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Patriots practice Thursday: Tom Brady, Danny Aiken return to practice as Patriots have perfect attendance

01.16.14 at 11:09 am ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots fans can exhale. Tom Brady was back at practice on Thursday morning on the lower grass fields outside Gillette Stadium.

Brady missed Wednesday’s practice, his first this season, with an illness and left the facility after team meetings Wednesday morning.

This isn’t the first time Brady has missed practice or dealt with serious illness in the postseason. In Jan. 2005, Brady had to receive intravenous fluids after a fever spiked to 102 degrees the night before he beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh, 41-27.

Brady also missed practice the Wednesday before the AFC championship in Jan. 2012. After missing his media obligation on Wednesday, Brady will speak in a press conference at 12:45 p.m. Thursday and again on Friday.

Also returning to practice Thursday was long snapper Danny Aiken, who was also out sick on Wednesday.

Thursday’s perfect attendance was the first of the playoffs as rookie receiver Aaron Dobson was again in attendance.

The Patriots will practice again on Friday before leaving later that day for Denver. The AFC championship between the Patriots and Broncos is set for 3 p.m. ET Sunday.

Read More: AFC Championship, Danny Aiken, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots

Dan Marino on M&M: Peyton Manning ‘doesn’t have to prove another thing to anybody’

01.16.14 at 11:04 am ET
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CBS Sports NFL analyst Dan Marino checked in with Mut & Merloni on Thursday to preview Sunday’s AFC championship game and compare Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

“It’s so hard to say that there’s a difference,” Marino said of the two quarterbacks. “I think they have a different style in how they throw the football a little bit. But they’re both guys that can call good no-huddle, run it at the line of scrimmage. Peyton Manning‘s like the coordinator out there, and Brady’s been that way, too. And he’s been able to adjust. Like this year, as far as Tom is concerned, what he’s been able to do with young guys and new receivers and kind of changing the offenses, it’s maybe one of the best [seasons] he’s ever had. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit for adapting to the situations over the years.

“They’re both very similar in the same respect. Because they both can do it all. They’re pocket passers, they don’t run around much, very similar to the way I played. I have nothing but respect for both of them.”

Manning is 4-10 all-time against Brady, including 1-2 in the postseason, and has come under criticism for only winning one Super Bowl despite having a number of talented teams. However, Marino said Manning’s legacy is safe.

“The pressure is going to be there regardless,” Marino said. “He’s already won. I personally think he doesn’t have to prove another thing to anybody. Who he’s trying to prove it to is himself. He’s already won a Super Bowl, he’s been in another one, he just broke every single-season passing record there is possible — 55 touchdowns. But the amazing thing to me is that he’s actually doing this at 37 years old, and off four neck surgeries, and he missed the whole year [in 2011]. That’s more impressive I think in some ways than even winning a Super Bowl.”

During a studio discussion this past Sunday involving Marino, CBS panelist Shannon Sharpe said a player can’t be considered one of the best ever if he hasn’t won a championship. Marino is recognized as one of the all-time greats, but he was not able to quarterback the Dolphins to a championship during his 17-year career.

“What does Shannon know?” Marino joked. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about anyway.

“I’m not offended by it, because it’s really the feeling that I would have had,” Marino continued. “That’s the thing. I’ve done every other thing you could possibly do as a quarterback. And for me to walk off the field on a Sunday and know that I had won a championship, what that feels like, that’s what I missed. That’s what I wasn’t able to accomplish.

“And yeah, do I think about it sometimes? Yeah. Especially when I’m watching the Super Bowl. When you watch the Super Bowl you think about it and wonder what that would have felt like. But it’s not going to change my life at all, as far as me personally. But yeah, you do think about that, for sure.”

Added Marino: “That’s part of life. I’ve got to deal with it.”

Bill Belichick, who was interviewed by Marino colleague Bill Cowher last week, has not won a championship since the Patriots were penalized for taping the signals of opposing coaches in 2007.

“That does put a black eye on it a little bit — you’ve got to be honest about it,” Marino said. “They were penalized for it, they moved on. He’s done a lot of great things before that and a lot of great things afterwards.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady

Ex-Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker ready to face his old team again

01.16.14 at 6:00 am ET
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When asked Wednesday about Wes Welker and the impact he’s had on the Denver offense in his first season with the Broncos, coach John Fox and quarterback Peyton Manning didn’t mince words.

‘€œHe’€™s been exactly what we thought we were getting,” Fox said when asked about Welker. “Even people in the New England organization said that we would enjoy coaching him, and we have. He came in, made a pretty big impact. The fact that he was voted captain and just got here is a pretty good indicator of what his peers and teammates think of him. He’€™s fit in in exactly what we thought he would be, and that’€™s important.’€

‘€œLike Coach Fox said, a lot of things that I think a lot of people thought about Wes as an opponent all proved to be true once he joined us as a teammate,” Manning said. “I always assumed that he was an extremely competitive guy that loved football and a guy that loved to work, he loved to practice. The way he played ‘€“ I saw him many a time play Colts versus the Patriots ‘€“ so to have him become a Bronco, all those things checked out.

“He’€™s a gym rat. He loves the game, loves to work after practice [and] loves to talk in meetings about routes that he thinks might have a chance to get open,” Manning added. “He’€™s very knowledgeable of defenses and how teams have played him in the past, whether they’€™ve double-covered him or whatever it may be. So he’€™s been a fun guy to play with, I’€™ll say that.’€

After six seasons in New England, Welker finished his first year with the Broncos with with 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games. After going down with a concussion that caused him to miss the final three weeks of the regular season, he returned to the lineup in last weekend’s divisional playoff win against the Chargers, and had six catches for 38 yards and a touchdown.

Welker said that after his first game against the Patriots — which ended in a loss in his return to Gillette on Nov. 24, a game where he had four catches for 31 yards — he was able to get some of that nostalgia of facing his old team out of the way. Now, heading into this weekend’s AFC title game, the focus is on football.

‘€œIt’€™s still another game,” he said Wednesday when asked about facing the Patriots. “You understand it is the AFC Championship, and everything like that. You want to go out there and prepare as much as possible. At the same time, it is still an opponent and it’€™s a team and you’€™re going out there and playing to the best of your ability and go out there and try to win the game.’€

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Read More: John Fox, Peyton Manning, Wes Welker,

Crafting a champion: Patriots, Broncos have similar approach when it comes to team-building

01.16.14 at 12:26 am ET
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While the Patriots and Broncos have superstar quarterbacks that will get top billing heading into Sunday’€™s AFC title game, both teams are more than just a pair of elite signal-callers.

The two franchises have been shaped in much the same way. While the franchise quarterback is the centerpiece, they’€™ve managed to build through the draft, augment those selections with a sprinkling of free agents and maybe a trade or two, and add some much-needed depth with some street free agents. It’€™s one of the reasons they’€™ve been able to reach football’€™s final four this weekend.

While it’€™s important to note that both rosters have suffered more than their share of key injuries, we’€™ve decided to examine the current 53-man roster to see how each team has gone about the team-building process. And while some of the classifications are different, the fundamental definitions still apply — these teams share a similar approach when it comes to crafting a roster.

Of the 53 players on the Broncos roster, 21 were drafted by the organization and still play there as of Tuesday, while 19 were veteran free agent signings. In addition, eight were signed as college free agents, two grabbed via waivers. one acquired in trade and two signed and promoted via the practice squad.

Six of Denver’€™s offensive starters were drafted (wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, running back Knowshon Moreno, tight end Julius Thomas, offensive linemen Zane Beadles and Orlando Franklin), while one was acquired via waivers (offensive lineman Chris Clark) and four were signed as free agents (offensive linemen Manny Ramirez and Louis Vasquez, wide receiver Wes Welker, quarterback Peyton Manning).

On defense, four of the Broncos starters were drafted (defensive linemen Malik Jackson and Sylvester Williams, as well as linebackers Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan), four were picked up as free agents (defensive linemen Terrance Kingston and Shaun Phillips, defensive backs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Mike Adams), two were rookie free agents (linebacker Wesley Woodyard, defensive back Duke Ihenacho) and one was picked up via a trade (cornerback Champ Bailey).

(Ironically, in his nearly two full years as head coach in Denver, now-Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels selected several key players who are still on the roster. In 2009, the Broncos drafted Ayers, Bruton and Moreno, while Decker and Demaryius Thomas were added in the 2010 draft.)

Meanwhile, New England’€™s 53-man roster has 23 players who were drafted directly into organization and still play there as of Tuesday, while 11 were signed as veteran free agents. Five were acquired via waivers, and three via trade. Eleven are rookie and first-year free agents.

“€It doesn’€™t really matter how a player gets to the New England Patriots; whether he’€™s drafted, traded, signed as a free agent, signed as an unrestricted free agent, signed as a street free agent, it doesn’€™t matter,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “We have guys from all those categories. It’€™s much more important what they do when they get here than what road they took to get here.”

In New England, everything flows through Tom Brady, but the Patriots have managed to do a nice job filling in around him. When it comes to New England’€™s unofficial offensive depth chart, six of the starters were taken in the draft and developed by the franchise (left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, right tackle Marcus Cannon, Brady, wide receiver Julian Edelman, running back Stevan Ridley). Three were signed as street free agents (center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly, wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins) and two were added as veteran free agents (tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, wide receiver Danny Amendola).

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Peyton Manning says Bill Belichick will ‘go down as the greatest coach of all time’

01.15.14 at 10:28 pm ET
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Bill Belichick has often said that he has never coached against a quarterback like Peyton Manning.

The Broncos signal caller returned the favor on Wednesday.

Much has been made of Manning’s 14-game series with Tom Brady, a series Brady leads 10-4. But Manning and Belichick have an even longer rivalry. Since 2000, Belichick has faced Manning 17 times, with the New England coach leading that series 11-6. The 11 wins is the most by any coach to have ever game-planned against the future hall of famer.

Manning said that record, and history, makes Belichick the “best coach” he’s ever competed against.

“He’ll go down as the greatest coach of all time,” Manning added.

Belichick said Wednesday that he’s not just preparing for Manning but the entire team.

“We prepare for the Denver Broncos‘€™ entire football team. Obviously Manning is a great quarterback,” Belichick said. “There’€™s no question about that. But the Broncos are a good football team. They’€™re good on defense, they’€™re good in the kicking game, they have a good running game, they have a lot of good receivers, a lot of good offensive linemen.

“We have to prepare for the entire team. Peyton certainly is a key guy in it; the offense runs through him, but we have to do a good job on everybody. He’€™s as good as we’€™re going to face ‘€“ as good as we have faced. It will be a big challenge for us. I think our defensive football team realizes that and we’€™ll be out there Sunday to do our very best at defending not only him, but the other 10 guys that are out there with him. They’€™re all pretty good too. Big challenge, we’€™re looking forward to it.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl

NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger: Logan Mankins still one of best guards in NFL

01.15.14 at 10:01 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Nothing gets a retired offensive lineman more cranked up than talking about a throwback like Patriots left guard Logan Mankins.

Brian Baldinger, who spent 13 seasons in the league as an offensive lineman and is now working as an analyst for NFL Network, said Wednesday that Mankins is one of the top 5 guards in the league, and added that even after nine years in the NFL, there are few linemen who are able to get a good, consistent push like the Fresno State product.

“€œI think he’€™s a very good technician, which starts with his footwork,”€ Baldinger said of Mankins. “He never seems to be out of position — in pass between pass protection, he always seems to be between his man and Tom. He doesn’€™t seem to get turned real quickly or get beat quickly. He went out to offensive tackle this year — not many guards can go out there and protect the blind side of Tom the way he did for as well as he did. Technique is what travels.

“œHe’€™s a very good puller, so that means A) you have to get out of your stance, and be athletic. And B), you have to be able to get around and through a lot of traffic. Which isn’€™t easy to do. That speaks to footwork and athletic ability. And then, sometimes, there’€™s just nothing there. You have to know when nothing is there and you have to clean it out and recognize when, on the run, when there’€™s nothing there. Or, it’€™s ‘€˜Do I try to make something?’€™ or ‘€˜Do I bulldoze my way?’€™ or ‘€˜Is my guy somewhere in there?’€™ Some guys can’€™t see that. He seems to be able to see all of that.”

The 31-year-old Mankins, in his ninth year in the league, has played both left guard and left tackle this season with the Patriots, and was honored for his work with a second All-Pro nod, as well as his sixth Pro Bowl berth. He’€™s the senior member of New England’€™s offensive line — since entering the starting lineup in 2005, Mankins has helped New England finish in the top 10 on offense eight times, including a seventh-ranked offense in 2013. That includes a suddenly resurgent running game that has allowed the Patriots to head into Sunday’€™s AFC title game with a dangerous running attack.

Over the years, Mankins has made no secret of his love of run blocking. Baldinger noted that with more and more pro-style passing offenses at the college level, it’€™s hard to find younger offensive linemen who know proper run-blocking technique — but that was never a problem with Mankins.

“There’€™s not many guys who are great run blockers in this league anymore because they don’€™t run block in college,”€ Baldinger said. “I know Logan did at Fresno, but he had a good head coach at Fresno. I just think he’€™s still a good run blocker. He still takes guys off the ball.

“He’€™s still really good in space. When they run a pull to the left, out in space to the weak side — a toss crack or whatever because — he’€™s really good out in space. They pull and run really, really well. He still does that well.”

Mankins and left tackle Nate Solder are two of the biggest reasons Baldinger calls the Patriots a ‘€œleft-handed’€ team at this point in the postseason.

“œI don’€™t see any slowdown in his game to say, ‘€˜OK, who is better than him right now.’€™ I think it’€™s very difficult to say that,’€ he said of Mankins. ‘€œI think there are some tackles who are clear cut, because tackles do more than guards. I think that him and [right guard] Dan Connolly, it’€™s a good setup, because I think your guard makes your tackle better and your center better because they work so well together, between him and Dan. They’€™ve had a lot of changes in that line to, on the right side at tackle. I just think that the fact that he lines up and plays every snap, kicks out and plays tackle when they need to in a pinch with no loss of technique, that’€™s impressive.

“When [quarterback] Tom [Brady] drives the ball, when he has to make a ‘€˜stick’€™ throw, whether its a seam route to Julian [Edelman] against Cleveland in the final minute and he has to drive that ball, you have to be able to step into that throw to do it and you need a clean pocket up front to do it,’€ Baldinger added. ‘€œYou have to set short. A lot of guys give up ground and still stay between their man and the quarterback. They don’€™t do that here. They set short up front so that Tom can step up into that throw, and that’€™s really important to them and what they do offensively.”

Read More: brian baldinger, Logan Mankins, Nate Solder,

Peyton Manning explains ‘Omaha’ audible

01.15.14 at 9:57 pm ET
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It was heard so often by TV boom mics in the AFC divisional game against the Chargers that many began wondering if Peyton Manning had a lot of relatives living in Nebraska.

The call “Omaha” was heard from Manning over 20 times at the line of scrimmage.

That begs the question, naturally, what does Omaha mean? Manning finally answered that question on Wednesday but listening to the tongue-in-cheek answer you wonder if there’s some intentional misdirection included.

“I know a lot of people ask what Omaha means,” Manning said, acknowledging this week’s furor. “Omaha is a run play, but it could be a pass play or a play-action pass, depending on a couple things: which way we’re going, the quarter, and the jerseys that we’re wearing. It varies, really, from play to play. So, there’s your answer to that one.”

There were cackles of laughter heard in the Broncos media work room as Manning answered. That laughter will probably be drowned out by the crowd – and Omaha – on Sunday at Sports Authority Field.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you first.

Read More: Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl, Omaha
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