favorites to win the Super Bowl, they don’t feel invincible.
“Even ourselves – within this team – we don’t consider ourselves invincible,” Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “The minute you consider yourself invincible, you are letting your guard down. If you think you can’t be beat, that’s the wrong thought to have.
“I think you have to respect your opponent, first and foremost, and if you don’t then you will be beat. The way you do win football games is by doing the things that help you win. It’s preparing during the week and playing good football. If you don’t recognize that and if you don’t do that, it’s possible that we can be beat.”
“We are taking it one game at a time,” defensive end Richard Seymour said. “We understand what the Giants present and we are trying to win this one game and we’ll let you guys decide our place in history.”
PHOENIX -- The Patriots will be practicing this week at Arizona State University in Tempe. There are no former Sun Devils on the New England roster. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi played at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, where he tied an NCAA record for career sacks, with 52.
The Giants will practice at the Arizona Cardinals facility, which also is in Tempe.
Practices are closed to the media and the public, except for pool reporters provided by the Professional Football Writers of America.
BOSTON (AP) - Lawyers for Randy Moss and the woman who accused him of battery agreed to extend a temporary restraining order she obtained against the New England Patriots wide receiver, his agent said Monday.
A court hearing was scheduled Monday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Rachelle Washington's request for a permanent restraining order. The temporary order required Moss to stay at least 500 feet from Washington. No criminal charge has been brought, and they described each other as longtime friends.
David McGill, Washington's attorney, did not return calls.
Moss is in Arizona for the Super Bowl on Sunday against the New York Giants. He has denied the accusation by Washington that he committed "battery causing serious injury" to her at her Florida home Jan. 6.
"The restraining order will be continued by agreement of the attorneys," Tim DiPiero, Moss' agent, told The Associated Press in a statement. "The parties won't be there."
Moss' attorney, Richard Sharpstein, said he would appear at the hearing on his client's behalf and agree to the extension of the restraining order until both parties can appear in court or the matter is resolved.
"We have no contest over the restraining order given the current situation. He will stay completely away from her and has no desire to have contact with her," Sharpstein said. "He's in Phoenix busy preparing to win the Super Bowl and on a day like today his mind is elsewhere."
The restraining order created a stir and potential distraction for Moss, who gave an emotional defense in the Patriots' locker room for about 10 minutes on Jan. 16. Four days later, New England beat San Diego 21-12 in the AFC championship game at Foxborough. For the second straight game, he caught just one pass against the Chargers.
The issue quickly faded from the spotlight, replaced last week by the swirl of attention around quarterback Tom Brady being spotted wearing a protective boot on his right foot in New York. He didn't comment on it until arriving in Phoenix on Sunday night.
"It's feeling good. I'll be ready to go," Brady said.
Moss said the woman who obtained the order has been a friend for 11 years and that she asked for "six figures" for what he said was an accident in which she was hurt.
"They're false allegations, something I've been battling for like the last couple of days of threats going public if I didn't pay X amount of dollars," Moss said. "This young lady by no means is hurt. I didn't hurt her."
On draft day last April, the Patriots sent a 2007 fourth-round draft choice to Oakland for Moss. He set an NFL single-season record of 23 touchdown catches, breaking Jerry Rice's mark by one. He finished tied for eighth in the league with 98 catches and second with 1,493 yards receiving.
Patriots Pro Bowl wide receiver Randy Moss only had a combined two catches for 32 yards in the Patriots two playoff games, but that doesn’t mean quarterback Tom Brady hasn’t been looking for him.
“He is always a part of the plan and a lot of our offense is based around what the defense is giving us,” Brady said. “If they dictate that they are going to try to take one person out of the game, they’ll do that. I thought San Diego played extremely well. I think Jacksonville did a good job. I am sure he was a big point of emphasis. I am sure the Giants will be a big point of emphasis, Randy will be a big point of emphasis for the Giants as well.
“I never lose track of him. I know that he works extremely hard to get open and I know that he is in the right place and he wants the ball. We have to find ways to get him the ball because he is an important part of this offense. If they choose to, as teams have done throughout the season, to put double coverage on him, then you have to find other places to throw and you have to hand the ball off.
“If they come out of the game and they feel like they stopped one player but the team won, I hope that, if that happens, great. But the goal is to win the game and they’re doing what they think is best to win and so are we. It is just a fine line. You don’t want to just throw it to somebody if he is covered with two or three guys. You have to find other guys to throw the ball to and we certainly have that luxury.”
I was hoping to ask this of anyone who is on the conference call, given the parity in the NFL with the salary cap and how maybe the team is a little more equal than when you guys played, just talk about what the Patriots have done up to now and how impressed you guys are.
JIM KIICK: I don't believe I think there was more parity in our era because all of the teams were decent. Every team had a great quarterback. I think today after the first seven quarterbacks, there's a big drop off. So I think there was more parity with the teams back then. Right now, it's New England and it's possibly Indianapolis, and everybody else is mediocrity.
Does that speak to the parity or does that speak to how good Indianapolis and New England are?
JIM KIICK: No, I think it's a combination of both. I think they are excellent football teams, yes, but I think the caliber of the other ones, like I said, not only are they mediocre; some are even very poor, like, unfortunately, the Dolphins.
Do you think in the salary cap era that that adds something to what they have accomplished?
DICK ANDERSON: I definitely think it does. It just shows you how important the general manager is and the personnel director, as well as the coaches. The thing I am impressed with with New England is that their coaches are just like Bill Arnsbarger was. Our goal was not to ever make a mental error, and this is the only team in the NFL today, I think, that just doesn't make errors. They are so very, very well coached.
Dick, from a passing game standpoint, Brady and that receiving corps, how would you rate that passing game compared to the passing games that you faced as a secondary guy?
DICK ANDERSON: You can't rate it because the rules are different. We could hit a receiver any place on the field as long as the ball was not in the air and they were between the quarterback and the defensive back.
LARRY CSONKA: I saw you hit them clear behind the bench, what are you talking about?
DICK ANDERSON: We made our living taking down receivers and disrupting their routes and today the receivers have a great ability, after five yards. They are free.
So it's a totally different game today than it was when we played defense.
Was going undefeated a week to week talk among you guys and among the media back then or did you just kind of, okay, let's win the next one?
BOB GRIESE: There was never any talk about going undefeated. The only problem the only thing that we ever talked about was winning the next ballgame, and I think that's what we've heard all year from the Patriots.
And I think that's a credit to Belichick that he's got these guys thinking about the right thing at the right time. And I think that's where Coach Shula was so good mentally. Each week, there was always something that would come up each week; we've never beaten this team on the road, we had never done this, we had never done that, no team had ever gone undefeated.
Injuries, after one injury, it was like, okay, so what, Griese gets hurt, the next man in, and Earl (Morrall) steps in and does a good job.
So I think Belichick has done a real good job and I think that's one of the keys to Coach Shula back in '72 that nothing really fazed him. He just accepted it, never talked about going undefeated. Only talked about trying to get back and winning the Super Bowl.
If I could ask one of you, where do you think this places the Patriots in history if they do finish this out and go 19 0? Obviously they have passed your team's record for an undefeated streak, but where do you think this places them historically?
DICK ANDERSON: If Mercury were here, he would say that we're compared initially to the 1934 and 1942 Bears because they were the first team to go undefeated during the regular season, but then they lost in the playoff games.
From our standpoint, we went undefeated all the games that were thrown against us, we played the Championship Game in Pittsburgh, and we were just fortunate to be the only team in the history of the NFL in 88 years to go undefeated. If New England does it, they will be the second team to go undefeated and I think they have a real good chance to do so.
Usually when you have a season like you guys did, and certainly a great season, it always comes from adversity, and I want to talk you back to that Super Bowl against Dallas, January 15, 1972. How much of what you did came from that game, and I guess to Bob, as well, how sick are you of seeing that highlight of you being chased around the field in New Orleans by Bob Lilly on that play?
BOB GRIESE: I think that we'll all tell you that that was the seed that was planted by Coach Shula right after we lost to Dallas in that Super Bowl was that was the seed that was planted for our season the following year, and he never let us forget that we lost an opportunity to win the championship and we'd have to come back the next year and then all of these games just to get back and have an opportunity to do what we were trying to do three or four hours before.
So Coach Shula was always telling us and motivating us in that way. I couldn't hear your second question; you were breaking up.
The second part of the question was, how tired are you of looking at that highlight of Bob Lilly chasing you all over that field in New Orleans for the 26 yard loss?
BOB GRIESE: It wasn't just Bob Lilly. I saw Bob Lilly over the weekend, as a matter of fact. I was talking to him about that and he said, yeah, there were a couple other guys. When I would try to go to the right, the defensive end was there, and when I reversed the other way and tried to go back to the left, there was another defensive end there. So there were three guys there, not one. You sound like Coach Shula, razzing me about this.
Rightly or wrongly, you guys have been portrayed as a bunch of players 35 years in the making desperately trying to hold on to this undefeated record. If the Patriots do go 19 0, would you be upset, maybe don't care if they join you as the only undefeated team in really the modern era?
MERCURY MORRIS: You mentioned the word desperately trying to hold onto. Let me set you straight. First of all, there's nothing for us to hold on to because there's nothing for us that belongs to us. It only belongs to the history of the National Football League. It's been 35 years. This record is old enough to be president and nobody has done anything except almost make it.
These guys are the first guys who have actually come close for real, and I take my hat off to them. So there's no way that we could have stopped it. It could have happened in '73, 74, '75, 76. It's been 1,290 tries.
I'm curious, the Patriots are the favorite; do you guys remember, were you even favorites against the Redskins?
LARRY CSONKA: As I recall, we were underdogs in the Super Bowl. We were underdogs pretty much the whole season. That's why we beat the spread so much. I think that comes back to what Griese was talking about.
MERCURY MORRIS: The Washington Redskins, the three teams they lost to that year were the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots. We ironically beat the New England Patriots.
Did you guys think at the time you were getting the respect you were deserved? The Patriots seem to be getting respect right and left as the greatest this, and greatest that.
MERCURY MORRIS: It had not been done before, so there was no criteria for you to make a judgment as to whether or not a team is going to try to go undefeated. This was new territory. In fact, the term perfect season only showed up on the scoreboard out in Los Angeles when after we won the games, it said, "The Dolphins are perfect, 17 0."
I've been looking into and comparing Super Bowl weeks from what you guys went through to what it's like today, and there was a couple of themes from back then and if anybody wants to jump in on this is more than welcome to. One of them back then, there was a lot of talk about spying on the part of George Allen and how you guys changed practice fields to prevent that. Another theme was Shula trying to win the big one after losing a couple of times, and I also came across a couple references early in the week to when you guys had no curfew, you took full advantage of that. Anyone want to jump in on any of those?
DICK ANDERSON: I'll answer the last question first. I was with (Larry) Csonka and Jim Kiick and (Jake) Scott and Jim Mandich the night that we did not have any curfew. I was the designated driver. We just had fun in L.A. and got back in the wee hours of the morning.
I've got a totally different perspective, so many people I know are really in support, they feel that there was something magical about the '72 Dolphins team and they don't want to see anybody else do it. There's another perspective here, there's not just the Dolphins, players and Dolphins fans; there's a lot of people outside of Miami who would like to see somebody do it. Would any of you like to pick up on that? Did other people realize there was something special about the legacy besides some of the players?
DICK ANDERSON: I think there's certainly Dolphin fans that would like to see that record sustained. But you know, records are made to be broken and eventually it is going to happen and it has not happened yet, and they have a very good chance to do so. But we can't do anything about it. All we can do is if they are undefeated through the season, congratulate them and say they are the second team to do it.
Some people have made a lot of the Patriots stealing signals, and somebody thinks even an asterisk should go next to this. How do you guys look at that and do you think it besmirches their season at all?
MERCURY MORRIS: I don't think it really does anything to them. It was one game, an event and I don't think their season should be defined out of that mishap. Obviously if you got caught cheating, you got caught cheating.
I think the intent was there to steal signals rather than to put themselves in a position where they would have an advantage as far as games are concerned as they soon realized they are so good they didn't have to have that small advantage they tried to do get and eventually cost them a first round draft pick and it eventually did that.
Does it take on even added significance when most of your record was achieved with Earl Morrall as your quarterback?
DICK ANDERSON: What it says is that we had a great team and each week somebody else stepped up and got the job done. And it so happened that the rest of the team picked their belts up a little bit and played a little bit harder. When Bob got healthy and we were struggling against Pittsburgh, he came in and ignited us. So it's still a team effort, it was a team effort the whole year, and that's how we looked at it.
Is there any resentment when among you guys, the '72 Dolphins were portrayed as grumpy old men that no other teams could be as great as them; that you have a bottle of champagne waiting when teams lose; is all of that stuff overblown and are you a little tired of hearing that stuff?
JIM KIICK: No. 1, I prefer Jack Daniels, I don't like champagne, so we don't sit around waiting with a bottle of champagne waiting for that last team to lose the game, and most importantly, what we are celebrating is our accomplishments, not the loss of the team.
We are proud and obviously football is the ultimate team sport and as Dick alluded to, we were more concerned about winning football games than individual statistics.
So that's what we are celebrating, our accomplishment that has not been done in 35 years and really has not been done prior to that. So we certainly are not celebrating the loss of any team but our accomplishments.
Looking ahead to next Sunday's game, the Giants and Patriots met four weeks ago, how difficult is it going to be for the Patriots to beat the Giants a second time?
MERCURY MORRIS: If I'm not mistaken, didn't we play them (Redskins) in the preseason? DICK ANDERSON: Preseason game, 27-24 loss. (Sonny) Jorgensen was the quarterback. MERCURY MORRIS I think it's different in that respect, because when you lose to a team, that gives you a momentum or impetus to play a little better or play with more tenacity because you know that what's at stake is something that's already happened once, and you don't want that to happen again.
We actually lost in 1973 to the Oakland Raiders which knocked our streak off at 18 games in a row, but then we came back and beat them in the AFC Championship Game.
So I think that part of that is the fact that any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team. So you just never know.
The Redskins, you had lost in the preseason to them; what was the main concern going into that Super Bowl game against the Redskins, and were you bummed out that it wasn't the Cowboys who had beaten you in that Super Bowl the year before?
DICK ANDERSON: I don't think we thought about the Cowboys because they weren't there and again, one game at a time. As a defensive player, the best thing the Redskins did was try to block Manny Fernandez one on one and he made 17 tackles. George Allen made a mistake and I think it cost him. Larry Brown had been hit so many times in that first half, that you know, he didn't come out with the same tenacity in the second half.
You know, our offense, I can't speak about, but again it was the team we were an underdog and we had got beat the year before and we just were not going to be beat again.
Bob, you had an injury; did you ever have photographers chasing you down to see if you had a boot on your foot or anything like that?
BOB GRIESE: That's one of the ways things have changed in the 35 years, the paparazzi are chasing down athletes all over the place.
I don't know who the hot chicks were back then, the move stars and the move actresses were back then we were supposed to be running around with. I had a boot on my leg but no paparazzi came around for me.
You guys have seen a lot of teams come close and fall short of this perfect season so to speak. In this modern era where parity ceases to be kind of the normal with free agency and all that, did you think that a team eventually would do it?
BOB GRIESE: Free agency can run both ways. I think it can run away and spread throughout the teams and make them all equal, but then again, like New England this year, you can go out and get guys like a Stallworth, a Moss, a Wes Welker, or an Adalius Thomas, they were a good team without these guys.
Then you can go out and it's almost like an all star team if the management, like Dick was saying a little bit earlier, if your general manager and player personnel guy can go out and pick up some free agents, and the right ones and get them for a fourth round pick, get them for a second round pick, and pick up a free agent, you know, it's not I would say it's not surprising but you can certainly see why New England has gone undefeated with all of their additions offensively and their defense from the years past.
What are your specific plans for Super Bowl Sunday? I'm sure you'll all watch the game, but will you be in parts of the country where you won't be able to watch it together?
DICK ANDERSON: We've never watched a game together. MERCURY MORRIS: Never. BOB GRIESE: We've never watched it together and there's never any champagne. I don't think any champagne or any champagne glasses have ever been clicked by any Dolphins. I think that was something that was mentioned in jest and I think the media DICK ANDERSON: You were home when you started it, Bob. MERCURY MORRIS: If you look back at my [pictures] You had Dick Anderson, Larry Csonka, Larry Little, Jim Kiick, Nick Buoniconti and Don Shula. Nick is spreading the champagne all over the place and Shula is sitting there with a toast and he looks at a picture and goes, "Hey, I said I don't do that. But unfortunately, it’s there. We just had fun with it." DICK ANDERSON: That happened a month later. (Laughter).
Many of your teammates, many of you guys outside of football had great careers, and I'm just curious, since there's a correlation between what you guys did on the field and what came after, can some of you talk about what you've done after football, because here we are talking about something that happened decades ago.
MERCURY MORRIS: I think Shula gave everybody a different kind of direction and purpose being coached by this guy. We were middle class people and middle class fans, and Shula was a blue collar worker; and he had kind of a work ethic that really allowed you to see that if you work hard and you do what you're supposed to do, then things are going to turn out for you, and not all the time but you adjust to that and do what's necessary to try to do as best you can.
And I think that a lot of us learned a great deal from Don's work ethic, and learned that we came from adversity because we were a rag tag team in 1969. And when he came, the team was transformed and we became a playoff team in '70, a Super Bowl team in '71 and then undefeated and back to back.
So we had a great run with guys who were assembled there, not for the purpose of being that successful that quick. Keep in mind, the Dolphins came into existence in 1966. By 1972, we had produced an undefeated season. That part was real special and that principally came because of Don Shula. LARRY CSONKA: I'd like to just interject one thing, because I've got to get off the phone. But when you alluded to in your question about going on to other things, getting away from Shula provided me with a great motivation to go all the way to Alaska in a cool stream in July instead of doing grass grills and having Shula stepping over my stomach, saying, "you don't like me," he had no idea how much I didn't like him. (Laughter).
The only reason I didn't get put in jail for committing murder was I wanted to be able to go away and stand in a stream in Alaska, and that's what I now do. And every July, every July, gentlemen, I think about the fact that I'm not in Miami, I don't have grass and sweat running down my neck and him standing on my stomach. (Laughter).
So if you were looking for motivation, that's the most motivation I've ever had in my life from anyone.
I just want to know off the subject a little bit, if Larry thinks the gladiators he hosted are better than the ones on TV now?
LARRY CSONKA: I don't know, but the commentators were a hell of a lot better when I was there.
Did you ever think you would see the day when a team was one win from doing what your Dolphins did in '72? : You know, it's hard to say because there were some teams that went 13-0 one year, and I guess 11-0, but to see somebody now 18-0, you've got to feel that this is a great football team that's got a chance to do something no other team has done; that's go 19-0 and have a perfect season.
So it's interesting and it should be a great Super Bowl.
Do you think it's more difficult these days with the salary cap and free agency to do that?
DON SHULA: You know, you talk about the salary cap and free agency, but you know, when we did it, we had to beat the best that was out there. And the Patriots, if they do it, they have got to beat the best that's out there.
The thing that happened to us, if we would have had free agency, we would have been better off, after the perfect season, Csonka, Kiick and (Paul) Warfield took off and we couldn't sign anybody to come in and take their place. It's a situation where you deal with what you're confronted with, and if you win, you're the best.
Who on your '72 team would you compare to Wes Welker on this year's Patriots?
DON SHULA: You know, Paul Warfield was our deep threat and probably one of the greatest athletes that ever played the game. And we had Howard Twilley, more of a possession type of receiver on the other side, and we had Jim Kiick, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris for the situation substitutions that we used.
The thing people don't realize is that in '72, Bob Griese got hurt in the fifth game of the season and our backup quarterback took us to the Championship Game. Then Bob Griese came back in the second half and helped us win the Super Bowl.
So we went through that perfect season, the majority of it, with a backup quarterback.
Can you put into words just how incredibly difficult it is to make it through an entire NFL season without losing a game?
DON SHULA: Well, when you think about the 50 years before we did it in '72, and the 35 years since we've done it, that tells you how difficult it is to do because, you know, the league is so highly competitive, and all of the rules in the league are designed for competitive balance.
And it's tougher to stay on top than the struggle to get to the top because the team that finishes last gets the best draft pick, they get the first place on the waivers. Everything is done to keep the team from having a dynasty and staying on top, and that's why it's so remarkable when a team does stay on top for a period of time.
New England, winning three out of the last six Super Bowls, I think that's remarkable.
Do you think that this is a dynasty, the Patriots?
DON SHULA: Yeah, I think they are on the verge right now. As I mentioned, three out of the last six Super Bowls, and if they win this one, you have to consider them a team that would be a dynasty like the Yankees were in baseball over a long period of time.
You know, we had those two great years, '72 and ‘73, 17 0 and 15 2; 32 2 in a two year period; that doesn't qualify as a dynasty, but that's a record we are pretty proud of.
Given the liberal passing rules, more teams pass, you can't bump and run the receivers down the field and that today's players are bigger and faster, etc., etc., can you really compare the two eras?
DON SHULA: The rules certainly are different now. It's opened up the passing game. And I spent 20 years on the competition committee and our whole emphasis on the competition committee was to open up the game up, more scoring, make more big plays in the game, make the game as safe as you possibly could make it injury wise. So all of these things have been designed to make the game more appealing to the fan. You know, the high scoring games and more big plays.
When you were in the booth for the Patriots game in Baltimore, were you rooting for the Ravens?
DON SHULA: You know, I spent a lot of years in Baltimore. I spent four years as a player and seven years as a coach in Baltimore. So I would have to say that I was rooting for the Ravens, yes.
Was too much made about your comment of an asterisk and do you stand behind that?
DON SHULA: You know, I'm probably not the guy that should have said it, and I think a lot of people, when I said it, received it as being, you know, just helping yourself.
I think that the fact that as I mentioned, I didn't fine them, I didn't take away the draft choice, I wasn't the one that coined the term "Spygate." All of those things happened and all I did was refer to them.
Now, somebody else probably should have done it instead of me, because people thought it was self serving when I did it.
What do you think about the Super Bowl. Is it going to be close?
DON SHULA: The way I feel about it is the Giants have done a great job. They were 0-2 to start the year and everybody counted them out and everybody wanted to fire the coach. And all of a sudden at the end of the year they get it together, Eli Manning comes on strong and the coach then becomes a genius again.
And so this team is really on the rise and you really I mean, you shouldn't count them out because they keep bouncing back. You know, Dallas beat them twice during the regular season and then they beat Dallas in the playoffs.
Eli Manning just keeps getting better. So I think that this is a team that's capable of giving New England a good game. And what I want to see more than anything else is a good, hard fought Super Bowl, and then let the best team win.
You know, if New England doesn't lose, you know, you just give them credit for 19 0 and something nobody else has ever done.
Did you guys ever talk about going undefeated or a perfect season during the ’72 season?
DON SHULA: No. When we had the 17-0 record, we got beat the year before in the Super Bowl. Our whole emphasis was not to get to the Super Bowl, but to get to the Super Bowl and win it. And if somewhere along the line we would have lost a game or two games and won the Super Bowl, it would have been a great success. But if we would have gone 16-0 and then lost the Super Bowl, that season would have been a complete failure as far as we were concerned.
So I think that's where New England is right now. They are 18-0, and the thing that's really going to make their season is if they can win that last game and do something else nobody has done, 19-0.
How much pressure was there to win that last game going into Los Angeles when you were 16 0 standing on the precipice?
DON SHULA: There was a lot of pressure. People just didn't believe us that we were actually 15 0. I think we were underdogs going into the game. You know, the Redskins were favored and people just didn't I don't think they gave us the credit that our team deserved. You know, we had the no name defense and we were very ball controlled offense and didn't throw the ball a lot and relied a lot on ball control and time of possession.
In the Super Bowl, you know, the score was 14 0 when I decided to go for the field goal and when Garo (Yepremian) messed it up, they scored a touchdown and all of a sudden, the Redskins are back in game, a game that we had dominated.
That field goal would have made it 17-0, 17-0 season, did you want to ring his neck? He didn't even try to make a tackle.
DON SHULA: I would have loved that could have been 17-0, that would have been a great way to remember that game. But when Garo went in there and messed up the play, you know, he used to come over and high five me when he kicked a field goal. Well, when that happened, he went off the end line of the end zone and I haven't seen him since.
If you were coaching, how would you go about trying to beat the Patriots?
DON SHULA: Well, what you've got to do you mentioned earlier that I was at the game up in Baltimore, the Ravens game, and I thought the Ravens had a great game plan against them where they got the running game going and they made some first downs and had some long drives. That's what you've got to do.
Anything that you can do to keep the ball away from (Tom) Brady for any period of time, you've got to try to do, because Brady is so dynamic, and the guy is just a great football player. He just finds a way to score no matter what the score is. The Patriots always believe that they can pull it out and win at the end.
So anything that you can do when you're setting up a game plan is try to control the ball and keep it out of Brady's hand.
Were you drained at the end of your undefeated season? Were you glad you didn't have another game at the end, or did you feel like you wanted to play more?
DON SHULA: Yeah, you always feel like you want to play more. When you have it going like that, it's just magical and when you do something that nobody else has ever done; it just makes it that much more significant and you just feel that much more proud of your accomplishments. You want to keep playing and you want to keep winning.
A lot of the guys on the ’72 team have gone on to bigger and better things; in that sense, do you think the perfect season helped them along the way with their confidence?
DON SHULA: Yeah, when you look at what our players have done from that perfect season team, they have gone out and made great lives for themselves, great careers. They have been pretty successful in whatever they have set out to do.
The thing I have always said when I talk about that football team is the thing that set them apart was their intelligence and their competitiveness. They have really worked hard. They wanted to win and they were very smart. We made very few mental errors. We never beat ourselves. We were the least penalized team in the league, and we made very few mental errors and we were a team that just never beat ourselves.
I think I heard you say on NFL Films, that the [Dolphins] team that beat the Vikings the next year in the Super Bowl was even better than [the '72 Dolphins team].
DON SHULA: I don't think I said that because I think it's hard to beat 17-0 and 15-2 was the next year and we dominated the Super Bowl.
I probably was referring more to that game (Super Bowl VIII) the way we took off and kept the ball out of (Fran) Tarkenton's hands and controlled the football, probably 40 minutes to 20 minutes in the ballgame which was pretty characteristic of that team with Larry Csonka and his great ability to convert short yardage and goal line plays into first downs and touchdowns.
Has there ever been champagne consumed from the last undefeated team the following season? Griese said no; Anderson said yes. Clear that up for us. Has champagne ever been consumed in the name of the last undefeated team falling?
DON SHULA: You know we've been accused of getting together, that bunch of angry old men as you guys portray us as being, that's not really true.
We're a bunch of guys that if and I've said this many, many times, if somebody goes undefeated, I'm going to be the first guy to call that coach and congratulate him, and I'll do that to Bill Belichick if they go undefeated. And our players, I'm sure, will do the same for their players.
But until somebody does it, you know, we're very, very proud of our accomplishment, and that's all there is to it.
Do you feel like the '72 team has gotten the respect overall it deserves? And also, last year, when NFL Films did the America's game countdown, that group ranked your team No. 1. Do you think that finally gave your team the respect it deserved?
DON SHULA: Well, I think that went a long way toward giving our team that respect, because you know, that was I think a countdown that had people voting on it, and there was a lot of thought that was put into that determination that we were the best team of all time.
And I think that our players earned that, because how else do you judge? I mean, you can't say a team that's lost two or three ballgames in a year is better than a team that goes 17-0. And there were some people early that said that about other teams, and you've still got to go by the record. I mean, that's why you keep score, to see who wins the game. At the end of the year, the team with the best record is the team that should be thought of as the best team.
You mentioned going into the Super Bowl being underdogs; how do you think it's different for the Patriots being the favorites with the weight of history kind of looming around them?
DON SHULA: I think the way that Bill Belichick handles things, and how all his players talk the same way; they sound like they are Bill Belichick talking when they say the only thing that's important is the next game. And I think Bill has done a done a great job of selling that to his team.
They don't care about what's happened in the past and they don't care about what's going to happen two or three weeks down the road. They put all of their energy and emphasis on preparing for the next game, and that's prepared beautifully for them and they have all bought into what Bill teaches, and I think that's why they have been so successful.
What similarities do you see between your '72 Dolphins and this season's Patriots?
DON SHULA: I think the similarities are we were a team that just didn't make many mistakes, as I said earlier, and we didn't beat ourselves. When you look at the Patriots, they are a team that just doesn't make a lot of mistakes. I don't think they ever have been accused of beating themselves or not being prepared. They do a great job.
I think they are a much more wide open football team with (Tom) Brady as the quarterback than we were with Griese and (Earl) Morrall. We played more of a ball control style of offense, and they are wide open. Brady will just let it fly. Against Jacksonville, he was 26 out of 28 with one dropped ball. A lot of them were just short passes, but that's what Jacksonville was giving him and Brady had the intelligence and the patience to sit back there and just take what they were giving him and methodically move down the field and to not make any mistakes.
Were there any games during the regular season, close games, where you felt fortunate to get out of there with a win?
DON SHULA: The game that I remember the most was the game at Minnesota, and we were down, we needed two scores in the last few minutes to win the game. And I went for the field goal first and Garo (Yepremian) came through for us and kicked a field goal.
Then we had to get the ball back and we got the ball back and moved it down the field and I think on the last play we had a play action pass to (Jim) Mandich in the end zone. I think that's what pulled us out, Griese to Mandich. That was probably our hardest fought game that went down to the wire.
You've coached against some of the great quarterbacks and coached some of the greatest quarterbacks; how good is Brady in terms of history of the game?
DON SHULA: Well, you look at what he's done, you know, they have won three out of the last five Super Bowls, and they are on the verge of winning another Super Bowl. And Brady this year, he's broken all the passing records and he's just been unbelievable as far as what he's been able to do.
You know, when you think about what the Patriots have done, they went out and got (Donte) Stallworth and Randy Moss and got (Wes) Welker, three new receivers for Brady that they didn't have the year before; and that's a real credit to their scouting department and coaching staff for bringing in new receivers and then putting them on the same page with Brady, and then going out and accomplishing what they have accomplished.
You mentioned the fact that earlier, you said that one of the motivations to the season was the Dallas game and the Super Bowl. How much did you put that loss into the next season. How much was it, not browbeating to death, but how much was that a motivation?
DON SHULA: It was a tremendous motivation for us because after we got beat in the Super Bowl by Dallas, we realized and I realized that before that game, the two teams that are preparing for the Super Bowl are both treated the same. They are given an equal amount of time, publicity, player interviews, the coaching interviews, everything that goes on, it's the same for both teams.
When the game is over, they only go to one locker room, and that's the winning locker room where they are hoisting the trophy and everybody is happy and celebrating. And the losing coach gets a token interview outside the dressing room with one camera there and you feel so sorry for them. I told our team after that loss, I said, "We don't ever want to feel that way again. So our objective is not going to be to get to the Super Bowl, it's going to be to get to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl, because we want to be in that winning locker room."
I know in '73 you guys were under pressure to win the big game, and there was talk how upbeat you were during the whole week, even though you were sick. How were you able to pull that off, and how was it able to set the tone for the players seeing the coach acting so upbeat when you were under so much pressure?
DON SHULA: You know, I took a lot of heat because I was 0-2 in the Super Bowl, and when you're 0-2 in Super Bowls, people don't say kind things about you. The worst thing that can be said about a coach is that he can't win the big one. That was planted in the minds of the media by Carroll Rosenbloom after I left, and that was brought up all week long.
You know, that's the thing I hated to hear and you know, I certainly didn't want to be 0-3 in Super Bowls because then they would really nail the “you can't win the big one label on you.”
So that was a real motivation for me and then to be able to win the big game finally in my coaching career and make that the end of a perfect season just made it all the more rewarding.
What do you miss most about coaching?
DON SHULA: The thing I miss most about coaching is game day. You know, the excitement, the adrenaline, the decision making on game day and the emotional highs and lows that you're on and above all, that feeling of satisfaction if and when you win the game.
And especially what I liked more than anything in my coaching career was having a lot of respect for the coach that I was coaching against and the team that we are playing against; and then to end up being the winner in that game, because it made you feel that much better about your accomplishment, because you knew that you were beating a good coach and you knew that you were beating a good team.
How elated will you be if you're sitting in your living room Super Bowl Sunday and the Giants do pull the upset and the Patriots don't draw even with you.
DON SHULA: I'm going to be at the game. I'll be jumping up and down. (Laughter).
How has the game changed coaching wise, the philosophy itself.
DON SHULA: Well, the big thing that's happened in the years that I've played and my early years of coaching was that football was a six month sport. When it was over with, the players would go to their respective homes and get an off season job, and then about a week before training camp, they would start working out to get in shape for the preseason.
And now, you know, when the season is over, you get a couple of weeks off and players are encouraged to stay in town and get into the off season programs, you know, lift weights and go to film study and then go out on to the field for drills on the field. So it's become a 11 , 11 and a half month game now, a job, compared to five or six months back in those early days.
I think that's why the game has picked up the way that it has. It's just gotten so much better as far as players' conditioning and the size of the players, and then the sophistication of the game because everybody has worked at it so much harder and so much longer.
How much of what you do is an element of luck, too, in that particular season? How much if you put a percentage on it was luck?
DON SHULA: Well, I don't know how much luck. You know, luck works both ways. The winning team is not always the only team that has luck during the course of a ballgame. I mean, the ball bounces, you know, for the team that might lose the ballgame, too. They might have some lucky plays or lucky bounces during the course of that game.
But when it's all over with, you know, both teams are playing with the same ball, you have the same rules and regulations that over a period of time, it evens out. The best teams win.
I'm trying to get a handle on just how special a group of people when did you start recognizing that you had a dynamic group of people around you to do anything you wanted?
DON SHULA: You know, when I got there, as you know, in 1970, the year before, they were 3-10-1 and when I got there, I had all of these plans for practices and the players went on strike and I had nobody to coach.
So when the strike was settled and they came back, then, as you know, I worked them four times a day to try to get the new game plan in and get them ready to go. And at that time, I realized, you know, the intelligence of these players, the dedication of these players. They complained about the long practices and meetings and workouts.
But at the end of the year, when we won, they were asked, you know, how did you turn it around, and invariably they always said: We worked harder in the classroom, we studied harder, we practiced harder and it helped on game day. So that's what helped was the extra work and intelligence and preparation and the hard work and dedication and competitiveness of those players on those two teams, 17-0, 15-2.
Bill Belichick considers this Super Bowl his most important game
With a perfect season and Super Bowl XLII on the line, New England coach Bill Belichick said that Sunday's game against the Giants will be the most important one of his career.
"Of course it is an important game," Belichick said. "It’s the world championship. It’s the Super Bowl. I’ve coached in other ones. Those were important, too. At that time they seemed like the most important. I think whichever one you are in is the most important.
"Maybe at some time there will be a time to reflect and look back on it, but right now there is no game more important than this game against the New York Giants and I’m going to put everything I have in it and try to do the best I can to do my job and help prepare the team. I am sure the players will do the same thing. At this point in time, which is where we are, it’s number one on the hit parade.”
Super Bowl experience might not be an advantage for the Patriots
This is New England's fourth trip to a Super Bowl in the last seven years. The Patriots are 3-0 in those trips but coach Bill Belichick said that the experience that they have in Super Bowls won't necessarily help them on Sunday.
"It’s the trip you want to be on, I’ll say that," Belichick said. "I don’t think it’s easier because you know you are going up against a great football team. The New York Giants are playing their best football of the year right now and we had a tremendous game with them a month ago. We know how hard it’s going to be and how good they are, how well prepared they are, and how hard they work and how talented they are.
"That’s not easy at all. At the same time, you spend all season working to get to this point -- the mini-camps, the offseason programs, all the two-a-days in training camp, the preseason games, the grueling 16-game regular season schedule in the National Football League, the playoff games, the AFC championship -- it’s all done to be at this game and to be here this week.
"We are proud to be here. We are excited to be here, but at the same time, we know there is a lot of work left to do. We know we are playing a great football team in the New York Giants and we know how hard that will be and how well we will have to play in order to be competitive on Sunday. That’s the balance, but we are glad we are here and glad we have an opportunity to meet that challenge.”
The Patriots beat the Giants, 38-35, in the Week 17 to preserve their undefeated regular season. The Giants have won 10 consecutive road games.
PHOENIX -- The Giants are scheduled to arrive at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport this afternoon at 2:45. Coach Tom Coughlin and selected players are scheduled to meet with the media around 5 at the team's hotel -- the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass.
Pats coach Bill Belichick and selected players will have a press conference at the Media Center, downtown, at 3:30, Mountain Standard Time (5:30 Eastern). All press conferences this week will be aired live on the NFL Network, available to Providence-area cable subscribers.
The Patriots are staying this week at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, where they checked in Sunday night.
The perception is that often times New England coach Bill Belichick appears frustrated when he has to talk to the media. But he says that’s not the case.
When asked Saturday if he doesn’t like talking to the media, Belichick said, “Not at all. I think you have a job to do and you are our connection between our football team, our fans, and the people who have an interest in the game. I respect the job that you do and hope that you respect the job I do.
“I understand that sometimes I can’t give you everything that you are looking for, but I do know that this is the conduit of information from the team to the fans and the fans are what drive the game. I’m all for it. Nobody is more in favor of this game than I am.”
PHOENIX -- It was raining here Sunday night when my direct (but still late) Southwest Airlines flight finally landed.
The Patriots arrived earlier, with QB Tom Brady, not surprisingly, the focus of media attention.
In what was even less of a surprise, he said he'd play Sunday. Gee, what a shock.
What did surprise Brady was the weather.
"I guess we must have brought that crappy weather with us from Foxboro," he said. "Oh, well, light snow there, some rain here."
No rain today, though. The sun is shining and the temperatures are Spring-like, rather than desert-like, expected to be in the low 60s.
The plane from Providence had several media members aboard. In addition to Journal colleague Robert Lee, former ProJo football writer Tom Curran, who now covers the NFL for NBC Sports' website, was aboard, along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who now does a radio show for 790 The Score.
You know the Super Bowl is in town when you arrive at your hotel (in my case, the Hyatt Regency in downtown Phoenix, across the street from the convention center, which is media headquarters for Super Bowl XLII) and the entrance is flanked by pictures of Brady and Giants defensive end Michael Strahan that are several stories high.
Then you get to your room, turn on the TV, and the NFL Network is showing Super Bowl XXXVIII, in which the Patriots edged Carolina, 32-29. That game featured a fabulous fourth quarter, which began with New England holding a 21-10 lead and then turned a wild shootout, with both teams moving up and down the field
The Panthers closed to 21-16 on a 33-yard TD run by DeShaun Foster with 12:39 remaining. Carolina tried for a two-point conversion that failed. The Patriots came right back with a drive that reached the Carolina 9, where Brady threw an interception in the end zone.
That pick proved even more costly when, on 3rd down from the Panthers' 15, Jake Delhomme connected with Muhsin Muhammad on a Super Bowl-record, 85-yard TD pass that gave Carolina (which again failed to convert a 2-point conversion attempt) a 22-21 lead with 6:53 to go.
The Patriots responded with a 68-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by Brady's 18-yard completion to David Givens on 3rd-and-9, which set up a 1-yard scoring toss to linebacker-turned-tight end Mike Vrabel. The Pats then added a two-point conversion when Kevin Faulk took a direct snap from center and darted into the end zone for a 29-21 lead with 2:51 to go.
The fireworks had only just begun.
With Delhomme completing passes of 19 yards to Muhammad and 31 to Ricky Proehl, the Panthers moved quickly into scoring position, tying the game on a 12-yard pass to Proehl with 1:08 to play.
But, when Carolina kicker John Kasey's kickoff went out of bounds, the Patriots didn't have far to go to get into field-goal range. A 17-yard pass from Brady to Deion Branch (his 10th catch of the game, for a total of 143 yards) set up a game-winning kick by Adam Vinatieri from 41 yards out with four seconds remaining.
The kick was reminiscent of Vinatieri's field goal two years earlier, against the Rams, in Super Bowl XXXVI, when he nailed a 48-yarder as time expired.
Jim Donaldson continues his six-part series on the Patriots, this time highlighting the Pats' brain trust -- the front office. Also, Syracuse continues to hobble through the Big East season with a 71-64 win over Providence College. Download file
Multimedia: Patriots Super Stories, Pt 2: Super Bowl XX
This is the second edition in a six-part series by sports columnist Jim Donaldson. Jim, who has covered each of the Patriots' five Super Bowl appearances to date for The Journal (he'll make it six next weekend) looks back in these audio slideshows at each of the games, and his thoughts are accompanied by pictures from Bob Breidenbach, who has photographed each of the games. Today's presentation focuses on Super Bowl XX, the Patriots' first-ever trip to the big game, when they faced the Chicago Bears.
The New England Patriots are saddened to learn that former head coach Mike Holovak passed away today at the age of 88. Holovak spent nearly eight seasons as the head coach of the Boston Patriots (1961-68) and led the franchise to its first championship game appearance following the 1963. season.
“Mike Holovak was a great coach and a wonderful person,” said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. “I remember watching Mike’s Boston College teams in the 1950s and his Patriots teams in the 1960s. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time with him on several occasions. Our team has lost one of its founding fathers and the entire Patriots family is saddened by Mike’s passing.”
After a nine-year tenure as the head coach at Boston College, Holovak served as the offensive backfield coach and director of player personnel during the Patriots’ inaugural season in 1960. He was named head coach prior to the sixth game of the 1961 season and immediately turned the team’s fortunes around. He took over a 2-3-1 club and led it to seven wins in its final eight games to finish the season with a 9-4-1 record, just a game behind Houston, that season’s eventual American Football League champion. The accomplishment was a marked improvement over the team’s 5-9 record in the 1960 campaign. Holovak led the Patriots to an identical 9-4-1 record in 1962, but again fell just short of the divisional title, finishing a half-game out of first place.
In the 1963 season, Holovak’s Patriots achieved the franchise’s first playoff victory, defeating the Buffalo Bills in a divisional playoff matchup to advance to the 1963 AFL championship game. The following season, the Patriots posted a 10-3-1 record, setting a franchise record for victories that stood for a dozen years.
Holovak’s 53 victories as Patriots head coach rank second in franchise history after Bill Belichick (105). His tenure of 107 games on the New England sidelines also ranks second in team annals, trailing Belichick’s 144 games as head coach.
Holovak coached five of the 12 members of the Patriots Hall of Fame: LB Nick Buoniconti, WR/K Gino Cappelletti, DE Bob Dee, DT Jim Lee Hunt and QB Vito “Babe” Parilli. During Holovak’s tenure, two Patriots won the AFL’s Most Valuable Player Award: Cappelletti (1964) and RB Jim Nance (1966).
Multimedia: Patriots Super Stories Part 1, Brady's Super Bowl legacy
This is the first edition in a six-part series by sports columnist Jim Donaldson. Jim, who has covered each of the Patriots' five Super Bowl appearances to date for The Journal (he'll make it six next weekend) looks back in these audio slideshows at each of the games, and his thoughts are accompanied by pictures from Bob Breidenbach, who has photographed each of the games. We'll get to the Super Bowl games themselves on Monday, but to start, here's Jim's presentation on Tom Brady, the Patriots' greatest Super Bowl hero. Click the play button below to see and hear the show.
In his brief time here in New England, it has become apparent that receiver Donte Stallworth is quite a character. He's admitted to having an on-field alter ego, whom he calls Nikko, is a student of psychology, and likes to tell a joke.
So today, when coach Bill Belichick was offering noting about the status of Tom Brady's ankle, Stallworth said it's not to worry: he'll be under center for Super Bowl XLII.
"Well, Bill actually brought me in his office earlier this morning and asked me if I wanted to move to quarterback, and we’re going to put in a whole new offense," Stallworth said. "He wants me to run the option. We brought in the coach from Nebraska, Tom Osborne, so I’ve met with him and we have the option going. Tom’s going to go ahead and let me take the reins for this game."
Not so fast, however. After Stallworth laid claim to the role, Wes Welker said it's actually his job to fill in for Brady:
"Well, actually, coach pulled me into the office and told me I was going to be the quarterback, so I don’t know where he’s hearing that from. I think he kind of overheard our conversation, and that’s actually going to be my role," Welker said.
So now there’s a quarterback controversy?, he was asked.
"A little bit."
Brady was not on field for the media-access portion of practice again today, but it completely within the realm of possibility that he is resting his right ankle as a precaution and will be raring to go once New England gets to Arizona.
Reporter's query: Are you living in a house divided?
Are you living in a house divided, a die-hard Patriots fan living with a family member who is rooting for the Giants?
If so, can you laugh about it, or will you be watching the Super Bowl on separate TVs — maybe even in separate places?. Send your stories — please be sure to include your name, address and daytime phone number — to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll publish the best of the bunch the the day before the Big Game.
On what makes Wes Welker unique
I think his athletic ability is definitely underrated a lot. He’s very quick. He’s strong. He breaks a lot of tackles. He has a good feel for finding soft spots in coverage. He has great hands and he has a lot of courage and heart. That’s probably a big factor, too.
On what’s it been like having Welker on the team
I remember talking to him on his first day and he was very excited to be here, to be a part of what we’ve been doing and he’s fit right in. We wouldn’t be where we are today without his production week in and week out.
On whether this Giants team compares to the 2001 Patriots team
I don’t really want to get into the whole similarities, comparison stuff. We just have to go and prepare this week and have a good week of practice and then get down to Arizona, take care of business during the week and then go out and perform on Sunday.
On advice that he’s given to players that haven’t been to a Super Bowl
We get a lot of that sort of guidance from Bill [Belichick] and he does a great job and then, as veterans that have played in this game, whenever we can answer questions for some of the younger guys and just give them a little guidance, it’s better for everybody. We’ll continue to do that this week and I know Bill [Belichick] will continue to press on that. But I think everybody in the locker room understands what’s at stake here and this is a big opportunity for everybody whether you’ve been there or not. This is what we’ve worked so hard for all year and guys are going to make good decisions and be ready to play.
On the biggest challenge presented by going to the Super Bowl for the first time
I think, looking back, that was ’01 and everything happened so fast. There was no bye week leading up to it and you didn’t have much time to even think, ‘Hey, we’re in the Super Bowl.’ After Pittsburgh, we flew down to New Orleans on Monday and it was start working on the Rams, so we didn’t have much time for any distractions there.
On whether having a bye week before the game is better
Whatever. If there is no bye -- I’m not going to complain if I’m playing in the Super Bowl and there is no bye week, but the bye week does give guys a chance to rest up and get some extra preparation work in. It’s out of our hands, but we’ll make the most of it.
On the Giants’ kicking game
They’re extremely dangerous in the kicking game, as we saw the last time we played them. They’re a very physical group. They’ve got really good returners, good skill guys, guys that can cover, and it’s going to be a big challenge for us to player better than we did the last time we played them and be physical and control the guys that have the ball and get down the field and make tackles.
On how Super Bowl experience helps
It will all be determined by who plays the best on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s really-who wins the game is who plays the best. You don’t win the game because you had the most experience. Different factors play into each game and this particular game, this is what we all worked so hard for. I know the Giants, just because they don’t have any experience-I know that they’re going to be ready to play. You take your experience and you use that to your advantage, but what kind of advantage it is over someone who doesn’t have experience in the game, I couldn’t tell you. It’s just about going out and performing.
On talk of that they are the best team ever
That’s all to be discussed at the end of the year. We’re just working this week and going out and preparing and going out and taking care of business in the game
On his favorite memory for his Super Bowl trips
They’re all special. Just working through the season and accomplishing the goal that you set out to at the beginning of the year with some great teammates-it’s hard to pinpoint on thing in any of those games. I know that playing in Houston, my hometown, was somewhat special for me, but it would have been special if it was played in Iceland, too. Just to get to the game and to win it, that’s the goal you have every year and that’s our opportunity right now, and we just have to go and work this week and make things happen when we’re given the opportunity.
On giving advice to younger players
I haven’t really talked to guy, but this is one time that you’d rather be working than be off. I told Bill [Belichick] that today. This is one time that you don’t mind working because you’re in a good predicament.
On making adjustments
That’s one thing that I think every team does. Things that some teams have done against you, you’ll more likely see it again if it worked very well. That’s just things that you adjust to. You always work on your weaknesses. That’s just part of getting better.
Transcript: Tedy Bruschi's Friday press conference
On advice he’s given out to younger players about the Super Bowl
A lot of guys have come up to me and ask questions or a lot of players who have already been there and sort of know the protocol of how we handle things and, “What’s Monday like? What’s Tuesday like? Wednesday?” so I think we can give them a little bit of advice in terms of how it was when I was there before.
On what the best piece of advice is
I would just say to enjoy it, really. I think the first couple of days, you do have some time to enjoy it. We’ll arrive Sunday and guys are already planning to go out a little bit, have dinner together and enjoy each other’s company Monday, Tuesday - Media Day, that’s just a lot of fun - and realize that it is a game and a lot of stress can be built up for these games, but you still go down there to have a great time and realize you have a job to do still.
On how happy he was not to have to play against Wes Welker this year
We got him and we said, “How did that happen?” To get a player like that, to just give someone up like that. I don’t think he’s had a statistical year like he’s had this year, or even close to it in his past season, but I think we always considered him a threat and a guy that we had to focus on first and foremost when it came to the Miami Dolphins’ passing offense.
On what makes Welker so difficult to defend
Combined with his speed and his quickness and his good hands, I think the one word you could use is he’s savvy. He knows where to find the open hole against a zone coverage or a man coverage, you can just say that, but there are all these little tricks that players use and if you watch him closely, he has a lot of those in his bag.
On completing an undefeated regular season
I think we were able to soak in that moment before the last game of the regular season because we realized we were on the cusp of history and an undefeated regular season, but now that we’re in the postseason it’s really about advancing. We haven’t been thinking about 17-0, 18-0, or anything like that. It’s about beating the Jaguars to move on to the AFC Championship and then beating the Chargers and possibly moving on to the Super Bowl. I’d rather look at this game as if we prepare well and we beat the New York Giants, hopefully we’ll become World Champions. That’s what we have to look at. It’s a game that we have to win to achieve our goal, not some record, number, or something like that.
On what it’s like going back to Arizona where he played in college
Yeah, this one’s a little bit more special for me than all the others in terms of where I’m going. I have fond memories of the state of Arizona where I played college football at the University, about an hour and a half south of where we’ll be. Coming back from the stroke that I had in 2005, there are a lot of things that I can sort of smile at and realize that I’m back in the Super Bowl and it feels really good to be here.
Transcript: Kelly Washington's Friday press conference
On all of the hype of being in the Super Bowl
I think it has just all the tension that is coming with the game, the Super Bowl game, the final game . Whether it be the media, whether it be from friends and family it is just a lot that is going on but I think the veterans are doing a real good job of keeping us focused and the coaching staff really just getting our game plan to us early so we can focus on the game and know our assignments, because when Sunday comes it is just going to be another game.
On whether he’s excited for his first Super Bowl
I am. I am very excited. Again, this is everyone’s dream, to play in a game such as this. There are 30 other teams at home watching us, so it is a gratifying feeling just to know that we have made it this far. All year long we came together and made it to this point so it is definitely a special feeling.
On dealing with so many off the field distractions
We’ve been through the ups and the downs and we’ve been through it as a team and as an organization, together, so that makes us feel good that we stayed together through thick and thin and we’ve made it this far. Again, we know that the coaching staff and the veterans have really led us in the right direction to this point and letting us know that if we stay together, we can make it this far and we have.
On treating the Super Bowl as just another game
I think once the game -- Once the kickoff comes and all the emotions after the first couple of series, it is just a game. It’s just a lot of attention that comes with the Super Bowl, so we’re just trying to get adjusted to that. Once the week comes and we’re starting to practice leading up to the game, then we’ll understand that it’s just a game.
On whether there’s a moment to realize the magnitude of the Super Bowl
I think, with me, it’ll probably happen with the first kickoff or the first kickoff return because [the veterans] say that you’re supposed to close your eyes the first second after you kick the ball off just because of all the cameras and lights, so that’ll be an experience. But I really feel that after kickoff and the first couple of series, all the adrenaline will start to wear off and we’ll just focus on our assignments.
On the importance of special teams
Again, special teams are vital in every game so I know how important it is. I’m just going to be excited that I’ll be one of the first players that runs out on the field and just contributes on the team or special teams play. I’m excited about it and I’m anxious to prepare all week and put that into the game.
On which veterans he’s talked to this week
I’ve been asking Troy Brown a lot. I’m probably bugging him with so many questions that I’ve asked him, just whether it’s how to prepare myself, whether it’s what going on out at the Super Bowl and what can I not expect. He’s doing a good job and guys like [Tedy] Bruschi and a couple of other different guys. We’re just real excited about the opportunity and the experience.
On the best piece of advice he’s received
The best piece of advice so far I’ve got is don’t eat too much and go into the game overweight. They said that there’s a lot of food out there so you can kind of tend to stray off and eat a little bit more than you should and you don’t want to go into the game overweight. That’s been some good advice and other advice is just to stay focused mentally and don’t get strayed off by outside attention.
On what he expects in this game
It’s a different game. It’s a different team and it’s a different game, so what we’re going to do is work today and position ourselves to go to game day and hopefully execute. That’s really the key factor.
On playing against Wes Welker when he was in Miami
Pound for pound, Wes is probably the toughest football player in the league. The guy is a hard worker, number one. He has all the intangibles of being a great player, which he is, and he has a passion for the game and he needs -- There are different types of players in the league: guys that want to be great and there are guys that need to be great. He’s one of the need guys, so I tip my hat off to him.
On the New York and Boston Rivalry
I can’t read, so I’m out of that. I look at pictures and that’s about it.
On the photos newspapers have been running
I can’t make them all out. I can’t make them all out.
On his concern about the status of Tom Brady
Tom’s been great. He’s been doing it for so many years. It makes for a great story. You guys can jump on that and blow it up and do whatever you need to do, but as far as getting between the lines and going out there and competing, there’s no better competitor out there than Tommy. He’s proven it.
On the biggest difference between the last time he was in the Super Bowl
It is what it is. It’s a great game, and as time goes on and you find yourself 18-0 and the record plays a part in all the hype and what have you. We have to just minus all that and carry on with our day.
On if that is what makes this team special
It’s only special if we can finish it. The 18-0 record is nothing without finishing.
On his mentality coming back two years ago as opposed to this year
You’re more into the game plan and obviously you know your surroundings, you’re more comfortable and more familiar with everything else. The guys know your personality and you’re able to adjust quicker, but other than that, it’s just the game of football.
On if he will play for a few more years
I’m going to live one day at a time, just one day at a time. That’s all I can do.
On the perfect way to end his career
The end isn’t here. We’re about eight days away, so until we get that done--then we can answer some more questions.
On Kelley Washington’s acceptance of his role this year
In order to be a part of this locker room you have to be unselfish and he is definitely one of the prime examples of a player coming in with high hopes of going out there and being the great receiver that he is, and finding out that he has to play a different role. He is definitely a prime example of a guy that really wants to win and he’s been able to do that, and he’s been playing great for us on special teams.
On what that does for players
We respect everyone that puts on a jersey; that never changes. When someone goes out there and does what he does, outside the box in a different realm on special teams rather than the position that he plays, it definitely is a special feeling that we have for him. We respect him.
On getting excited for this game
Yeah, I won’t get excited until we get there, and probably in the latter part of the week. Right now it’s game plan, so all of this is work: trying to get everything down, all of our checks down, being familiar with what they do great and what they do best, and getting into situational football. But for the most part, it’s just basically one day at a time. Again, it’s a workplace.
On his 1994 trip to the Super Bow
There were a lot of fireworks, I know that. But the game was over before, obviously, eight minutes into the first quarter, so it’s not something I really tap into.
On using that experience in this Super Bowl
We’re doing it now. It’s one day -- Every day is a different challenge.
On what 16-0 meant to the team
I can’t remember. I can’t remember. I don’t want to go back [on] the kind of emotional roller coaster as to what it meant. We’re 18-0 now and we’re going to go from here.
On Adalius Thomas
You have to be a smart in order to be part of this crew. Obviously, he’s a special talent and what he’s been able to do here in Boston in the short time that he’s been here has been great…just by him taking over Rosie [Rosevelt] Colvin’s outside position and really solidifying that outside position in terms of turning everything in so we can do damage inside: containing and pass rushing and doing the things that he does. There are so many facets of his game you can look at and marvel.
On if they talk about winning a championship
There are some things you don’t even have to talk bout. There are some things you just don’t have to talk about. It’s understood. And that’s the type of relationship we all have.
On coming to New England and seeing the lack of selfishness
Belichick doesn’t allow it, number one. And whenever you have a leader such as Belichick, you have enough veterans around that have been around his teaching, they breed it. And when they start breeding it in the locker room, it’ contagious. It’s not a big surprise.
On whether it only takes a couple of guys to buy into it
In any business in order to insert your personality, your identity, you want to make sure you have a nucleus of guys that carry it through. It all works well then.
On Randy Moss’ play the last few weeks
It’s not about catches and stats. There’re times when I may only make four of five tackles, but if we win -- It’s all about wining. Coach Belichick, whether you’re a free agent, a draft pick or a guy that’s been here for five [or] eight years, he tells you [to] check your ego at the door, and that’s what Randy’s been doing.
On the pressure to win the Super Bowl
It’s a one-game season. I think you have butterflies, but I think the pressure goes away each day that you come out here, you prepare, you work hard, and you get more familiar with the New York Giants. So I think for the last eight weeks--that confidence that you’ve built with those games--you use that as confidence for the big one. I don’t feel like we feel any pressure. Not at all.
On if anyone on the team can be 100 percent healthy at this point in the year
Yeah, probably Brandon Meriweather [at] 21 years old. He’s running around like he’s 21 years old, so I think those young guys are probably 100 percent, but us old guys have got some mileage.
On if he came to New England to win a Super Bowl
I just wanted to be part of a team and I’ve said that before, to just be part of a team where the coaches wanted me, the players liked me, and I just wanted to show my ability and that was the main reason. Once I got here I understood the philosophy and I understood exactly what they were trying to accomplish, then it was easy for me to join forces because the only thing I ever wanted to do was win.
On being part of the kickoff team in the Super Bowl
It’s intense, man, because I know I‘ve been a part of that, playing on the kickoff team. You just see a million flashes and you’re just like, “Wow,” as you’re running down and, “I’m actually part of this.” I’m the same kid who watched the Chicago Bears in ’85 win the Super Bowl and I always dreamt of something like that, and the opportunity to be able to go down there and be a part of that is special.
On if he will close his eyes to avoid the flashes
No. If you close your eyes you’ll get your head knocked off.
On if the New York and Boston rivalry has intensified
Probably through the media it has. With us, it really doesn’t matter who we play. We are going to have to do what we have to do to prepare, work hard, and go out there and make plays. So I don’t think it being New York or if it was San Francisco or whatever -- It doesn’t matter. We’re just trying to do one thing and win a ball game.
On Mike Vrabel
He’s one of the brains behind the operation. [He’s] a smart, intelligent guy that just makes huge plays, makes big plays, sacks, forced fumbles. [He’s] just a tremendous leader on our team and he’s really the quarterback of our defense.
On Eli Manning
[He’s] a guy that’s composed, a guy that’s playing a heck of a lot better than what he played in the middle and the first part of the season. [He’s] a guy that just looks like a veteran quarterback, making smart decisions about turning the ball over, very accurate and just really taking the Giants offense on his shoulders and just leading them.
On advice he gives to less experience teammates
I say take care of your business here before we get on that plane and focus on one thing and that’s wining football games. You’re going to enjoy your time with your family, but parties and all the sideshows and events are not important. The only thing you want to do is focus. The worst part of the situation is going out there on Sunday and laying an egg and losing.
Six years in the league. I assume this is what you came here for?
Yeah, this is it. This is the biggest game of the best sport in the world and this is what you fantasize about growing up as a little kid, playing in your backyard and things like that. This is it. [We’ll] try to get a good week of preparation this week and go down to Arizona with a plan and be all about business once we get down there.
Thinking back to your rookie year, you mentioned your team was on the verge of making the playoffs and then lost five of the last six.
We started off the year 7-2 or 6-2 and we had to win one of our last four, and those lost four games were against - record-wise-against the worst teams, all the worst teams in the NFL, and we lost every game. I’ve always understood after that year taking it [the] one game at a time approach that Coach [Bill] Belichick preaches here so much, as it’s paid off for us up to now.
Following up on that, yesterday and today is just scratching the surface of what Super Bowl week is about. What’s your anticipation of going through that for the first time?
I’ve always been a big football fan, NFL fan, since I’ve been a little kid, so I’ve seen the whole circus that goes on. It’s all fun and good, but we all understand what’s really at stake here and what’s most important. Guys have family issues, as far as tickets and getting your family down there and hotel rooms and all of that stuff. We’ve tried to get all of that stuff taken care of before we even leave to go to Arizona. The most important thing is just focusing on the game, especially, like I said, this week during the game preparation of this week, and then once we get down there it’s definitely all about business. I’m focused. I already left a voicemail on my phone, in the locker room after the game, after we won the game here Sunday, saying, “Hey, I don’t have any tickets. Don’t call here asking me.” And I haven’t gotten any calls, so that’s good. I guess they got the point.
When other teams scheme to take away Randy Moss, how do you and the other receivers react to that?
You just have to step up. You know that Tom’s [Brady] going to find the open guy every time, so you just have to know that whatever situation it may be, if it’s first down, first series, or it could be late in the game on third down, Tom’s going to find the open guy. Every play, you just have to do your job and try to get open.
Seeing as how you studied psychology, can you define what pressure is or what psychologists would say pressure is?
You know what? Bill made a great point about this about five, maybe six weeks ago. I’m trying to remember exactly how he described it. He said, “Put a 2x4 on the floor and walk across it. Do you feel any pressure? No, you don’t. You put it 300 feet up in the air [and] walk across the same 2x4, do you feel any pressure then? You shouldn’t, it’s the same 2x4, but your mind is letting you know, hey, if I slip or I fall, any miscalculation of a step, that’s it for you. You stay focused on walking across that 2x4 and then there’s no pressure.”
Why do you suppose it is - and some people in the locker room have said this - as the season goes on and you perform well and have accomplished more, that pressure actually increases. Why does the pressure go up when you perform well?
It starts with the media. I think with us winning every game this year, which hasn’t been done before, people were talking about it midseason, as far as us being able to go undefeated and all this other stuff, but I’ve always felt like pressure is what you allow it to be. It’s pretty good - a really great description, I would say, what Bill gave us a couple of months ago about that 2x4. Pressure is only what you allow it to be, and these guys here have played in… I think it’s 109 Super Bowls now. So I don’t think they’ll be worried about any pressure. They’ve done a good job here of just keeping distractions away. We had a couple days off after the game to get all of that stuff out of the way and most of the guys were able to do that. Like I said, right now we’re focusing on the game, focusing on our preparation.
Yesterday Plaxico Burress had a press conference in New Jersey and he said they felt their wide receiving corps was just as good, if not better than yours. Do you have any take on that?
No. Plaxico is a really good receiver. I know him personally. He’s a competitor. He’s a great player, and he’s out there to make plays for his team, just like we’re trying to do for our team. We’re not playing against those guys. I’m not going to be covering Plaxico or anything like that any time soon, so comparisons don’t mean anything right now.
Is this the best receiving corps you’ve played on, though?
Yeah. Obviously when you have a guy like Randy [Moss], and Wes [Welker] is being able to work the slot really well, and Jabar [Gaffney], it’s not only the receivers. It’s the whole team. We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing if the guys up front weren’t giving Tom a whole lot of time, and obviously Tom getting us the ball, so it’s not only receivers. But talent-wise, we’re pretty deep in talent.
Was there ever a time when you had to reconcile the expectations you had when you came in as a free agent and then the role you had with Wes Welker and Randy Moss?
No. No, I think that whatever role it was that I was going to have to play here, I was fine with that. I knew that the main objective was I was tired of being home for New Year’s and being home for the holidays. I’ve been playing pretty much up to this point, as far as through the holidays and things. Now I’m in the big show, so everything that’s gone on, I’ve had a good time. I think now is the ultimate payoff, so [you] just continue to work hard and try to study your opponent as well as you can and try to leave Arizona with a good feeling.
Are you guys the least bit concerned about Tom Brady and his ankle?
Well, Bill actually brought me in his office earlier this morning and asked me if I wanted to move to quarterback, and we’re going to put in a whole new offense. He wants me to run the option. We brought in the coach from Nebraska, Tom Osborne, so I’ve met with him and we have the option going. Tom’s going to go ahead and let me take the reigns for this game.
On Sunday you said you weren’t sure if you wanted to bring Nikko with you to the Super Bowl. Have you made a decision on him yet?
Yeah, I’m going to leave him here for awhile. He’s the one that goes out and plays in the game. I’m not really an overly aggressive person, but he is, so I’ll let him handle the game. I’ll take care of the preparation and let him play in the game.
After the AFC Championship game a lot of guys said if you don’t complete a perfect season, it was all for nothing. Do you feel that way? At this point, yeah. We’re down to our last game and we need to make sure that we’re coming out ready to play and make sure that we’re hitting [on] all cylinders.
When you were on the Dolphins and looked at this organization from afar, was coming here what you expected? Yeah, absolutely, and probably more so. The organization has been great, the coaches, the players, everybody works together. Ultimately, it’s gotten us to this point and we just have to keep it going for one more.
Do you ever reflect and think of what the record was there and what it is here? Not really. I think I get asked more about it than I think about it. I don’t really think about it that much. I just concentrate on the here and now and make sure I’m ready.
What has it meant to you personally, the way you’ve emerged as a player with a new team here? It’s been great. Anytime you can come into a new team like this and be able to get the confidence of your teammates and go out there and make plays week in and week out, it’s been great. I feel like the offense really suits me, and having Tom Brady back there doesn’t hurt, either.
Was a season like this something you though you were capable of earlier in your career? I don’t think so. I was in my first year in my career in the NFL returning kicks and punts. That was it, so I didn’t even have a playbook or anything like that. It was get back there, return kicks and punts. I thought I’d do that for the rest of my career and then I just worked hard and tried to develop the rest of my receiving skills, and it’s kind of come to this.
People point to you as not the biggest or strongest guy in the word, but given a chance… Do you mind that at all? Does that shortchange you at all? Nothing really bothers me. I know my capabilities and I think the coaches know. We try to play to those strengths and from there I just go out there and execute my plays. I don’t really worry about the size, the speed, anything else. It’s a matter of me going out there and executing, and making sure I’m doing my job.
When teams try to take away Randy Moss, do the other receivers enjoy that at all? Yeah, I mean, anytime you get singled up out there as a receiver, you want to win, so that’s a great opportunity, whenever you get singled up like that.
In some respects, you stand here as a rookie - a Super Bowl rookie. What are your thoughts and anticipations going into this experience? I tell you, I think it’s been a media hype around here all season, so I don’t think it’s anything new for us. I realize it’s kind of picked up a little bit, but to tell you the truth, it’s kind of been a circus around here all year. We just have to take it in stride and remain on the same course we’ve been on all year, make sure we’re concentrating and focusing on the game and are ready for our execution out there on Sunday.
With all of the experience in that locker room of people who have been through this before, are you picking anyone’s brain? Yeah, a little bit. Really, not so much about the game as much as, hey, you know, even after we won the AFC Championship, how many tickets do we get. Talking to the guys, what do you do about families? What did you do before? Stuff like that, and just try[ing] to get that stuff settled and taking care of it as early as possible so I can just get ready for the game.
I remember talking to you before about what you expected for the playoffs and you said you’d never been in a playoff game. Now that you’ve played in a few, was it what you expected? I think it prepared us really well. I feel like even towards the stretch of trying to keep on winning games here towards the homestretch, it was pretty intense games. We did have a lot of teams [who] it was kind of their Super Bowl and we were making sure that we had to bring it each week. It’s no different in the playoffs, and it’s definitely stepped up some. You can see guys flying around and putting the extra effort [in] out there on the field.
Donte’ Stallworth said he’s taking over at quarterback and you guys are going to run the option. What are your thoughts about having him play quarterback? Well, actually, Coach pulled me into the office and told me I was going to be the quarterback, so I don’t know where he’s hearing that from. I think he kind of overheard our conversation, and that’s actually going to be my role.
So now there’s a quarterback controversy? A little bit.
Transcript: Bill Belichick's Friday press conference, he still won't talk about Brady
Journal photo / Gretchen Ertl
How is it going this morning? Good, huh? OK, well, we’re plugging along. The Giants are a tough team to get ready for. They do a lot [and] they do a lot of things well. This is probably one of those games [where] if we had a month to get ready for them, we’d still be working on them, but we have to schedule, kind of pace our way through it. We’re going to try to do the best we can, but they do a good job in a lot of areas - really, all areas - so it’s a lot to get ready for, but we’re underway. It was good to be out on the field yesterday and we have a couple more days here before we take off on Sunday.
Is their defensive line comparable to any you’ve faced already? They’re pretty good. They’re pretty good. They’re strong, they’re athletic. The two ends are real good and they’re good inside. [Barry] Cofield and [Fred] Robbins do a good job. [Justin] Tuck goes in there. They bring the linebackers up inside quite a bit, too, so you have to deal with them. One time you’re blocking a big, 300 pounder, the next play you could be blocking a real athletic, quick type of athlete in there, so it’s a real challenge for our linemen and certainly the two ends do an outstanding job in everything, not just the pass rush. They’re very good in the running game. [Michael] Strahan is… We could stand up here and talk about him all day. For a guy that’s not that big, he has exceptional power and he’s a great leverage player, good technique player, smart… He’s a hard guy to block. So is Osi [Umenyiora].
Can you say whether Tom Brady will practice today? Not now. We’ll see. [I’ll] let you know after practice - Or does everybody have a deadline before then?
Is your experience going through Super Bowl games more important to the actual game itself or handling the hype and pacing yourself? Probably both. It’s a process. The whole thing is a process. I don’t think you want to not utilize - Well, I think you want to maximize everything you have. Whatever time you have available, you want to maximize it to be efficient and productive toward your goal, which is playing well and winning, and not get distracted, not get burned out, not get... To have your timing right so that when the game starts, that’s when you’re at your peak. You don’t want to be there before. You certainly don’t want to be there after. You want to be well prepared and well rested both physically and mentally going into the game. Getting to that point is important, doing it during the game is important. I mean, one could offset the other, so I think they’re both up there.
Can you talk about what makes Kevin Faulk such a unique player? Well, Kevin has a lot of versatility. He’s smart, he’s very instinctive, he has a very good feel for the game. He understands really all part of the game exceptionally well - pass protection, route running, receiving, the running game, blocking schemes, play action - all of those things, and he’s a good football player. He has good balance, he’s quick, he’s hard to tackle, catches the ball well, he has a good combination of quickness and power and he’s very instinctive. He usually puts himself in the best position or the best advantage to deal with whatever it is he has to deal with, and then he certainly has plenty of skill to execute a lot of different things on the offensive side of the ball and on special teams as well.
Did Rodney Harrison practice yesterday and are there any players you think won’t practice today? I’d love to answer that. Maybe we can give you something after practice.
Why not answer now? Everyone’s here. We haven’t practiced. I don’t know. We’ll see how things go at practice.
What’s your best guess? I’ll let you know after practice. That injury report will be out next Wednesday, though, so it’ll have everything on it then.
As durable as Tom Brady has been at his position, how durable is your center? I know he had the one injury. Right, two years ago, but Dan’s [Koppen] been great. Dan’s been very durable inside and he’s given us a very consistent level of play, really pretty much since he’s been here his rookie year, which is impressive, for a player to be able to come in as a rookie and handle all of the things, both physically and mentally that we ask an offensive lineman and especially a center to do. He’s been great pretty much from day one, and day in and day out he’s one of our most consistent, dependable players. He doesn’t make very many mistakes. He gives you a very consistent high level of performance.
I know all of those guys up front are pretty much the unsung heroes, but is he the unsung hero of that group? You’d have to ask whoever… I don’t know exactly where that’s coming from. You’d have to ask them about that. I think they’re very good football players and they play well, so I recognize it. I don’t know about everybody else. Dan does a great job. Steve [Neal] and Logan [Mankins] are outstanding. Logan’s had a terrific year, and so has Steve. He’s missed a few games, but he’s played very well. Nick’s [Kaczur] been solid for us at right tackle and so has Ryan [O’Callaghan] when he’s hand an opportunity to play. I think Matt’s [Light] had a very good year at left tackle. And he’s had several before. They’ve done a good job and when Russ [Hochstein] and Billy [Yates] and Ryan and Wes [Wesley Britt] have had an opportunity to play, they’ve done a good job as well. I think we’ve had a good level of performance there and good depth.
When you look at Eli Manning, are there similarities to Peyton or are they completely different? They’re in different systems, so that’s a big difference right there. But Eli, he’s done a good job for them. He’s god some mobility in the pocket, he’s able to avoid the rush, he’s an accurate passer, he’s made some tight games, especially - The Green Bay game was - The way he threw the ball last week was exceptional, given the conditions and the tight coverage that Green Bay had on him. There wasn’t much space to get some of those passes in there and he threw the ball very accurately, both on the intermediate and down the field routes and the receivers made some good catches. I think he brings a lot to the position. They do a lot of different things with him - screens, play action, downfield passes, intermediate passes, some moving pocket passes, like they scored on us against the sprint-out play and some bootleg plays, things like that. He does a good job in the things that he’s asked to do and they ask him to do quite a bit. He does a good job with it.
Osi Umeniyora said yesterday on HBO that Matt Light might have done a few things he shouldn’t have, some dirty plays after the whistle. You’d have to talk to him about that.
Does that go both ways, though, usually in the trenches? If one side is doing it, the other side does? Yeah… Can’t help you there. Really, honestly, when the play gets cut off - When we watch the play, the play pretty much ends when the guy gets tackled, so when they’re walking back to the huddle and all that, whatever does or doesn’t go on, to be honest with you, I don’t really get a very good look at. I guess you’d have to ask Osi about it for more details. I’m a lot further from that play than they are.
But is it motivating to have these types of remarks? We’re playing in the Super Bowl. I mean, I hope there’s some motivation to win an NFL Championship.
How do Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs compliment each other and what kind of challenges do they present? It’s a big challenge. Both of them are good. Jacobs is an outstanding back. I think we’ve all seen plenty of him. He’s a big, powerful guy with good quickness and speed and he’s broken plenty of long runs. He’s not a fullback, he’s a running back. He’s very elusive in the secondary and he’s made plays for them in the passing game, and so has Bradshaw. Bradshaw has shown it on kick returns earlier in the year. I think he did a real good job of that when he had an opportunity. He has good quickness. He’s probably a little - maybe a little quicker than Jacobs. Jacobs is obviously a little bigger. They have good complimentary styles, but they’re both good. I don’t think they really care. It’s not like one guy runs these plays and another guy runs those plays, or one guys runs those routes or another - It looks like they don’t really care who’s in there. They do both things with both players, and they look very comfortable with the assignments they have. And I think the coaches are very comfortable calling plays, regardless of who’s in there. I don’t think it really matters to them. Maybe it does, but it doesn’t look like it, because I think you have to defend the whole variety on both players. They do have different styles, and I think that’s important for us to know which back’s in the game and be ready to play him accordingly.
Obviously the magnitude of this game makes the preparation different than if you were playing the third game of the regular season, but can you think of anything in the last three Super Bowls you’ve been to where you said, “That wouldn’t have happened if we’d had our normal time to prepare.”? Not right off the top of my head, no. I think we have plenty of time to prepare. I think what you have is, you’re playing an opponent that has plenty of time to prepare, too, and a lot of times they’ll throw a wrinkle in, as we will, to try to break a tendency or do something that’s a little bit different than maybe what you think they’re expecting, but still something that you feel you can do effectively. The toughest situation was the first one, against the Rams, on a short week. That was more challenging, but we had played that team in midseason, so at least we had some familiarity with them and that was - in terms of preparation, that was a plus. I think we did, as a coaching staff and the players, we did a lot better job of coaching and playing the second time we did it than the first time. But I think when you have two weeks you have plenty of time to prepare and do what you want to do, but even though you have a whole season’s worth of information, that’s way more than any team can do. You really have too much information. You have to boil it down and decide what areas you want to focus on, but at the same time it’s a little bit of a moving target because you know they’re going to make a few adjustments and changes, too, probably to something you haven’t seen or that you would spend very little time working on and then you have to adjust to that during the game. From that standpoint, I think the game is challenging because of the changes that the opponent makes in their attack of you, given the extra time they have.
But the event aspect of it doesn’t really have that much of an effect? I’d say it’s like any other big game. I’m not saying it’s like - I’m saying when you have a big game, one of the things I think you have to guard against as a coach is that the focus is on the assignment and the execution, not the magnitude of the game, so when you’re playing those types of games, as you said, it’s a little different than playing the third game of the regular season and sometimes players might have a tendency to think more about the overall - the big picture, instead of just doing their job. It always comes back to that. Each of us has to do a good job of doing what we’re supposed to do during the game and not worrying about what everybody else has to do. Just get our job taken care of.
How does this compare to the last three Super Bowls you’ve been in? They’re all special and they’re all different.
How is it different? We didn’t go to Arizona before, we didn’t play the Giants before and we have a lot of different people on our team from the last time we went, so there are a lot of things that are different.
Bill Belichick was asked about Tom Brady and his ankle about four different ways today, and none of the questions got any kind of answer that gave any indication about Brady's health.
After declining to say how much Brady will practice today, if at all, if Rodney Harrison practiced yesterday and if he anticipates that others might miss time today, and if he'd share how much -- or little -- Brady did participate in practice yesterday, Belichick grew exasperated.
After that last query, he looked to PR maven Stacey James and sighed, "Stacey, is that the last question?"
In between questions about the World's Most Discussed Ankle, Belichick talked about Kevin Faulk, Dan Koppen and the rest of the offensive line, comparisons between Eli and Peyton Manning, and the Giants' running back tandem of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
The locker room was quiet at first, but in time, Junior Seau, Tedy Bruschi, Larry Izzo, Rodney Harrison and Adalius Thomas drew crowds to discuss all things New York and Super Bowl.
New England will hold another full-pads practice inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse this afternoon; we'll let you know whether or not Number 12 and his ankle are there.
Richard Seymour picked the Giants to get here in a pool with his friends. How about you? We’ve been there. We’ve had those season before where you play well, you flash it and then it kind of goes away for a few weeks. Certainly when we played them the last week, they played their best ball when they needed to to do well in the playoffs in the National Football League - after Thanksgiving and on the road in the playoffs.
Is that how you judge your team, after Thanksgiving? Well, there’s a few things I’ve learned from Bill [Belichick] and that’s one of them. Kind of take a look and see what teams do after Thanksgiving, see what kind of shape they’re in, what kind of plays they make, how they play, how tough they are. A lot of those early season number - I guess you want to win every game you play, but you can make a lot of hay after Thanksgiving.
Their toughness was demonstrated in that game. They didn’t need to beat you to make the playoffs. It’s a physical football team. They’re built like that and I think Coach [Tom] Coughlin wants them - That’s the type of team he wants. That’s the type of team he had in Jacksonville and certainly with the Giants. Right across the front, they have big running backs, they have physical linemen, big receivers that’ll block, so we have our hands full.
What advice do you have for the guys that haven’t been to the Super Bowl? I just think the biggest thing is when you come off the field for pregame warm-ups there’s about 50 minutes to where you’re just sitting there, as opposed to maybe 10 minutes in a regular season game. There’s a lot of time. I remember in 2001 Bill had been through it before and said don’t go out there and kill yourself in pregame warm-ups because you’re going to come back down and you’re going to cool off, then we’re going to have to stretch again and we’re going to have to get warmed back up again. Just little things like that, where you take it for granted where you think it’s a normal game, but really there’s a lot of logistical things that factor into the Super Bowl with TV and the time that we’re out on the field and coming back in. Then when you finally leave, then it’s two minutes. Then it’s the national anthem and they’re kicking the ball off.
Anything about the week itself? I think everything with the hotel, it’s a road trip for us, really. We’ve actually stayed at this hotel, so it’ll be nice knowing the surroundings. When we played Arizona, I think we stayed at this hotel, so not too much [is different]. Practices are going to be the same, meetings are going to be the same. You’ll meet with the media, your day is done at 5:00 or 6:00, after you’re doing watching film and have watched practice.
Can you talk about how your relationship with Bill Belichick has evolved since you first came here? Yeah, I think obviously I have a lot of respect for Bill and what he’s done with this football team and the decisions that he makes. I certainly don’t always agree with everything that he says or does, but I think ultimately the end result is very positive. I just think that he’s given me - He gave me an opportunity to come here. He said I won’t ever promise anybody a spot, but there’ll be an opening for you to compete and be an every-down player. And then from 2001 on, it’s kind of evolved. My role on the football team has kind of evolved, where the first year I just played first and second down and then the next year I played on third down and did a lot of other things. I just think it’s just expanded since I’ve been here. He’s not really caught up in the guys that are supposed to be good player or allegedly good players. He wants guys that are going to go out there and work, be smart and are dependable and consistent. Those are the kind of guys we have on this football team.
You’ve been able to joke with him - you have a good relationship. Has it been like that from the beginning? I think that any time you have a certain comfort level with somebody, I think that certainly if he’s able to give it to us, I figured why not give it back to him.
You’ve been around long enough to understand the way fans think. Talk about the fact that it’s Boston/New York for the Super Bowl. It’s no Yankees/Red Sox, but it’s going to be determined out on the field. It will be fun for the fans to go out to Arizona and to enjoy some good weather, I guess, and leave the east coast and go out there. I think the fans will have a great time. I know the players will enjoy it and, most importantly, I think we’ll have to go out there on the field and prove and fight to see who will be the champions.
All three Patriots Super Bowls were won by three points and the red zone becomes much more important in the Super Bowl. With three big red zone stops last week, is that something you hope to carry over to the Super Bowl? Obviously it’s something we want to carry over. It’s something that just doesn’t happen. You just don’t go out and hope you’re going to stop them after you’ve given up an 80-yard drive and just hope that you’re going to stop them down in the red zone. So you have to put some time in it and work at it. You have to look and see what they like, what they had success with in the first game - which they did, and that was a big thing. It was the reason the game was so tight, I think, was their ability to convert on third down and their ability to score touchdowns in the red zone.
You talked about when you first came here and Bill Belichick calling you. Do you ever think about how close that was? It was just between Pittsburgh - It was either going back to Pittsburgh and resuming the same role that I had with the Steelers, which Coach [Bill] Cowher welcomed me back. He said, hey, I totally understand you looking somewhere else and seeing if there’s an opportunity there. If not, give me a call and you’re welcome back here.
Adalius Thomas shifted from inside to outside. Can you talk about how he’s handled the role? I think with AD, I think the expectations that everybody had of him coming in here were so great because he was such a sought-after free agent in the offseason, but he came in and I think just became one of the guys in the locker room. [He] put everything else aside and just learned kind of what we do here and how we do it, learning every position - learned inside, learned outside, and certainly in his flexibility, I think his talent has enabled us to do a lot of things. It’s enabled me to be outside and it’s allowed him to play inside and outside and also cover. He’s a great coverage linebacker. He doesn’t get enough credit for it, but he does a great job. He’s just a big athlete that we can put a lot of different places.
How fine a line is it between tough, hardnosed football and the dirty play that some fans or some people think they’re seeing? It’s just like, you know, for a player or anybody, you just can’t throw out accusations. A guy - You come off the field and you win or you lose a game, emotions are very high. There are plays that happen to me, that happen to everybody out there that if you wanted to spin it another way, you could say, man, that was a dirty play. But, I mean, it’s football. There’s going to be some things that happen that aren’t by design, maybe certainly you didn’t want to do, but they happen. And so guys can come in after the game and if they say this guy’s a dirty player, then red flags go up. That’s a you-problem; that’s not our problem.
Can I ask you to reflect on your hometown of Equality, Ala. and how well you know Justin Tuck? Actually, it’s funny you say that. [We] went to the same high school, our parents went to school together. [It’s a] small town. Most of the neighbors are either your aunt or your uncle or your grandparents. His sister is in the class with my sister now - I think that’s right. I know Justin very well. [We] grew up together. Again, he went to church down the street from where I went to school. I talked to him this week. They’re calling it the Coosa County Bowl instead of the Super Bowl where we’re from. It’s so funny, though - two guys from the same area, which is a very rural part of Alabama to play in the Super Bowl, so one family will be happy and one family will be kind of sad.
Richard Seymour talked about making picks with his buddies and he chose the Giants straight through, based on the fact that when he played them he thought they were a solid team. Do you think that? I really didn’t know who would be here, because in the playoffs it’s always some kind of twist or something like that, but I knew that they had a great chance because of their road record, first of all, and the way that they played at the end of the year. They were starting to play well at the right time. A lot of times teams hit their all cylinders at the wrong point and then have a lull at the wrong time of the year. In the playoffs, you can’t have that, that lull at the wrong time of the year. They’ve done a great job of going on the road [and] playing games, winning on the road against very good teams, so they have the momentum right now. Eli’s [Manning] playing great. Their defense is playing well. Special teams is playing great, kicking off and making a short field for them. We definitely have our challenge cut out for us.
When you talked to Justin Tuck, can you give us a little bit of the flavor of it? First of all, we congratulated each other. I congratulated him on his new deal, whatever, and we said we would just talk later on in the week and get together. But, you know, it’s not like we play against each other. Both of us are on defense, so I think it would be a little bit different if he was a running back or a wide receiver or something like that, but just hoping each other stay healthy. Other than that, [that’s] pretty much it.
You came in here and got basically immersed playing inside and then all of a sudden got shifted outside. Was there any impact? No, it helps you learn the defense as a whole when you’re playing inside and then you go to outside. You understand now as you go through the calls what you may have to do at Mike as well as Sam or Will or Jack - whatever it may be. It just helps you understand the defense, which helps you as an overall player. I think that’s the biggest thing that it does for me.
Knowing that now, having played both, is it easier to shift outside or would it have been harder to go inside? I don’t know. It really doesn’t matter when you’re dealing with a new system, because you have to learn both of them either way it goes, so being that I was the Mike I think it’s easier now to go outside, because you do know a lot about the calls because when you’re at Mike you deal with both sides, vs. when you’re a Sam or a Jack you deal with just one side.
The Patriots’ Super Bowl wins were all by three points and the red zone becomes very important in the Super Bowl. Last week you had three red zone stops. Do you think that puts you right on schedule? It is. That’s definitely a momentum shifter, especially when you can give up three points. You don’t want to get them down there, first of all. You don’t want to major in red zone defense, but if something goes down and they’re down there - a long drive, a turnover or a kickoff or something that got them to that point, whatever it may be - you want to always be able to stand up and hold them to three points, and I think that is a big thing, vs. three points, you give up two scores, which is the same thing as one score - it’s six points. So I think that definitely helps as far as that goes. They’ve been great in the red zone, and so one of them is going to have to give. Hopefully we can continue to bring focus to that point and continue to play strong to that point, because that will definitely help us on Sunday.
When you were thinking about signing someplace when you were a free agent, was this in your mind why you signed here, the opportunity to be here and talk about the Patriots in the Super Bowl? I knew it gave me a great chance to be here. Did I think it would be the first year? I really didn’t know, but I knew you had a great chance of being there. That’s all you can really ask for in this game, is to have a chance to play - to get an opportunity to get to the playoffs and play for a championship and go on to the stage that we’re on now. So that definitely was a big part of why I signed here.
Their two running backs are different styles. What kind of challenge does that present? It represents a big challenge. Both of the guys run hard. [Brandon] Jacobs is a more downhill, big guy, run you over, but at the same time he has good speed. [Ahmad] Bradshaw is a cutback, cut - He can bounce outside. He’s a very, very hard runner, always keeping his legs pumping, and so you just have to gang tackle both of them. That’s the key. That’s the only common thing that they do have, is you have to gang tackle both of them because they’re very good backs.
Were you surprised at all the coverage Tom Brady and his walking boot got the last few days? I didn’t know anything about it until I think yesterday. It was what it was. Tom gets enough coverage. I don’t know.
Do you feel pretty confident you’ll have him at 100 percent? Is this a non-issue for your team? I’ll let Tom answer that. I don’t know anything about a boot or a cup or a shoe. I don’t know anything like that. I don’t know anything - slippers, I don’t know. His slippers cost more than my shoes, I don’t know.
Could you address the development of Eli Manning and what you’ve seen in him in the last month? He’s just taking care of the ball. No turnovers in the playoffs. If you don’t turn the ball over, you give yourself a greater chance to win. He’s throwing the ball very well. Running the ball has been taking a lot of pressure off him as well, and Plaxico [Burress] has been running big, and when not throwing to Plaxico, the other guys have stepped up. [Amani] Toomer, [Steve] Smith and [Kevin] Boss. You really can’t just focus on one guy because he really is going through his reads and delivering the ball where it’s supposed to be delivered.
Some people grow up in certain areas and wish they were from somewhere else. Are you grateful for where you came from? Of course. That’s what made [me] who I am. I don’t have any regrets. That’s one thing you can’t choose, is your parenthood and where they live. It’s a great I think motivation or encouragement for the kids that are from rural areas that are small areas. Nobody really knows where I’m from and it goes back to the old cliché it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you go. I think Justin and I are just two prime examples of guys that came from middle class families that worked hard. The one thing that both of us really had was great support from our parents, our mother and our father, his parents as well as my parents. I think that just goes to show a lot about the character that he has and I have as well.
You were injured for a short time this season -- What injury are you talking about?
The ankle injury that showed up on the injury report. I think everybody could be on the injury report at some point, but I don’t think it’s really impacted - To a certain extent - I’m fine, as far as that goes. I didn’t miss any games, [or] anything like that, so I don’t think - It’s a non-issue.
You guys are pretty heavily favored in this game. That doesn’t mean anything. It’s not like - Favored? Just like I guess Green Bay was favored. That doesn’t mean anything. The only thing that matters is when the ball is kicked off, when it’s time to play, you make more plays and go out there and play good defense and good team ball and try to win the game. That’s the only thing that matters. That favor doesn’t do anything but motivate the other team.
Has this season been more of a learning experience than you anticipated? I knew it was going to be a learning experience because, again, you come into a new system, new players, new environment, it’s always a learning system, learning how things work on and off the field. It’s been a learning experience and I’ll continue to learn. Just learning from the guys, from Junior [Seau] and Tedy [Bruschi] and Vrabes [Mike Vrabel], those guys really showed me the way and so I continue to lean on those guys.
But here where the system is so complicated to play? I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s very complicated to play. I mean, I think it’s a good system to play in.
Ready for the madness? Absolutely. I think this is one of the reasons that you play the game, obviously to be in a situation like this. We work hard all year and we’ve put ourselves in a great position. Now it’s about finishing it.
What kind of advice do you give the guys who have never been to the Super Bowl before? Well, I mean, I don’t want to give too much away because obviously our opponents will be listening, but I think in-house, I think we understand what we have to do in order to be successful in this game, and we know what we shouldn’t be doing as well. I’ll just keep that in-house, and talk to me after the game. I’ll give you all our tips.
Seeing Tom Brady walk around New York in a walking boot, are you at all concerned? I think that’s something you have to talk to Brady about. I have just as much information as you, so I’m really not sure about that issue.
You know it’s the heat of the moment in games, but are you distressed at some of the words that have been aimed at you in terms of being a dirty player? First of all, it’s not true, so I think the facts are the facts. Secondly, I can’t control what others say or think. The only thing I can do is control my actions, the way that I approach the game [and] the things that I’m able to do throughout the week. For me, that won’t change and I think the people that know me best know that’s something that’s totally bogus.
From your experience, these couple of days here, are they the most important days in terms of preparation before you get to the Super Bowl site? I think it’s a combination of both. I think you have to be pretty balanced. I really can’t say one is a little bit more important than the other. Obviously the most important is Sunday, but we have to do a good job preparing for this team. I think they do a good job. They’re obviously road warriors and they do a lot of things well, and it’s the reason that they’re in this game. They went into some hostile environments [and] beat some really good football teams. Even when we played those guys, they played tough, they played hard, they play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. From a fan’s perspective, me and a couple of my buddies had our picks for the week, and I rode the Giants all the way there. I’m off of their bandwagon now, though.
What did you personally take from that last game? I think obviously they’re a tough, physical football team and they’ve gotten better since that point, and we have, too. If you look at early in the year, Green Bay beat them pretty handily and they came back. It wasn’t the same team that played early in the year, so we understand that. And even from the last game of the season, those three games that they played in the playoffs, they’re a better team now than when we played them, and we are, too. We understand the magnitude of this game, but at the same time it’s still a game and you have to go out and have fun in doing it.
In what way are you better since that Giants game? I just think recognition of plays, I just think a better tackling team, I think our red zone defense. I think we’ve stepped up in a few areas and we’ve made plays that we needed to make when we needed to make them.
The New York/Boston rivalry is well documented, obviously, from a baseball standpoint. How much do you recognize it now from a football standpoint? I think it’s two cities that put a lot of pride in their sports. The fans are tremendously supportive in both regards, Boston and New York, and rightfully so. They pull for their teams. I think as a player you want to play in an atmosphere where people care. The fans that we have here, they definitely care, and I know the ones in New York do as well. We’re definitely excited about this match up.
Can you add to Nick Hardwick’s thing yesterday that you head butted -- I just addressed it.
The head butt thing? I just addressed everything I’ve - I mean, I can’t. Yeah.
OK, but this one specific thing. He claimed you head butted a coach, although the tape -- I don’t - A coach? A coach that was out on the field? I mean, so…
When you look at Eli Manning, in the game against you he threw four touchdown passes. Do you think he’s used that as a platform? Anytime when your quarterback doesn’t make turnovers and he has some targets to throw the ball to as well, and they have a good running game and also play well defensively - I think all around the board they do a good job. We’re excited about this match up, to say the least. I think if we just do our job individually, I think collectively as a group that we’ll be fine.
On your picks with your buddies, you picked the Giants. Right. I rode the Giants.
Based on your game with them, did you have inside information? Yeah, I mean, because I played them. I wouldn’t call it [an] inside scoop. I mean, I played them. I knew they were a good football team and it was just something fun. Me and my buddies got together and did that, but they play the game the way the game is supposed to be played. Defensively, they’re tough. They can stop the run, rush the passer, [they’re] good on special teams, they’re well-coached. They have really good players over there, so we understand what they have and I think that’s what makes this match up intriguing.
What kind of challenge do you face with the running backs? I think obviously in [Brandon] Jacobs, he’s a big, pounding, bruising-type back. He also has the speed to take it outside and hit the home run ball. It’s a change of pace when the other back comes in. He cuts the ball back and gives us a different look defensively, so we definitely have two running backs in practice this week getting us prepared.
Did it surprise you the intensity that they brought to that last game of the regular season? Well, we knew they were a tough, physical team, just watching them all week and it was a playoff atmosphere when we played down there. The sidelines were filled with people - I mean, it was a circus. They came out and they performed. It wasn’t a surprise. We saw all week long what they were capable of.
For standings, they were locked into their playoff position, so why would they go about it that way? Well, they get paid to play. They get paid to play and the coaches get paid to coach, and that’s what they did. Obviously they made those decisions and we showed up and did the same thing.
With Adalius Thomas coming in over your shoulder, is it that unspoken thing you had with Rosevelt Colvin, where you instinctively know what’s going on behind you? I think defensively it’s probably a little different than offensively where quarterbacks can look at the receivers and they kind of know, etc. I think defensively we all have a job to do and the coaches put the guys on the field that they feel like can get it done. Adalius has been doing a great job for us - all of our linebackers have. If you need your best game, this is the game to do it. If you want to be one of the best to ever do it, this is a primetime opportunity. The world is watching and [hoping we’ll] bring another championship back here.
You’ve often been cited for being a size/speed combo that’s rare, and so has Adalius. Beyond that, what strikes you about him? He’s very athletic. He can go out and cover and do a lot of different things for us. He can rush the passer, he can stop the run, he can do some of the things that defensive backs do. He’s a guy that can move around for us defensively and also he’s a smart player. He knows how to break down defenses and understand what they’re doing in certain situations. He’ll be out there giving calls and making calls and, hey, watch for this, look for that, etc., etc. He’s an instinctive player. He’s a smart player. We’re definitely going to need him next Sunday.
The Patriots have placed safety/special teamer Mel Mitchell on injured reserve with a biceps injury.
Things have not gone exactly as Mitchell likely planned since he signed with New England before last season -- last year, he missed the entire season with an arm injury, and he this year he battled a groin injury before the biceps injury happened. In all, he played in 11 games this season and totaled 11 special-teams tackles.
New England now has 52 players on the active roster, though it would be surprising if the player chosen to fill Mitchell's spot is named before next week.
Photo: 2 quarterbacks at practice, and neither is Brady
Journal photo / Mary Murphy
With no sign of Tom Brady, Patriot backup quarterbacks Matt Cassel, left, and Matt Gutierrez practice in the indoor field at Gillette Stadium today. Photos and video of Brady wearing a walking boot in New York City Sunday night sparked concerns over his health. Today, in a press conference before practice, Coach Bill Belichick had this to say (or not say):
Q. Can you comment on Tom Brady’s foot and any concerns you may have?
A. No. I don’t have any comment on it.
Q. Is he going to practice today, regular practice?
A. Well, we’ll go out there. I don’t know. The injury report will be out next Wednesday and we’re excited to give that to you. That form will be filled out completely and I can’t wait to give that to everybody. I know you’re anxious for it, so when it’s due on Wednesday, we’ll have it for you. Don’t worry about that.
The Pats leave Sunday, a week before they're due to play the New York Giants in the Superbowl in Arizona.
Transcript: Bill Belichick's Thursday press conference
We’ve spent the past three days looking at the Giants. Even though we just played them a month ago, I think that they’ve certainly improved dramatically as a football team. The number one area I would say is in the kicking game. They’ve really done a good job there. I think they’ve pretty much had the edge in that phase of the game in all three of their playoff games, and not turning the ball over, offensively. That’s been very impressive, especially against the defenses they’ve gone up against. Tampa, Dallas and Green Bay are all outstanding defenses and they protected the ball perfectly, really, in those games and of course came up with the turnovers on defense. [They’re a] real good football team. We had a great game with them a month ago, roughly, so we have a lot of get ready for and I think it’s a team that’s playing its best football at this time of year. Tom’s [Coughlin] done a great job with the team and he’s an outstanding coach. They have a great organization. They’re physical, they do everything pretty well and this will be a big challenge for us. Hopefully we can have a real good week up here in terms of our preparation and getting a lot of things done - not everything, of course, but getting a lot of things done so that when we do head down there on Sunday we’ll be familiar with a good chunk of the game plan, what we want to do, and then be able to just polish it up a little bit in Arizona. That’s kind of the plan for this week and we’re excited to get started. I think the players really had a good attitude this morning about coming in and getting on to business. We know we have a lot of work to do and we’re anxious to get started on the preparations.
The familiarity of having played them a month ago - The coaches obviously have an advantage, but what about the players? Sure. Yeah, I think it’s sort of like a division game when you’ve played the team once earlier in the year and you’re familiar with your opponent more so than a team you haven’t played. I don’t think it’s an advantage for either team - both teams are working from the same point - but it’s just more familiarity so there’s a little bit of, we did this the last time. Do we want to change it up? Do we want to stay with what’s been successful? Do we think they’ll adjust to it? There’s a little bit of that game that you go through anytime you play a team a second time in a season - actually, this is the third time, counting the preseason game. There’s a little bit of that, but I think the familiarity, it helps the coaches, it helps the players, it gives you a higher starting point in your preparations, but I don’t think it favors either team. It’s just more information.
Can you comment on Tom Brady’s foot and any concerns you may have? No. I don’t have any comment on it.
Is he going to practice today, regular practice? Well, we’ll go out there. I don’t know. The injury report will be out next Wednesday and we’re excited to give that to you. That form will be filled out completely and I can’t wait to give that to everybody. I know you’re anxious for it, so when it’s due on Wednesday, we’ll have it for you. Don’t worry about that.
Can you comment on the historic nature of the game coming up, the Super Bowl? It’s been one game at a time for you and now this is it. I think there’s always a time to reflect back on the season; this isn’t it. Right now the time is to focus on the Giants and prepare for this game, so that’s what we’re doing. Later on after the season or whenever, some other point in history, looking back is fine, but we’re not anywhere close to that right now.
You kind of make it sound like it’s just another game, like any old game. Well, it’s the championship game. That’s what it is. Last week was the AFC Championship game, this week is the championship in the National Football League, and the most important thing for us is to prepare for the game and do the best we can in it, so that’s where we’re going to put our time and energy.
Does it make it more special for you given your personal history with the Giants, to be playing them? I don’t know if I would use those words, but certainly I had - My 12 years with the Giants was a great time in my career. I enjoyed really everything about it. It was a great organization, with Wellington Mara. We had good teams. I was fortunate enough to be a part of an outstanding defense. We had a lot of great players there and we all had a lot of success. We had a great coaching staff. That period of time was a good one for me and so I have very fond memories of it, particularly the two championships in ’86 and ’90. But that being said, that’s all in the past. We’ve moved on and whoever we’re playing this week, it’s the biggest game of our lives and we’re going to put everything we have into it. But [I am] familiar with the Giants and what’s on the other side of the field to a degree, more so than probably pretty much any other team.
Because of the undefeated season, if you win the Super Bowl, will this one be more special than the others? Right now we’re just thinking about doing the best we can on Sunday against the Giants. That’s all we’re thinking about.
Can you talk about Tom Brady’s toughness? Even at different points in his career, when he’s been banged up, he’s had the ability to play through it. I think Tom’s one of the toughest players on our team, mentally and physically. He works hard and he can be focused on his job regardless of what’s going on in all of the surroundings - the crowd, the game, the - whatever it is, stuff flying around him, but he’s very calm. He’s a great competitor, but he’s very calm.
What has been the difference with Eli Manning? I think as usual it goes to the entire team. And Eli’s done a great job, I’m not taking anything away from him, but the coaching staff, the offensive line, the protection, the receivers - last week against Green Bay he made some excellent throws but the receivers made some great catches against tight man coverage in certainly less than ideal conditions. His offensive line has given him good protection. They’ve done a good job with the running game, which has kept defenses off-balance so that they have to play everything. [Ahmad] Bradshaw and [Brandon] Jacobs have done a nice job of balancing the offense. They’ve been productive and have gotten plays out of the tight end, [Kevin] Boss, which I don’t know how much was expected there when [Jeremy] Shockey got hurt, but he’s stepped in and done a good job. [Steve] Smith’s stepped up, so I think they’re getting contributions from everybody. They’re playing very well as a team, offensively, and again, I think that starts with the coaching staff and the quarterback but it certainly extends to all the other players on the field as well. And Eli’s done a terrific job, I’m not taking anything away from him, but I think it’s not just him. It’s the entire unit.
You mentioned the Giants’ kicking game. How significant is that in your mind? Very significant. I thought they - really, they killed us in the last game. They returned kickoffs and that was the big equalizer in the game. We had a few more yards than they did, but they more than offset that with their kickoff returns and their good field position. They return kicks well. Of course, David Tyree I think is one of the best special teams players in the league. He’s outstanding and everything. He’s a threat to block every punt, he’s a gunner, he’s outstanding on kickoff coverage, so he’s very good. Their specialists are good. They’re a very physical team. [Chase] Blackburn, Tyree, [Gerris] Wilkinson, [Reggie] Torbor - they’re a big, physical group. [Madison] Hedgecock - they’re 240, 250, 260 kind of guys and they’re hard to stand up to in the return game and they’re hard to get around into coverage. And they have outstanding skill players. [R.W.] McQuarters has done a good job for them, and of course we’ve seen the kickoff returns. Nobody saw it better than we did. That’s held true in the playoffs as well. That was a great play that Tyree made in the Tampa game, downing the punt on the 2-yard line. Just like it was a big play for us against San Diego when Kelley [Washington] did it. Those are almost like scoring plays. They don’t go down as scoring plays, but they result a lot of times in scoring plays. They’re good. They’ve done a real good job.
The fact that Tom Brady has been able to start 126 consecutive games, does that speak to his toughness, or is that just luck that he’s been healthy? Well, Tom works extremely hard. He trains hard, he’s a well-conditioned athlete and he does everything he can to be ready so I think that certainly has something to do with it. On the other hand, I’ve seen other players that have trained hard that have had bad breaks and have missed games because of injury. If I had the answer to that question, I wouldn’t be standing here; I’m sure there’d be something else I could do. But he trains hard, he’s in good condition. There’s no question about that. I’m sure that helps him.
Ahmad Bradshaw seems to give them a significant spark in limited touches. What does he bring? He gives them a spark when he touches the ball. You just answered your own question. He has good quickness, he has good power, good vision, he’s a good cutback runner. He made a huge play there in the draw play against Green Bay. I known it got called back, but they had him for no gain, he broke a couple tackles, used his quickness to break out of there and went the distance - 50 yards or whatever it was. He’s done a good job for them in kickoff returns. When he missed out game, they replaced him. He really hasn’t gotten back in there, but I know he can do that as well. He was very productive doing that earlier in the year. Bradshaw is a good back. He’s quick, he’s fast, he catches the ball well, he has good vision and he’s a threat to go anywhere on the field. He’ll hit the hole and he’ll cut it back.
After the last regular season game, could you see how dangerous the Giants could be in the postseason? Well, we saw it going into the game. You’re the only ones that didn’t think that was - that there was some kind of mismatch in the game. You never heard that from us and you never saw it from us. They’re a good football team. We felt like that was a playoff caliber game when we played in it, and they’re a playoff team, which obviously they were. They had already qualified and didn’t need to win that game to get in the playoffs, but they’re physical. They’re a good football team. They’re physical, they can run it, they can pass it , they can stop the run, they can rush the passer, they’re good in the kicking game. They’re a good football team - and they’re getting better. They’ve gotten better through the entire year. Just look at their series with Dallas. I think those three games are a good example of their progress as a team from Week 2 or whenever they played them early in the season to the postseason game. They started behind, but by the end they passed them up. I think that’s where their team is.
What’s the common denominator on a team like that, that gets better as it goes along - confidence? Your 2001 team had that. I’m sure confidence is a part of it [but] I think playing good football is a bigger part of it. I think you’d have to ask them that question. I’m sure they’d know more about it than we would, but they’ve done a good job and they’ve played their best football in the last month.
Does having as many players as you’ve had play in Super Bowls and big games - Can you measure that at all? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with experience. I don’t think that’s a negative, but I don’t think it really does anything, either. I think the team that plays the best is the team that’s going to win. We went into the 2001 Super Bowl in New Orleans with a lot less playoff experience than the Rams. It didn’t seem to make any difference in that game, so I don’t have any reason to think it would make any difference in any other game. I think the team that plays the best, that’s the team that’s going to win, not the team that has the best statistics or the most experience. I don’t think those are negatives, but I don’t think that really does anything, either. You have to go out there and prove it.
If you were in our position, would you be portraying Brady’s injury as a non-issue? Portray it however you want.
How do you depend on your veterans to guide guys who haven’t been to the Super Bowl before, and will your team have a curfew? We’ll handle the team the way we feel like is best for…the best way to prepare for the game, in everything we do, whatever it is. Whatever decisions we make will be what we feel like is best for our football team. Again, I think experience is good and I’m glad we have players that have experience, that are veteran players, but in the end each person has a job to do and I don’t think anybody can do anybody else’s. Whatever everybody has to do, they have to do it themselves and we all have to depend on each other and we all have to do our own job. I mean, I can’t play, they can’t coach, the receivers can’t play defense, the defenders can’t block. That’s the way it is. Everybody has a job, everybody has to get ready, everybody has to play well, so each person’s accountable. I don’t think it hurts to have experienced players, but at the same time each individual player has to go out there and get ready to do his job next Sunday. That’s the challenge we all face, whether they have experience or not.
How important is it to stay away from some of the stupid penalties? It’s always important to stay away from penalties. Penalties, obviously, they can’t help you. All they do is give your opponents other chances or give them extra opportunities or take away positive plays that you make. You want to have as few as possible. Our goal is always to have no penalties. I think it’s unrealistic to go through a season with no penalties, but from game to game we try to do that. Some weeks we do that, or we hit it in certain phases, you know, no penalties in this phase or that phase and maybe we get them somewhere else, but that’s always our goal. The only time we’d ever take an intentional penalty would be a delay of game penalty, something like that, if we wanted to lose some field position, but that’s it. We try not to have them. Are we perfect? Far from it, but we’ll keep working at it.
How personally pleased were you to see a guy like Tom Coughlin reach a Super Bowl as a head coach? Tom and I have a good relationship. We go way back to the ‘80s there at the Giants. We worked together closely, as a secondary coach and a receiver coach would. He’s a good personal friend, and Judy and his family. We’ve spent time with them away from football, whether it was at BC, Jacksonville and so forth. I respect Tom. I think he’s an outstanding coach and wish him well in every game but this one.
Did you try to reach out to him after the NFC Championship game? Again, I think whatever personal relationships or conversations we had, we’ll keep that at that level.
We are back here at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots have reconvened after a couple of days off to start their preparations for Super Bowl XLII.
Not surprisingly, Bill Belichick wasn't saying anything when it comes to The World's Most Talked About Sprained Ankle, replying that he had "no comment" when asked about Tom Brady and that he didn't know if Brady would be at practice.
"We'll have an injury report next Wednesday, and I can't wait to give it to all of you," Belichick joked, drawing laughs.
The coach was in a good mood for much of the press conference, wearing a smile as he approached the dais and took in the vast media crowd sitting before him.
Of the Giants, Belichick said they've "improved dramatically" over the month or so since New England played them last, particularly in the kicking game. He had praise for his friend and former colleague, Tom Coughlin, whom he worked with in New York when Belichick was defensive backs coach and Coughlin receivers coach under Bill Parcells.
However, "I wish him well in every game but this one," Belichick said of Coughlin.
The Patriots are practicing inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse in full pads today; we'll have a report on who is -- or is not -- there shortly.
The Boston Herald is outraged -- outraged -- at the New York tabloids' targeting of Tom Brady this week (the Post famously referred to Brady as "girlie man" on the day after the foot-cast image surfaced). So today, the Herald declared war on its front page, using a picture of a missile burning a hole through the New York Post and the Daily News to make its point. The Herald today asks readers, "What is the best reason for Patriots fans to hate the Giants?"
The Post has for now backed off Brady so that it can devote its attention to the Heath Ledger story, while the Daily News is invoking the memory of Joe Namath in reminding fans that, yes, upsets can happen.
Video: Seymour accused of head-butting Chargers coach
San Diego Chargers center Nick Hardwick, who had already accused Patriots defensive lineman of dirty play during the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, took his allegations a step further on yesterday in an interview on XX Sports Radio, claiming that the helmeted Seymour head-butted a member of the Chargers coaching staff while he was getting into it with Chargers players before Sunday's game.
This video is now making the rounds: You have to wade through it for a while, but about two minutes and 48 seconds into the tape, you can see Seymour arguing with Chargers player Marcus McNeill, then at the very least getting into the face of a Charger assistant.
Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora appears on HBO's Inside the NFL tonight and discusses Pats left tackle Matt Light and the battles the two had in the Dec. 29 meeting between New England and New York. These quotes were provided by HBO:
Umenyiora: “It was a good match up the last time. I mean, I think I got him a couple of times, he also got me a couple of times. It was a war out there and to be honest with you, I not quite sure that he thought that he was going to see me again because of some of the things he did and said during that game. But, you know, unfortunately he does have to see me again.”
Bob Costas: “Trash talking is one thing, you seem to be implying that he made some dirty moves. Did something happen outside the pale?”
Umenyiora: “He was doing a couple of things that you know he shouldn’t have been.”
Costas: “Like what?”
Umenyiora: “Hitting after the delay and trying to, I don’t know if he was trying to intimidate me, I don’t know what he was trying to do, but he did a couple of things that he shouldn’t have done and, you know, now we are really going to go at it this time.”
Costas: “Were there angry words?”
Umenyiora: “A couple.”
When asked if the Patriots were a dirty team:
Umenyiora: “I wouldn’t call them a dirty team, I wouldn’t say that. I haven’t really experienced them as a team to be dirty. They have certain individuals like I am sure we have certain individuals who are perceived to be dirty but people wouldn’t call them a dirty team.”
Dr. John F. Murray, a sport performance psychologist whose insight has been sought out by such sports experts as Neal Cavuto, says the Patriots are a shoo-in to destroy the Giants in the Super Bowl. Murray, whose contributions to the sports lexicon include the "Mental Performance Index," says the Pats will win by more than two touchdowns because they are much better than New York in pressure situations.
"Simply put, the Patriots performed better under pressure than the Giants," says Murray. "The Giants have hope only if they perform much better under pressure and the Patriots perform worse. Since the Super Bowl stage presents the most pressure of the year, this is unlikely," says Murray."
Multimedia: Projo PatsTalk on the road to the Super Bowl
Shalise Manza Young and Mike McDermott look back on the AFC Championship victory and begin to talk about the Giants in this words-and-pictures presentation. Click on the play button below to see and hear the show.
Now in his third season, this is Ellis Hobbs' first Super Bowl appearance. He was so emotional after the Pats' loss in Denver two years ago that he had to take time to compose himself before he went into the locker room; last year was more postseason sadness.
With the sting of last January's loss to the Colts still on their minds, Hobbs said tonight that the players stressed "not this year."
"Not this year. Especially for me, my college years weren’t the best. I’ve been a loser for a long time, on a lot of losing teams, man," he said, referring to his years at Iowa State. "With all the things that have gone on this season, on the field, off the field, whatever, this is the culmination of all of them. This feels great."
Perhaps one of the few bittersweet things about today's game was that Mr. Everything Troy Brown was among New England's inactives and thus wasn't in uniform to help his Patriots teammates get back to the Super Bowl.
But Brown was on the field, and he and Tedy Bruschi shared a moment together once the victory was secure. As the senior member of the New England roster, Brown had already been with the Pats for three years when Bruschi was drafted in 1996.
Later that year, New England advanced to Super Bowl XXXI, so next week's trip to Arizona will be the fifth time Brown and Bruschi have been at the Big Game together.
"We're the only ones left from '96 and we're going back again," Bruschi said. "To see Troy is special because he's been here since my first day. We have a special bond."
Brown, who was in the locker room after the game with his two sons, said of his being inactive that he understood that it comes down to numbers; after suffering a knee injury in last year's AFC title game, he fought his way back onto the field but has only been active for two games.
He has still enjoyed being with his teammates on the practice field and in meetings, and on the sidelines last night.
"It's been a lot of fun for me to be on the sidelines, exciting to be a part of it," Brown said. "I'm going to enjoy every moment."
The New York Giants have defeated the Green Bay Packers, 23-20, on Lawrence Tynes' game-winning 47-yard field goal in overtime. The Giants will face the Patriots in two weeks -- for the second time in about a month -- to decide the championship of football.
Make no mistake: the New England Patriots want to win the Super Bowl because that's been their goal since the season began in July.
But winning it for Junior Seau is part of their motivation as well.
An 18-year veteran, traded to Miami by his hometown Chargers for just a fifth-round before the 2003 season, Seau has made just one prior Super Bowl appearance in his career. In 1994, San Diego got clobbered by San Francisco, 49-26.
In a career that's included over 1,800 tackles, 12 consecutive Pro Bowl appearances from 1991-2002, All-Pro honors and the league's Man of the Year Award in 1994, a championship ring is the only thing missing from Seau's unparalleled resume.
"I feel great for Junior," Tedy Bruschi said. "It’s been a long time since he’s been there and I know he wants to finish it more than anybody."
Seau was emotional after the game as he reflected on his circuitous route to another Super Bowl appearance.
"To talk about this history of myself and the San Diego Chargers, I am always a Charger. That's my home. I took the scenic route to get here," he said. "I took the scenic route."
"The excitement and energy he brings to this team...you have to be happy for guys like that, that play so hard and put everything into it throughout their career," Mike Vrabel said. "I'll be happy to go on a Super Bowl trip with him and hopefully win the game with him."
FOXBORO -- Three times, the San Diego Chargers moved the ball inside the Patriots' 10-yard line.
Three times, they settled for field goals, failing to score even one touchdown against a determined New England defense.
"It was crucial that we had those 'red zone' stops," said Tedy Bruschi, a 12-year veteran who'll be going to his fifth Super Bowl with the Patriots.
"I mean, when you hug your coach after you've won the AFC championship and the first thing he says was: 'Great job in the red area,' you know it was important
"It's something we've been emphasizing. We had our struggles early in the year, and then we make some progress, and then give ground a little bit, and then make more progress.
"It's great," Bruschi continued, "to see that, in the biggest game of the year, we come up and force them to kick field goals.''
Offense has been what has carried the Patriots throughout their undefeated season, as quarterback Tom Brady threw a league-record 50 touchdown passes -- 23 of them to Randy Moss, which also is an NFL record -- and the Pats set a record for points scored (589.)
But, with Brady throwing a season-high three interceptions yesterday, including one in the end zone, it was the New England defense that was the difference in the game.
"I think our defense always does what we need to do to win," Bruschi said. "Holding them to field goals today was what we needed to do to win."
"I think our defense always does what we need to do to win
Asante Samuel intercepts fifth career playoff pass
By ROBERT LEE
Journal Sports Writer
FOXBORO -- San Diego coach Norv Turner said that New England "franchise" defensive back Asante Samuel's interception of a Philip Rivers pass intended for Chris Chambers in the second quarter was the difference in yesterday's 21-12 New England AFC Championship victory.
"[Rivers] tried to get the ball to Chris and Samuel made a great play," Turner said. "Chris had his hands on the ball, Samuel went up and got it and when you look back, that's probably the difference in the game. They end up getting a touchdown off a short field and that was a big part of it."
Samuel returned the pick 10 yards to the Chargers 24 yard line and Tom Brady threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney two plays later to put the Pats ahead, 14-6. It was Samuel's fifth interception in the postseason of his career and his fifth interception in his last seven postseason games dating back to the 2005 season.
"I think it was one of the big plays of the game," Samuel said. "The offense was struggling a little bit so to get the ball for them to get it in foreign territory and to get the touchdown was good. It was a momentum-changer and we won.
"It was a team effort and we played good as a defense and we won. We're happy about it. One more game man. One more game."
FOXBORO – The New England Patriots will be going for their fourth Super Bowl title since 2001 in Arizona at Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3.
What does that mean to the Patriots?
“It’s exciting,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “You know, there’s been so much energy expended each week with the expectations and the pressure our coach puts on us. [I’m] glad we have the week off here, regroup a little bit and try to elevate our game for one last performance…Every time I’ve played in the Super Bowl, I’ve cherished that and it never gets old and standing up there and accepting the Lamar Hunt Trophy for the team for the fourth time is pretty outstanding.”
“I’m excited to be going,” said rookie cornerback Brandon Meriweather, who has never lost a meaningful game in the NFL (18-0). “You know, to get a chance to live out a dream. Everybody who plays football dreams of making it to the Super Bowl.”
This will be the Patriots sixth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, joining three other teams (Dallas, Denver, and Pittsburgh) with at least six Super Bowl appearances. The Patriots six super Bowl appearances, tied with Denver and Pittsburgh, trail only Dallas’s eight berths for most all-time. The Patriots are 3-2 in their previous five Super Bowls.
The Patriots lost in the AFC Championship game last season to Indianapolis.
“All we kept stressing to one another is not this year,” Patriots defensive back Ellis Hobbs said. “Not this year. Especially for me, my college years weren’t the best. I’ve been a loser for a long time on a lot of losing teams. Just to be a part of this, and a significant part, and with all the things that have gone on this season, on the field, off the field, whatever. This is just a culmination of all of it and it just feels great.”
One of the lingering questions from this game, especially from Chargers fans, will be the mysterious disappearance of All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
Tomlinson hyper-extended his left knee early in San Diego's win over the Colts, and did not return to the game. But after the game, he declared that he'd be ready to go for the AFC title game in New England. The running back did not practice on Wednesday, but participated fully on Thursday and Friday, and when the Chargers released their injury report on Friday evening, Tomlinson was not listed. Not as doubtful, as quarterback Philip Rivers was, or questionable, or even probable.
He started the game and was given the ball on San Diego's first two snaps, gaining five yards. Tomlinson caught a one-yard pass on the Chargers' next possession and jawed a bit with Rodney Harrison after the ensuing play but wasn't seen on the field again.
Instead, he sat on the San Diego bench, his dark visor covering his eyes. It was announced in the press box that he could return to the game; on television, it was deemed a coach's decision.
"LT tried to go and he just couldn't go," San Diego coach Norv Turner said. "The pain in the knee, what he felt, he couldn't push off and he couldn't go."
Asked what was different that Tomlinson practiced but then couldn't play in the biggest game of his career, Turner said it was playing a live defense.
"He ran and cut and every day got better and felt he could go, but there's a lot of difference when you lower your shoulder and run into a 300 pound guy as compared to running and cutting and splitting against air," he said.
Turner got defensive when asked what other Chargers players might think about Tomlinson given that Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates, dealing with a dislocated big toe, played the game but he did not, calling it the "stupidest thing to ask."
When asked to confirm that Tomlinson was indeed not on the team's Friday report, Turned evaded the question.
"LT did not practice Wednesday. He had limited practice on Thursday [he was listed as full participation on the official report]. He practiced on Friday, OK? He wasn't able to go. He tried to go."
After the game, Tomlinson said he hopes to be fine with rest.
Moss held to one catch but still going to first Super Bowl
By ROBERT LEE
Journal Sports Writer
FOXBORO – Randy Moss had been in the NFL for 10 years and has been one of the best wide receivers in NFL history over that time.
He caught a record-setting 23 touchdowns during the regular season and had 98 catches for 1,493 yards but for the second straight postseason game, Moss only had one catch, this time for 18 yards.
His teammates said yesterday that Jacksonville and San Diego both limited Moss's production by double and triple teaming him and that his sub-par two catches for 32 yards this postseason has nothing to do with his off-the-field distraction – Ft. Lauderdale resident and longtime friend Rachelle Washington accusing him of battery and demanding from him a “six-figure” settlement.
San Diego’s overwhelming coverage on Moss forced Tom Brady to go elsewhere with the football for most of the game.
Teammate Rodney Harrison said that the Chargers needed to double and triple-team Moss because if they didn’t then Moss would have burned them.
“At any point in time Randy Moss can go down there and beat you,” Harrison said. “You have to put two guys on him. If you stick him with one guy, I don’t think there is a corner in the league [that can stop him one-on-one]. You’re proud of a guy like that because he’s 30-years-old and he works extremely hard.”
In addition to his catch, Moss had a 14 yard run on a reverse.
“Seeing him run that got everybody else motivated,” fellow receiver Jabar Gaffney said.
Moss has never been to a Super Bowl. His teammates couldn’t be happier to help him reach the Super Bowl this year.
“I’m real happy for him,” Gaffney said. “He got in this terrible situation and we all have his back. We know what kind of [person he is]. There are always two sides to the story so for him to shake that off and he came out here and got ‘W,’ it’s real good…He’s been focused. He’s been himself all week. He just shut that off.”
“When I walked into this locker room I looked at Randy and just told him how happy and how proud I was for him because he’s worked his butt off,” Harrison said. “He’s gone through a lot of criticism. He’s gone through a lot of scrutiny since he’s gotten here, in a lot of public opinion good, bad, and different, and for him to stand tall week after week to stay focused on what Bill [Belichick] has been preaching, it just shows his maturity as a person, as a player and I’m happy for him.”
“He’s a good person and he’s been a great football player for us,” Harrison added.
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers did not lead his team to a win Sunday in the AFC Championship.
But the often outspoken QB did win his teammates' respect for playing the entire game despite limping noticeably, reportedly from a strained medial collateral ligament and a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Rivers completed 19 of 37 passes for 211 yards. He threw two interceptions and was unable to get the Chargers into the end zone in three red-zone opportunities. Still, his efforts were appreciated.
"I can't say enough about Philip Rivers and what he did," said San Diego coach Norv Turner. "You know, you watch a guy -- and he's done this a couple of timesd this year -- but you watch a guy get in at 5:30 in the morning and start his treatment and rehab and he's in there at 6:30 at night.
"He did everything he could do to give himself a chance to play. You can't ask for more than he gave. I couldn't have gotten him off (the field) if I wanted to," said Turner.
Receiver Chris Chambers, who hauled in seven passes for 90 yards, was impressed with Rivers, who already had left knee problems before suffering injuries to his right knee during last week's playoff victory over the Colts.
"I didn't think he'd make the whole game," said Chambers. "He has shown tremendous toughness the whole year. Hats off to him. I can't wait to play a full season when he is healthy and see what he can really do."
"There are a lot of guys who have been playing nicked up all year," added wide receiver Vincent Jackson. "But everyone knows Philip's knees are in pretty bad shape. He gave a really gutsy performance. They just out-executed us today."
The teams have a recent and spirited history with each other.
And New England has been able to get the better of San Diego Chargers, last year in the postseason and again early in the regular season this year. So the Patriots weren't surprised with the tough challenge posed by the Chargers in Sunday's AFC title game, won by New England, 21-12.
"We knew what they were going to do and they knew what we were going to do," said New England fullback Heath Evans. "It was just a tough game and we were able to make a few more plays than they did."
"We had a lot of respect for them before the game, and we have a lot of respect for them after the game," said Patriots defensive back Rodney Harrison, a former member of the Chargers. "They were probably the toughest team we played all year."
A year ago, the Patriots were overtaken in the AFC Championship Game by the Indianapolis Colts.
This year, though, New England was victorious in the AFC title game, earning a berth in the Super Bowl.
The postgame emotions were polar opposites, said veteran New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
(Special teams captain) Larry (Izzo) and I were talking about the feelings we had today and how different it was (than last year). We were on the field (at Gillette Sunday night), seeing all the (celebratory) confetti and the championship trophy," said Bruschi.
"Last year we were walking off the field (in Indianapolis) through the tunnel and people were screaming at us," he said. "It's a night and day feeling."
-- STEVEN KRASNER
Journal photo / Gretchen Ertl
Philip Rivers passes for San Diego.
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Laurence Maroney gets to the outside in the fourth quarter. Maroney's numbers -- 122 yards rushing and 1 touchdown -- were identical to those of last week against Jacksonville (although he had three more carries -- 25 -- than last week's 22.)
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Maroney picks up yardage; the would-be tackler is Clinton Hart.
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Shawne Merriman and Antonio Cromartie combine to tackle fullback Heath Evans.
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Wide receiver Wes Welker celebrates the fourth-quarter touchdown that gave New England some breathing room.
Journal photo / Gretchen Ertl
Tedy Bruschi is going to his fifth Super Bowl as a Patriot.
Journal photo / Gretchen Ertl
Tom Brady and Shawne Merriman after the game.
Journal photo / Mary Murphy
Brady raises the Lamar Hunt Trophy.
Journal photo / Mary Murphy
Tight end Benjamin Watson and fullback Heath Evans join the postgame celebration.
Journal photo / Mary Murphy
Laurence Maroney and LaDainian Tomlinson.
The New England Patriots have just clinched their fourth AFC Championship since 2001 and the sixth in franchise history with a 21-12 win over the San Diego Chargers.
The story of the game was the play of the defense, which kept the Chargers out of the end zone on three red zone chances in the game. After a near-perfect game last week against Jacksonville, Tom Brady was uncharacteristically inefficient and was helped out by his receivers, namely Kevin Faulk who had two huge catches in the second half.
Laurence Maroney continued his recent impressive streak and posted another 122-yard game, as he did against the Jaguars.
New England is now 18-0 on the season and has won 11 straight postseason home games. They will face the winner of the NFC title game which kicks off shortly between the Giants and Packers in freezing-cold Green Bay.
These are courtesy of the Patriots' PR department:
COLDEST PATRIOTS GAME SINCE 2004 AFC CHAMPIONSHIP
The temperature at kickoff of today’s game was 23 degrees with a wind chill of nine degrees. It is the coldest kickoff temperature for a Patriots game since the 2004 AFC Championship Game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, when the kickoff temperature was 11 degrees with a wind chill of minus-one degree (Jan. 23, 2005). Today’s kickoff temperature marks the coldest Patriots home game since the a 2003 divisional playoff game against Tennessee, when the temperature was four degrees with a wind chill of minus-10 (Jan. 10, 2004). Today’s kickoff temperature of 23 degrees ties a Dec. 27, 1992 game against Miami as the seventh-coldest home game in Patriots history
SAMUEL INTERCEPTION SETS UP TOUCHDOWN
Asante Samuel intercepted a Philip Rivers pass intended for Chris Chambers in the second quarter and returned the interception 10 yards to give the Patriots possession on the Chargers’ 24-yard line and set up Jabar Gaffney’s 12-yard touchdown reception to give the Patriots a 14-6 lead. The interception was the fifth of Samuel’s 13-game playoff career. His five playoff interceptions rank second in Patriots history, trailing only Rodney Harrison’s team-record seven playoff interceptions. Samuel has five interceptions in his last seven playoff games dating back to the 2005 season.
GAFFNEY SCORES THIRD PLAYOFF TOUCHDOWN IN FIVE CAREER PLAYOFF GAMES
Jabar Gaffney gave the Patriots a 14-6 lead on a 12-yard touchdown reception from Tom Brady in the second quarter. The touchdown reception was the third of Gaffney’s playoff career and his first of the 2007 playoffs. Last season, Gaffney caught one touchdown pass in each of the Patriots’ final two playoff games, including a six-yard scoring grab in last season’s divisional playoff victory over San Diego. In the 2007 regular season, Gaffney totaled a career-high five touchdown receptions.
MARONEY SCORES TOUCHDOWN FOR FIFTH STRAIGHT GAME
Laurence Maroney scored on a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to give the Patriots a 7-3 lead. The touchdown was Maroney’s second in as many playoff games this season and marked his fifth consecutive game with a touchdown, including the final three regular-season games of the 2007 season and both of this season’s playoff games. Maroney’s five straight games with a rushing touchdown tie the third longest such streak in team history. Only Curtis Martin (seven straight games in 1996) and Robert Edwards (six straight games in 1998) have scored rushing touchdowns in more consecutive games for the Patriots.
SEAU RECORDS SECOND CAREER PLAYOFF SACK, FIRST SINCE SUPER BOWL XXIX
Junior Seau sacked Philip Rivers for a four-yard sack on third down in the first quarter, forcing a San Diego punt on the next play. The sack was the second of Seau’s eight-game playoff career can was his first playoff sack since Jan. 29, 1995, when he sacked San Francisco’s Steve Young in Super Bowl XXIX while playing for the San Diego Chargers.
HOBBS RECORDS FIRST CAREER PLAYOFF INTERCEPTION
Ellis Hobbs intercepted a Philip Rivers pass in the second quarter, recording his first career playoff interception. Hobbs’s first playoff interception came in his seventh career playoff game. His only interception of the 2007 regular season came in the finale against the New York Giants, and Hobbs now has two interceptions in his last three regular-season and playoff contests.
· Tom Brady is starting his 16th career playoff game today. He entered today’s game with 99 career victories as a starting quarterback, including 86 regular-season victories and 13 playoff wins.
· Tedy Bruschi is playing in his 21st career playoff game today. He has passed Troy Brown (20 playoff games) for the most playoff games played in Patriots history. Jerry Rice holds the NFL record with 29 career playoff games played.
· Randy Moss recorded a 14-yard rush in the first quarter. It was Moss’s first rushing attempt since 2003 and was the first rushing attempt of his 10-game playoff career.
· Tedy Bruschi broke up a pass intended for Antonio Gates at the goal line with San Diego facing a second-and-goal in the second quarter, helping to force a field goal two plays later.
· Kelley Washington leapt into the air and saved a Chris Hanson punt from going into the end zone for a touchback in the second quarter, allowing Kyle Eckel to down the ball at the Chargers’ 4-yard line.
· The Patriots entered today’s game with an all-time record of 15-1 when leading at halftime in the playoffs.
· Kevin Faulk had five receptions for 50 yards in the first half. His 50 receiving yards (as of halftime) mark the highest total of his 16-game playoff career. His previous playoff career high was 45 receiving yards, achieved on Jan. 7, 2006 in a wild card round victory over Jacksonville.
BRADY RANKS SECOND ALL-TIME IN LOWEST PLAYOFF INTERCEPTION PERCENTAGE
Quentin Jammer intercepted a Tom Brady pass in the first quarter, marking the 10th interception of Brady’s playoff career. Brady, playing in his 16th career playoff game had thrown 10 interceptions in 520 playoff pass attempts following the interception, for a career playoff interception percentage of 1.92 percent. That mark still ranks second all-time, trailing only Bart Starr’s mark of 1.41 percent (three interceptions in 213 career attempts).
It's quite interesting that LaDainian Tomlinson declared throughout the week that he'd be ready to play this week against the Patriots, and according to the Chargers' participation reports, participated fully in practice on both Thursday and Friday and was not listed on the final report at all.
But here it is the end of San Diego's fourth possession and Tomlinson has just two carries, on the opening two snaps of the game for the Chargers. Michael Turner has six carries.
Tomlinson apparently suffered a bruised knee against the Colts, while Philip Rivers reportedly suffered a partial ACL tear and missed two days of practice, yet he is still on the field.
FOXBORO -- Pats fans perhaps mildly concerned at their high-scoring team's slow start offensively can take consolation from the fact that New England never has lost a playoff game at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots beat Tennesee and Indianapolis (in the AFC championship game) in Foxboro in 2003, the Colts again in '04, Jacksonville in '05, the Jets last season, and, last weekend, the Jaguars.
That's a 6-0 postseason mark since moving into Gillette Stadium in 2002.
In franchise history, the Patriots have lost only one NFL playoff game in Foxboro -- the first one, in 1978, to the Houston Oilers, after coach Chuck Fairbanks had announced he was leaving to go to the University of Colorado.
New England didn't host another playoff game until 1996, when they beat the Steelers in the conference semifinals and then the Jaguars in the AFC championship game, 20-6.
The Patriots won a playoff game in the old Foxboro Stadium in '97 over Miami and then beat the Raiders in the snow in 2001, 16-13, in overtime, in the last game played in the old stadium.
FOXBORO -- While it certainly is impressive that the Patriots are appearing in the conference championship game for the fifth time in seven years, other teams have had even more dominant stretches.
Buffalo played for the AFC title five times in six years from 1988 through '93, losing to the Bengals in '88 before winning four in a row from '90 to '93. Unfortunately for the Bills, they lost all four of those Super Bowl appearances.
Pittsburgh also played in five of six AFC championship games, and six of eight, from 1972 through '79.
In the NFC, Philadelphia and Dallas each played in four straight conference title games, although with significantly different results. While the Cowboys won in '92 and '93, lost in '94, and then won again in '95, the Eagles lost three straight, from 2001 through 2003 before finally winning in '04, over the Falcons. Philadelphia lost in the Super Bowl that season to New England.
The most dazzling recent run, however, was that of the San Francisco 49ers, who played in the NFC championship game in six of seven years from 1988 through 1994, going 3-3. They beat the Bears, 28-3, in the '88 season, followed that with a 30-3 rout of the Rams, then lost to the Giants in 1990, 15-13. After a year's absence, the Niners returned to the NFC title game in the 1992 season, when they lost to Dallas. It was the first of three straight meetings with the Cowboys for the right to go the Super Bowl, with Dallas also winning in '93 (38-21), but the 49ers finally knocking them off in '94, 38-28.
There was a moment of silence here for Georgia Frontiere, the St. Louis Rams owner who passed away on Friday. Frontiere, 80, had battled breast cancer for several years.
Also, R&B star Ne-Yo sang the National Anthem (if you have no idea, ask your kids/nieces/nephews/grandkids), and four planes from the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont did a flyover, which got a huge ovation.
We asked readers on Thursday afternoon to begin voting on the outcome of today's game. Not surprisingly, we found Patriots fans to be supremely confident. Only 10 out of 218 people who voted thought the Chargers would prevail. Nearly 58 percent of you thought the Patriots would win and cover the two-touchdown point spread.
We also asked if you were concerned about Randy Moss' off-field issues becoming a distraction for the team. Out of 228 votes, close to 86 percent said no, the Patriots would not be distracted.
Finally, we asked you to name the Chargers player that scares you the most coming into the game, and we gave you a list of seven San Diego stars. There were 102 votes, with LaDainian Tomlinson leading the way (32 votes), followed by Shawne Merriman (22). The least scary of the seven? Banged-up quarterback Philip Rivers, who got just three votes.
Journal photo / Glenn Osmundson
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Journal photo / Glenn Osmundson
Patriots tackle Matt Light.
Journal photo / Glenn Osmundson
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Journal photo / Mary Murphy
San Diego head coach Norv Turner walks the field about two hours before gametime.
Journal photo / Mary Murphy
Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman
Journal photo / Mary Murphy
Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel
Journal photo / Mary Murphy
Chargers linebacker Stephen Cooper
Journal photo / Glenn Osmundson
Don Byrnes, center, of Sudbury Mass., and Dave Juneau, right, of Centerville, Mass., raise a Patriots flag underneath an American flag in the parking lot at Gillette Stadium before the game.
Journal photo / Glenn Osmundson
Pats fan Anne Beauvais, of Leominster, Mass., is ready for the cold.
Journal photo / Glenn Osmundson
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, left, and Billy Volek.
The sun is shining but it is bitter cold and windy here at Gillette. Given the magnitude of this game, everything has been ramped up: there's a greater police presence, bomb-sniffing dogs checking everyone's bags, and hundreds of media on hand.
In a bit of comical irony, a looping video of a raging fireplace is being shown on the big screens here.
Last week for Jacksonville, the Patriots distributed over 700 passes (including day-of-game operations employees), and we're guessing today's total exceeds that. Because of the crush, the team installed two additional T-1 lines for internet access because the one they had previous couldn't handle all of the traffic last week.
T-1 lines are fiber-optic lines that can typically handle a few hundred users, as long as they're not downloading/uploading video and MP3 files, which of course radio folks must do.
After the fake direct snap last week one of the commentators said that you deserved an Academy Award. Are you -- I think I said that.
Are you preparing for a life in Hollywood? No, I'm not quitting this job.
And afterwards? And after football, God, I hope that's a long time from now. I hope I don't have to decide that. I'm still a young guy. I'm only 30 years old. So maybe down the road. I don't think I could, if Peyton goes into it, I know that I couldn't, you know, get close to that. So he's taking all those jobs.
Tedy talked about how this team has endured a year of distractions, whether it was Spygate or the latest with Randy Moss or the constant scrutiny of going undefeated. What is it about this team that's allowed it to bond or come together to deal with the distractions this season? Well, I think it's pretty simple. There's a sign when we walk in the door and right at the top of the sign, it's, "What's expected of you" and No. 1 is "do your job." And every time you walk in and you see that, you understand that you've got to show up and put whatever else is going on in your life to the side and focus, and you have a responsibility to your teammates to do what you need to do.
I think as a player it makes it pretty simple. If you're a quarterback, you show up and do what's expected of you and if you're the offensive tackle you do the exact same. You don't have to come in here and worry about what the guy next to you is doing or what he's going through. Although as friends and I think the camaraderie we have as teammates here, it's been a special thing to be a part of.
But at the same time, you rally around each other, and it's almost like this is a safe haven for everybody, as well. We don't have to come in here and be -- we just have to be each other, and you have to be teammates and you don't have to be anybody else to anybody who may be making demands on you. So it's probably a nice place for a lot of people to come?
You've grown pretty close to Randy Moss obviously this season; how have you helped him get through this past week? Well, he's a very mature and responsible man. I think he's dealt with whatever it is in the past; the fact of the matter; nobody knows anything about what happened except Randy and whoever was involved and everyone chooses to let Randy speak on it because he's the only one who has true knowledge of the situation.
So it's not right for me to speak about it or other teammates or coach. We all support him. I know the kind of guy he is and I know the relationship I have with him and how important it is to me. As a teammate of his, I want him to know that I'm here to support him no matter what he's going through, because we all face challenges in our own lives and you need support from the people that care about you to work through those things.
Mind-set big playoff games, there always seems to be a guy that kind of comes out of nowhere and makes a big game-turning play; are you expecting that from your team this week? Which guy would that be?
I don't know, you tell me. I don't know. I don't know which guy hasn't made big plays. I think everybody who is really a part of this offense has stepped up at different times to make great plays, and I think if you're out on the field, that's truly what's expected of you whether it be Randy or Dante or Wes or Jamal.
The running game I think has been a big part of it down the stretch and the consistency we've had up front has been critical to the success of our team. I wish I had somebody that they probably weren't paying attention to, but unfortunately I think most of the guys that are taking the field for us they are going to be pretty honed in on.
How tough is it two days before the game now to deal with the anticipation leading up to the game and when the game does get here, honestly how tough is it for you to keep the adrenaline in check? Well, I think we've dealt with big games all season. There's a build-up to the start of the season and there's build-up to Monday night's game in Cincinnati and there's a build-up to an undefeated game against the Cowboys and a build-up against the Colts in week nine and our Monday night home against Baltimore and the game against Pittsburgh and last week.
We've dealt with a lot of things on the line and at stake and you try to take the same approach that you take and just be prepared to play and know that you don't want to waste a whole lot of energy that are not related to the football game. So make sure all of the guys are in bed early tomorrow night and be ready to play on Sunday.
Everyone is going to be excited. I'm probably the one that needs help on that the most with just the excitement of the game and the excitement of the season on the line, because you realize there might not be an opportunity for you to get back together as a team and play again.
So you try to put everything you can into it and whether it be adrenaline or I don't think anyone is going to not be motivated for this game. I think everyone is going to be -- hopefully play our best game.
How much of being a good decision-making quarterback comes from time on the job and how much comes from God-given talent? That's a great question. You know, I think decision-making is critical to any quarterback, any quarterback play. And the more that you do it, just like any situation you're in, the more times you face certain situations, hopefully you make the best decisions you can.
And at quarterback, you've got to make them in two seconds and you've got to make a lot of decisions very quickly. But the more you do it, the more comfortable you understand what needs to be done and in our offense I think that's what's been great for me over the years is to be in the same offense for eight seasons and the carry over and the coaching with Josh being here for another, really, in his third season as coordinator; and with Coach Belichick, understanding the system, so that you can just become comfortable with every situation that you face whether it be in practice or in situations in games.
I know we've been a pretty good situational football team in games over the years, and I know that's because we've practiced diligently at whatever it might be, a fourth down situation or a field goal at the end of either half.
So there's a lot of situations that come up that need quick decision-making and the more you practice them obviously the better you'll be at them.
Everyone I've ever spoken to about Junior, whether a coach or player, has always had something to say about what they have learned or how intense says; what have you been able to learn from him? Yeah, he's as great a leader as you could possibly have on a football team. Not only is he a great player, but in terms of motivation, the way he works, he's 38 years old but you would think he's 22 by the way he practices. And he gives motivational speeches -- I think he's been through a lot in the NFL. He's been in a lot of big games, been in a lot of big situations. I think he's great at kind of conveying his thoughts to the rest of the team. He always has a lot of positive things to say. So I know he's excited about this game, as he should be, especially playing against his former team.
Does he give you guys a lot of motivational speeches? Always, oh, yeah, before every game. He's usually the one that talks to the team. And guys listen. He has a great way of kind of inspiring us.
Which is more fun, putting up 42 points in a first half or winning on the final possession? You know, the ones that you win on the final possession are the ones that are the most fun afterward. I think the Baltimore game when we won, I look back on that game, and God, that was fun. Now when I was going through it, I wasn't thinking how tough that was in Buffalo, midway through the fourth quarter when we were up by as many points but it's a little bit different when you're in those pressurized situations and your focus is kind of laser sharp and you've got to continue to make the plays to be able to win. And if you can do that, you can pull it off, those are the ones you certainly remember at the end of the season.
Wondering way back to your first Super Bowl against the Rams, it was reported that you had taken a nap in the locker room prior and now you're talking about the adrenaline and keeping it in check; what's changed over the years? I think I was naive back in the day. My first couple years, I thought it was easy. I got to the Super Bowl, hey, this is no problem, you start a few games, you're in the Super Bowl and U2 is out there playing in the field. It was a great environment.
I think we all look back on that Super Bowl, any time it's your first time in those experiences and everything felt like it was so out of control, you can look back and realize how much fun it was.
Now you kind of know what to avoid so you lose a little bit of that naivete as Mr. Kraft would say and you just focus on whatever you need to focus on. The adrenaline, it comes and it goes. I think for me the more prepared, the more comfortable I feel with what we're doing, I think the more relaxed I'll be.
I think adrenaline is a little bit different because you get very excited when you run out in front of 75,000 people, and especially in a game like this, and those emotions just play out.
Can you talk about how pressure affects you; good, or bad? Pressure, pressure in the sense of playing the position?
Position and then some of the biggest games. Sure. I think the important part for a quarterback in dealing with that is you have to be able to deal with those pressurized situations in practice. When they come up in the games and we had the two-minute drill that we practiced yesterday against our own defense that I was trying to score -- I was trying to score like it was the San Diego Chargers, and we did.
I think you can look back on that drive with confidence when you get there, if it happens to come up on Sunday, you say, you know what, we just did this three days ago. It's not like you have to prove it to yourself over and over again. So even though those situations have a lot of pressure to them, because you have the confidence that you can deal with it, I think that allows you to go out and play with anticipation and awareness and instinctiveness rather than dropping back and going, I wonder if I can figure this out and I don't know who is going to be open and I wonder what coverages are going to be play and are they going to blitz me.
I think as long as you go through and practice it, you can play with the speed that you want. We always talk about playing fast, and I think a big part of that is the preparation that allows you to understand what you're seeing so that you can go out and execute at a very high speed, because that's what it takes.
And having the different number of weapons this year that you do -- Like I said, I think Coach really keeps the pressure on us as a team, and the players keep pressure on each other to perform and you keep pressure on yourself so you don't lose your job. That's a great motivator for all of us. And the more that you can practice with that type of mentality, I think you can really just hone your skills. I mean, you can't all of a sudden go out and go Wednesday, Thursday and Friday don't mean so much because we're not playing and Sunday go out and go, God, I'm nervous out here, how do I deal with this. You have to be able to put that pressure on new practice so when you actually get in that environment and it means something, that you'll have the confidence to know that you'll be able to go out there and execute.
You said that the locker room is a safe haven for you and that you don't see the end of your career, you're only 30 years old; can you explain how your life has changed? I think in a lot of ways, for myself, for other athletes, you're right, as you grow older and I think for most people in your life that were once a part of your life move on to do different things and there's other people that become even more important in your life because you share experiences with them and you grow with them and they are a part of your life.
So you're right. It has continued to get smaller and I think the people that I trust becomes less and less, and I think that's why when I come into this locker room and I come around this environment, whether it be coaches that I've been with for eight seasons for teammates like Kevin Faulk and Tedy who have been through a bunch of experiences with me, both on the field and off the field, I can rely on those guys for anything I may need.
Do those two things pull in different directions on you to some degree knowing that at the end you'll have peace and quiet but you'll never have the competition again? Yeah, and I think you enjoy both parts of it. I think with everything in life, there's give and take and you have to understand that, you know, if there's a take, you've got to give, too.
So we've got, as athletes, I always feel what better job would you ever want. I remember sitting up ten rows from the top of Candlestick Park watching down with binoculars looking down at Joe Montana and Steve Young and I was this kid with a dream and now all of a sudden I'm the one on the field.
To look back on those days and how it's progressed to the point where it's at is extremely fulfilling and I think the competitive nature of this business is what continues to drive you as an athlete. I look back on those things always with great memories and I think I always try to focus on the positive because life's too short for all of us and just got to enjoy every day, and especially in whatever anyone does, you've just got to be -- just try to truly enjoy what you're doing and there's no doubt that do I that.
Transcript: Tedy Bruschi's Friday press conference
What are the benefits of having been here before, and what do you have to protect yourself against since it's so familiar? I think the benefits of us being here before--this is I think my sixth. This is my sixth AFC Championship, and I think you learn how to prepare for these games. You realize it's a big game, it's the game that gets you to the game that you want to be in. You realize that it's big, it's huge, it's probably one of the biggest games that a lot of people in our locker room have ever been associated with. But you learn how to prepare from your experience. You really try to break down the biggest games you've had in your career to the simplest forms, how do I prepare better to help us do a better job on offense or defense.
You've seen Tom Brady operate under pressure in Super Bowls, but what are guys saying to each other when they see him on film during the week or just see him in practice and see him in the Jaguars game and saying to each other, what is going on here with this guy? I think early on this season when we saw a lot of the early stages of Brady [throwing] to his new crop of receivers this year, we would look to each other on the sideline and sort of raise our eyebrows and say, “well, this can really be something special,” and a deep ball to [Randy] Moss or to [Wes] Welker or [Donte’] Stallworth and you look to your defensive teammate and say, "Wow, these guys are pretty good," and they do it in the game and you see those deep balls and the triple passes or whatever they do.
I don't want to say you get used to it towards the end, but every time you see it you get excited and it really pumps some life into the defense.
Has Rosevelt Colvin’s absence hurt the performance of the defense? You look back at the last couple of games and you didn't play up to par especially in the long drives last week. How much is that he being out and you guys having to play a little bit more? I guess I can really answer that question as a linebacker group as a whole, we are five guys in there rotating and everybody doing different things and everybody had their roles. And when you lose a cog, you have to adjust. And of course Rosey was making big plays for us, the sacks, the interceptions, the forced fumbles, and you minus that from an equation, of course other guys are going to have to do different things and we have to adjust defensively especially as linebackers.
One thing you miss [is] his production out on the field and his presence in the locker room because he's one of the favorite guys we love to joke around with and makes the backerhood a lot of fun.
How physically fresh do you feel and how fresh do you feel the defense is, because it seems like at the end of the season, you started to get things going defensively and in the first half, the offense seemed to be doing work forcing the other teams to catch up; how do you feel this time? Well, it's Friday. It's Friday, so we've had a few extra days to rest and recuperate. I think I'd be the first to tell you as I get older along in your career, 34, 35, 18 years like Junior [Seau] has been in the league, it takes a little bit longer to recuperate.
But physically, I think we are feeling well. This week was a good week of preparation, and we had full pads one day of very physical practice, and yesterday and today were also good preparation days.
So physically, come Friday, Saturday, you start to feel good again and get ready to do it on Sunday.
In other years were you more worn out? I guess when you're a rookie or second year player, towards the end of the year you sort of still feel like a young man. But I think you get to -- towards the end of every year now, especially I think as every player gets into double-digits years, it gets tougher and tougher towards the end of the year, yes.
As a leader on this team, what lengths have you gone to press upon younger players to let them know the season will be a waste if you don't win Sunday? I haven't. I haven't, because that's not something we're going to emphasize. Because it would sort of encapsulate our entire season up to this week of preparation or practice or anything like that. We can't really worry about what's going on in the past.
If you're thinking about what's going on in the past, all right, you think about the regular season, we're 17-0 and yes and all that, and oh, man, if we lose this game. We don't think that way. We are right in the middle of this right now so all we think is how we prepare the next practice or day or meeting to help us win this game. You don't want to have that type of finality attitude right now in terms of preparation. You just want to look at the AFC Championship as a football game against the Chargers.
Are you feeling any extra pressure as you get closer and closer? No, I think our experience will also help us in the fact that we have been on win streaks before. There are a lot of people in this locker room who have won 21 games in a row who have won world championships before, and so we've gone on streaks before, do we think about, “oh, man, if we lose, the streak will be over?” We don't think about that. We just think about the next game and that helps us dealing with pressure, if there is any.
You mentioned it gets tougher the number of years that have passed, but looking at the games you've played in at this level, does it also become more precious? Absolutely. I would be the first to tell, I'm not in the beginning of my career anymore. I'm in my 12th season now and how many can you possibly play?
I've had great examples in my career, Willie McGinest and Junior played 18 and they have taught me a lot of things on how to take care of yourself and really have longevity in this league.
One thing you learn as you get older and experience season after season after season is that the bigger the games get, the better feeling when you win them because you don't know if you'll be back.
I was in the Super Bowl in 1996 losing to the Green Bay Packers and you come away from that game feeling like, “we're a great organization, I'm part of a great team, we're going to go far.” All of a sudden we're looking for a new head coach and we go down on a downward spiral until we turn it around again.
If Tomlinson is limited on Sunday you'll obviously see more of [Michael] Turner and [Darren] Sproles. Do you see that as an advantage or disadvantage? Well, each one of those running backs brings different challenges. We really respect Turner as a returner. We think he's a very strong runner that breaks a lot of tackles and between the tackles, he may be the best of the three for his because of his yard per carry average and the way he's able to run through the tackles and break those tackles.
Sproles is his own little individual player. He's a guy that sort of can scatter around and you never know where he's going to be on screen passes, kickoff returns, punt returns. He's a guy that poses a totally different threat. So each one of those running backs brings a formidable threat that we have to stop.
During the last two playoff runs, Rodney Harrison has not been available for you guys. What does it mean to you guys to have him in the lineup and available this year? Well, to me, to me Rodney is our tone setter. He really sets the tone for us. Probably the most physical and violent teammate I've ever been a part of, and his aggression he uses to his advantage.
He'll be the first to tell you that sometimes he's a little too aggressive. For us to have him is a big plus. He can do so much. He can be a linebacker, he can be a safety, a defensive back and cover one of the best tight ends in the league. I think he can do everything that this coaching staff has ever asked and that's a big plus for us to have him.
What's made this team so good at coping with distractions? You know, I hate to say it, but we are sort of used to dealing with them. I think this year has been a year of distractions since opening day, hasn’t it? To tell you the truth, week after week there's something different we have to deal with.
The way we do that is we sort of feed off of it. If we feed off the distractions and we come closer for it, we just bond together. Whoever is being scrutinized, whoever is the target for any type of criticism, we rally around that person whether it is our head coach or our all-star wide receiver or whoever it may be, some types of problems that sometimes you don't know about, we will rally around our teammates in the face of criticism and become stronger for it.
Kevin, you've been through three of these rodeos; can you just give us your thoughts entering the game? Are you excited at the preparation, does it help being here before? A little. It helps a little bit. But at the same time -- being in three different right now, that's the last thing on your mind. The only thing on your mind is worrying about the opponents you are facing because it's a big game.
You've been in this game a long time and you've seen some retired guys who probably are not walking so well; do you talk a lot in the off-season, not during the season of course, about how long to keep going, and how much is it worth, even though you're at the pinnacle right now of where you're going into Sunday, but what do you guys talk about when it comes to long-term health? Of course you talk about it. You ask guys who you are close with how they are feeling, how your bodies feel. What we love to do is play football and when that time comes, you'll know, your body will let you know. Your thought process, your family members that you trust, they will let you know.
You were named captain this year and you have obviously taken that responsibility seriously. What has that meant to you to be a captain, especially in a season that's gone as well as this one has to this point? It means so much to me. It's one of the most important things in my life. When the guys -- when Coach announced it, it was such a surprise to me, but at the same time I knew how hard I've worked to get to this point throughout my whole career and just being able to hear your name being called as captain is just a very special honor.
Now that you're on the doorstep of history, you’re undefeated, how much bigger is the fear of failure among your teammates and yourself? You don't think about it. You live in the moment and continue on doing what you've been doing.
How do you not think about it? Your process is thinking about winning the game, thinking about going to the next week and knowing that you have to play better than what you did the week before. Because if you play the same way you played the week before against a different opponent, you may not win the game.
Can you talk just about L.T.'s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, that's one of your strengths; what do you admire about him in the passing game? Oh, just being able to do everything. Not just catching the pass, but being able to pick up the blitz. Being able to run the ball four or five times in a row and come back and run a 15-yard wheel route down the field, catch it and run 40 yards and come back and pick-up a blitz pick-up. Everything he does you can tell how hard he works during the off-season and during the season and that's why he's L.T.
Tedy was saying this has been a year of distractions. As a team captain, how proud are you of the way the team has dealt with distractions all year and lot let them distract you? Very proud. The season is not over and we're still in the season and we're just trying to be able to bond as a team together. Whatever comes about, just be stronger and just come together as a team and put that product on the field.
Is there any way that you guys turn something that most people might see as a negative, turn it as a positive on the field to motivate you guys? Every negative you can turn into a positive, it's just the way you do it.
Nervous? For this [press conference]? No. I think we're excited. I think we look forward to playing big games. I think as a player who has been there, like a lot of the guys on our team have, you realize how fun they are when you go out there to compete against another team in a Championship Game.
Is this really an announcement that you're into the final four now? I think it's an announcement that we're close, close to game time and we are starting to button things up for less than 48 hours or close right there. I think that's what it tells us, that we're close.
How helpful has it been in the past, to bring in hungry veteran guys who have had individual success in other places, but haven't achieved team success, guys like Rodney Harrison and now Junior Seau and Randy Moss; how much does that help you keep the fire burning? Well, I think that we have a lot of guys on our team that have been successful, like you said, and have had individual success on other teams.
I think that they bring a lot to this team. I think all the way back in 2001, when I think Bill [Belichick] and Scott [Pioli] kind of started to transform this team into what they wanted it to be, and then it's been a tough team to make ever since then. They always bring in talented guys and positions are deep at training camp and every position has eight or 10 guys and it's a tough team to make.
The beginning of the week Bill Belichick said the team would look at week two but focus on what the Chargers have done in the last few weeks; what have they done so well down in the stretch? It's just a team that is executing that much better. It's the same guys, the same guys we saw in week two. They added Chris Chambers. The receivers are playing a lot better, so not only do they have the playmakers that they had before, you know, with L.T. [LaDainian Tomlinson] and [Antonio] Gates and [Darren] Sproles and [Michael] Turner, but they have added the receivers that have showed up the last half of the season, and their record has shown and their offensive numbers have shown and their offensive production has shown because of it.
The last two games, what is has been the difficulty in getting to the quarterback? If you look, I don't think that we put terrible pressure on David [Garrard] last week. I think that he played well. I think that we forced him to not stand back there and hold the ball. I don't think he held the ball. I think you can go around and around about sacks and numbers. I think sometimes you can have a lot of pressures and not have any sacks.
If somebody was standing back there and we are not getting to him or guys are not getting in his face, then I think it's an issue. Certainly, I will say that the Giants game, I don't think that the front four, we didn't rush how we needed to rush. I'll say [in] the Giants game, we probably could have done better.
But you know, last week I think that the pressure was there. I don't think that the sack numbers were there.
What is the overall feeling now on defense, after you mentioned the Giants game and last week, Garrard had quite a few long drives; is that a concern still and have you done special things to correct those? Well, I think that you can play really well against the run-We played a Jacksonville team last week that averaged 150 yards rushing a game and I thought we played a run pretty well, but when you don't get off the field on third down, that's all negated. That means nothing. We've had games where we haven't played well against the run. Played really well on third down and nobody really cares how you play against the run because you get off the field.
For us it comes down to third down, it comes down to living in the times that they are able to go out there and convert. Certainly if they have the ball for 12 or 14 plays, two things are happening. One, Tom Brady doesn't have the ball and two, they have a chance to score.
If Philip Rivers doesn't play or if he's more hobbled than he is normally, how much of an advantage is that for your pass rush and for your defense? Can you talk about the play of their offensive line so far this season? Well, I think the offensive line--I think that they work really well, the three guys inside work really well together.
You know, [Marcus] McNeill is obviously a great athlete out there at left tackle. And then [Jeromey] Clary, he played on my side. You know, they work well together and then Brandon [Manumaleuna], the big fella, I'm not going to try to pronounce his name, he's Brandon to us, he kinds of provides -- he's kind of that searchlight back there for them and an added blocker.
So they do, they play well together. That's really been the key the last, I think, half of the season for them is keeping Philip clean, keeping him upright and his numbers have shown because of it.
There seems to be a consensus among media and maybe even the general population that the outcome of this game depends on the Patriots, if they play a typical Patriot football game, this game is well in hand; do the players have that same feeling? I think we think that every week. I think every team would; that if they went out there and they played their best that they would win the game.
I think that's the attitude we take every week is that if we play well and we do what we're supposed to do that we are going to win. If you don't have that attitude, I think guys are on the wrong team.
Your defense throws something different that they just didn't expect, what is it like walking into your defensive meetings every week and seeing a new wrinkle; what is it like, does it jazz you up when you know there's something completely different? Well, I mean, I think you have to be -- I hear that a lot. I think you have to be pretty conscious of just changing the whole defense just to change it. We don't do things just for the sake of doing them. We try to do things that really are pertinent to what we are trying to stop and what we are trying to take away.
You know, you have to study and you have to be on top of things and you have to be able to adjust on the fly. There were things that we changed last week and the week before. You know, we don't wait till halftime. We try to come over on the sidelines and say, this is working and this isn't working. You know, you've got to be truthful. You've got to be honest with the coaches. If you're getting handled, you've got to say, "I got blocked" or “this is what they did.” Bill is like, “I don't need everybody coming over here telling me they got double-teamed. They can't double-team everybody.”
How difficult is it to be talking about the anticipation of the game on the Friday, and two, why is this team so good at staying within itself, staying on an even keel, looking at that proverbial one game at a time? Well, I just think that's just what we are used to doing. That's the way we approach every week and that's the way we approach every day is: this is Friday, here is our schedule on Friday, we do short yardage, goal line, red zone, move the field, whatever it is. You know, come in and get out of here. And then Saturday is another day and Sunday we'll try to amp it up for the game.
It makes the weeks go by so much faster when you're not looking down the road when you just stay inside yourself and stay focused.
Since the Eagles game, the games have had a different tone. They have been closer for the most part. Would you just assess the two different -- This is professional football --
What have you observed about the sheer effort teams are bringing in and the schemes -- I think probably offensively they get it a little more than what we would. I think we're seeing -- you know, this is a copycat league for the most part. A lot of teams are going to run what they have seen be successful on film. The games are close. I think everybody in here in this locker room anticipated that we weren't going to win every game by four touchdowns. So sooner or later, you have to go out there -- and I'm glad that we were able to make plays under pressure, in the fourth quarter and coming down the stretch when it mattered.
Each of the last two playoff runs you have not had Rodney Harrison available; what difference does it make this year to have him? Just emotion. You see him making a huge play to end the game last week, and he's always played very, very well in playoff games that he's been healthy for that I can remember.
You know, in the Super Bowl, with the pick, a touchdown against [Ben] Roethlisberger and I'm sure I'll forget some sacks, but the best players, they have got to play great in the big games, so I don't expect anything less from Rodney. Certainly he's done that in the past and shown that he can do it when he's out there.
Can you talk about the role of James Sanders? [It has been] just a maturation process for James. He learned under Rodney, studied under Rodney and did the right things. He's smart and he's tough. It's a good fit for our defense. He's a young guy that came in and really learned the system, and so I'm happy for James and the amount of time that he's been able to play and he's had that opportunity when guys went down and he made the most of his opportunity.
How much has the linebacker core in particular and the defense in general missed Roosevelt Colvin, and how do you feel the adjustments have been since he went on injured reserve? Well, I think we missed Rosie. We miss all our players. When you show up and Bill and Scott form a team and you end up with 53 guys, you know that you're not going to play the whole season with those same 53 guys.
So with that in mind, you understand that there's going to be some changes. You're going to go through the season and you're going to lose guys to injury or to whatever.
We've missed Rosie, not only on the field but off the field, his attitude in the locker room, and just the way that he carried himself and kind of kept everybody light. So we see him, and we certainly miss him on the field but we also miss him in the locker room as well.
You've had situations where you played against quarterbacks in the same game with varied abilities. Is there a great difference between what Philip Rivers and Billy Volek does? Well, I think both guys--I think any quarterback in this league is going to try to rely on his playmakers. And they have plenty of them.
As far as advantages go, I think that we're going to have to be prepared for the starter and then if the backup comes in, we'll also have to be prepared for that, as well.
I would say you're not looking at, you know, Tom Brady and Vince Young different, but I would say more similar than dissimilar.
On a personal level, how important was remaining at the same position to your own individual success this season? Well, I think personally it's helped, but I think that you just do what you have to do, I think, to get by. Sometimes that was moving inside and sometimes that was playing outside. To be able to play outside, it's just been-- for the whole season, it’s just been reflective in the rush and everything else.
But I don't have any interceptions so I'm not dropping as much. [For the] interceptions, I was inside. It's just kind of -- what you do is what you're expected. You know, those are the plays you're expected to make.
Just recently a young girl was booed at the Indianapolis game at the RCA Dome building up the whole "Evil Empire" that's starting to come up, calling us the "Evil Empire" in New England; do you notice that deeper into the playoffs that players are making that comment? I think it's great that a girl can go out and win and beat a bunch of boys in a punt, pass and kick competition and she had a New England Patriots jersey on. I did hear that we are going to honor her and I'm sure our fans will appreciate the fact that she had the guts to go into the RCA Dome with a Patriots jersey on.
Transcript: Bill Belichick's Friday press conference
As far as the team goes, we're privileged to be in this AFC Championship Game. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the San Diego Chargers and their season, particularly what they have done since Thanksgiving. They are a great football team.
Our team has worked hard this week to do the best we can to try to be prepared for Sunday. The Chargers are the type of team, if we have three weeks to get ready for them, we could still use more time. They are tough to do that for, but we'll be ready to go and we'll put our best effort out there Sunday afternoon. I know the players are excited for the game, [there has] certainly been a lot of energy in practice and through the weekly preparation. We know we have our hands full. The Chargers are a great team and they have proved it in every phase of the game, pretty much every opportunity they have had the last couple of months, offense, defense, special teams, running game, passing game, big plays and critical plays in the game.
Hopefully we can go out there and play the best game of the year because that's what it's going to take to win.
How crucial is it for your offense, to have a guy like Tom Brady who seems so unselfish spreading the ball around and making sure that not just he is getting the accolades, but all of the other guys are the stars of the offense? I'm sorry, the question is?
Tom Brady--that he's unselfish--how key is that to the way your offense runs? That's the way the whole team runs. We all have jobs to do and we all try to do our jobs for the good of the team and put the team first. I think that's the way everybody approaches our job for the entire year and certainly the way that we each approach it for this game in that we each have something to do and we have to do it well.
The Chargers obviously force a lot of turnovers. I know you stress it every week but any more importance on it this week? Have you done more work? Absolutely. You know, they have set the pace on going back to the 2000 Ravens and even the plus-24 turnover ratio for the Bengals a couple years ago. They have done an outstanding job of coming off the ball defensively and we have to do a good job protecting it, [they have] 30 interceptions. They get it from everywhere, all the players, secondary, linebackers put pressure on the quarterback and [they force] fumbles and those come on special teams as well as on defense. So taking care of the ball is the No. 1 priority for us and that's certainly been a big emphasis point this week, as it is every week. The Chargers have done a great job of it all year and that's crucial for us.
Could you describe the relationship right now between the Chargers and the Patriots considering the way the playoff game ended a year ago? Some of the talk that happened after week one between Tomlinson and some of the players; is this a budding rivalry between the two clubs? I think right now the relationship is you've got two competitive teams trying for one championship and that will be decided on Sunday afternoon. That's what this is about. That's all we're focused on is trying to play our best football game Sunday afternoon at 3:00.
How much fun and enjoyment have you yourself gotten out of the season? Well, there have certainly been some good moments, but really the season right now hinges on one game. It's a one-game season with the San Diego Chargers and they are the best team we've played and we are going to have to play our best game and that's really where all of our focus is right now and looking ahead. We're not really looking back and not doing anything other than looking at San Diego Sunday at 3:00. That's where we need to have our peak performance and be our best and that's what the target is. Other than that, it wasn't too much to think about.
When you initially acquired Junior, how much was that based on the leadership he could bring to the locker room in addition to what he could do on the field? I think the most important thing is what he can do on the field: his playing performance and his versatility and ability to help our football team win games.
He's been a great leader for us but the most important thing for Junior and our football team is for him to play well and for him to do his job and do it well. That's the most important thing for all of us. He's got a lot of energy, he's brought a lot of leadership and energy and experience to our team, and that's been good, but the most important thing he's done [is] played his position well.
When you look around the practice field now in the post-season, do you see a change in attitude at all in your team, whether it be better or worse, do you notice an improvement or change at this part of the season? Not really. Not really. I think I would compliment our players for their effort and attitude all year. They come to work every day trying to get better, trying to understand what they need to do to win and how to improve individually and as a team, and then try to transfer that out to the practice field and execute it there in preparation for our games. That's kind of the way it's been all year. Certainly when you're in a situation like we are now, it's a one-game season, everything is riding on one game. There's a little bit of a heightened intensity and attentiveness, which there should be, but that's been there all year, too.
You keep emphasizing you have to play your best game but you can't look back; is there one game where you felt both the offense and defense had their best game? I don't know. I don't know if that would really make any difference. Right now the only game we care about is the Charger game. What happened in the past is in the past and I don't think it has any bearing on this game.
What we need to do is play and coach and execute well against the Chargers. So that's all that really matters.
Do the Charger injuries--specifically not knowing the status of Rivers--does that change your preparation? Well, we get ready for all 53 players every week, so there's really no change. If a player is on the opponent's active roster, we prepare for him and understand what their strengths and weakness are tendencies and what they do and how they do it. And whoever the opponent chooses to put in the game, that's their decision, we don't have any control over that. We have to be ready for all of them. We practiced this week the same as every other week. Buffalo is a good example; There was one quarterback in the game and a couple plays later, there was another quarterback in the game, and that can happen at any time at any position, so we have to be ready for all of them.
At different stages of the season, mostly at the end of the regular season, you seem to practice for balance in your offense with Laurence Maroney and the game against the Jets how important is it that Tom Brady had a game like last weekend where he was very precise and correct in his throws? Well, I don't really know that has much or any effect. We're not playing Jacksonville. We played them last week and this week is a totally different match-up and we're going against the charger defense. As we know, they set the pace for turnovers and ball disruption and getting the ball out of the offense's hands way better than anybody. So our challenges this week are a lot different than last week and last week and last month and everything else. It doesn't really matter. It's just how we do against the Chargers.
Our focus this week is how we can play our best against San Diego. Again, nothing else really matters.
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light has some fun during a drill today at Foxboro. Light had been sick earlier in the week, but was back on the field today, two days before the team takes on San Diego for the AFC Championship.
Randy Moss' agent, Tim DiPiero, sent an email to Boston Globe reporter Mike Reiss tonight, responding to what he called an inaccurate statement by Rachelle Washington's attorney, David McGill, made earlier today.
Some of the details of the Randy Moss issue are coming to light, and it now appears that this is stemming from an intimate encounter gone wrong.
In police documents requesting a temporary restraining order against Moss, 35-year-old Rachelle Washington alleges that she and Moss have had an intimate relationship since 1997 -- and Moss said yesterday that he's known the woman for 11 years, so that matches up.
Attorney Joe Friedberg, who has represented Moss in the past for the infamous Meter Maid issue when he was with the Vikings, appeared on a Minnesota radio station last night and said Washington's lawyer demanded the Moss pay "not a penny less" than $500,000 to Washington for the incident.
Friedberg contends it was "consensual horseplay" and that Washington got a finger injured in the process. He further says that she had an X-ray taken on the finger at the behest of her attorney, which came back negative. Washington has not accused Moss of hitting her, and according to Friedberg, there will be no criminal charges.
Further, Friedberg said he and Moss have retained a lawyer in Florida and that Moss does not have to be present for the Jan. 28 hearing in Broward County. Friedberg said they will agree not to have further contact with Washington because Moss no longer wants to have contact with her and that they may ask for a restraining order against Washington so she cannot contact Moss.
UPDATE: Old friend (former Journal sportswriter on the Pats beat) Tom Curran has a statement from Washington's attorney on NBCSports.com.
Transcript: Bill Belichick's Thursday press conference
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
The New England Patriots held practice today at Gillette Stadium. Head coach Bill Belichick held a press conference and players spoke to the media. Belichick laughs during the team stretches today.
Well, another day of studying the Chargers and another impressive viewing. They’ve been in a lot of critical situations, game situations in the last few weeks and they’ve made just about every one of them, no matter what the situation’s been - offense, defense, special teams, running the ball, stopping the run, throwing the ball, defending the pass. They’ve really stepped up in all of the key situations that have been there for them that the game’s turned on. They’ve made most of them. The team has a lot of poise and a lot of talent.
When you’re looking for players to play defensive line in this system, what are the characteristics a player would have to have? I think it always starts with being strong enough to play on the line of scrimmage against double team blocks and big people and all of that, strength, athleticism, quickness, production. Then you have guys that can be situational players in any system that are more run-oriented or more pass rush-oriented that can fill different roles. We have inside players and outside players, like every team does -- guys who play close to the ball, guys who player further away from the ball, so I don’t know if there’s one common thing that everybody has to have. Certainly [a] defensive mentality. I think that goes across the board with all of the defensive players, but good skill sets vary and we’ve had different guys play well with different combinations of skills. But being able to be physically strong enough to hold up on the line of scrimmage, I think that’s got to be number one. Otherwise, it’s hard - Then they’re really linebackers, if that’s not what they are.
You’ve been a part of a lot of teams that have created a lot of turnovers. San Diego has an inordinate amount of turnovers this season. What have you seen from them? They get a lot of them. They get a lot of them. They do a good job of seeing the ball and they’re very aware of the ball, so when it comes out it seems like they usually get it. They have a lot of people around it [and] they get a lot of tipped balls. Some of them they’re hitting the quarterback and some of them they’re hitting the receiver or the ball’s bouncing up in the air. Sometimes the play is just not executed well and they take advantage of sloppy offensive execution. The combination of all of those things. The fumble against Tennessee was a great play by [Shawne] Merriman, coming off the back side and punching it out. One of the interceptions against Indianapolis - both of them, really - went off the receiver’s hands. Another one was [Marvin] Harrison fumbled the ball. It’s a combination of things. I don’t know if you can say it’s all one thing. The common thing is they have a lot of people around the ball so when it comes out they have a lot more guys there to get it than the other team.
How well do you know Teddy Cottrell and what’s your respect-level there? I have a lot of respect for Teddy. I know Teddy well. Of course, he was in this division at Buffalo and the Jets. We have a long history of competing against him and his defenses have been good pretty much everyplace he’s been. There’s been some common threads in his system and what he does and I think they’re seeing that in San Diego. It’s his defense. It’s a little bit of a continuation of what Wade [Phillips] did last year, but again, those guys were together in Buffalo so there’s a lot of carry-over there, too.
What are some of the common threads? Well, 3-4 based, pressure, [a] combination of tight man coverage and zone pressures -- however they do it, whatever the front is, whatever the personnel combination is.
Eric Weddle was sort of a Jack-of-all-trades in college. How have they used him? Well, he played safety in the preseason, in some of the preseason games, but of course that’s been [Marlon] McCree and [Clinton] Hart pretty much all year, then they’ve gone all the way, so they use him primarily as the sixth defensive back when they go to dime. [Drayton] Florcence comes in as the fifth defensive back in their nickel packages, and then when they go to dime Weddle comes in and plays the sixth defensive back as kind of a linebacker-type position. But he does different things in there. He blitzes, plays man, plays zone. He’s an instinctive player and he’s made his share of plays in coverage and in pressure and tackling and so forth. He’s done a good job for them and he plays a versatile role at that position.
When they use Florence, do they always have him in the slot as the sixth defensive back? He usually plays in the slot. There have been games this year where they haven’t done it that way, like against Kansas City they put [Antonio] Cromartie in against Gonzales and put Florence outside. They did that against a couple other [teams], too, but mostly I would say a majority of the time Florence is in the slot, Cromartie and [Quentin] Jammer stay outside.
You’ve been through so many big games here. Do you view this as just another game? No. No, I sure don’t. It’s the AFC Championship Game. Our whole season and San Diego’s whole season rests on this one game, and it’s a privilege to be in it. We know what’s at stake and so does everybody else, but it’s a big game, we’re playing for the AFC Championship and we want to do our best. That’s what we’re preparing to do. Of course it’s a big game.
The elements are the same for both teams, but from your experience what element can affect the game the most? Well, I think it depends on how severe the element is. There’s light rain and then there’s a hurricane. There’s wind and then there’s… a lot of wind. If you’re talking about a lot of anything - a lot of snow, a lot of rain, a lot of wind - that affects it a lot more than a little bit. Certainly the wind affects the kicking game, number one. Of course, the dampness, whether it’s rain or snow, affects footing and ball-handling probably more than wind does, obviously. So, if you’re talking about kicking into a wind, that’s probably a lot worse than punting in snow, but if you’re talking about handling the ball, that would be a lot worse in rain than it would in wind. It just depends what aspect of the game you’re talking about.
Is that Giants game vs. Washington the windiest game you’ve ever played in? It was up there. Yeah, it was up there. There were a lot of windy games in Giants Stadium and we haven’t really - Since I’ve been here, we really haven’t had a wind here in Foxborugh like we had a lot of times in Giants Stadium. The wind in that game was probably about as strong as I can remember it.
What factor is extreme cold? Dress warm. It’s the opposite of hot.
Can you touch on Wes Welker’s season for you, what he’s done? Wes has done a good job for us. He’s primarily played in the slot. He’s been a very productive receiver. He’s good after the catch with the ball in his hands and we use him on returns as well as an offensive receiver at times. He’s done a good job blocking, even though he’s not the biggest guy. He’s quick, he’s tough and he takes good blocking angles. He’s done a good job - he’s really helped us in the running game and we’re in a lot of multiple receiver sets and he’s done a good job there, too. I think Wes has handles his roles very well throughout the course of the year and they’ve been - there’s been a lot of variety to them, but he’s a real pro. He works hard, he came in there and won the offseason award, which is, again, it’s saying quite a bit because there’s a lot of competition for those and we have a lot of guys that work hard. The fact that he came in as a new guy and did that I think is pretty impressive, as did Adalius [Thomas]. He’s been asked to do a lot of things and he’s done them well.
This season saw an explosion of offensive league-wide. Is that because of the spread offense or is it something defenses are doing? I don’t think any of the defensive coaches want to take credit for that. As a defensive coach, that’s not something you like to see. Really, that’s a hard question for me to answer. To be honest with you, I spend my time with our team and the team that we’re going to play, and I’m not sure that I’m the best person or even a good person to comment on league-wide trends over this particular season, other than from the teams or the games that I’ve seen. I think at the end of the season, things like that are the type of things that we would go back and study as a staff - trends in the red area, trends on third down, whatever they are. The kickoff return teams, the punt return teams, whatever they are, and try to get a little better feel for what’s going on outside of our world, especially as our schedule changes. We move to a different conference in the NFC - that’s four new teams - and whatever else changes on our schedule. Sometimes you’re changing a third of your schedule per season, roughly, and that affects you. But I just -- I don’t feel very confident about saying this is what’s going on in the league, that’s what’s going on in the league, because in all honesty, half of the teams in the league I really haven’t seen play very much.
Are you concerned about the allegations that have come up with Randy Moss and how it might affect him this week? I think Randy’s covered those and I’ve talked to Randy about it, and I support Randy 100 percent.
We’ve talked about weather and statistics. One thing the Chargers do have is a pretty catchy theme song. What do you think of the Super Chargers song? I hate that song. The first time I heard that song was when I was with the Giants. We played out there and they had [Wes] Chandler, they had [Chuck] Muncie, they had [Kellen] Winslow, [John] Jefferson, [Chuck] Faucette, and it was a trackmeet. They didn’t get through playing that song before they had scored again and they started playing it again. It was… San Diego Super Chargers, that’s still ringing in my head. I can still see that game - Muncie catching the Ram Pass and all that. So, yeah, I don’t like to hear that song, and I don’t like to hear Hail to the Redskins, either. When those songs play, it means it’s not going well for us. I’ve never been with those teams, so that song’s never been music to my ears.
Have you ever talked to Jon Bon Jovi about writing one for you guys? I haven’t done that. Maybe we can come up with something. Have him and Bruce [Springsteen] work on it together.
In your time here, what impact have Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau made to this organization? Rodney’s had a huge impact. He’s been here since ’03 and he’s been a part of championships and certainly a lot of victories. He’s done a great job for us in all aspects of the game - defense, special teams, leadership. He’s an outstanding communicator and worker on the field, and he’s a real pro. He’s a great example for all of us to look to, not just the younger players, but the veteran players, the coaches - everybody. He has a great attitude, a great work ethic - As does Junior, who’s had a shorter time here and unfortunately that was cut short about two-thirds of the way through the season last year, but he’s been awesome. He’s been with us since day one this year, through all of the spring camps and so forth, training camp and everything, which he wasn’t a part of last year. I think that’s made a big difference for him, just being here from day one. He’s certainly one of the most respected players on this team, obviously, in the league, and has great camaraderie with the players on the team. I think he’s one of the… Each player has their own individual niche and chemistry on the team. I think Junior is one of those guys that his personality transcends everybody on the team - the offensive players, the defensive players, the starters, the backups, the young guys, the old guys, the guys from California, the guys from the east coast, the guys from - it doesn’t matter. He just has a great way of blending with everybody, in a really good and positive way. It’s been awesome to have both of those players. It’s been a privilege for me to coach them, to have the opportunity to coach them.
Do you think players like those two who maybe haven’t had much success in their prior stops are more driven when they get here? Well, I think they were pretty good where they were. You’d have to ask them that. You’d have to talk to them about how they feel about it, but they were both pretty good players at the team they were at. I don’t think anybody ever thought that they weren’t a force to be reckoned with - at least I didn’t - but you could ask them. They would know better than I would.
If an opposing player had a reputation of being emotional, volatile, whatever, would you ever coach your players to take advantage of that? To me, I think it’s just - that’s distracting. It’s distracting for me to do that. I think it would be distracting for somebody else to do it. Instead of focusing on what your job is, you’re focusing on something else. One of the guys that I talked to a long time about that and I have tremendous respect for is Jim Brown. I think Jim’s… People think he’s one of the best players or the best player to ever play our game and I would certainly agree with that, from everything that I saw. We all know Jim’s attitude. He would run the ball, get up slow, he’d walked back to the huddle, he’d come out and he was a tough guy to handle on the next play. I know his attitude on that was when the play is over, I start thinking about the next play. I start thinking about the situation, I start thinking about what I need to do, what’s happening here, listen to the play being called, come out and get ready to run it. I just felt like I never really had a lot of time to be thinking about a lot of other stuff. That was my priority, is to go from one play to the next and do the best I could on it. I think that’s a great attitude. I think it’s part of what made him as great a football player as we was. I think that’s - whether it’s me as a coach or any player - I think that’s a pretty good model to follow. When he scored, he put the ball down. He was happy to score, but he was working so hard to get into the end zone, he wasn’t really thinking about what to do next. I feel that way anyway, but I think Jim when he articulates it and articulated it to me, it really makes a lot of sense and I think it’s the right way to go. So, no, I’m not really on that program.
Earlier this week you were asked about Laurence Maroney. Have you seen him run with a greater sense of authority from the beginning of the year to now? I think he’s run hard all year. I think he ran hard last year. Kickoff returns and when the opportunity is in, I don’t think that’s ever been a question. I think he’s run hard and run determined. I’m not saying every play is a great play, but I think that his effort and his toughness running the ball, his intensity I think has been good ever since he’s been there.
Can you talk a little about Michael Turner and what he brings that’s different than LaDainian Tomlinson? They have a great set of backs. Tomlinson is, we all know, player of the year and he can do it all. Turner has consistently come in there and performed well when he’s gotten the opportunity. He has a tremendous yards per carry average, he’s hard to pull down, he has great strength and balance, good vision. I think what the Chargers did in the offseason to keep him shows what they think of him and probably what his value is league-wide. Then of course you have [Darren] Sproles, who is a tremendous… has game-breaking type talent and skill, which we saw against the Colts in the return game, which we saw last week on the screen pass. He’s a guy that can get the ball anyplace on the field and score. He’s extremely dangerous. I think both of their backs, [Andrew] Pinnock and [Lorenzo] Neal have done a real good job for them in the roles that they’ve been in. [They’re] very dependable in pass protection and blocking, and any opportunities they have to carry the ball, particularly on short-yardage. Lorenzo has a lot of third down conversions on short yardage. They have a great group of backs, and that’s true of the whole rest of the team. This team has a tremendous amount of talent at every position, and the backs, they’re right up there.
Coach Bill Belichick talks about how he hates the San Diego "Superchargers" song when asked during the press conference.
Hey all --
One of the funniest moments we've had with Bill Belichick in recent memory was when he was asked this morning about the San Diego "Super Chargers" disco song that's played at the stadium there.
Before the reporter even finished her question, Belichick was giving his answer.
"I hate that song," he said, drawing big laughs.
In case you've never heard the song, feast your ears on this.
"The first time I heard that song was when I was with the Giants and we played out there, and they had Chandler, they had Muncie, they had Winslow, Jefferson, Fouts, and it was a track meet. They didn't get through playing that song before they had scored again. And they started playing it again," Belichick said.
"That San Diego 'Super Chargers,' that's still ringing in my head. Yeah, I don't like to hear that song, and I don't like to hear 'Hail to the Redskins' either. When those songs play, it means things aren't going good for us. I've never been with those teams, so those songs have never been music to my ears."
Journal columnist Bakst shares his game plan for preventing hypothermia Sunday
Well, I’ve been there before, and so has my heavy moth-eaten blanket, purchased years ago at an Army-Navy store. In fact, I’m thinking of some day donating it to the new Patriots hall of fame/museum that is taking shape at Gillette Stadium. I used this blanket at the final game in the old stadium — you know, the legendary Snow Bowl playoff.
So, the blanket is definitely coming with me. Speaking of coming, or going, I see that the MBTA train to the stadium will leave Providence at 1:10 p.m., which means there won’t be a lot of time to kill before settling into my Section 238 (no alcohol) seat before game time, which, given the temperature forecast (a high of 22 degrees dropping to 4 Sunday night), is probably a lucky break, no?
Now, for my ensemble:
-- A pair of thin socks, plus toe warmers or foot warmers or both – this will be, as the coaches say, a gametime decision - and heavy socks and whatever shoes best accommodate same.
-- Long underwear, heavy 100 percent wool slacks, and, on the outside, a pair of nylon rain pants. (I’m also considering putting some pajama bottoms or sweat pants in there somewhere.)
-- The top to the long underwear, a T-shirt, a collared shirt, then a regular sweatshirt and/or windbreaker pullover, then a heavy hooded sweatshirt and zip up windbreaker, then a hooded winter parka.
-- Mittens and hand warmers, probably two pairs.
-- A knit hat, a scarf, and a face mask. (Yes, I said a face mask, with a Patriots logo. It’s the kind of thing you’d use if you were robbing a milk store. No, you’ve probably never seen me in it. For one thing, I don’t rob milk stores. I wear it only at Pats games and then only when the weather is brutal.)
-- Several snacks including All-Bran oatmeal raisin bar and Fiber One oats and peanut butter bar. Definitely intend to get a hot chocolate – probably two – at the concession stands. Maybe also chicken breast sandwich, turkey leg, or chicken/rice/beans/salsa burrito (light on the cheese and hold the sour cream.) If Patriots are winning, may celebrate and splurge on a kosher hot dog. Come to think of it, if they’re losing, I’ll be so distraught I may have to get one to ease my pain. Frankly, any time is a good time for a kosher hot dog, and, on a health kick, I’ve been depriving myself for too long.
You may be thinking, “Good luck to you, fella. You go right ahead and go to Foxboro and freeze. I’ll watch on TV.’’
And you may be smart. What can I say? I do this because it’s what I do, it’s who I am, and I love it.
-- By M. Charles Bakst, Journal political columnist and diehard Pats fan
It's good times and bad times for the Patriots. Running back Laurence Maroney has found his stride with patience and a new look at his job, while teammate Randy Moss battles an allegation of striking a woman. Download file
The Patriots are on the field inside Gillette Stadium, holding their first practice of the week as they prepare for Sunday's AFC Championship game against San Diego.
The players are in full pads, and the only two missing for the media-access portion were offensive lineman Ryan O'Callaghan and special teamer Mel Mitchell. Richard Seymour did not stretch with the team but came out from the locker room just before media were kicked off the field.
Rookie quarterback Matt Gutierrez and practice squad offensive lineman Dan Connolly were in black jerseys as practice players of the week.
Journal photo/ Bob Breidenbach
Patriots' wide receiver Randy Moss talks to the media today at Gillette Stadium about a restraining order filed against him.
By ROBERT LEE
Journal Sports Writer
FOXBORO -- It was reported this morning that Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss had a "temporary injuction for protection against dating violence" filed against him in Florida.
Moss today denied any wrongdoing. He called the allegations "false" and accused the accuser of trying to get more than $100,000 from him.
"For someone to make a false claim about me, I’m kind of furious,” Moss said. “It kind of hurts me deep inside for someone to do something like that because you know I’ve always said time and time again , `I’m going to stand up for what’s right.’ If I’m right, I’m right. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, and that’s why you have your attorneys and your friends. When you’re wrong, somebody can tell you you’re wrong.
“My situation is where I felt that I did nothing wrong. It was an accident. Whatever happened, it was an accident. I wish I could sit here and tell ya’ll really what happened but there is a lawsuit or whatever coming against me. I can’t really explain or tell ya’ll what’s going on. All I want to say is, I’m going to continue to play football. I think that, last Friday this man wanted to come out with it just to try to distract the team and distract me.”
The report states that no criminal charges have been filed against him, and that a hearing is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 28.
Moss said that the accuser threatened him.
“You better do this or else! You better do this or else,” Moss said the accuser said. “Well, I thought it was bad because now you’re threatening me so I brought it to coach [Belichick] and said, `look coach I’m being threatened to do something that I have no idea of what I need to be doing.’ Well, I was advised to just focus on playing football, and then I’ll handle this once the season is over, so whenever the season is over, I plan on sitting down on really getting to the bottom of this. Right now I have a job to do.”
Moss said that he could not get into further detail about the complaint.
“I don’t want to get in trouble for anything I might say that I’m not supposed to say when it comes to an attorney and a client,” Moss said. “There are a lot of things that I want to sit here and tell you guys to prove my innocence but for the fact that there is an investigation going on, [I can’t.]”
A Florida radio station has reposted a report, which had been pulled off its Web site earlier in the day, saying that Randy Moss has been hit with a temporary restraining order following allegations of dating violence. The radio station has updated its report with a copy of the order. Click here to read the story.
Questions were raised about the accuracy of the story after it was pulled from the Web site, but the reporter, Rozzie Franco, was on WEEI's Dennis & Callahan show this morning to insist on its truth. Franco reports that a hearing on the case is scheduled Jan. 28.
Moss addressed reporters at Gillette Stadium today and said that the allegations were false, denying that he had hurt his accuser and implying that he was being harassed for money.
New England Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett, who made it to the final 10 last year but fell short in the final vote, is once again among the finalists for this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction class.
Tippett, who recorded a franchise-record 100 sacks in his 151-game career, is one of 17 finalists. One of the dominating linebackers of his era, Tippett was a member of the NFL Team of the Decade for the 1980s; the strongside 'backer had a career-high 118 tackles and still-standing franchise record 18.5 sacks in 1984. The next year, when the Patriots surprisingly advanced to Super Bowl XX, Tippett had 16.5 sacks.
The Hall of Fame selection committee will meet in Arizona during on Feb. 2, the day before the Super Bowl, to pick this year's class. Nominees need to receive at least 80 percent of the vote to gain induction; there are 44 members on the voting committee, including one from each of the NFL's 32 franchise cities, one from the Pro Football Writers of America, and 11 at-large members. Hall rules stipulate that a minimum of four and maximum of seven inductees are chosen each year.
The full list of finalists, listed alphabetically:
Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins
Fred Dean – Defensive End – 1975-1981 San Diego Chargers, 1981-85 San Francisco 49ers
Richard Dent – Defensive End – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles
Marshall Goldberg – Back – 1939-1943, 1946-48 Chicago Cardinals
Randy Gradishar – Linebacker – 1974-1983 Denver Broncos
Darrell Green – Cornerback – 1983-2002 Washington Redskins
Russ Grimm – Guard – 1981-1991 Washington Redskins
Ray Guy – Punter – 1973-1986 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
Bob Kuechenberg – Guard – 1970-1984 Miami Dolphins
Randall McDaniel – Guard – 1988-1999 Minnesota Vikings, 2000-2001 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Art Monk – Wide Receiver – 1980-1993 Washington Redskins, 1994 New York Jets, 1995 Philadelphia Eagles
Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins
Paul Tagliabue – Commissioner – 1989-2006 National Football League
Derrick Thomas – Linebacker – 1989-1999 Kansas City Chiefs
Emmitt Thomas – Cornerback – 1966-1978 Kansas City Chiefs
Andre Tippett – Linebacker – 1982-1993 New England Patriots
Photo: Don't forget your seat warmer for Sunday's game
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Workers clear Monday's snow from Gillette Stadium seats today in preparation for the AFC Championship game Sunday afternoon against the San Diego Chargers. The long-range weather forecast for Foxboro calls for light snow on Thursday night, followed by freezing rain on Friday. But Sunday is expected to be mostly cloudy, brisk and cold, in the 20s.
Post a photo of yourself doing the Lights-Out Dance
During last season's Divisional Playoff Game, some Patriots players were observed mimicking the "Lights-Out Dance" of super Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, leading Merriman's teammate LaDainian Tomlinson to complain that the Patriots had no class at all.
We're hoping that a few brave readers will take the opportunity to post pictures of themselves doing the dance. Click here to post your image, and we won't accuse you of being classless.
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
Patriots receiver Donte Stallworth jokes with the press who swarmed around him in the locker room today.
Hey all --
Bill Belichick has wrapped up his press conference for the morning, and there was of course a great deal of talk about the San Diego Chargers.
When he was asked how the Chargers are different since New England's 38-14 victory over them on Sept. 16, Belichick said little has changed schematically, but that San Diego is simply executing better. He reiterated, however, that that game will have little bearing on Sunday's.
He praised San Diego's secondary, which includes Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie, Quentin Jammer, Drayton Florence, Eric Weddle and Marlon McCree.
"They had 30 interceptions, 18 fumbles...they're a great turnover team. They're second only to the Ravens (in number of turnovers forced) over the last (few years). Cromartie has done a lot of that, and he gets big yardage when he gets his hand on the ball," Belichick said.
Belichick also spoke briefly about running back Laurence Maroney, who has seemingly been an improved player over the last month. But Belichick said the team has been happy with the running back's performance all season, and that they measure yards per opportunity, based on blocking and what kind of yards are there for Maroney to gain rather than raw yards per carry.
There is no on-field work for New England today, just meetings and the usual weight work and physical rehab/upkeep.
The locker room will open shortly, and Wes Welker, Kevin Faulk and Richard Seymour will also speak from the podium here in the media workroom.
Bolts' Rivers has MCL damage; questionable for Sunday
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is currently questionable for Sunday's AFC Championship game against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Rivers, who was already wearing a brace on his left knee from an injury suffered last month, sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee Sunday when he landed awkwardly after completing a screen pass to Darren Sproles against the Colts.
"Right now, it's probably questionable in terms of playing in the game, but he's got a chance," Turner said Monday. "That will be a day-to-day thing and we'll monitor it as the week goes on."
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who also injured a knee in Indianapolis, has expressed confidence that he'll be able to face the Pats.
Backup Billy Volek finished the game for the Chargers after Rivers' injury, and led the team to its game-winning touchdown.
Turner said he's "concerned...real concerned" about the injuries, particularly to Rivers.
The Patriots have announced that a limited number of tickets are available for Sunday's AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium, and will go on sale through Ticketmaster on Wednesday morning.
Tickets will go on sale Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Tomorrow morning, individuals on the team's season ticket wait list -- over 55,000 people -- will have the opportunity to purchase tickets to the game in a private sale.
Ducats remaining will be made available to the general public for Wednesday's sale; there will be a two-ticket limit per person. Tickets will be available through ticketmaster.com or Ticketmaster's phone lines -- 508-931-2222 or 617-931-2222. All purchases must be made using Visa cards.
Ticket prices are set by the NFL and are available in the following price categories; $179, $140, $125 and $100.
As most of you know by now, the San Diego Chargers -- behind backup quarterback Billy Volek -- upset the Indianapolis Colts, 28-24, in their AFC Divisional round playoff game, the final game at the RCA Dome.
The win sends the Chargers to Foxboro for the second time this season, and means they and the Patriots will meet in the postseason for the second straight year.
Many fans, and privately, likely members of the Patriots, were hoping Indianapolis would be the opponent, so New England could reverse the result from last year's AFCCG, when shaky second-half play led to 38-34 loss.
In Week 2, fresh off the sting of Spygate, San Diego was walloped by an emotional New England squad, 38-14, with one of the signature moments of that game being Adalius Thomas' 65-yard interception return in the first half.
Last January, the Pats went to California for the Divisional Round. The Chargers had earned the bye after their 14-2 regular season, but made critical mistakes. Troy Brown extended New England's season when he stripped Marlon McCree of an interception; Reche Caldwell recovered the ball, and the Patriots scored four plays later, tying the game with a two-point play by Kevin Faulk.
Bill Belichick held a conference call with local media shortly after San Diego's win, and called it a privilege to play for the AFC Championship. He said he'll look at the tape of that September win over the Chargers, but more of he and his staff's focus will be on San Diego's last eight games, all wins.
"We’ve seen them make a lot of big plays in all three areas of the game," Belichick said. "They’re physical. Going out on the road and winning in Indianapolis today I think shows what kind of mental toughness they have. We know we’re going to have to play our best game of the year, so we’re on that, but on the same note we’re excited to play and we’re excited to be in the game."
The players have Monday off; the team will reconvene Tuesday at Gillette Stadium.
What a win for San Diego, beating the Colts in Indianapolis with both LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers on the sidelines!
How's A.J. Smith's decision to dump Marty Schottenheimer for Norv Turner looking now?
If the Chargers can beat both the Colts and the Patriots on the road in the playoffs, they certainly deserve to go to the Super Bowl.
Given the difficulty of that, however, and the way Tom Brady is playing, if you're a Patriots fan, you've got to like your team's chances of going to Phoenix.
Good as the Chargers are, you have to think New England would rather face Rivers (or Billy Volek) in the AFC title game than Peyton Manning and the Colts.
And you know that, if, as appears likely, the Patriots get to the Super Bowl, they'll be favored over the NFC champ.
It is not surprising that Bill Belichick says a few words to his team before each game.
What may be a bit surprising is that after Belichick speaks, Junior Seau usually adds a few words as well. But given the regard Belichick so clearly has for the future Hall of Famer, maybe there’s no one better to help fire up the troops.
Before New England took to the field against Jacksonville, the emotional Seau, an 18-year veteran looking for his first Super Bowl ring, reminded his teammates how precious the opportunity was that they had before them, and how much it meant to him.
“He’s a fiery guy,” Kyle Brady said. “He has a passion about playing the game and he always has a few passionate words before the game and he did it again today. He talked about opportunity, and what a great opportunity this is for all of us.”
Seau has appeared in one Super Bowl, in 1994, when his Chargers team was demolished by the 49ers. He hadn’t yet grasped how close he is to returning in the locker room after the game.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet. It really hasn’t. Being part of this journey is definitely something special,” he said. “Hopefully at the end of this rainbow we can look at something that we’re proud of. You never can dream this. It’s beyond all of that. There’s a lot of hard work, a lot of perseverance and a lot of prayers that come into play.”
Seau did all he could to help New England last night, with a team-high 10 tackles.
Kyle Brady won the chance to move on to the AFC title game with the New England Patriots last night, but he also won dinner on friend and former teammate David Garrard.
Brady said he and Garrard, the Jaguars’ quarterback, had a friendly wager on the game: the first dinner of the offseason would be on the loser. So Garrard and wife Mary will be picking up the tab when the Bradys migrate south for the offseason; after spending eight years in Jacksonville, Brady and wife Kristi still maintain their home in the area.
The tight end might be getting something else as well, as he joked with the quarterback that Garrard should throw in one of his trademark fedoras as well.
Garrard usually wears a sharp suit and chapeau for post-game press conferences.
Game story: Brady brilliant, defense clamps down as Pats move on
BY SHALISE MANZA YOUNG
Journal Sports Writer
FOXBORO – The New England Patriots’ three Super Bowl wins came by a combined nine points, so if there is one thing they know, it is this: come playoff time, it doesn’t matter how you win.
All that matters is that you do win.
So in the immediate aftermath of New England’s 31-20 AFC Divisional Round playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium last night, there was some talk about the defense, some talk about how the team’s coverage in the passing game wasn’t up to snuff in the first half, some talk of the Jags’ success in keeping Randy Moss in check.
But bottom line, as they settle into their couches today to watch the Indianapolis Colts host the San Diego Chargers in the other AFC Divisional game, the Pats players know they’ll be hosting the AFC Championship game next weekend.
“Right now, it doesn’t matter. It’s about winning football games any way you can,” said Tedy Bruschi.
New England’s defense, maligned for its weakness against the run, clamped down on the best one-two running back combination in the league, Jacksonville’s Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, holding the duo to 66 yards on 19 carries.
The Jaguars suspected that the Patriots, led by their defensive front three of Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork, as well as top reserve Jarvis Green, would try to take away their strength, like Delilah chopping Samson’s hair – and thus his might.
So they came out passing, trying to suck the Pats in with play-action.
“I had an inkling they’d try some play-action, so it didn’t surprise me,” Rodney Harrison said. “On one play it did, but most of the time it didn’t.”
The play that caught Harrison off-guard was in the first drive of the game. Jacksonville was facing fourth-and-one at the New England 43-yard line, and rather than have David Garrard – and his thick-as-tree-trunk legs – run a quarterback sneak, Garrard ran that play-action and threw a deep pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis for a 34-yard gain.
Three plays later, Jacksonville became the first Pats’ playoff opponent since 1998 to score on its opening drive, with Garrard hooking up with Matt Jones for an eight-yard touchdown.
The Jaguars were that last team in 1998 as well, scoring a 35-yard field goal in the team’s Wild Card matchup.
But New England answered back, as only New England can, on its first possession. Brady and Co. had a fourth down of their own, but theirs was fourth-and-5. And they went for it. And they converted: a 14-yard pass over the middle to Moss.
Amazingly, it was the only reception of the night for Moss, who became the Patriots’ single-season receiving yardage leader this season and caught a league-record 23 touchdowns.
As he noted, however, Jacksonville may have “done a great job controlling me, but they did a bad job controlling the (rest of the) team.”
Wes Welker, Kevin Faulk, Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney and Laurence Maroney combined for 22 catches for 224 yards, and tight end Benjamin Watson, who has been relatively quiet as he’s struggled to regain form after an ankle injury suffered in Dallas in October, had just two catches for 12 yards, but both were touchdowns.
“It was just my chance to make some plays,” said Watson, who tied Stanley Morgan’s franchise record for touchdown catches in a playoff game. “I’m just glad Tom found me in the end zone. That’s what you work all these weeks for, just the chance to come out here and play.”
The game was tied 14-14 at halftime, but after watching David Garrard’s highly efficient first half, when he was 12-for-14 for 149 yards, New England’s defense adjusted and responded. Garrard was 10-for-19 for 129 yards in the second half.
The play that ended up being the game-winner for the Pats involved a little trickery: on their opening drive of the second half, a big gain by Laurence Maroney helped New England to first-and-goal from the six. On that play, they ran a variation of the Statue of Liberty, with it appearing as though the ball was snapped directly to Faulk. But Brady had the ball, and by the time the defense caught on, the league MVP zipped a pass to Welker in the back of the end zone.
“We worked on it the other day for the first time,” Brady said. “I think they bit on the run pretty good, and Wes did a great job. He’s hard to find; he’s 5-foot-7.”
Brady was as coolly efficient as he’s ever been against the Jaguars, setting a record by completing nearly 93 percent of his passes (26-for-28). When he wasn’t finding receivers, Brady was handing off to Maroney, who continues to blossom in the closing weeks of the season.
The second-year back averaged 122 yards on 22 carries (5.5 yards per), and scored a short first-half touchdown.
Harrison, who had two 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalties in the fourth quarter, found some redemption when he sealed the game by intercepting Garrard with just under four minutes to play in the game.
Harrison said he hadn’t heard much from Belichick – “yet” – on his two penalties, but that it felt pretty good to come down with that pick.
“You’ve got to do whatever you can to win. And have more points than they do at the end of the game and the clock strikes ‘zero,’” Bruschi said. “That’s all this tournament is about.”
FOXBORO – Wes Welker made his first playoff appearance a memorable one.
Welker led the Patriot receivers with a game-high nine catches for 54 yards and a touchdown.
His touchdown catch came on a trick play. On a first-and-goal from the Jacksonville six, Tom Brady jumped and raised his empty right arm in the air, making it appear as if Faulk had taken a direct snap.
Brady was hiding the ball in his left hand. Then, he switched to his right and found Welker in the back of the end zone which gave the Patriots the lead for good, 21-14, at 8:49 of the third quarter.
“I don’t know what you would call it but it was a play we felt we could take advantage of because of the aggressive plays by their safeties,” Welker said. “I was able to get behind them and Tom Brady was able to find me for the score.”
Welker said that the atmosphere of his first playoff game was intense.
“There was more intensity out there and focus and it took a couple of series to settle down,” said Welker, who did not get his first catch until the second quarter. “In the end we were able to put our execution together and were able to come up with some plays.”
FOXBORO – After having the biggest postseason game of his career – 22 carries, 122 yards, and a touchdown – Laurence Maroney tried to sneak out of the Patriots locker room before a mob of media members, like bees on honey, swarmed to him just before he reached the exit.
“I really don’t feel like talking,” Maroney said with a sigh.
Maroney didn’t want to talk about his huge game because he didn’t want to be in the spotlight.
Not with Tom Brady completing 26 of 28 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns for a 141.4 quarterback rating.
Not with the Patriots advancing to the AFC Championship game. Not with so many other of his teammates contributing in the 31-20 victory over the Jaguars.
“It’s about the Patriots winning, not about me,” Maroney said.
But he understood why there was a lot of interest in what he had just done. His performance ranks third on the Patriots all-time rushing list for postseason games. Only Curtis Martin (166 yards, Jan. 5, 1997 versus Pittsburgh) and Corey Dillon (144 yards, Jan. 16, 2005, versus Indianapolis) have bigger postseason rushing games than Maroney.
He gave most of the credit to his offensive linemen.
“I felt very comfortable today and the offensive line and receivers did a good job blocking once again downfield,” Maroney said. “I just tried to get into a rhythm and run hard.”
Because the Patriots were setting all kinds of scoring records by passing the ball while using the running game sparingly for most of the regular season, Maroney’s season was viewed by some as a disappointment. But when the weather got colder and the winds picked up, the Patriots called Maroney’s number and he has been productive.
“Sooner or later the running game had to kick in and when we did turn to it, I knew we had to be prepared,” Maroney said of the Pats running game. “We have been here and worked hard and knew we would finally get a chance to show the world that we do have some type of running game.”
Maroney closed out the regular season with 59 rushes for 306 yards and four touchdowns in his final three games of the season, averaging 102 yards per game.
“In our locker room, we know what he’s capable of,” running back Heath Evans said of Maroney.
“The way Laurence ran, the way the offensive line blocked, it just gave [us] confidence to go on and continue on running the ball,” fellow running back Kevin Faulk said.
“I thought Laurence ran well and our line blocked well,” New England coach Bill Belichick said. “We had some good holds.”
Maroney’s touchdown, a one-yard run that gave New England a 14-7 lead three seconds into the second quarter, was the first of his postseason career.
“Laurence has been great – he’s been playing good all season,” Brady said. “I don’t think he probably had all of the opportunities he would have hoped, but his role has been whatever he’s got and he’s been extremely productive. And the way we’ve thrown the ball with multiple receivers on the field, it puts a lot of stress on the defense.
“Any time you have Randy and Wes out there and Donte and Jabar all making plays; really, Laurence, thank God, lost it there for a little bit, but he was extremely productive tonight. He had some huge runs.”
Maroney elevated his game in the Patriots passing attack last night too. After only catching four passes for 116 yards in the regular season, Maroney caught two passes for 40 yards last night.
“Kevin is the one that’s known for catching screen passes so I was hoping to catch them sleeping,” Maroney said.
“I think Laurence does a good job for us in the passing game, yeah,” Belichick said. “I think he’s done a good job for us and he’s certainly improved there in the two careers since he’s been here and he’s worked hard in all phases, blitz running, route running, spacing, catching, those kinds of things. And he’s worked hard and he’s done a good job and he’s improved dramatically in two years, no question.”
“It’s always great to have a strong running game,” Evans said. “For half the year Tom Brady was doing it all by himself with the receivers and during the most important time of the year
Maroney stepped up. That’s my praise to him, its good coaching and listening on his part. He ran hard and he has a lot of talent and I’m proud of him.”
Maroney is just happy that the Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship game.
“This is something that we practice all year for – to go to the big show,” Maroney said.
But when Rodney Harrison picked off a David Garrard pass with 3:46 remaining, the veteran safety tied former Rams and Cardinals defensive back Aeneas Williams for consecutive postseason games (four) with at least one interception.
Harrison missed out on an interception earlier in the fourth quarter, dropping one in the Patriots' end zone with about 10 minutes to go and New England ahead, 28-17. The Jaguars didn't take full advantage of Harrison's drop in the back of the middle of the end zone, but Josh Scobee drilled a field goal one play later, bringing Jacksonville to within a touchdown and a two-point conversion of the Pats at 28-20.
Harrison, though, wasn't interested in the fact he had tied a record.
"I'm just trying to do my job," he said. "I missed one and I was fortunate it (an interception) came back to me."
In the first half, the Patriots' defense was pushed around by the jaguars.
In the second half, New England's defense didn't exactly resemble Pittsburgh's old Steel Curtaion, but it got the job done when it had to.
"We didn't play particularly well in the first half," said veteran safety Rodney Harrison, who sealed the win with a fourth-quarter interception. "We left too many plays on the field. We executed better in the second half. At the end of the game we made more plays. We'll learn from the mistakes we made and get better."
Veteran linebacker Junior Seau offered a similar critique.
"In the first half we were chasing them," said Seau of the opening 30 minutes, which ended with the teams tied at 14-14.
"In the second half we calmed down and allowed our schemes to take over. We're proud of that, but we need to correct all the mistakes we made in the first half," he said.
FOXBORO, Mass. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars took away Randy Moss, but still didn't come away with a victory.
Despite limiting Moss -- who set an NFL record this season with 23 touchdown receptions, while catching 98 passes for 1,493 yards -- to just one catch, for 14 yards, the Jags were shredded through the air by Tom Brady, who completed 26 of 28, including 16 in a row, for an NFL-record completion percentage of 92.9 and three touchdowns, without an interception.
"They did a great job of controlling me," Moss said, "but a bad job of controlling the team."
And just how did the Jags put the wraps on Moss?
"Well," he said, "I think they got back to the old way to cover me. That's putting two and three guys on me for the whole game. And they were beating me up a little bit in the first half."
Moss' only catch came on the Patriots' first possession, and it was an important one, coming, as it did, on 4th-and-5 at the Jacksonville 40. After Brady hit him for a gain of 14, the Pats went on score a touchdown that tied the score, 7-7.
"It didn't frustrate me, whatsoever," Moss said of the Jaguars' blanket coverage. "We got a victory, and I'm proud of that."
He's also proud of what he and Brady have accomplished so far in this record-setting, perfect-to-date season.
"I've always been a fan of Tom's," Moss said. "I'm happy to be on the guy's team. He doesn't surprise me, because we expect greatness out of our leader."
And what does he expect in the way of coverage in next Sunday's AFC championship game?
"It's playoff time," he said. "No telling what what you're going to see."
Donte' Stallworth experienced emotional highs and lows on the same play in the fourth quarter.
It was a 53-yard catch-and-run play that set up the Pats' final points, a field goal. The catching part was just fine. It was the running part that tripped him up, literally, when he seemingly had nothing but an open field and the end zone ahead of him for what would have been a 76-yard scoring strike.
But Stallworth took a peek at the Jumbotron, and the next thing he knew, he was on the turf at Gillette Stadium, victim of a shoe-string tackle by the Jaguars' Rashean Mathis. It was an embarrassing moment for Stallworth, and his teammates didn't give him a pass. Nor did friends and family from his home area of Sacramento, Calif.
"I've got 15 text (messages) from home," said Stallworth ruefully. "The guys in the locker room are all over me. It hurts, but we won.
The play was a conceived bit of improvisation.
"I was running a hitch route, but the (defender) jumped it and when I looked back I saw (QB) Tom (Brady) moving in the pocket a bit so I took off up the field. Tom made a good play," said Stallworth, whose change in routes put him behind Mathis.
Stallworth admitted taking a peek at the Jumbotron, which he said cost him the TD.
"I just wanted to see where he (Mathis) was," said Stallworth. "I was too worried about him instead of just running. I didn't press my turbo button. The end result wasn't what I wanted, but we won the game."
He caught five touchdown passes in the first five games, but only one over the team's final 11 games. It wasn't as if he didn't want to taste the end zone.
"I'm always hungry to catch another touchdown pass," said Watson.
His appetite was satisfied last night in the Pats' 31-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium.
Watson snagged a pair of touchdown throws from Tom Brady, helping New England earn its berth in next Sunday's AFC title game.
The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder found his way to the back of the end zone with 5:01 remaining in the first quarter, and he and Brady teamed up for a nine-yard scoring strike with 49 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
"It was just my chance to make some plays," said Watson, who caught 36 passes for 389 yards this season. "I'm just glad Tom found me in the end zone. That's what you work all these weeks for, just for the chance to come out here and play."
Not that Watson was the primary receiver on either TD.
On the first one, Brady surveyed the field and fired a high sizzler that Watson somehow was able to hang onto.
"I ran a flag route, and I didn't think Tom would come to me," said Watson, whose only two catches of the game found him in paydirt. "I looked back and everybody was covered. Tom kind of gave me a nod to go to the back (of the end zone) and (I was) uncovered and he put it right there."
Watson wasn't the primary receiver on touchdown number two, either. In fact, he was the third option.
"I think the DB fell down or something," he said. "It was a play designed to get somebody else open but you never know who's going to open up. That's why you play every play like it's your last one. You try to get open on every play. Tom does a great job of getting the ball to the open receiver."
FOXBORO, Mass. -- Perhaps an Oscar ought to be added to Tom Brady's lengthy list of postseason awards.
"I'm looking for my Academy award," Brady said, flashing that matinee idol smile.
He certainly deserves at least one, for Best Actor in a Pseudo-Statue of Liberty Play.
And a convincing case could be made that he also should get one for Best Actor in a Starring Role for his outstanding performance in the Patriots' 31-20, AFC semifinal playoff victory over Jacksonville at Gillette Stadium.
As for the first Oscar, let us start with the assertion that, if Brady decides he no longer wants to be a star quarterback, nor even a star on stage, screen, or television, he could be a phenomenal prestidigitator.
That is to say, a sleight-of-hand man.
The guy is an absolute magician with the football -- and not just when he's throwing it.
With the score tied, 14-14, six minutes into the second half, and the Pats facing a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line, Brady threw his arms into the air as the ball was snapped, making it seem as if running back Kevin Faulk had gotten the ball directly from center Dan Koppen and was headed into the line.
But, in reality, the ball did go to Brady, who tucked it on his hip, out of sight of the Jaguars. As the Jags converged on Faulk, Brady found Wes Welker open at the back of the end zone, near the goalposts, and threw to him for the touchdown that put the Patriots ahead to stay.
"We call (the play) 'double-pop,' " Brady said. "We just put it in Friday, and I thought we had a shot on it. I think (the Jaguars) bit on the run pretty good, and Wes did a great job. I just had to drop it over the linebacker."
Brady did a phenomenal job against a Jacksonville defense determined to take away the Patriots' big-play wide receiver, Randy Moss.
Moss set an NFL record this season with 23 touchdown catches among his 98 receptions, for 1,493 yards. The Jaguars limited him to just one catch, for 14 yards.
Which fazed Brady not at all.
"The thing with trying to take away Randy, or any player," he said, "is that you're vulnerable in a lot of other places."
All of which Brady found in riddling the Jacksonville defense for 26 completions in 28 attempts, for 262 yards and three touchdowns, without an interception
That's a 92.9 completion percentage -- an NFL playoff record.
"I thought we were efficient throwing the ball," said Brady, possibly setting a record for understatement. "Even if you're taking two guys every play and putting them on Randy, then you leave a lot of other guys 1-on-1.
"When guys are open, it's my job to hit them. They were open every time. It's easy when you have receivers that are open all the time, and an offensive line that never lets anyone touch you. It makes it fun to play."
And fun to watch.
Although, as tight end Kyle Brady pointed out: "I think we get spoiled sometimes."
He completed the first 16 passes he threw, and overall he was an amazingly accurate 26 for 28, good for 262 yards, including three touchdown passes.
Tom Brady's only incompletions were a pair of drops, by tight end Benjamin Watson and by wide receiver Wes Welker.
For most quarterbacks, such a scintillating performance in a high-pressure playoff game would have had teammates reaching for as many superlatives as they could conjure up. But for the Patriots after their QB had led them past Jacksonville, 31-20, and into the AFC Championship Game next Sunday? Well, to paraphrase a Red Sox slogan, it was just a case of Tom Brady being Tom Brady.
Ho, hum. So what's new?
Okay, so maybe that's a bit of a simplification.
"That's what we've come to expect," said Watson, who was on the receiving end of two of Brady's TD tosses. "It's not like we haven't seen him play great in the playoffs before."
"That number 12, he's pretty good," chimed in veteran offensive tackle Matt Light.
Not that they take Brady for granted. And they have a great deal of respect for him.
"When you have a group of receivers that we have and him as the QB, this (type of efficiency) is not unexpected," said Light. "Tom and the (receivers, including the running backs) have worked hard all year. And Tom does a good job of avoiding the rush and making plays, which is something the guys on the offensive line really appreciate."
But 26 for 28, missing out on a perfect night only because of a couple of drops?
"That's why he's the MVP of the league," said Donte Stallworth, who hooked up with Brady for a key 53-yard pass and run play in the fourth quarter, leading to the final points of the game, a 35-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
The New England Patriots won their 17th game of the season and moved to within one game of the Super Bowl with a 31-20 defeat of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Tom Brady threw just two incompletions in 28 attempts, tallying 262 yards and three touchdowns. Only one of his completions was to Randy Moss, but eight receivers caught passes in total, led by Wes Welker's nine receptions. Laurence Maroney rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
The Patriots' defense held Jacksonville's vaunted rushing game mostly in check, but David Garrard was effective passing the ball, particularly in the first half. Garrard's only interception came in the fourth quarter, and the pick by Rodney Harrison spelt doom for Jacksonville's season.
Members of the Jaguars' staff are seated behind us here in the press box, and when it looked like Jacksonville was having trouble with its coach-to-quarterback radio system late in its last drive, one team official said: "They knocked it out on us again."
The official, believed to be senior vice president of football operations Paul Vance, made the comment. He was referring to Jacksonville's last playoff game here in New England, when the team had trouble with the coach-to-QB system.
During the height of Spygate, Jags coach Jack Del Rio groused that the radio "mysteriously malfunctioned" during the Pats' 28-3 win.
BENJAMIN WATSON SCORES SECOND CAREER PLAYOFF TD
Benjamin Watson caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to tie the game at seven in the first quarter. The scoring catch was Watson’s second career playoff touchdown reception, with his other scoring grab also coming against Jacksonville in a wild card matchup on Jan. 7, 2006. Watson’s previous playoff touchdown came on a 63-yard scoring grab and was the longest touchdown reception in Patriots postseason history.
BRADY THROWS TOUCHDOWN IN 13th STRAIGHT PLAYOFF GAME
Tom Brady threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Benjamin Watson in the first quarter, marking Brady’s 13th consecutive playoff game with a touchdown pass, tying Dan Marino for the second longest such streak in NFL history. Marino also threw a touchdown pass in 13 straight playoff contests from 1983-1995. Brett Favre holds the NFL record, throwing a scoring pass in 17 consecutive games from 1995 to the present. Brady was held without a touchdown pass in the first two playoff games of his career, but has had at least one scoring toss in 13 straight games from Super Bowl XXXVI through tonight.
WARREN STRIP-SACK SETS UP TOUCHDOWN
Ty Warren sacked David Garrard and caused him to fumble in the first quarter, giving the Patriots possession at the Jaguars’ 29-yard line. Mike Vrabel recovered the loose ball, setting up a seven-play drive that ended in a 1-yard touchdown run by Laurence Maroney and a 14-7 Patriots lead. The forced fumble was the first of Warren’s 12-game playoff career and the fumble recovery was the second of Vrabel’s 17-game playoff career.
MARONEY SCORES FIRST CAREER PLAYOFF TOUCHDOWN
Laurence Maroney gave the Patriots a 14-7 lead with a 1-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter. The touchdown run was the first of Maroney’s playoff career and came in his fourth career postseason game. In the 2007 regular season, Maroney led the team with six rushing touchdowns, a total that tied his career high, also set as a rookie last season.
PATRIOTS ALLOW OPENING-DRIVE POINTS IN PLAYOFFS FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 1998
The Jaguars scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the game, marking the first time the Patriots had allowed their opponents to score points on their opening drive since the 1998 wild card playoffs, when Jacksonville’s Mike Hollis converted a 35-yard field goal to give the Jaguars a 3-0 lead over the Patriots on Jan. 3, 1999. Prior to tonight, the Patriots had held their opponents scoreless on opening drives in 14 consecutive playoff contests. In the regular season, the Patriots allowed only one opening-drive touchdown - in the regular-season finale against the New York Giants on Dec. 29.
§ Stephen Gostkowski missed a playoff field goal for the first time in his career when he missed a 35-yard attempt in the second quarter. Gostkowski had been a perfect eight-for-eight in his three-game playoff career entering tonight’s game.
§ When Jacksonville scored first in tonight’s game, it broke a string of five straight playoff games in which New England had scored first. The Patriots have now scored first in 10 of their last 12 postseason games.
The press box here at Gillette Stadium is having massive internet problems -- in that there isn't any access right now, and hasn't been for much of the first half, hence our absence.
But thanks to Rob Lee's air-card, we're online.
So, interesting first half, no? After New England's second touchdown, it looked like they were headed for an easy win, but Jacksonville put together a game-tying 11-play, 95-yard drive and we're headed to the third quarter with things essentially 0-0.
Jacksonville's problems against the Steelers last week came in the second half, as David Garrard threw two interceptions and the defense looked porous.
Dimitroff will hire the Falcons' new head coach; Bobby Petrino tucked his tail between his legs and left Atlanta after just 13 games for Arkansas.
The son of Tom Dimitroff, one of the original Boston Patriots, Thomas beat out Philadelphia general manager Tom Heckert and Jacksonville's director of college scouting Gene Smith for the job. Apparently, Heckert and Smith both interviewed in person for the job early this week, but Dimitroff interviewed via satellite last weekend.
According to the Patriots' media guide, Dimitroff has been with New England for six years and in player personnel for 18. He was named director of college scouting on June 11, 2003, and oversees a staff of area scouts responsible for evaluating all of the nation's eligible college prospects.
Dimitroff worked for a year as a part-time scout with the Chiefs in 1993, before earning a full-time gig with the Lions, where he was until 1997. From 1998-2001, he was with the Browns.
Like several other members of the New England staff, including defensive coordinator Dean Pees and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Dimitroff is an Ohio native. He played at Canada's University of Guelph.
Six Pats named to Pro Football Weekly All-NFL team
From the press release:
The authority on pro football, Pro Football Weekly, along with the Professional Football Writers of America, are proud to announce their annual All-NFL team. Leading the way is QB Tom Brady, who also was voted as Most Valuable Player. Below, you will find the entire team, which was voted on by PFWA members and Pro Football Weekly editors. The All-NFL team and all individual awards plus All-Conference teams and All-Rookie teams can be found in the next edition of Pro Football Weekly (Vol. XXII, No. 28, issue date Jan. 20, 2008), which will be available on newsstands everywhere next week:
Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America All-NFL team
QB Tom Brady, Patriots
RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
RB Brian Westbrook, Eagles
TE Jason Witten, Cowboys
WR Randy Moss, Patriots
WR Terrell Owens, Cowboys
C Jeff Saturday, Colts
OG Logan Mankins, Patriots
OG Steve Hutchinson, Vikings
OT Walter Jones, Seahawks
OT Matt Light, Patriots
DE Jared Allen, Chiefs
DE Patrick Kerney, Seahawks
DT Albert Haynesworth, Titans
DT Kevin Williams, Vikings
OLB DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys
OLB Mike Vrabel, Patriots
MLB Patrick Willis, 49ers
CB Asante Samuel, Patriots
CB Antonio Cromartie, Chargers
S Ed Reed, Ravens
S Bob Sanders, Colts
PK Rob Bironas, Titans
P Andy Lee, 49ers
KR Josh Cribbs, Browns
PR Devin Hester, Bears
ST Kassim Osgood, Chargers
Most Valuable Player — Patriots QB Tom Brady
Defensive MVP — Colts S Bob Sanders
Coach of the Year — Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
Rookie of the Year — Vikings RB Adrian Peterson
Defensive Rookie of the Year — 49ers LB Patrick Willis
Most Improved Player of the Year — Browns QB Derek Anderson
Comeback Player of the Year — Patriots WR Randy Moss
Executive of the Year — Patriots VP-player personnel Scott Pioli
Assistant Coach of the Year — Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett
Golden Toe (Best Placekicker or Punter) — Titans PK Rob Bironas
For the Patriots
DB Willie Andrews - elbow
TE Kyle Brady - foot
RB Kyle Eckel - stomach
S Rodney Harrison - thigh
CB Ellis Hobbs - groin
T Nick Kaczur - foot
T Stephen Neal - shoulder
TE Stephen Spach - knee
S Antwain Spann - hamstring
QB Tom Brady - right shoulder
For the Jaguars
LB Mike Peterson - hand
DT John Henderson - hamstring
DT Grady Jackson - knee
WR Reggie Williams - back
Multimedia: Projo photographers look back on the perfect Pats season
Photographers Bob Breidenbach, Glenn Osmundson and Mary Murphy took some time this month to discuss their memories of the Patriots perfect regular season. Click the photo above to see their multimedia presentation -- with their favorite photos, how they got them, and what they will remember most about 2007.
The National Weather Service in Taunton is forecasting light winds and relatively mild temperatures for Saturday night's playoff game against Jacksonville.
The temperature will fall from a high of near 49 to a low overnight of 24, the service says. But most important for the Patriots and their record-setting passing game the wind will range between 5 mph and 7 mph.
S Willie Andrews - elbow
TE Kyle Brady - team decision
RB Kyle Eckel - stomach
S Rodney Harrison - thigh
CB Ellis Hobbs - team decision
G Nick Kaczur - foot
G Stephen Neal - shoulder
TE Stephen Spach - knee
DB Antwain Spann - hamstring
WR Wes Welker - team decision
QB Tom Brady - right shoulder
For the Jaguars
LB Mike Peterson - hand
Did Not Participate
WR Reggie Williams - back
DT John Henderson - hamstring
DT Grady Jackson - knee
Transcript: Bill Belichick's Thursday press conference
How are we doing today? [We’re] winding down on our preparations here, try[ing] to get all the situations covered and be ready to go on Saturday night.
Can you talk regarding the safeties a little bit for Jacksonville? I think, well of course they’re new from last year, Deon Grant was an outstanding player for them, did a good job, but [Reggie] Nelson is a kid that we did a lot of work on coming out of Florida. [He’s a] fast, real athletic guy, has a lot of range back there, has made a lot of plays for them. I can’t think of the strong safety’s name, 26? I think it’s Sam [Knight].
Sammy Knight. Yeah, Sammy. Real experienced player, we played against him a lot in the past. Of course he was at Miami, very instinctive guy, he’s around the ball a lot, reads the quarterback well. They’ve been very productive. It’s a good secondary. [The] corners are good, [Terry] Cousin comes in as the third corner and both their safeties are back. They don’t play a lot of six DB’s, mainly five. Those five guys do a good job and they’ve got good depth out there at corner with [Scott] Starks and Aaron Glenn, so it’s a good secondary, good young players, too. [Jamaal] Fudge has played some for them in safety, too.
If you were preparing for an opponent and you only had two tapes to choose from, one tape when they won and one tape when they lost, which tape would you choose? It would depend on who the team was. I think that win or lose, it sometimes comes down to one play or two plays or something. You could get a lot more out of a tape that had more relevance to you, win or lose.
What’s the hardest thing about playing left tackle and in particular, what strengths does Matt Light have that let him succeed there? Probably the hardest thing at left tackle is having to block the athletic rushers that come off that side, which is usually where the other team’s best -- or most athletic rusher, maybe not their best rusher -- but usually their most athletic rusher [is]. The left tackle has got to block a very athletic guy out there in the pass rush and then he’s got to block big guys like [Paul] Spicer this week or other guys we’ve seen in our division in a running game that are 300-pound guys, 290 or whatever they are, and block them in the running game. So it’s a combination of being athletic enough to block the athletic pass rushers and being big and stout enough to hold up against the big guys in the running game and on the power rush. Usually you don’t get a lot of help over there because most teams are right handed and most teams put the passing strength to the right side, not always, but generally speaking most teams do, so it’s a little more -- pretty challenging over there in terms of blocking those athletic guys.
Is there anything in particular that Light has been able to do there? I think Matt does a good job. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s big enough. He’s not the most athletic guy, but he’s athletic enough. There are probably -- I’d say he’s in the upper echelon in both of those categories, but there are probably some left tackles that, if you went to the Indy Combine test results, would test better than him. There are some that are bigger than him, but I think he has a good combination of mental toughness, technique, size, athleticism, quickness, to be competitive against a lot of different types of players out there, which he sees and he does a good job forcing the running game. He’s competitive on the pass rush against power, against speed, and he’s a good technique player. He doesn’t just have a lot of bad plays where he just takes a bad set or is late out of the stance, or over sets the guy, or those kind of things, so he’s pretty consistent. He’s been consistent since he came here in ’01 and he started playing left tackle for us as a rookie, so he’s had a lot of consistent and good performances over there. That’s a tough position to play.
Which particular challenges do you expect to face from the Jacksonville running back tandem and do you expect to see anything different than what you’ve seen so far? As far as what? New plays, or what are you talking about? You’d have to ask them. I don’t know what they’re putting in, but those backs are good. Fred Taylor is one of the best running backs in the league. He’s got as a great combination of quickness, power, vision, he’s a very good technique runner and I think he’s got exceptional vision. He finds and sees holes as well as any back we play. He’s got the speed to go the distance, he’s got the power to run over people and he’s got the quickness to make defenders miss in the hole. He breaks a lot of tackles. He’s good in the passing game. [Maurice] Jones-Drew is a little different style of runner, but very effective. He’s a very powerful guy for his size, has great lower body strength, runs through a lot of tackles, has good speed, can go the distance. We saw that in the kickoff return last week against Pittsburgh, saw it against New Orleans, saw it against the Colts. [He makes] long runs, very good in pass protection, he’s probably as good a pass protector as we’ve seen this year for his position [at] running back, plays a lot on third down, catches the ball out of the backfield, runs good routes, [he is] hard to tackle when he catches it, good screen and draw guy. Both of those guys, they’re not good, they’re real good. Fred Taylor is as good as anybody we’ve faced. He’s outstanding. I mean [LaDainian] Tomlinson is obviously a great back, I’m not saying that, but he’s been more consistent and had more production, but Fred Taylor has got a lot of good plays, a lot of them.
You talked about Maurice Jones-Drew and his blocking. Have you told your linemen to make it a point not to underestimate him, shown them the block he made on Julius Peppers? [Shawne] Merriman, Julius Peppers, put on any film you want; he blocks every week. You don’t have to go to one play. You can find it every week. He’s a good third-down back. He does a good job for them. He protects well, catches the ball well, and they give him the ball on some third down running plays and he’s a threat to pick up the yardage there, so yeah, he does a real good job. Those two guys are outstanding. They’ve got good depth in the backfield. Greg Jones has made some good plays for them back there. He’s a good fullback. [LaBrandon] Toefield, I know he hasn’t gotten a chance to play a lot, but when he has he’s been effective. It’s a good group.
Can you comment on the five players who made All-Pro this year? [I’m] happy for all of them that made it. More importantly is what our team is trying to accomplish. I congratulate all of the players on all of their individual awards, but it’s really secondary to what our team goals are right now.
You talked about working on situations. Is there any particular situation you like to teach that’s kind of a favorite? No, not really, because you don’t know what is going to come up. You never know what it is going to be. Last week was very unusual: in the Pittsburgh-Jacksonville game you had three two-point plays -- two from the two and one from the 12. Usually if you have one two-point play in a game that’s a lot, and there were three of them. So depending on which side of that play you’re on, whether you’re running it or defending it, you get that situation. We had the hands team in the Giants game. To go back to the Pittsburgh-Jacksonville game, Pittsburgh has got the ball with three minutes to go. Making a first down probably seals the game or comes close to ending it, and Jacksonville gets it back, and they try to get a field goal to win. So, again, it depends which side of those situations you’re on, but you know you could be trying to run out the clock, trying to score, trying to onside kick, trying to recover an onside kick, trying to get a two point conversion, trying to stop one. There are so many of them, and those big plays can come in the first quarter, they don’t have to come in the fourth. But there’re a lot of those one-play situations at the end of the game that you have to prepare for both sides of the situation, and who knows what’s going to come up. [We] wouldn’t want to feel like we’re going to work on this one thing and hope that comes up. Your chances are [that] some things might come up once a year and then you keep waiting for that one situation, it’s one play in the whole season. There are a lot of other ones that could be just as important that will come up. So you have to be ready for all of them.
How close is Nick Kaczur to being ready, in regard to his foot? We’ll get the injury report after practice today. He practiced yesterday.
How tough is it mentally to blow a big lead on the road in a hostile environment like Jacksonville did and have to bounce back pretty quickly? I think in the National Football League you’ve got to be ready to play 60 minutes every week. I think every team knows that, so whatever the score situation or conditions are, you play for 60 minutes, whichever side of it you’re on. And that’s what we better be ready to do. That’s what the competition is in this league. There’re a lot of close games, a lot of them come down to one possession, a lot of them come down to the final possession, a lot of times the final play, so you just have to be ready to go for 60 minutes every week. I think every team knows that, prepares for that, and that’s they way you have to play the game. It doesn’t matter which end of it you’re on.
With the left tackle again, is the nature of the position such that if you make a mistake it’s going to get a lot more attention than a success would get praise? [It] depends on how much attention you want to give it, I guess. Anybody else on the line can get beat. A quarterback can make a bad throw, a receiver can drop a pass, a running back can fumble. You tell me which one you’re going to give more attention to. I don’t know. They’re all -- Mistakes are mistakes. Coaches make bad decisions. Defenders miss tackles, drop interceptions, miss tackles. I don’t know, you tell me which is worse and which gets more attention. If they’re bad, they’re bad. If they’re good, they’re good.
When a quarterback like Tom Brady is able to play as consistently as he has, is it any more a result of the left tackle than of the other guys on the offensive line? Certainly each individual has an important role in the group and then the group as a whole is important. They’re pretty intertwined. I don’t know really where the individual stops and the group starts. It’s a lot of interwoven parts there, especially on the offensive line cause all five of those guys have to be on the same page. Those five have five people they have to block in the running game and the passing game. And after the snap they can come in a lot of different combinations and stunt and twist and go all over the place. So in the end, those five have to handle whichever five people it is, however you’ve got it schemed. So the way that group functions as a unit is critical and then, of course, each individual block along the way is critical. They’re both important; you can’t really have on without the other.
What’s the biggest strength of the Patriots offensive line? Biggest strength? I don’t know. Again, like we talked about with the left tackle, it goes across the board. What’s the play? What are you trying to do? You’ve got to do a lot of different things. We’ve seen a lot of different things from the defenses. We’ve seen teams play a lot of pass rushers that are linebackers and defensive ends, we’ve seen all big guys in there on early downs, we’ve seen blitzes, we’ve seen two and three-man rushes, we’ve seen all different stunts and combinations in there. So sometimes you’ve got to block movement, sometimes you’ve got to block size and power, sometimes you’re pulling out there on screens, sometime you’re trying to block the guy that’s 350 pounds lined up four inches away from you. They’re all different challenges across the board. Some you win, some you don’t, but you’ve got to be able to battle all of them at those positions, and that’s the challenge of playing the offensive line. It’s not like it was back when I came into the league, where the right guard would line up across from the left tackle and they’d block each other for 60 plays. You just don’t get those kinds of match-ups any more. There’s a lot of moving parts and you get different plays were your combinations are different, schemes are different. You just get a lot of different match-ups. I think that’s what makes it hard now on the offensive line. Everybody’s got so many different match-ups, so many different jobs to do, it’s hard to just isolate and say this is all this guy has got to do. He’s got 20 jobs and they’re all hard, especially against good players. Sometimes it’s just as hard to block a little, quick guy as it is to block a big, powerful guy, depending on what the skills are and what the play is and what you’re trying to do.
You mentioned 60 minutes a lot. Is that a hard message to get across to your players, that one small play in the first quarter is as important as later in the game? I think that’s something that every coach talks about from junior high school football to the NFL and all the spots in between. I don’t think you ever don’t talk about that. It’s a lot easier said than done, but that’s-- In this league it’s so competitive. Everybody’s good, every team has good players and good coaches and guys who can make plays. It doesn’t take much to, if they have a little bit of a half a step or an edge or whatever, for them to make a play. You’ve really got to be at your best all the time, because if the other guy is a little bit ahead of you for whatever the play is, you could be in trouble. I think everybody is aware of that. We all talk about that; doing it, and being focused for 60, 70, 20, however many plays you’re in there for and all the situations and all the things that come up. It’s very challenging because there are great players on the other side of the ball, too. It’s not just competing against yourself, like an individual sport. You’re competing against other competitors and other schemes and there’re a lot of moving parts. Sometimes it isn’t that you’re not focused, it’s just that the other guy wins and that’s part of it too, but you certainly want to be ready to perform for 60 minutes in this game, in the National Football League, especially this time of year because you’re getting everybody’s best.
Can you start by reflecting on the last week when you declined to interview for those jobs and what your thinking was? Yup. I’d always said that if that opportunity presented itself I’d take all the information that I had at hand and try to make the best decision for me personally and professionally -- and for my family, keeping them first and foremost in my mind relative to moving on at any point in my career. I was grateful for the opportunity that those teams gave me, but at this time that’s the best thing for me, is to be here and focus my efforts on this preparation for the playoff run here. That’s really as simple as that and that’s all that went into it and I’m going to be here in New England.
How much did you weigh just going through the experience, even if you knew it wasn’t the right time, thinking that that experience might help you in the future? It could, and I think Bill [Belichick] said it best earlier this week, it could hurt you or it could help you. Every experience could have a positive, could have a negative to it and, again, I’m not really worried or concerned about what that experience may or may not have afforded me going forward in my career. If that ever comes up again and the time is right for me to do that, then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but I’m not really worried about whether it hurt me or helped me or what I could have gained from it or what I didn’t gain from it. I’m just really focused right now on the playoffs.
Do you think you’re ready to be a head coach in the NFL? I’ve said this before - That’s for somebody else to choose. If that time ever comes up and that’s ever presented again to me and I feel like it’s the right opportunity for me to try to attempt to do that, then we’ll do it. But again, I’ve said in the statement, [I’m] grateful for the opportunity they present to me, but at this time I’m going to be a Patriot and I’m looking forward to it.
This is not a Tom Brady question per say, but during the summer if you were sitting around with your buddies and somebody said a quarterback would have the kind of numbers he’s had, would you have believed that would be possible? It’s hard to say what another quarterback’s going to do in another season. I know he’s had a special season relative to the way he’s performed and the way he’s played. To project whether he would have done that - or somebody else, for that matter, would have done it - I don’t know. There’s a lot of records and there’s a lot of numbers that people I know put out there and say, ‘Boy, I don’t know if there’s ever going to be another guy that gets close to it,’ but somebody - I know Peyton [Manning] threw 49 and Tommy, he just so happened to throw 50. I’m sure somebody else will come along and approach that number again and give that a run and see what happens, but I think if you play on a good team and you have a good season and you prepare hard and work hard and you have good people around you and you’re on, like I said, a good organization with a good, winning team then you have an opportunity to do things like that. Tommy had a great year, there’s no question about it.
As far as safeties go, what do you see in Jacksonville’s safeties? We’ve played against Sammy Knight before and he’s a very instinctive player. He’s a veteran guy who you can tell he watches a lot of film and understands what teams are trying to do against them. He’s a very smart player. Reggie Nelson is an exceptional athlete. [He] covers a lot of ground, has made a lot of big plays for them this year. You can’t be lazy around either one of them. You can’t take your eyes off of them or you can’t throw the ball and not know where they are, because they’ll make plays on you and they’ll have the ball going the other way. They’re a big-play defense and those two are a big part of the reason why, because they’re aggressive in the run. They’ll get down there and they’ll hit you and they’ll make plays in the running game, but they also take away plenty in the passing game in the deep part of the field and, again, like I said, if you’re not careful with them then they’ll end up with the football. I think that’s something that you’re going to have to keep in mind on every play the entire four quarters with those two.
Thinking back a few months, would you have been surprised at all at what Randy Moss has been able to accomplish? You know, from the time we got Randy he showed how hard he was willing to work. He’s been a great leader and a great teammate and a great guy for us to coach. When you have ability like Randy has and then you tie that in with how hard he works to try to go ahead and be the best player he can be and really help our team in any way, shape or form he can - I don’t really think the numbers are that big of a thing for him. I think he wants to win and I think that shows every day when we come into work. To look at his skill level and to say that I’d be surprised at what he’s done with how hard he works, I wouldn’t say that. He’s capable of big things and he’s obviously shown that this year. With the way he works and the way he approaches the game, it doesn’t surprise me.
What was your focus offensively during the bye week? What did that help you do? We did a lot of things during the bye week and really tried to hit a lot of areas - Most areas of our offense we tried to work on and tried to take a look at the last half of the season. Anything that we could do better or things that we might want to go ahead and tweak going into the playoffs, you always have an opportunity to do that when you have a bye week. We kind of took the same approach that we did when we had the bye week in the middle of the season. [We] really focused on ourselves and covered a lot of ground -- worked in the red zone, goal line, third down, against blitz pickup, in the running game - and tried to hit as much of it as we possibly could. We had two good days last week and hopefully that will help us here going forward into the playoffs.
When teams have gone three-wide or four-wide against Jacksonville, how have they generally defended it? Do they play much six defensive backs, or it is pretty standard with just the one, Terry Cousin, coming on? Yeah, I would say that they’re a nickel team, with Terry Cousin coming in. They’ve shown some dime - not a whole lot of it, but I would say this: not a lot of teams have really put that four-wide or anything like that out there against them, so it just so happens that they’ve been in a lot more nickel than anything else. I know they have a good secondary. Those other players - [Scott] Starks and [Aaron] Glenn and those [guys] - they have all played and we’ve seen them and we’ve watched them play and do good things. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them put the dime in the game, but if it just was nickel than that’s probably what they’ve played the most of and what they feel most comfortable in, and that’s what we would anticipate [them] putting out there against us when we’re in any kind of three-receiver grouping.
How much does it help you as an offensive coordinator to have the depth on the offensive line that you do? Nick Kaczur goes out and Ryan O’Callaghan can come in and it doesn’t seem like you lose very much. That’s been a big help. Dante [Scarnecchia] does a great job, does an exceptional job at coaching that group of guys. I know he doesn’t treat the starters any differently than he does the guys that are getting ready to play if one of those happens to go down. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had some guys go in there and play well and stand up to the challenge. I think that’s definitely a big plus when you can have guys step in there like that, because then you don’t have to change as much of what you want to do as [you would] if you felt differently about that group. To be able to say we have depth there and put those guys in there and let them play and not have to change or adjust too much of what we’re doing, I think that’s the biggest advantage it gives us. Like I said, it comes back to Dante and he does a great job coaching that group.
What’s the biggest challenge for that offensive group facing the size of Jacksonville’s defensive line? They’re really physical, they’re aggressive. They create a lot of issues with just a four-man rush because they never, ever stop coming. It’s a great team as far as hustling and making hustle plays, is what we kind of call them. You may have them blocked initially, but you have to block them until the play is completed or else they’re going to get to the quarterback, or they’re going to get in the backfield and create a problem in the running game. I think finishing plays overall and getting on your assignment early, but then again continuing until the whistle blows, I think that’s a big thing for them. That’s where they create a lot of their negative plays and it’s probably the biggest challenge that we’re going to face up front, is not only being physical and matching their aggressiveness, but also finishing every play like they do.
Can you talk about the impact of the spread offense at the college level and how much of an influence it may have in the NFL, positive or negative? The spread offense in college seems to be different because the quarterback is such a running threat in college. And I’m not an expert in the spread offense, as far as college football is concerned, but I know when you see it you see a lot of quarterbacks that are mobile and able to run and they use that guy as the primary runner sometimes, which to me is an advantage. Unless you put another guy down there in the box, you’ll always have enough to block whomever they have down there close to the line of scrimmage, which when you’re handing the ball to the back a lot of times, you don’t have the same numbers advantage because the quarterback’s not a blocker. A lot of times in college football they use that running back or that halfback, whoever’s back there, as the next blocker to handle that safety who’s coming down in the box. Then the quarterback’s the runner and there’s really no guy for him except the guy standing back there in the middle of the field, and that guy obviously is not going to make the tackle close to the line of scrimmage.
What kind of impact are you seeing at this level? I don’t know if there’s really… Like I said, it’s a different type of game there and as far as the players - Is that what you’re asking, about as the players are concerned?
How do you deal with the quarterbacks? I don’t think there’s much of a - We don’t end up seeing a lot of similarities between college spread and the type of offenses you see in the NFL because of the lack of runners at that position, as I would say is the quarterback position.
Focus has been a buzzword this year for you guys. In terms of turning down those job interviews, did you think in any way that by going and interviewing you would set a bad example for the team? Did that enter your thought process at all? I really wasn’t concerned with that. I mean, I obviously want to do what’s great and best for this football team at this point in time, but just the overall decision was simple. The best thing for me is to be a Patriot and to continue in my role here and do what I’ve been doing and prepare hard for the playoffs and worry about that stuff at a later time, if it comes back up again.
It was really that simple to turn down someone who asked if you wanted to be a head coach of an NFL team? It was really that simple. I love my job here right now.
James Carroll has produced a lot of very good coaches. How much did your experience there contribute to your success? I learned a tremendous amount at John Carroll. The people that I worked with and that coached me there did a great job of running that program and I know that they’ve had some successful people come into the National Football League, as far as coaches are concerned. Obviously Don Shula is the most noted of those guys, but there’s a lot of people in the league that have kind of a background from there. They kind of keep in close contact with one another. I know most of the guys that are still in the league, Chuck Priefer and Greg Roman and some other guys that are in the league that do a good job. It’s kind of a little fraternity and we take a lot of pride in coming from a smaller school and being able to come into something like the National Football League and try to make a success story out of ourselves, and then in hindsight, hopefully keep John Carroll in the light. It’s a little clique we have, so it’s kind of fun. But I owe a lot to it. I had a great education there and it obviously springboards you into whatever career you’re going to go into. I’ve chosen this one [and] it’s a good one.
Did you meet Don Shula when you were in college? I did not. I have met him, though, before, but I didn’t meet him when I was in college.
Tiki and Ronde Barber have a weekly show on Sirius NFL Radio called "The Barber Shop," and the twins talked Pats-Jags on Tuesday night.
Ronde, one of the best corners of this generation and the only current defensive back besides Rodney Harrison with more than 20 sacks and 30 interceptions in his career, said he can't think of many corners who have been better than Asante Samuel over the past couple years.
These quotes are courtesy of Sirius:
Tiki Barber: "The X-factor in beating [the Patriots] is you have to keep scoring because if you don’t, if you go two or three times without scoring, you can’t win.”
Ronde Barber: “You find yourself at the end of the game feverishly trying to catch up and you can’t do it. That’s when their defense gets opportunistic. That’s when Asante Samuel comes out of nowhere and is dancing in the end zone. He’s made a living doing exactly that, wait for teams to panickingly try to get back in the football game and say, ‘Thank you. I’m the best corner in football.’”
Tiki Barber: “Is he?”
Ronde Barber: “I don’t know. You know what? You look at his numbers and his production over the past two years it’s hard to disagree with him. I don’t think that he’s being boisterous in saying so. Man, I can rack my brain over guys. I can’t think of many that are as productive as him. Obviously there are good players out there. Charles Woodson is having a hell of a couple of years [but] nobody seems to care.”
In a positive sign for New England, all hands were on deck at practice, which is being held inside Gillette Stadium, including tight end Stephen Spach and defensive back Antwain Spann, both of whom did not participate yesterday.
The players are in shells and pants/shorts, though defensive line coach Pepper Johnson was in shorts and a short-sleeve polo despite the back-to-normal chilly temps.
With a Saturday game, today is the last day of practice this week for the Patriots -- and consequently, the last day of access we in the media have to the team -- though they will hold a walkthrough tomorrow.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and head coach Bill Belichick were at the podium this morning, with McDaniels explaining why he declined the chance to interview with Atlanta and Baltimore for their head coaching openings.
"I always said if the opportunity presented itself, I would take all the information available and make the best decision for myself personally and professionally, keeping my family in mind first and foremost," he said.
McDaniels reiterated that he wanted to focus on the playoffs, and later said he loves his job here with New England.
In the locker room, defensive lineman Mike Wright was spotted for the first time since he was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 13 with a foot injury. Wright was still using crutches, and a black sleeve was on his lower left leg.
Running back Kyle Eckel, who participated in practice yesterday, was wearing a padded girdle-type thing under his jersey. He has been listed on the injury report with a stomach injury.
The players seemed to be in a light mood, typical of a Friday (or Thursday in this case), as they know that after practice they can head home. They are also usually in a good mood when the week's preparations have gone well, as it is with Belichick.
For the Patriots:
Did Not Participate
TE Stephen Spach - knee
DB Antwain Spann - hamstring
DB Willie Andrews - elbow
TE Kyle Brady - team decision
RB Kyle Eckel - stomach
S Rodney Harrison - thigh
T Nick Kaczur - foot
T Stephen Neal - shoulder
WR Wes Welker - team decision
QB Tom Brady - right shoulder
For the Jaguars:
LB Mike Peterson - hand
Did Not Participate
DT John Henderson - hamstring
DT Grady Jackson - knee
Another day, more honors for members of the Patriots, as today five players were named to the Associated Press All-Pro first team, and four more were named to the second team.
Randy Moss was a unanimous choice at receiver, and Tom Brady was named on all 50 ballots as well -- however, one member split their vote between Brady and Brett Favre (what are the chances it's notFrank Cooney?). LT Matt Light, LB Mike Vrabel and CB Asante Samuel were also on the first team.
WR Wes Welker, LG Logan Mankins, C Dan Koppen and DT Vince Wilfork were all second team honorees.
The full rosters: First Team
QB Tom Brady, New England
WR Randy Moss, New England
WR Terrell Owens, Dallas
RB LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego
RB Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia
FB Lorenzo Neal, San Diego
TE Jason Witten, Dallas
OT Matt Light, New England
OT Walter Jones, Seattle
OG Alan Faneca, Pittsburgh
OG Steve Hutchinson, Minnestoa
C Jeff Saturday, Indianapolis
K Rob Bironas, Tennessee
KR Devin Hester, Chicago
DE Jared Allen, Kansas City
DE Patrick Kerney, Seattle
DT Kevin Williams, Minnesota
DT Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee
OLB DeMarcus Ware, Dallas
OLB Mike Vrabel, New England
ILB Patrick Willis, San Francisco
ILB Lofa Tatupu, Seattle
CB Asante Samuel, New England
CB Antonio Cromartie, San Diego
S Ed Reed, Baltimore
S Bob Sanders, Indianapolis
P Andy Lee, San Francosco
QB Brett Favre, Green Bay
WR Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis
WR Wes Welker, New England
WR Braylon Edwards, Cleveland
RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
RB Fred Taylor, Jacksonville
FB Tony Richardson, Minnesota
TE Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City
OT Flozell Adams, Dallas
OT Jason Peters, Buffalo
OG Logan Mankins, New England
OG Leonard Davis, Dallas
C Dan Koppen, New England
K Phil Dawson, Cleveland
KR Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland
DE Aaron Kampman, Green Bay
DE Mario Williams, Houston
DT Pat Williams, Minnesota
DT Vince Wilfork, New England
OLB Shawne Merriman, San Diego
OLB James Harrison, Pittsburgh
ILB DeMeco Ryans, Houston
ILB Nick Barnett, Green Bay
CB Champ Bailey, Denver
CB Al Harris, Green Bay
S Darren Sharper, Minnesota
S Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh
S Sean Taylor, Washington
P Shane Lechler, Oakland
Brady, 4 other Patriots voted to AP NFL All-Pro team
LaDainian Tomlinson and Randy Moss were unanimous selections to The Associated Press 2007 NFL All-Pro team on Wednesday. So was Tom Brady - sort of.
The league's Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year was chosen on each of the ballots from 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. One voter, however, split the vote at quarterback between Brady and Green Bay's Brett Favre.
Still, Brady was a runaway choice at the position, and was joined by four other unbeaten Patriots on the squad: Moss, tackle Matt Light, cornerback Asante Samuel and outside linebacker Mike Vrabel.
All but Moss made the All-Pro team for the first time; Moss was chosen as a Minnesota Viking in 1998, 2000 and 2003.
"Every week, we come in here on Monday and you win and everybody's excited, the plane flights home are great," Brady said, referring to what has been a historic season so far for the 16-0 Patriots. "It's been a lot of fun. To see what we've accomplished thus far is great. At the same time we realize that, as coach put it, there's another mountain to climb."
Easily scaling the All-Pro mountain were Tomlinson for the third time, and Moss. Joining Tomlinson, the league's leading rusher, were fellow Chargers Lorenzo Neal, who clears many of L.T.'s paths from his fullback spot, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
Cromartie's breakthrough season saw him lead the NFL with 10 interceptions.
"I should have had 13," he said. "This year, I think I proved a lot of people wrong, with everybody saying how my knee injury was going to affect me. I mean, I'm two years off of it. My biggest thing was proving everybody wrong."
Also with three players on the team were Dallas and Seattle. The Cowboys had linebacker DeMarcus Ware, tight end Jason Witten and wide receiver Terrell Owens; Ware and Witten were first-timers, Owens also was selected in 2000, '01 and '02 with San Francisco, and 2004 with Philadelphia.
"Any time you can be the best in the entire league, that's always a special moment," said Witten, who had 96 receptions and seven touchdowns this season. "There's a lot of great tight ends out there, so to be on the top of that list is nice."
The Seahawks had tackle Walter Jones, defensive end Patrick Kerney and linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Jones previously made All-Pro in 2001, '04 and '05; the others Seahawks were first-timers.
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren called Tatupu's three-interception day in a win at Philadelphia on Dec. 2 "one of the great games I've ever seen a linebacker have."
"Everybody has been instrumental in everything that I've been able to do," Tatupu said. "The D-line has been enabling me to get sacks, DBs staying on their guys so we can get back there and get sacks, or getting interceptions."
Joining Brady, Tomlinson and Neal in the backfield was Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook, who led the league in total yards from scrimmage with 2,104.
The rest of the offense had Minnesota guard Steve Hutchinson, Pittsburgh guard Alan Faneca, and Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday.
The other All-Pros on defense were Kansas City end Jared Allen, the league sacks leader with 15 1/2; Minnesota tackle Kevin Williams and Tennessee tackle Albert Haynesworth; San Francisco inside linebacker Patrick Willis, the only rookie on the squad; Indianapolis safety Bob Sanders, the Defensive Player of the Year; and Baltimore safety Ed Reed, making it for the third time.
The special teams players were Titans kicker Rob Bironas and 49ers punter Andy Lee, both newcomers to the squad, and record-setting kick returner Devin Hester of Chicago, who also made it as a rookie in 2006.
"It's been an incredible journey," said Bironas, who also played in the Arena Football League and arenafootball2 before making good with the Titans. "I didn't have any doubt in myself when I got started on this journey in high school. That was my dream to play in the pros, and I just kept pursuing it. I wanted to be one of the better kickers in the NFL, and this year I was able to do that."
In all, 15 AFC players and 12 from the NFC were chosen as All-Pros.
Transcript: Bill Belichick's Wednesday press conference
[There’s] not too much new at this end. We’re plugging along at situation stuff, getting ready for a team that does a lot of things well. Fire away.
The four wide receivers in the rotation were acquired at different times and have different talents, but is there something in common with the four of them that made you want to have them on this team? Something in common on the four of them… I mean, a receiver’s job is to get open and catch the ball, so if they fall into that category, then I think any quarterback or any offense - They could help any offensive team in that way, no matter what their skills are, whether they’re tall, short, fast, quick. That’s the bottom line. Then how they fit in - They’re different.
Did you have to work to refocus your players at all after the 16-0 regular season or does that seem like a distant memory? We’ve treated it one week at a time all year, so this week it’s Jacksonville. [We’ve] tried to approach every week the same. Each week has it’s own unique challenges and that’s definitely true this week. I don’t think any of those other games really have a whole lot of bearing on this one.
How do Randy Moss and Wes Welker stack up as blockers compared to some of the others? Good. All the way through the year. I think that’s probably better than what it’s been, for the most part. I mean, I’m not talking about a specific play, but just in general, yeah, they’ve done a good job.
What kind of challenge does their running game present to you? What kind of challenge? It’s the best running game in the league. They have two great backs and they can hit the home run, they’ve got long runs. I think they’ve got probably the most long runs in the league. They can up a tough yard on third down or short-yardage, goal line situations. They’re very good on blitz pick up. I know you’re asking about the running game, but as it relates to the backs they do a good job there. They have a big, physical offensive line [and] use a lot of different personnel combinations - two tight ends, three tight ends. They have a big fullback in [Greg] Jones. They do it a lot of different ways and they’re good at it. They run the ball on all three downs, they have good balance and they stay out of long-yardage situations, which, when you pick up those third downs then you can come back and run it again and that’s what they do. The quarterback runs, so they do it a lot of different ways.
Is it rare to have all of their backfield be big, physical people? Well, their whole team is like that. They draft them that way. That’s what their team is - they’re a big, physical team. I think their big at every position. Receivers, they’re big. The quarterback is big. [The] backs are big, [the] line’s big, corners are big, defensive line is big - they’re all big. [John] Henderson, [Marcus] Stroud, Grady Jackson - you’re not going to find them much bigger than them, either, so you can go that way right across the board. They’re big at every spot and even the players that - Like [Byron] Leftwich. He was big [and they] replaced him with another big guy. I think that’s - Kyle Brady was big. They’ve had big players there and those players have moved on or whatever, whatever their circumstances were, and the next wave that comes in, they’re big, too.
You mentioned the size of their receivers. Does that present any kind of a bigger challenge in covering them? Sure, yeah, every receiver has his own unique talents and his own unique way of getting open. Some guys do it with size, some with speed, some with quickness, some with technique, some with hands. They make a lot of their catches that way. Each guy has his own - You know, they’re a big receiving group. [Dennis] Northcutt, he’s not the biggest guy but he’s fast, he’s quick and he has his set of skills, and he’s very good too in the slot and as a returner and as a deep ball player, a deep ball threat. They have a nice combination of players, of skills. They have - [Ernest] Wilford, Reggie Williams - those guys have really good hands. They catch everything, they’re big targets. Same thing with [Marcedes] Lewis. He’s a tight end, but he’s kind of like a big receiver. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s real athletic, so they have a good group to throw to.
How has the linebacker position evolved from when you were coaching in New York to what you ask of those guys now? I don’t think it’s dramatically different. In fact, to some of our linebackers’ chagrin, I bring out some of those Giants tapes and show them what we were doing back then and how we did it and let them take a look at that. There’s a lot of carry-over, technique wise, the plays, the skill-sets. I don’t think it’s changed dramatically. I think there’s subtle changes, but I think basically there’s a lot of similarities.
How often do you bring the tapes out? More often than they would like. Whenever it’s appropriate or whenever we go over something that you could maybe show a good example of from somebody else doing it, that for whatever reason we just haven’t had the situation come up or maybe we go back and remind them about something that we’re not doing well. I go back and look at it and it kind of refreshes me as to how we maybe coached it or maybe techniqued it a little bit differently, certain things. Every once in awhile.
Did you feel your club was making strides against the run as the regular season progressed? I think every game is its own unique entity. Whether you can play well against one team, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can play well against another team. I don’t think that’s - You have to do it every week, start all over again, break down how the new team’s doing it, how the new opponent’s doing it, how you’re going to defend it, how you have to play it, what threats they have, how they do it, how to handle the different blocking schemes, the different personnel guys that are blocking you. To me, it’s different every week and it doesn’t really make any difference what happened last week. We’re not playing them. We have a new team, a new challenge and they’re good. It’s a big challenge.
It seemed like you put a lot of emphasis this year on playing 60 minutes even when you were way ahead. Believe it or not, we always try to play 60 minutes.
Do you think the Indianapolis game last year had an impact on that? I mean, honestly, do you think we would ever tell our team, ‘Just 50 this week, fellas. That’s all we need. Just 45 and then we’ll take a quarter off.’ We always try to play 60 minutes. I know it doesn’t look like it out there, but we always try to play 60 minutes - Or more. Whatever it takes, but it’s every play, every situation, being prepared for everything, being ready to go all the way, however long it takes to do whatever it takes. There’s been no change in that emphasis since I can’t remember when. We talked about that in 2000 and every year since then in every game. Believe me, we’ve never said, ‘Let’s just give them a good half this week, fellas.’ We don’t do that. I don’t think anybody else does, either.
When you play a big, physical team with a powerful running game, is it a matter of meeting force with force to stop that? Well, it’s being able to do your job. Look, there’s somebody everybody’s going to get blocked. It’s not like they or any other team runs plays where they say, ‘Oh, we’re not going to block [Vince] Wilfork or we’re not going to block [Junior] Seau or we’re not going to block [Mike] Vrabel.’ Everybody get blocked by somebody. It’s just a question of how they scheme it, how they set it up and so you’re going to have to defeat a block and then you’re to have to tackle the guy with the ball, whoever that happens to be. It comes down to playing with good technique, playing with good leverage, doing a good job of tackling, everybody fitting in the right spot in their gaps and playing good team run defense. That’s what the running game is, that’s what it always will be. Six guys could do a good job. [If] one guy doesn’t, that’s the gap the runner hits, they have a play, so it doesn’t really make any difference what the over five or six guys, or seven, however many it is that are involved in the play [do]. It’s team defense - That’s how you stop the running game. We can’t stop it with one guy, so in the end you have to defeat a block [and] you have to tackle the runner. There’s no other way around it. You might scheme it up every once in awhile to get somebody free on a stunt or something, but that’s not going to do it for you in the long run.
For what you ask him to do, is Chris Hanson performing up to what you expect of him? I think Chris has had a good year. Yeah, I think he’s done a good job for us. He’s done what we’ve asked him to do and, like everybody else, it’s not perfect, but it’s been good. It’s probably been a little better than what we’ve had here recently. He’s a good athlete, he’s consistent, he has good hands, he’s done a good job holding with Steve and I think he’s done a good job in situational punting. He’s given us some good plays and he’s been overall consistent over the course of the year.
When you talk about Junior Seau’s enthusiasm for the game, can you give a specific example? Every day, every practice. He’s here early, stays late, has a lot of energy out on the field, very vocal, communicating guy. Every time we go in the huddle he has an energy and a presence about him that’s pretty much non-stop. I think he’s obviously one of the most respected players in the league, certainly on this team. He has a good message and people listen to him, as they should. He has a lot of experience and comes from the heart.
A second ago you were saying that you view every game as a single entity and clearly everyone here has been very successful at doing that. Did that develop in you? Did you have to learn that? To me, that’s always the way it’s been. That’s the way I was brought up, that’s the way I tried to play and approach it and that’s the way I tried to coach it. It’s hard enough for me to think about one thing at a time. You start trying to put two or three together, I can’t handle it. I don’t know if anybody else can or not, but I can’t, so I don’t even try.
You mentioned that Jacksonville has built their team according to the philosophy that they draft for size. How important is it to stay with a philosophy through all of your drafting and acquisitions? I think it’s very important to stay with a philosophy. I think that’s where you can get consistency on your team and you know what you’re looking for. You try to look until you find something that works. I’m not saying you’re not always trying to upgrade or improve, but it helps develop your consistency so when one player goes out and another player comes in, you basically can continue to function - And also your scheme. It’s hard when you have one kind of player playing… It doesn’t matter what position it is, and then the opposite player, the other tackle, the other corner, the other outside linebacker, the other defensive tackle, he has a totally different style of play and then you’re trying to play the same defense. One guy’s playing it one way, another guy’s playing it another way according to his skill-set and his size and his athleticism. No two players are the same. I understand that, too. You get one guy who plays it one way and another guy who plays it another way. It’s hard to develop consistency within your unit when you have that situation. I think Jacksonville has done a real good job. I think their record reflects it over the years of building consistency on their roster. They have the same coach now and the same - even though they’ve changed coordinators, we’ve gone through that here, too. We’ve changed coordinators -- but I think there’s still a lot of elements of their system that carry over and again, I think that’s reflected in their record and their play, so I think it has a lot to do with it.
When you watched Nick Saban coach, he used to spend a lot of time with the defensive backs. Not a lot of time, he was the defensive backs coach.
No, but even when he was the head coach at Miami. That’s what I’m talking about. You don’t have to tell me - He was the DB coach.
With you, do you spend a lot more time with the linebackers, and if so, why? It depends. I have the last couple of years, but that’s been circumstantial. There’s been years when I’ve spent time with the quarterbacks and the offensive side of the ball, [the] secondary, so it varies. It’s not necessarily the same every year.
I know every team is different, but Pittsburgh plays a 3-4. Was it good to see Jacksonville match up with Pittsburgh instead of another team? Oh, yeah, definitely. For us, we could see a lot more from the Pittsburgh game than some other teams they play. Pittsburgh plays it a little bit differently than we do, but still, that being said, there’s certainly some things that we can learn from that game. The 4-3 over and under teams, they attack a little bit differently, I think, than the 3-4 teams. I mean, you have to. It’s not anything that - You have to. The players are placed differently. So we get a lot better look at somebody who kind of plays a defensive front or style that’s similar to ours, even though it’s different, but at least you can - part of the play looks they way we’d see it, part of it doesn’t, but at least you can kind of picture that. Plus, especially offensively, we’ve played this defense a couple of times before. We played the offensive players, but the scheme’s a little bit different with the change at coordinators. But yeah, that definitely helps.
Thankfully -- mercifully -- we're only three days from New England's Divisional round game with Jacksonville. Some Patriots players have said there's a sharpened focus and longer meetings as the team goes over its preparations for the Jaguars.
Bill Belichick had the line of the day today when he was asked at his morning press conference if the team's emphasis on playing 60 minutes is a product of the result in last season's AFC title game.
"Do you honestly think we'd tell the guys, 'just 50 minutes this week'? 'Just 45 minutes and we'll take a quarter off'?," Belichick said, adding that it may not always look like it, but the players are always told to play 60 minutes -- or more, if that's necessary.
Belichick also touched on Junior Seau's unending enthusiasm, the performance of punter Chris Hanson ("He's done what we've asked him to do") and the overall over-sized Jags' roster, which features big players at nearly every position.
Ty Warren, Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison all were at the podium in the media workroom, and in the locker room, Mike Vrabel and Kyle Brady all drew large crowds.
New England will practice inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse today; Rob Lee will update you on who is and isn't out there.
The question: Who was the one that didn't vote for Tom Brady for MVP?
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has identified Cooney, the founder of SportsXchange, an information provider for news organizations, as the one voter out of 50 who didn't select Brady as the league's most valuable player. Cooney chose Green Bay's Brett Favre.
UPDATE: Cooney appeared on WEEI this morning to defend his choice of Favre and insisted that statistics played no role in his decision. Here's a partial transcript of his defense:
"Our website isn’t a public website, provide information and analysis for professionals. So the concept that I was trying to produce some 15 minutes of fame or publicity for my website is moot."
"Last year at this time, the Green Bay Packers organization was a woebegotten group that had no concept, none whatsoever, of what was in its future in the year 2007, it was disheveled, the youngest team in the NFL. Merely by [Favre] announcing he was going to come back for another season, it gave them hope, it gave them spirit. This is just one guy. This was not Belichick, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, the offensive line and Tom Brady. One man. Understand that this is a distinctly individual honor... I take that to mean what single person was most valuable in determining the outcome of his team’s fortune in that given year."
What if the award was Most Outstanding Player and not Most Valuable, Cooney was asked.
"Your own fans have thrown a monkey wrench into that question. Among the 300 or so e-mails I received from New England fans, half of them said perhaps I should have voted for Randy Moss. There is no such dichotomy with the Green Bay Packers."
For the record, Cooney also voted for Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy for Coach of the Year, which Bill Belichick won.
Three members of the Patriots are up for fan-selected year end awards on nfl.com.
Tom Brady is one of three nominees for FedEx Air Player of the Year; Mike Vrabel is one five choices for GMC Defensive Player of the Year, and Bill Belichick is one of five nominees for Motorola Coach of the Year.
There's information on all of the nominees on nfl.com.
Can the Patriots' defense weather Jacksonville's tandem threat of running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew? Read Robert Lee's story to find out. On the baseball front, will Jim Rice finally get into the Hall of Fame? Also, get the latest on the Roger Clemens' saga. And find out how to watch the Top 25 basketball showdown between URI and Dayton tomorrow. Download file
TB: Am I glad it’s Jacksonville? They’re a very good team. I said earlier today the teams that are in this position are the best teams in the league. There’s no doubt about it. There is a reason why Jacksonville’s playing this week and I think they do a lot of things very well, offensively, defensively and special teams. They play well. They match up well against everybody because they’re big and physical, but they have speed. They play their scheme very well and they’re very smart. It’s going to be a great match-up. I think everybody’s excited to play -- I know I am. [I’m] glad we’re playing at home and hopefully it’s Foxboro-type weather. We’re preparing hard. I think we got off to a really good start today and I hope we’re able to put our best out there.
Q: In your younger days as an NFL quarterback did you ever envision yourself being an MVP - coming within one vote of being a unanimous MVP?
TB: We set out a bunch of goals early in the season and I think I said the best part about playing quarterback here is I just have to do my job, show up every day and work hard just like everybody else. I think my job description is just a bit different than everybody else’s, but there’s a lot of satisfaction [in] knowing that I can just come out there and worry about myself and expect that everybody else is going to do their job. We’ve really - It’s been a fun season. There’s no doubt about it. Every week we come in here on Monday and you win and everybody’s excited, the plane flights home are great. It’s been a lot of fun. To see what we’ve accomplished thus far is great. At the same time we realize that, as coach put it, there’s another mountain to climb. We’ve climbed the mountain thus far, but we’re right back at the bottom with everybody else. We’re in the same position as Jacksonville, which is in the same position as Indy, which is in the same position as San Diego. We’ve got our biggest test ahead of us and it’s going to be very challenging, but I know this team is ready for it.
Q: What are your thoughts on winning the MVP?
TB: Like I said, we have a bunch of goals every year and I think myself, as a player, I’m just hoping to be the best quarterback that I can be for this team. I’m glad that’s led up to 16 wins. Individual awards haven’t been as important to me as the team goals and I’ve said that for a long time. While I’m very flattered to be honored in that way, I understand that my greatest satisfaction comes from winning games and being the leader of this football team. I take that job very seriously and I hope that translates into a win this week.
Q: You said hopefully it’s Foxboro-type weather. Does that mean you don’t worry about how the wind and the cold might affect the passing game that you guys have?
TB: Quarterbacks always worry about the wind and the rain. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be playing quarterback. The kicker and I joke, it’s like we’re the only two people that care, and offensive coordinators, because weather does play a factor and it’s played a factor in a bunch of playoff games so hopefully we’ll be prepared for whatever the weather might be. We’ve been outside in some windy days, some wet days, some snowy days and I think we’re conditioned for it. I’m sure it’ll be cold -- It’s a Saturday night in January.
Q: How much do you respect what Jacksonville has been able to do going into Pittsburgh twice, winning in bad weather? Just how much do you mind their toughness?
TB: That’s the strength of their team. They’re very tough, physically, mentally [and] they’re coached extremely well. Their scheme is a very disciplined scheme and I think they have players that fit that scheme. [They have a] big physical defensive line, with powerful linebackers with cornerbacks and safeties that all make plays and can all hit. It’s really centered around the fact that they are a physical team. They play in a very physical division, very similar to the Steelers. Those games came down to the end, the ones they played against the Steelers, and they found a way to win. [You] can understand that they play well under pressure as well.
Q: You got 49 out of 50 first place votes for MVP. What do you think you need to do to get that last guy to vote for you?
TB: Oh man. Like I said it’s - I’ve always just tried to go out there and do the best that I can do. I hope that’s good enough this week. They said that on the radio this morning too. The MVP and all that, it’s wonderful and I’m sure one day I’ll look back on that and be very proud of the fact that’s something you accomplished, but it doesn’t mean anything this week.
Q: What kind of carry over is there, if any, from the last two times you’ve played them?
TB: Well I know how good they are. I know the kind of team they are and like said they’re disciplined, they’re powerful and they hit hard. I remember last year I got knocked out the game for a play. [Matt] Cassel and I were joking about it this morning and on the film it’s funny, I run and I dive and I get hit. Next thing you see it Matt’s right on the sideline and he’s buckling his chinstrap up. He knew right way that he was coming in. I think the play got - I think there was a penalty on the play so he did get credited for a play but I’m hoping to not get knocked out of the game this weekend. Knock on wood.
Q: How important are the games that you’ve had to come back and persevere, how important do you think those are going forward?
TB: Those are always important. We’ve been tested on the road, we’ve been tested at home we’ve been tested in poor weather [and] we’ve had to overcome deficits late in the games. We’ve needed to put together critical drives in those games so hopefully we’ve learned from those, hopefully we can deal with some of the pressure. We know there’s going to be quite a bit of pressure this weekend. There’s pressure on us every week but it’s different in the playoffs because you realize you’re getting dressed - you’re going to bed Saturday night realizing that Sunday night, that could be it. You could be, you know, planning your vacations. That’s not a very good feeling, we’ve experienced that the last few years and those are games you remember, that sit with you for a long time. Hopefully we’re ready to persevere.
Q: Dating back to 2001 and Kurt Warner, I think, none of the guys that won the MVP award have gone on to win a Super Bowl and you played a role in kind of derailing a couple of those. Do you see a Tom Brady out there who could knock you off in this circumstance?
TB: I see - I think the thing and I said earlier today, there is anxiety before every game. You’re nervous, you’re anxious and you’re playing against the best opponents in the league and you just don’t know what the outcome is going to be, you really don’t. Part of what has made this season so fun and so successful is that we’ve gone into each week and there is never a guarantee. You see great teams all over the league losing and we [say], how did that happen? Fortunately that didn’t happen for us this year during the regular season. I sure as [heck] hope it doesn’t happen the next month. Anytime a team has done what we’ve done in the regular season I think that’s definitely a motivating factor for other teams to come in here and say ‘let’s be the team to beat them.’ We’ve played undefeated teams this year and that’s been a thrill for us. Whether it [is] Dallas or whether [it’s] Indy, when we played those teams, or the Jets to start the season -- I guess it’s always fun beating the Jets. It’s a thrill for us and for those teams and I know we’re excited for the challenge too. To see what we’ve learned throughout the course of the season and hopefully we can go out there and, like I said, use what we’ve learned and, like I’ve said, use that to our advantage [and] try to play better than we have at points in the last eight weeks.
Q: Do you do anything different to prepare for a physical team than more of a finesse team?
TB: You just have to understand - you have to understand the strengths of their team and you try not to play into them. There’s things they do particularly well and you try not to just line up and do those things, because you realize, God a lot of other teams have tried it but haven’t been very successful at it. I feel, as a team, we’ve always done a pretty good job of trying to figure out what those things are and we’re kind of chameleon-like in that we find ways to do things that we’re good at while disguising it as well. I hope that’s what we do this week. We’ll put together a game plan and I’m sure we’ll have a lot of confidence in the game plan, they’ll do the same thing and they’ll change things up quite a bit, understanding what they do well. We’ll try to feel it out throughout the first half and I’m sure there’ll be adjustments that are made but they’re a very good team. They do a lot of things very well so it’s not like you can go out and try to avoid everything. You just have to go out and try to execute very well.
Q: Have you been able to watch their offense and what has impressed you about [David] Garrard?
TB: I haven’t had a chance to watch much of there offense. I know the kind of year he’s had and he’s done a great job in his first year as a starter. It’s very impressive. It seems like he’s a great leader and the players really rally around him. That’s the mark of any good player and I know they can really run the ball they’ve got Maurice Jones-Drew, who’s a California kid, and Fred Taylor, who’s a great player too. They do a lot of things well, like I said. Offensively they can really control the ball, run the ball and make plays when they need it and that was evidence by what you saw against Pittsburgh Saturday night.
Q: Can you explain Jabar Gaffney’s increase in stats over the second half of the season?
TB: He’s had a great role on this team since he got here in the bye week last season. He was a starter by the end of the year, played really well in the playoffs. [He] came here earlier in the season [and] fought for a job. He can really do a lot of things. His position versatility is extremely important to us. He can play in the slot, he can play outside, he can do a lot of things very well. He can - He’s quick, he’s fast, he’s got good hands, he’s big enough to go against small defensive backs and he’s quick enough to go against big defensive backs. He’s a very smart player and I think he provides a lot of flexibility within our scheme to put him in positions where we find we can get mismatches.
Q: Why has Wes Welker been so important to this offense?
TB: He’s like 5’6” so I guess it’s easy to miss him out there. He can hide in the grass out there. He’s been a great player since he got into the league. I remember watching him on film last year for Miami [and] realizing what a talent he was and when I heard we were getting him I knew he’d be a perfect fit. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s tied for the league lead in receptions as basically a slot receiver. 112 is an impressive total and he does a lot of things well. He’s very quick, he catches the ball well and like you see he turns these really short passes into medium type gains. There’s four- or five-yard completions that turn into 12 or 15 yards -- Those are really hidden stats. It’s not like you need to throw a 15-yard in-route to gain 15 yards to Wes. You can get him the ball underneath and he can make guys miss. He’s been doing that all season. He’s fun to have out there, brings a lot of energy and he’ll be a critical factor in the game, I’m sure.
Transcript: Bill Belichick's Monday press conference
We've kind of been spending, I would say of the three possible opponents, most of our time on Jacksonville over the weekend, given the fact that we played Pittsburgh a month ago and then we played Tennessee earlier in the [pre]season. But Jacksonville’s one of the best teams in the league, and they have been over the last third to half of the season. They lead the league in scoring and yards per game and defensive yards per game, third down offense, time of possession, pass defense - You name it. They’re very good at everything. Special teams - The long kickoff return against Pittsburgh the other night, that was obviously a big play. But they can run it, they can throw it, they don’t turn it over, they can stop the run, they can rush the passer, they play good pass defense. They’re a sound team, they’re big, they’re physical, they’re well-coached and we had a tough game with them down there last year without Fred Taylor. I think Fred Taylor is one of the best backs in the league. He’s a tremendous football player, he’s got big speed that, like [Maurice] Jones-Drew, that can take it the distance as well as pound out the tough yardage. [They have] big receivers, big, physical team. We’ve got a lot to get ready for. They’re an outstanding football team and [they’re] coming off a big win in Pittsburgh. That’s twice they’ve gone up there. That’s something nobody else has done. We have all the respect in the world for Jacksonville and we know we’re going to have to give our best, so that’s what we’re going to try to do. It will be a big challenge for us. These guys are really good and we have a lot of respect for them.
David Garrard has had a good year, with only three interceptions. Last night he threw two. Did you see anything specifically that Pittsburgh was able to do to force him into those?
No. It looked like one was overthrown. We’ll take a little closer look at that game tonight and tomorrow, but overall he’s had an outstanding year. They’re the only team to beat San Diego in the last couple of months. They’ve played great in the second half of the year. He can kind of throw out that Houston game, but they lost by a field goal to Indy, or whatever it was. They’re playing very well. They play well every week. I thought that was obviously a hard-fought game with Pittsburgh, two teams that had played each other just a little while ago. Both teams played hard and played well, but in the end when Jacksonville had to have it, they produced it. They stopped them and they got the ball back and took it down there and put themselves in position to go down and win it. They made the plays you had to make in that close game and that’s why they won.
You’ve faced a lot of quarterbacks with different styles this year, obviously. Is there anyone in particular that Garrard best resembles, someone who’s big, who can run, who can throw on the run and kind of does everything?
He looks pretty good to me. All of those things you just described: he’s a hard guy to get down in the pocket, throws the ball accurately down the field, intermediate throws. Again, their production on third down, that says a lot right there. Throwing it when you have to throw it, and he can run it when he needs to. The running game, the passing game - That’s why they’ve scored so many points. They’ve set franchise records in a whole bunch of different categories, or are right there at them in terms of production. People that think of Jacksonville as a conservative, run the ball, tough defense kind of team, they’re way past that - way past.
What do you think Jacksonville will try to do defensively to try and contain your offense?
I think, as I said, they’re playing the best defense in the league. They’ve been first in total defense, rushing defense, they have a whole bunch of interceptions, they have great players in the secondary, they’re fast. I’m sure that they’ll play what they play and they’ve been doing so well over the last third of the season, last half of the season that I’m sure they have a lot of confidence in whatever they’re doing. I imagine they’ll keep doing it.
Did you see anything that Pittsburgh did to Taylor last night to keep him in check? As you mentioned, he’s a very good back.
I really haven’t gotten a very good chance to break that game down yet. It just came in a little while ago, so that’s something we’ll do. Pittsburgh is an outstanding defense, too, we know that, but again, Jacksonville did whatever they needed to do. They scored whatever it was, 29 points, 31, whatever it was. There’s not a lot of people that get that many points on Pittsburgh. They moved the ball, they got it in the end zone [and] they put points on the board - and that’s a good defensive football team, we know that.
Do you think they’re a lot different team than the one that came up here two years ago?
Yeah, I think they’re a different team than we played down there last year, staring with Fred Taylor. We didn’t see him last year. That’s not to take anything away from Jones-Drew - we had plenty of trouble with him, too -- but you have those two guys, quarterback, receivers, offensive line, defensive. They’re a solid team. I think their record speaks for itself. [They’re] one of the least-penalized teams in the league. They don’t make a lot of mistakes; they make you beat them. They do a good job.
You’ve spoken about how 16-0 is over and done with and now it’s a new season.
Can you take anything from the 16-0 and apply it to your second season now?
No. I think right now - Look, we’re starting from scratch with Jacksonville and it doesn’t make any difference what our record was. It’s irrelevant. It comes down to a one-game season now and we just have to do our best to have a great week of preparation, be as well-prepared as we can possibly be going into this game and play and coach as well as we possibly can. As I said, they’re one of the best teams in the league, so I don’t think any other game really has much to do with this one.
You said you looked at some film of Jacksonville over the last couple of days. What do you see from Garrard that he has made so few mistakes?
[He] just makes good decisions. He doesn’t throw the ball into tight spots. He pulls it down and runs or throws it away, but he has big receivers. Those guys can get open [and] catch the ball. He uses his tight ends and backs well in the passing game. They have a good offensive line - they haven’t been sacked very much at all. They’re one of the least-sacked teams in the league. I know part of that’s the running game, part of it’s protection, part of it’s the quarterback, part of it’s the execution in the passing game, him getting rid of the ball and the receivers getting open and all of that. They do a lot of things well, so they’re well-balanced, they execute well and they score a lot of points. He doesn’t make very many mistakes and people don’t get to him very often. I think it’s - Hey, there’s plenty of credit to go around. There’s a lot of good coaching and execution and playing out there on a consistent basis by Jacksonville. That’s why they’ve scored so many points.
You’ve spoken about the physicality of teams in the NFC East. When you look at Jacksonville, do they have that same kind of physicality? Are they as physical?
They’re a real physical team. Yes, they’re very physical. Any team that runs the ball as well as they do and stop the run as well as they do, they’re able to do a real good job on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
We've found goodness on the Jacksonville Jaguars' official site before, and today is no different.
On his final regular season power rankings, site reporter Vic Ketchman lists the Patriots at number one -- with the comment "a masterpiece" next to their 16-0 record -- but before the team name is an asterisk.
At the bottom of the page, the asterisk is explained: "Cheated in one game."
Think Bill Belichick won't point that out to his players?
Get a breakdown of the Patriot's first-round playoff opponent, the Jacksonville Jaquars. Also, Bill Reynolds weighs in on the latest on Roger Clemens and accusations of banned substance use; and the PC Friars are seeing red flags after two Big East games. Download file
Bill Belichick held a brief conference call with the media tonight to discuss the Patriots' Divisional round opponent, Jacksonville.
He opened by saying he and his staff had spent the most time this weekend on the Jags, as they had played Pittsburgh last month and faced Tennessee in the preseason.
As you'd expect, he was very complimentary of Jacksonville, which won in Pittsburgh on Saturday night:
"Jacksonville is one of best teams in league, and they have been, over the last third to half of the season, leading the league in scoring, yards per game, third down offense, time of possession... They're very good at everything: special teams, they had the long kickoff return last night, they can run it, they can throw it, they're a sound team, big, physical, well-coached. We have a lot to get ready for."
New England does not have a practice or walk-through scheduled tomorrow, but Tom Brady will hold his first press conference since his Giants' post-game session, and there will be an open locker room period for media as well. Belichick will chat again on Tuesday.
Tom Brady's record-setting regular season earned him the NFL's most valuable player award.
Brady is the first Patriots player to earn NFL MVP honors; Gino Cappeletti and Jim Nance won AFL honors in the 1960s.
"As I have learned over the course of my time with the Patriots, the most meaningful accomplishments are always the ones I have celebrated with my teammates,” said Brady after learning of the MVP announcement. “I am certainly proud of the success that we have enjoyed so far this season. I consider myself extremely fortunate to play for an organization like the New England Patriots. The Kraft family, Coach Belichick, and all of my teammates and coaches have created a winning tradition that we all are proud to be a part of. For that I am most thankful."
Brady became the first quarterback in league history to throw 50 touchdowns in a season, breaking the record of 49 set by the Colts' Peyton Manning in 2004.
Practice peek: In the bubble before the bye week / Photo
Journal photo / Bob Breidenbach
The New England Patriots practice this afternoon in the practice bubble at Gillette. Junior Seau, Mike Vrabel (#50) and Tedy Bruschi stretch at the start of practice. The Patriots have a bye week this week and will play next weekend at home.
We've just been tossed from the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse where the players are once again in full pads as they work on some fundamentals and team-specific things in advance of their first playoff game next week.
There were five players absent: Kyle Brady, Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, Nick Kaczur and Kyle Eckel.
Ty Warren, who was absent yesterday, was on the field today. Kyle Brady was present yesterday but not today. Samuel, Hobbs, Eckel and Kaczur were all missing yesterday as well.
We've wrapped up the chatty portion of the day here at Gillette, and are waiting to head out to the team's practice session, which once again will be held inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse.
Bill Belichick opened his press conference by acknowledging his AP Coach of the Year honor, saying, "it's something I appreciate -- there's a lot of great coaches in this league. At the same time, the players and the assistant coaches, they deserve a lot more credit than I do."
Belichick also mentioned offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' announcement last night that he will not interview with Baltimore and Atlanta.
"He said what he has to say and I don't have much more to add to it, but I think Josh is an outstanding coach, he does a great job. He has a tremendous future in coaching. But as he said, all that aside, we're all focused on the playoffs."
In the locker room, Mike Vrabel, Adalius Thomas, Rodney Harrison and Brandon Meriweather all drew media crowds, and defensive coordinator Dean Pees also chatted with a small group of reporters.
Pees said the Pats did take a step back as far as red zone defense against the Giants. In one of the touchdowns, he said, there was a communication issue, and on another there was a technique problem.
The Patriots have released a statement from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who reportedly had received interest from Baltimore and Atlanta for their head coaching openings:
"I am very grateful for the chance to interview for NFL head coaching positions but I have decided not to pursue those opportunities at this time. I plan to focus all my attention on our postseason preparation."
Journal photo / Mary Murphy
Head coach Bill Belichick answers questions from reporters Thursday as the Patriots returned to practice after time-off since last Saturday's win against the Giants.
Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots was named the National Football League's Coach of the Year after leading his team to an undefeated regular season.
The Patriots were 16-0, making Belichick the first coach to lead his team through the season without a loss since Don Shula did it with Miami in 1972.
The perfect record earned the Patriots' coach 29 of the 50 votes from a nationwide media panel in balloting conducted by the Associated Press.
The season started with the NFL fining Belichick $500,000 and the Patriots $250,000 plus the loss of a first-round pick in this year's draft after the team was caught videotaping New York Jets coaches on the sidelines Sept. 9.
Green Bay's Mike McCarthy was second in the balloting, receiving 15 votes for leading the Packers to a 13-3 record and the National Football Conference North Division title.
Dallas' Wade Phillips and Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio each received two votes, while Indianapolis' Tony Dungy and Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden got one apiece.
Belichick won the award in 2003 after leading New England to a 14-2 regular-season record, winning its final 12 games before claiming the second of three Super Bowl titles.
Transcript: Bill Belichick's Wednesday press conference
Happy New Year, everyone. We’re definitely in one. It’s a privilege, of course, to be involved in the second season here in the NFL, the new one where everybody’s undefeated and we’re all starting at the bottom. We’re going to take these couple days and try to emphasize and work on the team that’s most important, and that’s our team, and do the best we can to try to improve our situation heading into next week. We know that whoever we play is an outstanding team, whoever that will be. They’ll be tough and we’ll have to be at our best, so that’s what we want to try to do, is try to get our game to the highest level we can [and] work on things that we need to work on, regardless of who we play. There’s certainly a lot of generic and fundamental things that we can improve on and that’s where we’ll try to put our emphasis. Once we know who we’re playing, [we’ll] certainly turn it all toward that opponent. That’s kind of where we’re at for this week.
I know we’ve covered this before over the years, but when you’re in a situation where you don’t really know the opponent, how much time do you have to spend preparing for all of them at this stage of preparation?
Well, we have people on our staff that do the advance work like they always do, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re just doing more teams than we usually do, but some we have different degrees of familiarity with [them]. We’ve seen them all within the last roughly calendar year. The main thing right now, like I said, is rather than spending a lot of time on all three teams and wasting it on two of them that we spend time on our team, which there are a lot of things that we need to do and [we’ll] try to work on that. Then once we know who it is -- We’ll have a better idea Saturday night and won’t know for sure until Sunday.
How much of a luxury is it to have these two days to work on what you need to work on, and are there one or two things that you’ve seen develop over the last few weeks that you know you need to work on?
I think we can sharpen up our game in all of the areas. There are certainly plenty of things for us to do in the next couple of days in all three phases of the game - running game, passing game, you name it. Fundamentals. There are a lot of different bases to cover, and it’s an opportunity for us to work on those things without being opponent-specific and as soon as we know who the opponent is, then we’ll turn to that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get some benefit out of these days and improve our team. That’s what we’re going to try to do.
When you look at the season as a whole, it seems like there’s been a change in the complexion of the games, the way the games have turned out. In the beginning, obviously, there were a lot of blowouts, but at the end there were a lot of tight games. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know. It’s the NFL. Most of the game are that way, but really we’re not all that concerned about any specific game. We’re just trying to look to improve our team and get better the next few days here and move on to whatever the next challenge is. I think the analysis and all of that of the season is - Take it with a grain of salt. We’ll look at the things we need to do better and try to formulate our best and strongest team going forward, so that’s where we’re at.
Will Josh McDaniels be interviewing with Atlanta and Baltimore on Saturday?
I don’t have any comment on any other team’s situation and any comment on that would have to come from . . . Any people who are involved in on our end, it would come from them.
Have you granted permission?
That’s all we have to say. I’m sure you have a lot more questions on it, but really I don’t have anything to add.
The first of these two games is being played Saturday at 8:00. Will you come in here to watch that, or how does that work?
I don’t know. But I’ll definitely watch it. That game will have -- that could be one of the teams, so I’ll definitely watch it.
But you don’t know if you’ll come into the office to watch it?
Might go to a sports bar?
Yeah, that’s kind of what I was thinking. Maybe hit a couple of them -- first half, second half. Get a different flavor for it.
Is it the kind of thing where you’ll watch with the staff or do you just wait for the film?
I’m not real big on TV scouting. It’s hard to see the game from the coaching standpoint, the way we need to see it. But it’s interesting to see how it goes. It’s AFC playoffs, so we’re interested in that, but we’ll wait until we get the game tapes and break those down rather than try to break it down off TV.
Will the players have Saturday and Sunday off?
We’ll give you that schedule probably tomorrow. It’d take some of the thrill out of it for them if they got it from you.
How is this week off different, because it’s the first time in a long time you haven’t had to focus on just one team.
We’re working on us. We’re working on the Patriots.
Does that mean more fundamentals?
It means everything. There’s a lot of things we have to work on and we’ll address them in a priority and in a structure that we feel like is most beneficial for us over the next two days.
Could you talk a little bit about Kevin Faulk? It seemed like in the game the other night when Tom Brady needed a big third-down pass, he was there getting the yards he needed.
Kevin has done a great job for us through the years. He’s been one of our most consistent and dependable players. He has so many roles - special teams, pass protection, running the ball, catching it, third downs, other downs. He’s been a downfield receiver, third-down receiver, screens, draws, those kinds of plays. He’s done a good job for us. [He’s a] hard-working kid. He’s one of the most respected players on the team [and was] elected a captain this year by his teammates, so I think that speaks a lot to Kevin right there. Even though he’s not one of the highest play-time players, I think when he’s in there he’s very productive and he’s one of the most respected players. Coaching staff, organizationally. He’s a terrific kid - Great team player, has a great attitude, works hard and performs well.
When I spoke to him earlier this week, he said if he wasn’t playing football he’d be coaching it. Do you think he’d make a good coach?
I’m sure he would. I’m sure he would.
Is there anything about him as a player that . . .
[He’s] smart, works hard, is very instinctive, has a good feel for the game, has a very good background, does a lot of different things. I think he’s well-versed in the passing game, the running game, special teams, training. He’s involved in everything and he does a good job in all of those areas. I’m sure he would.
Can you discuss how far Brandon Meriweather has come from day one to now in terms of his development and how much of a comfort-level you have developed putting him out there?
I think Brandon’s made good progress, just like any rookie. [He] comes in and there’s a lot - There’s a different level in the game between college and pro football and then there’s a new system to learn and new terminology, different offenses and different opponents and that kind of thing. Brandon’s worked hard. He’s certainly come a long way. He still has a long way to go, like every rookie, but he’s made a lot of progress, he continues to work hard and be attentive and gain from all of the experiences that he has, both in the classroom and on the practice field and the game field and all that that he can continue to improve.
When you drafted him, was his versatility the biggest selling point in your mind?
Well, when you draft a player you get the total player. You get everything, so that’s what we got and that’s why we took him. He is a versatile player. That’s one thing that there’s… There are a lot of things that he does well that were reasons why we drafted him.
Can you talk about your offensive line? They’ve allowed 21 sacks and you threw the ball almost 600 times this year. That’s a pretty impressive ratio and a lot of times it seemed like Brady had a lot of time to throw.
I think, as I’ve said many times, I think the passing game is a total team effort. It’s a function of everybody and the line has an important role in it, as does the quarterback and the receivers and the scheme, and so the ability for the receivers to get open and have the quarterback - give the quarterback someone to throw to, for the line to protect him, for the backs and tight ends and receivers to the degree that they’re involved in protections or adjustments. So it’s all a part of that. I think that to have a good passing game you have to execute it at all 11 spots on the field, not just one or two. Certainly the offensive line deserves credit for their role in it, as do the other players for theirs. Really, it all needs to function together for it to be effective. [You] can’t have a one-man band.
You’ve had some injuries, especially on the right side, and guys have stepped in. Is there a common denominator that allows those guys to step in?
We work all of our players in there throughout the course of training camp, practice… I think everybody plays on a regular rotational basis. You never know when that’s going to happen, so they’ve really been in there pretty much since day one - all of our receivers, all of our tight ends, all of our backs and all of our linemen. I think through the course of practice they all work together and if they ever have to - when they do have to play together, then there’s hopefully less of a communication gap and we’re able to go out there and function efficiently, no matter what combination of people we have in there. And we play a lot of people anyway. We have different groups and different combinations in there, so I think doing it for an extended period of time hopefully helps our communication and our execution.
Saturday Wesley Britt - this is related to what was asked earlier -
The sports bar question?
Wesley Britt, every time he came in, he had to report as an eligible receiver. Was he specifically in the game to help Ryan O’Callaghan deal with some of the pass rush? Maybe chip away at the guy coming off the edge?
Well, we went into the game with two tight ends. Ben [Watson] had been out for a little bit. Stephen’s [Spach] a little bit newer to the system, so having Wes, Steve and Ben there gave us three. In a lot of cases we played two at the same time, just in order to give ourselves some depth on the formations. Those different personnel groupings, we felt like we needed to have the third person, third player ready to at least line up in the tight end position or area. So those were the three guys that did it at one time or another in the game.
So it wasn’t necessarily their pass-rush and the need to give another player some help with that?
We used the formations and the plays that we thought were best against the Giants and, as I said, just to give ourselves some depth at those areas. We didn’t want to go into the game with only two players and then if something happened we’d get knocked out of all of those formations and all of those personnel groupings we had three-for-two. So Wes was one of the three.
What’s your evaluation of how O’Callaghan handled himself?
I mean, our offensive line went up against a very good defensive line and they made some plays. We made some plays, but it was competitive. Certainly [Michael] Strahan, Osi [Umenyiora] and [Justin] Tuck are three of the better pass rushers in the league, all on the same team, so it’s pretty good.
Does Stephen Gostkowski hitting those three field goals help boost his confidence at all, not that he necessarily needed it?
He’s hit most of them all year, as he did last year. I don’t think confidence is an issue. Good kicks, but no, I don’t think confidence is an issue.
Have you been surprised by Wes Welker’s ability to block, especially the block he threw to spring Laurence Maroney on the touchdown?
You know, he’s had several of them for us and that was a good one. That was a good one. That was a key play and I thought Laurence ran that play well by keeping it tight away from Russ [Hochstein], who was actually unblocked, but Wes has had some big blocks all year - the Washington game, some of our wide receiver screens, things like that. Wes is a complete football player. [He’s a] very unselfish kid. [He] does whatever you ask him to do, whether it’s return, block, catch, clear out, whatever it is. He does a good job. He hustles, plays hard, is physical. He’s not a big kid, but he’s physical and he’s tough.
It seems like you’ve been more willing to give the ball to Laurence Maroney down at the goal line as the season’s gone on. Is that a random occurrence or a plan?
I don’t think it’s anything that’s specifically been orchestrated or a big-time goal or anything. It just kind of worked out that way, but we’ve always had confidence in him. He’s a good runner. He can get tough yards, he can break plays, he can run inside, he can run outside. I think he’s a pretty versatile back. I don’t think there’s any issue or any problem giving the ball to him really in any situation. I think we all have confidence in him and he’s produced in any situation. He’s had a couple of big runs in short yardage. Whatever play he gets in on, I think everybody’s comfortable with him carrying it.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots are back to work today after the players had four days off to rest and enjoy their accomplishments during the regular season.
Belichick called it a privilege to be involved in the second season and that the team will take the time over the next two days to work on the "most important team, and that's us." The Pats' practices over the next couple of days will focus on fundamentals and fine-tuning in all areas of the game.
As for reports that both Atlanta and Baltimore have asked for and received permission from the Patriots to speak with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Belichick said he would not comment on another team's situation and didn't confirm that permission had been given to either team.
In the locker room, usual suspects Rodney Harrison, Junior Seau and Richard Seymour all faced the even larger than we've become accustomed to media throng, as did Laurence Maroney.
Today's practice will be held in full pads, but with a temperature of 8 degrees and a wind chill in the negative numbers, it will be inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse.
Jim Donaldson taps Randy Moss and Wes Welker as the perfect combination in the Patriots' sensational receiving corps, and Shalise Manza Young adds more on the Patriots' 16-0 regular season. Also, URI routs Fairleigh Dickinson University last night, while PC looks to Weyinmi Efejuku to jumpstart the Friars tonight at Marquette. Download file
Tom Brady was today named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week, the fifth time this season he has gotten the honor. It was also the 10th time a Patriots player won an AFC weekly honor during the course of the regular season (Randy Moss won twice, and Ellis Hobbs, Mike Vrabel and Asante Samuel each won once).
Brady completed 76.2 percent of his passes for 356 yards in Saturday night's regular-season finale against the Giants, throwing his 49th and 50th touchdown passes, the first quarterback in NFL history to have a 50-TD season.
Shalise Manza Young writes on the "Pats' trip to perfection." Also, get Paul Kenyon's take on why the URI men's basketball team has improved so dramatically, as well as Bill Reynold's view of this year's PC hoops season. Download file
Limited number of tickets available for Jan. 12 playoff game
The Patriots have announced that a limited number of tickets are still available for the team's AFC Divisional round playoff game on Jan. 12 at 8 p.m.
The tickets will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m., but there are some provisos: they will only be sold via Ticketmaster (ticketmaster.com or 508.931.2222), there is a four ticket per person limit, and purchases can only be made with a Visa card (they're a league and team sponsor).
Prices, set by the NFL, are as follows: $164, $130, $115 and $95.
R.I. native A.J. Smith signs 5-year, $11 million contract extension with Chargers
BY JIM DONALDSON
Journal Sports Writer
It's certainly a Happy New Year for R.I. native A.J. Smith, the general manager of the San Diego Chargers.
Smith, a Cranston native who played high school football at Bishop Hendricken, and began his NFL career as an unpaid film-grader for the New England Patriots, has been given a 5-year, $11 million contract extension by Chargers president Dean Spanos.
That means Smith, who'll be 59 next month, now is signed through the 2014 season.
The timing is significant, with the Chargers facing a playoff game this weekend against the Titans in San Diego.
It was almost a year ago that Smith, in the wake of San Diego's disappointing, home-field, AFC semifinal playoff loss to New England, fired coach Marty Schottenheimer, even though the Chargers had gone 14-2 in the regular season.
It was the sixth straight postseason defeat for a Schottenheimer-coached team. He also lost with San Diego in 2004, and had dropped four in a row when he was coaching in Kansas City in 1993, .94, '95, and '97.
Convinced that Schottenheimer was not the man to take the Chargers to a championship, Smith replaced him with Norv Turner.
That was a controversial hiring, because Turner had a record of only 58-82 in seven years as coach of the Redskins (1994-2000) and two with Oakland (2004-05.) He had just one playoff team -- the '99 Redskins, who won an opening-round game before losing in the NFC semifinals.
After losing three of the first four games this season, Turner's Chargers have come on strong and won the AFC West with a record of 11-5 and are favored over Tennessee this weekend.
Clearly, Spanos has confidence in Smith.
And why shouldn't he, considering that, in the four years Smith has been at the helm, the Chargers have won three division titles?