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Patrick Chung brings a sense of stability back to Patriots secondary

01.19.12 at 7:37 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’€™s no coincidence that since safety Patrick Chung returned to the starting lineup, the Patriots defense has strung together seven of its most consistent quarters of the season.

Chung, who was sidelined for seven games with a foot injury he suffered in a Nov. 6 loss to the Giants, made his way back for the regular-season finale against the Bills on Jan. 1. And since the end of the first quarter of the win over Buffalo through the divisional playoffs last week against Denver, the New England defense has yielded one touchdown and 10 total points. Against the Broncos, the Patriots allowed 252 net yards, their lowest total allowed on the season.

During a year in which New England discarded veteran safeties like Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, when he’€™s been healthy, the 5-foot-11, 212-pound Chung has been a steady, stabilizing presence in the secondary, providing support for the Patriots’€™ back line. For the season, the 24-year-old Chung was sixth on the team with 67 tackles (39 solo), to go along with one sack, two quarterback hits, one interception and four passes defensed.

‘€œPatrick brings a good level of experience. He’€™s been through a lot in terms of all our calls and adjustments,’€ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. ‘€œPatrick is a smart guy. He understands concepts, he’€™s well prepared and he had a good level of experience. He’€™s been out there in all situations: first down, second down, third down, fourth down. He takes that experience to all those situations and he’€™s got good confidence.’€

‘€œIt means a lot [to get him back],’€ linebacker Jerod Mayo said of Chung’€™s return. ‘€œWe had a lot of different guys back there, and any time you can get consistency anywhere on the defensive side of the football, you’€™ll have a better defense. So it’€™s good to get him back, it’€™s good to get [Brandon] Spikes back and hopefully we continue to improve.’€

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Meriweather, Brandon Spikes, Devin McCourty

Bill Belichick: Lots of ‘fond memories’ but no time for 10th anniversary of ‘Snow Bowl’

01.19.12 at 5:13 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It was arguably one of the most important games in NFL history and certainly the turning point for the Patriots franchise.

The snow began falling late in the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 19, 2002. It didn’t stop until well after Adam Vinatieri‘s third field goal of the night split the uprights on New England’s first possession of overtime, sending the Patriots onto Pittsburgh and the AFC championship in Pittsburgh the next week.

That was 10 years ago and Thursday marked the 10th anniversary of the game that propelled Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on their way to careers that will someday be recognized with busts in Canton.

But on Thursday morning, when Belichick was asked about one of the most important games of his career, he just stopped briefly to recognize it before insisting all of the team’s focus is on making sure they’re prepared to capture the franchise’s seventh AFC championship.

“It was a great game, it was a great night and of course a lot of fond memories but [we’€™re] really just trying to get on to Baltimore,” Belichick said. “We’€™ve had a lot of big wins in the past, we’€™ve had a lot of great games, we’€™ve lost games. Right now none of those really I think have too much impact on what’€™s going on this week. We’€™re really trying to keep our sights focused on Sunday’€™s game. It’€™s a one-game season, we’€™ve worked all year for that. We’€™ve worked hard for the last six months to put ourselves in that position and now it’€™s time for us to go out there and do our best with it. With all due respect to other games, other teams, other situations, it’€™s really not the forefront now.”

So, it came as no surprise earlier when Belichick was asked by an out-of-town reporter whether offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien‘s role has changed this week and whether he’ll make a good head coach at Penn State.

“We’€™re definitely all focused on the game with Baltimore and that’€™s what our team is preparing for,” Belichick said. “He’€™s done what we’€™ve asked him to do last week and this week and hopefully we’€™ll be able to play well on Sunday.”

Read More: 2012 playoffs, Adam Vinatieri, AFC Championship, Baltimore Ravens

Bernard Pollard: I take pride in hit on Tom Brady

01.19.12 at 5:08 pm ET
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Bernard Pollard has played in the NFL for six seasons, pretty impressive in a league where tomorrow is promised to absolutely no one. He’s been a starter for the last five, picking up at least 90 tackles four times during that span. And now, in his first season with the Ravens, he’s a single win away from the Super Bowl.

But for most NFL fans — and for all in New England — he’ll be forever defined by one play.

“The hit on Brady,” Pollard said on Thursday. “Look, it’s football, at the end of the day guys get hurt every Sunday. I think the fact of the matter is that in this case it was Tom Brady. Nothing was intentional, nothing was malicious. When that happened, we had other guys go down that day and nothing happened.”

In the season opener of 2008, Pollard lunged at Brady’s knee and hit him with his helmet, tearing Brady’s ACL and ending his season before the first quarter of Week 1 was even in the books. Pollard wasn’t flagged on the play, but the NFL instituted a rule after the season that penalized a player for making contact with a quarterback’s knee.

Brian Waters — a teammate of Pollard’s with the Chiefs in 2008 — said Thursday that Pollard “took pride” in being able to get a hit on Brady that September afternoon.

“I took pride because I didn’t do anything wrong,” Pollard said. “This is a game where anything can happen. I don’t care about recognition, I don’t care about being the face of the NFL, I’m just blessed to be able to do what I do.”

Pollard — who referred to Brady as “Mr. Pretty Boy” on Wednesday — said he’s looking forward to a trip to Gillette Stadium on Sunday. But the reaction from some fans to the hit on Brady was as serious as it gets, according to the veteran safety.

“I’ve gotten death threats, from fans, mail email stuff like that,” Pollard said. “They got my house address, they got the Chiefs facility, it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s one of those things. Fans don’t understand the game. We play this game and put so much into it, and when they see the beloved quarterback go down, no one wants to see it. Nobody wants to see it.”

Pollard said he’s never spoken to Brady, and has no plans to do so.

“I’ve not spoke to him directly, indirectly we’ve spoken through other people,” Pollard said. “If you are asking me if I apologized? No. And I’m not going to apologize for it. It’s football. He doesn’t apologize for throwing the ball over your head, he doesn’t apologize for throwing five touchdowns against you. We don’t want anyone to get hurt, but it’s a rough sport and sometimes things happen.”

As for Sunday’s AFC title game, Pollard — who called Brady the best quarterback he’s ever faced — played the respect card when asked about the New England offense.

“We know the monster we are going against,” Pollard said. “It’s going to be the ultimate challenge.”

Read More: Bernard Pollard, Tom Brady,

Why Haloti Ngata is the man the Patriots fear the most

01.19.12 at 3:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots aren’t afraid of much. But in Haloti Ngata, there is a man that can strike fear into the even the most stout wearing the red, white, blue and silver. There has been plenty of talk this week so far about Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. But the key to containing the Ravens defense likely starts in the middle with a 350-pound nose tackle who can outrun some tight ends in the NFL.

What is it about the Ravens perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle that makes him so dangerous?

“He’€™s 350 pounds and not many guys that size can move like he can,” said left guard Logan Mankins, who no doubt will have his hands full keeping an eye on him over center. “With him, he can swim you, he can run you over, he can do many different things to you that a lot of guys his size can’€™t do. That’€™s what makes him so tough. Just like [Terrell Suggs], they’€™re guys that are better athletes and stronger and faster than a lot of guys so it makes them hard to block.”

While the Patriots offensive line goes up against the powerful one-gap tackle Vince Wilfork every day in practice, Ngata is a different type of nose tackle, one who can rush the passer and will move side-to-side more than Wilfork.

Brian Waters played against Ngata in the 2010 playoffs, when Matt Cassel and the Chiefs could manage just seven points in a 30-7 loss to the Ravens in the AFC wild card round.

“He’€™s as good as there is in the game at that position,” Waters said. “His ability to play all over the defensive line, his ability to have power and athletic ability to go along with his size, it’€™s something that you really can’€™t account for until you’€™re out there. You really don’€™t know how strong he is and how athletic he is for a big man until you’€™re actually on the field with him. When he’€™s on the field he’€™s going full blast. That’€™s something that not only him, but a couple of those other guys when you start talking about [Pernell McPhee] and you add Cory Redding in there, these guys are big, strong guys but they’€™re also very athletic and very versatile because they’€™ll be all over the field.”

What was interesting to take from Waters Thursday was how much more confident he feels in the Patriots abilities – as an offensive group – to handle Ngata and the Ravens D-line.

“Honestly, I try not to really think back too much and try not to fall too much back on that because it was such a totally different team,” Waters added. “We were nowhere near the explosive football team that we are today. We’€™re a different football team. We depended almost completely on the run. We were just a different focus-type of football team. I try not to think of that too much.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 playoffs, AFC Championship, Baltimore Ravens, Brian Waters

Bill Belichick: ‘I have all the respect in the world’ for John Harbaugh

01.19.12 at 2:32 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Don’€™t look for a pair of feuding coaches’€™ in this year’€™s AFC Championship Game, as Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh have nothing but good things to say about each other.

Harbaugh was hired as the head coach of the Ravens four years ago this week, and according to reports, Belichick was instrumental in serving as a reference. Harbaugh was effusive in his praise of the Patriots coach.

‘€œMaybe it’€™s the old special teams guys, you know?’€ joked Harbaugh, who, like Belichick, made his bones initially as a special teams coach. ‘€œI just respect Bill Belichick as a coach and as a man. I just really do. I think he’€™s the greatest coach in our league right now, and that’€™s proven. And that’€™s why you get so excited to have an opportunity to play against a guy [like him] as a coach.’€

Belichick, a Maryland native, returned the compliment before practice on Thursday, saying that he and Harbaugh have ‘€œa good relationship.’€

‘€œI see him from time to time,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œI spend a little bit of time in that area because of my roots being back there. We’€™re both pretty entrenched in what we’€™re doing. But (in) Indianapolis or league meetings, stuff like that, I enjoy talking to John, I think he’€™s a great guy (who) does a good job with his football team. I have all the respect in the world for him. This week, I hope our team can play a little better than theirs, that’€™s all.’€

Belichick said that in a relatively short time, Harbaugh has managed to put his distinctive stamp on the Ravens.

‘€œThey’€™re tough, they’€™re physical, they don’€™t make many mistakes, they’€™re very well prepared, they do a great job of situational football,’€ Belichick said of Harbaugh’€™s team. ‘€œThey’€™re physical in all three areas of the game. They run the ball well, obviously they have a physical defense, they’€™re very physical in the kicking game. I think that’€™s what John wants — he really wants them to be a tough, physical, hardnosed football team. And they are.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh,

Tedy Bruschi named third honorary captain for Sunday’s AFC title game

01.19.12 at 2:05 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Thursday that former linebacker Tedy Bruschi will be one of the honorary captains for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Ravens. The club previously announced Monday that former wide receiver Troy Brown and cornerback Ty Law were the first two members of the group, all of which will come from players who were part of the 1996 AFC Championship team, as well as the 2001 team.

Read More: Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Ty Law,

For many veteran Patriots like Kevin Faulk, opportunity is knocking once again

01.19.12 at 12:11 am ET
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FOXBORO — The circus is in town, but it’€™s nothing that veteran Kevin Faulk hasn’€™t seen before.

The media crush, megahype and general mayhem that come with an AFC Championship Game has descended on the Patriots and Gillette Stadium. It means more questions, more logistical discussions about tickets and, possibly, more distractions.

It’€™s something that was commonplace throughout the earlier stages of Faulk’€™s career when the Patriots went to three Super Bowls in four seasons. Because of that, Faulk — as well as the rest of the veterans on the roster who have played deep into January on previous occasions — are well schooled in dealing with the (potentially) big distractions that come with the big games.

‘€œIt’€™s a circus. That’€™s all it is, a circus. The most important thing is playing a football game and preparing for a football game. The other stuff doesn’€™t even matter,’€ Faulk said. ‘€œIt’€™s pretty obvious what you have to be aware of or walk away from.’€

Faulk is one of several players on the New England roster who has been to the circus on several occasions. The Patriots have seven players on the roster who have played in at least 10 playoff games, including quarterback Tom Brady (20 postseason games), Faulk (19), left tackle Matt Light (18), defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (14), defensive end Shaun Ellis (13), wide receiver Deion Branch (13) and Logan Mankins (11).

(While it’€™s debatable how much playoff experience can help this time of year, the postseason history on New England’€™s roster matches up favorably with Baltimore, which has six players with at least 10 games of playoff experience under their belt, including linebacker Ray Lewis with a team-high 16 games.)

As a result, one of the things that many of the veterans on this roster understand is that these kinds of opportunities don’€™t come around that often. For wide receiver Wes Welker, that point was driven home to wide receiver Wes Welker following the 2007 season. In the wake of that record-breaking year that saw the Patriots fall just short of a perfect season in Super Bowl XLII, he confessed that he believed the Patriots would go to the Super Bowl every year.

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Read More: Deion Branch, Kevin Faulk, Logan Mankins, Matt Light
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