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An anatomy of a spike: How Rob Gronkowski came to deliver his signature celebration

02.02.12 at 11:54 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — It doesn’t classify as Grade A Super Bowl trash talk, but Ahmad Bradshaw has issued something of a challenge.

“I like Gronk,” the Giants running back told Thursday, “but I think I can beat him out.”

Before thoughts of guaranteed victories, or even touchdown predictions, enter into the conversation, understand what Bradshaw was referring to — spiking a football.

While the declaration might not seem like much, when you consider how Rob Gronkowski’s execution of celebrating each touchdown is revered around the NFL, Bradshaw’s claim qualifies as a big deal. As teammate Ryan Mallett explains it, “When Gronk spikes, the ground shakes. You can feel it from the sidelines. It’s nuts. I’ve never seen a human being do that.”

Adds Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins, “You see a lot of guys spike the ball, and then you see Rob spike it and it’€™s totally different. I think he hit a cameraman recently.”

When listening to Gronkowski explain how the practice of spiking the ball evolved, it’s understandable that such exuberance is behind each scoring punctuation.

“It started when I got to the NFL,” Gronkowski explained. “I always wanted to do it in a game but you couldn’t do it in high school or college because of the rules, so I finally got to do it in the NFL. It felt good. It was pretty cool.”

That first celebration came on Aug. 26, 2010, when the then-rookie tight end hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady with 1:52 left in the second quarter of a preseason game against the Rams. Gronkowski broke free of his euphoric teammates and let fly his first-ever spike.

“I just knew,” Gronkowski said. “When I finally had a chance to do it, I was doing it. I wasn’t thinking twice.”

Of course, since then the tight end has let loose with approximately 30 spikes, perfecting his craft with each display of force.

“Sometimes I’€™m glad I’€™m a lineman, way behind the play. It’€™s funny when you see him spike it, you see the referee or [Wes] Welker duck away. It’€™s pretty amazing the way he does it,” Mankins said. “He was good out of the gate, but he’€™s gotten better the way guys duck for cover when he’€™s getting ready to do it.”

“I would say so,” said Gronkowski when asked if he had improved. “I know how to tilt a ball to make it go in a direction.”

While it’s debatable if Gronkowski has any peers in the NFL when it comes to spiking, the 22-year-old said he has the market cornered when it comes to competing against those who saw the first wave of spikes — his brothers.

“That wouldn’t be a challenge,” he said. “I would destroy them.”

Read More: Rob Gronkowski, spike,

Is Tom Brady still Mr. Clutch? Stats show a different story

02.02.12 at 10:09 pm ET
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In sports, there are revered and fundamental truths, statements and realities that are unquestioned and rarely debated.

Principally among them, especially in New England, is this: Tom Brady will always find a way to perform and help put his team in a position to win with the game on the line. In short, Brady is a clutch player and it’€™s that simple.

It is a reputation that Brady has deservedly built over the course of his distinguished career, with late-game heroics in big-game, high-pressure situations cementing his legacy as a winner.

But statistics from the 2011 season paint an entirely different picture of the revered quarterback. If anything, they show a decline in Brady’s late-game statistical performance from years when the Patriots captured the Super Bowl.

In the 2011 season in games decided by 0-7 points, Brady has completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions, all of which add up to a 90.8 passer rating, a mark that places him below Aaron Rodgers (119.2), Tony Romo (98.1), Matthew Stafford (98.0), Drew Brees (97.5) and Eli Manning (92.9).

Brady’s passer rating in games decided by 0-7 points is also down from three of the four years in which the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl.

The problem hasn’€™t even just been when Brady’€™s production has dipped. It’€™s also been when it’€™s spiked, as he has performed significantly better in games which the Patriots have won by 15 or more.

Compared to his 90.8 rating in closely-contested games, Brady has a passer rating of 119.0 in games that the Patriots won by more than two touchdowns.

While it’€™s easy to assume that a quarterback performs better when his team is firmly in control of the game, Brady has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 1.6-to-1 in those 0-7 point games. As for that number in games decided by 15 or more? 13-1.

That contrast in performance is in fact a contrast to the rest of Brady’€™s career, at least in the Patriots’€™ most successful seasons.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Joe Montana

Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff talk Patriots on Big Show, Pioli denies bugging Chiefs rooms

02.02.12 at 3:45 pm ET
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Former Patriots executives Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff, now general managers of the Chiefs and Falcons, respectively, joined The Big Show in Indianapolis Thursday. The two discussed their days with the Patriots and what they hope to achieve with their current franchises.

Bill Belichick has been more friendly with the media since arriving in Indianapolis for the Super Bowl, to the surprise of many. Neither Pioli nor Dimitroff are surprised to see this side of him.

“Bill and I worked together for 16 years, and I’ve known him since 1987,” Pioli said. “That’s the Bill I know. Maybe it’s not shown that often publicly.”

Dimitroff said that neither he nor the city of Atlanta are strangers to Belichick’s perky persona.

“What I know of Bill is last year he came on one of our local radio stations and was waxing poetic about the Grateful Dead and Bon Jovi, and we had a half-hour talk,” Dimitroff said. “It’s not that new for me I guess.”

Said Pioli to Dimitroff: “Maybe getting rid of you and me is lighting him up a little bit. With the two of us not being around, we don’t wear him out as much.”

Pioli said he isn’t surprised to find Belichick still making it to Super Bowls, as he feels the Patriots organization, from Robert Kraft down, has set a standard from which they haven’t strayed.

“A large part is consistency,” Pioli said of what makes the Patriots such a good franchise. “It’s stability and consistency. It starts with Robert, Jonathan [Kraft] and Bill quite honestly. ‘€¦ It’s a matter of consistency and being the same people every day. Everyoone knows what to expect. When you know what to expect in the work place, whether you’re a player, a trainer, an equipment guy, a video guy, the entire [organization], everyone knows what to expect. The leadership, they’re the same people every single day, and that just makes for a great work environment. It allows people to do their jobs more efficiently and better.”

While the people and the philosophies have remained constant for the most part, Dimitroff said that one of Belichick’s best qualities is the ability to constantly analyze his decisions and find others who do the same.

“I think what’s very, very impressive about Bill and about Scott and I hope, hope me, when we’re putting together our teams and our groups of guys, whether it’s the players or the personnel or the coaches, that we’re getting the people that are their harshest critics themselves,” Dimitroff said. “That’s what I think is very important. Bill, it seemed, never had to really go around the people and lay into people, nor did Scott. We all beat ourselves up more than I think anyone else would beat ourselves up.”

Added Pioli: “And you try to surround yourself with people with that [mindset]. You don’t want them to be necessarily like-minded, you want them to have similar values and similar pride, quite honestly.”

The three haven’t been afraid to deal with one another since Pioli and Dimitroff departed New England, as major trades, such as the Matt Cassel trade to the Chiefs in 2008 and the trade of Tony Gonzalez from the Chiefs to the Falcons in 2009, have gone down between the executives. Dimitroff and Pioli noted that they stay in close contact and talk shop, and that the trust they’ve built over the years pays off in the workplace.

“Before we ever get to the point of criticizing one another, with Thomas and I, what absolutely happens is Thomas will call me and say ‘Scott, what do you think about this? I think I might have made a mistake,’ and I do the same thing with him,” Poilio said. “‘€¦ I don’t need Thomas to criticize me, because I’m throwing it all out there. ‘€¦ I don’t mind that he sees the core of what I am and the mistakes I’m making, because I know whatever feedback I’m going to get is real.”

The Chiefs fired coach Todd Haley in December, after which a Kansas City Star piece ran saying Haley believed Pioli was bugging rooms at the team facility.

“I read that,” Pioli said. “[Chairman and CEO] Clark Hunt and [President] Mark Donovan said it at the time and I’ll say it again: Unequivocally, completely, totally untrue.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, Scott Pioli, thomas dimitroff

Jason Pierre-Paul: Tom Brady rattled by phantom Giants pass rush

02.02.12 at 1:16 pm ET
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Defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul suggested that he and his Giants teammates got into the head of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the regular season matchup between the two teams when New York beat New England, 24-20, at Gillette Stadium.

“If you look at Week 9 when we played them, it’s like he felt us,” Pierre-Paul told reporters. “We went back on the film, we watched the film and we didn’t really rush as we can as a defense. … He was throwing balls on the ground and stuff.”

Brady was sacked just twice while completing 28 of 49 passes (57 percent) for two touchdowns and two interceptions. Pierre-Paul, who had 16 1/2 sacks during the regular season, was asked if Brady was responding to phantom pressure in that contest.

“He was,” said Pierre-Paul. “Yeah, he was reacting to pressure that didn’t exist and he was just throwing the ball places that there wasn’t a receiver there. So imagine us just getting there even faster and we’re actually doing out jobs and getting there and getting hits on him.”

On Wednesday, Pierre-Paul described Brady as “a great quarterback, but at the end of the day he is just a quarterback. It’s not like he is God.”

Read More: Jason Pierre-Paul, Tom Brady,

Photos: WEEI’s coverage of Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis

02.02.12 at 12:47 pm ET
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WEEI has been in Indianapolis all week long and we’ve been posting photos of everything for you! See the players, coaches, Radio Row, celebrities and your favorite WEEI personalities by clicking the image below or by visiting New photos will be added constantly leading up to the Super Bowl, so be sure to check back to the gallery!

Stephen Gostkowski is confident he won’t be ‘overwhelmed by the situation’ on Sunday

02.02.12 at 12:20 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — Where was Stephen Gostkowski on fourth-and-13 at the Giants 31 late in the third quarter?

One of the lingering questions from Super Bowl XLII for Patriots fans. Bill Belichick chose not to rely on Gostkowski’s leg indoors at the University of Phoenix Stadium on what would’ve been a 49-yard field goal. Instead, the Patriots went with a fade route for Jabar Gaffney that landed incomplete.

Those three potential points were the difference as the Giants won, 17-14. There were nearly as many theories about about why Belichick didn’t go for it as there were theories on Roger Clemens coming out of Game 6 of the ’86 Series against the Mets. There was rumors of a lingering injury, field surface, more trust in Tom Brady, etc.

But rest assured, Gostkowski will be ready come Sunday in Indianapolis should his name get called this time by Belichick.

‘€œI just want to play well and I want to win,” Gostkowski said Thursday. “I feel like I do a good job not getting overwhelmed by the situation. Even playing in preseason games are nerve-racking. You’€™re playing for your job and for a spot on the team. It picks up as the year goes on, but you’€™ve been doing it all year. Although the stage might be bigger, the goal posts are the same size, the football is the same and the guys playing around me are the same. If you’€™re confident in your ability, you should be able to have success. At the same time, you have to be humble because any player is one play away from being the hero or the goat. It’€™s something that you sign up for.’€

That’s interesting because when the subject of big kicks came up, Gostkowski said he’s been somewhat a victim of the Patriots great offensive success under Tom Brady, where the field goal has not been as big a weapon as it might be on other teams.

“I feel like that there’s been a bunch,” Gostkowski said of memorable kicks in his career. “I had three field goals in the ’16-0′ game [against Giants in 2007], had a game-winner against the Chargers my rookie year [2006], had two big kicks in the AFC championship my rookie year that we end up losing [to Colts] at the end but we were close to winning that. We’ve won a lot of games around here and there’s been a lot of games won by a few points, like the game-winner last year against Baltimore [in overtime]. It’s hard to put yourself in opportunities.

“I feel like I’m getting asked this question about big, memorable kicks and you can’t sign up for them. It’s not like I can sign up for them and say, ‘Hey, put me in that situation.’ I feel like I get penalized sometimes for being on such a good team. All I can do is make the kicks that I’ve been put out there to make and I feel I’ve been doing that at a pretty high, successful rate.”

Read More: New England Patriots, New York Giants, nfl, Steve Gostkowski

Win or lose, Rob Ninkovich is ready to lose the beard come Sunday night

02.02.12 at 11:50 am ET
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INDIANAPOLIS — The bearded Rob Ninkovich scoffs at Wes Welker‘€™s mustache campaign.

‘€œWelker just started that a couple of weeks ago,’€ he said. ‘€œThis has been going three months now, so I think I have more time invested in the beard.’€

The linebacker has been growing out his beard since the Patriots’€™ last loss — a Nov. 6 defeat to the Giants. Since then, he’€™s looked more like a Bruins’€™ blueliner in the throes of a playoff run than a New England linebacker.

‘€œI decided that I wasn’€™t going to shave until we won again, and we haven’€™t lost,’€ he said. ‘€œThis is a win-streak beard. The last time I shaved was when we played the Giants. … I have to take it down a little bit. It’€™s getting kind of long.’€

In the hockey spirit, Ninkovich said he tried to get some of his teammates to try and grow beards with him.

‘€œI saw that last year how [the Bruins] all grew their beards out for the whole playoffs. I couldn’€™t get too many guys to come along with me,’€ he said with a smile. ‘€œSome guys can’€™t grow them too well.’€

Welker and Ninkovich aren’€™t the only two garnering attention for their hair this week. Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood sports a high-top fade with a Patriots logo carved into the side. Ninkovich, who said he was thinking about shaving a ‘€œ5-0’€ into his beard (his number) said he isn’€™t going to take a page out of Underwood’€™s book.

‘€œI’€™m going to stay away from getting it lined up. I don’€™t want to look like Underwood with a Patriot in my beard. I’€™ll stick to the lumberjack look,’€ he said. ‘€œHopefully, Sunday, I’€™ll be able to take it off, trim it down for a celebration. But I’€™m waiting until after that, after Sunday.’€

Read More: Rob Ninkovich, Tiquan Underwood, Wes Welker,
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