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Bill Belichick on Ravens’ Joe Flacco: ‘They’ve won a lot of games, and I think that’s the big thing’

01.17.12 at 2:26 pm ET
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Using some of the same terms he used to describe Denver quarterback Tim Tebow last week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the best way to describe Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco is with a simple stat.

“They’€™ve won a lot of games, and I think that’€™s the big thing,” Belichick said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “A quarterback has to do what his team needs him to do to win, and Joe has done that. I don’€™t know how improve much on 11-5 and 12-4 and they just keep doing it. He’€™s been a solid guy since his rookie year in terms of managing the game and using the clock and making good decisions and those types of things.

“He’€™s been able to throw the ball obviously to his backs, to his tight ends and down the field to whether it’€™s [Torrey] Smith or [Lee] Evans or [Anquan] Boldin or whoever it happens to be. I think he can make all the throws that you need a quarterback to make. He can run the team and manage it well. He can make checks and decisions that the offense needs to have a good flow and take advantage of defensive alignment. I think he’€™s certainly over four years improved in all those areas incrementally, but he did them at a pretty high level to begin with, and he continues to do that.”

Patriots defensive backs coach Josh Boyer praised Flacco, saying the Baltimore passing game “really starts with him.”

“Flacco is a very capable quarterback.  He is a guy that can throw the ball 65 yards down the field.  He can hit the intermediate routes.  He is very smart; he understands when to go to the check downs.  Even at times he takes some good sacks; he doesn’€™t put his team in bad situations,” Boyer said. “I would say it is a very good passing game.  They can hit them deep, intermediate or short.”

Read More: Anquan Boldin, Bill Belichick, joe flacco, Josh Boyer

Deion Branch one of the best when it comes to hanging on to the football

01.17.12 at 1:09 pm ET
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The fellas at Pro Football Focus do a great job putting together stats that take you inside the game, and so their latest work should be no surprise. They looked at drop rate for pass catchers for the 2011 season, and found that Patriots’ wide receiver Deion Branch was one of the best in the league when it came to holding on to the ball.

Among all receivers with at least 35 “catchable” balls thrown in their direction, Branch only dropped two passes. (He had 53 catchable balls thrown his way, and had 51 receptions.) Seattle’s Golden Tate had a perfect drop rate, going 35 for 35, while Branch’s 51 of 53 landed him ninth on the list at 3.77. (Former Patriots Jabar Gaffney was seventh overall with only two drops on 69 chances, to finish 2.9.)

On the other end of the spectrum, while others had more drops, no one had a worst percentage than Tampa Bay’s Arrelious Benn, who had eight drops on 38 catchable balls for a drop rate of 21.05 percent.

For the complete story, click here.

Read More: Arrelious Benn, Deion Branch, Golden Tate, jabar gaffney

Rob Gronkowski, Zoltan Mesko get personalized ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ songs on ‘Conan’

01.17.12 at 9:18 am ET
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As we documented last week, singer/songwriter John Parr recently released an updated version of his hit song “St. Elmo’s Fire,” honoring Tim Tebow and the Broncos.

On Monday’s episode of “Conan” on TBS, host Conan O’Brien poked fun at Parr’s “Tim Tebow’s Fire” song and joked that he was now trying to cash in on the Patriots’ win over the Broncos. In the video below, you can see O’Brien’s parodies of the song, featuring Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, punter Zoltan Mesko and assistant strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera.

Kidding aside, Parr was nice enough to talk to our own Kirk Minihane on the “20 Minutes of Silence” podcast, just days before the Pats knocked the Broncos out of the playoffs. You can hear the podcast right here!

Read More: Conan O'Brien, John Parr, Rob Gronkowski, St. Elmo's Fire

Here’s why the Patriots will win on Sunday

01.17.12 at 6:53 am ET
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You know what we’ve got on Sunday?

Two Super Bowl or bust teams.

When the season began, neither the Patriots or Ravens would have been satisfied with a spirited, hard-fought loss in the AFC championship as the conclusion to the season. Nope, the expectations were Lombardi Trophy or Lost Season.

How many other teams, realistically, thought that way in September? The Packers, obviously. The Saints, sure. The Steelers. One more, and it’s almost now charming in its delusion: The Jets.

That’s it. Every other team would have signed for 12-4 and a playoff win. That includes the two remaining NFC teams.

This will be the only Super Bowl or Bust matchup of the entire postseason. Doesn’t mean the winner will win the next game, of course, but it is going to be a particularly brutal defeat on Sunday for the Patriots or Ravens, much more so than for a 49ers team that won six games in 2010 and is way past house money stage, or for a Giants team that missed the postseason last year, won nine games this year and was 7-7 just a month ago. If the Giants lose 23-14 to the 49ers on Sunday I suspect, with some time to gain a little perspective, they’ll look at the season (with that win in Green Bay as the unquestioned highlight) as a whole as a success.

I’m picking the Patriots to win this game, but it’s about as close to a coin flip as it can get. A Baltimore win would be nothing close to a surprise, that defense plus Ray Rice is plenty enough to beat New England. Doesn’t take much to make a case for the Ravens on Sunday.

But three factors stand out when choosing New England, and it’s the first one I believe will matter most ‘€¦

Brady vs. Flacco

No quarterback in the history of the NFL has won as many regular-season games in his first four seasons as Joe Flacco (44 – but if you’ll allow a quick caveat: Brady won 48 in his first four seasons as a starter but is disqualified here because he played in one game in his actual rookie season of 2000). Flacco has a career TD/INT ratio of 80-46, which even in the new NFL world of juiced-up passer ratings is impressive. And on Sunday, Flacco won his fifth career postseason game. So you’d think this is a guy that would reside firmly at the elite table of current quarterbacks, below Brady, Rodgers and Brees but right there with Roethlsiberger and Eli Manning (who is two wins away from pretty much locking up a spot in Canton, hard as that may be to believe).

But no one ever puts Flacco in that group, his national temperature is tepid at best. Why? Well, he had his worst season in 2011 (most INTs, TD’s were down, yards per attempt and completion percentage were career lows) and looked very shaky at times against the Texans on Sunday. Probably you remember Baltimore coming to Foxboro and destroying the Patriots in January 2010. Also you might remember this: Flacco stunk in that game, finished 4-for-10 for 34 yards and an INT (10.0 passer rating). In his postseason career he has completed 53.1 percent of his passes with seven INT and six TDs (Tony Romo - who routinely gets massacred by the press for not being a “winner” with just a single playoff win in five games – has completed 59.3 percent of his playoff passes with four TDs and just two INTs). Flacco is a perfectly serviceable NFL starter, perhaps a little more than that. But if he had been drafted by, say, Seattle instead of Baltimore it’s fair to wonder what Flacco would be. Having Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, Ray Rice and Haloti Ngata as teammates can cover up some of the quarterbacking acne.

When the Patriots lost to the Giants in Week 9 they were 5-3 on the season and Tom Brady already had 10 interceptions. Since then the Patriots are 9-0 and Brady has thrown 25 TDs (as many as Flacco has thrown in any season of his career) against three picks. Yup, this Ravens defense is significantly better than any Brady has faced during that stretch (tops in the NFL in pass defense) and the heart of that group dominated him in that playoff game two years ago, but he enters Sunday playing at least as well as he has at any time of his career. Huge head-to-head edge for the Patriots at the most important position.

Understanding The Need For Balance

The three losses:

Buffalo, 45 passes, 26 rushes

Steelers: 35 passes, 12 rushes

Giants: 49 passes, 24 rushes

(And these were not blowout games, obviously, the kind that would force your quarterback to throw and throw some more. The losses were by three, six and four points.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: AFC Championship, Bill Belichick, Patriots, Ravens

Starting with Wes Welker, Patriots are much more dangerous to Ravens now

01.16.12 at 9:56 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady made it clear on Monday, Sunday’s AFC championship game against the Ravens is not about revenge — it’s about the here and now.

And starting with Wes Welker, he couldn’t be more accurate.

Brady and the Patriots are far more equipped to strike fear into the hearts of the Ravens than they were two years ago in the wild card round of the playoffs, when Ray Rice broke off an 83-yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage and galloped their way to a 33-14 win over the Pats.

Missing that day was not only Welker but his career-best 123 catches, 1,348 yards and four touchdowns. This year, Welker had 122 catches, a career-best 1,569 yards and nine TDs.

Now, the Patriots not only have a healthy Welker – something they didn’t have that day — but Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, two of the most dangerous and versatile tight ends in team history.

“I feel like it’€™s been the same as what it has been,” Welker said. “I’€™m just trying to do my job out there. Those two guys are phenomenal players and at some point the defense is going to realize how good they are and it’€™s definitely going to open up things for me and vice versa and everything else. We all are together in this and all play together and all play our role.”

They’ll need all of them to be firing on Sunday against the Ravens defense.

“They’€™re a great team — they wouldn’€™t be in this spot if they weren’€™t,” Welker said. “They do some great things out there. Their defense, they cause a lot of turnovers, they do a lot of great things out there. They run to the football, they tackle well, they cover well, they rush well, they do a lot of things well. Across the board they’€™re just a great football team ‘€“ that’€™s why they’€™re in the position they’€™re in and why they were the number two seed going in. We definitely have our hands full with these guys.”

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Read More: 2012 playoffs, Aaron Hernandez, AFC Championship, Baltimore Ravens

Bill Belichick on The Big Show: How Ray Lewis left an ‘over-the-top’ first impression

01.16.12 at 5:25 pm ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick, in his weekly appearance on The Big Show, acknowledged that his team had a strong all-around performance against the Broncos before suggesting that it was incumbent on his team to “turn the page” and begin preparing for a Ravens team that represents what he characterized as an even more formidable challenge.

Belichick spoke highly of Baltimore, but was particularly effusive in his praise of safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis. Indeed, Belichick suggested that the two players enjoyed shared traits that have helped to make both standouts at their positions.

“He’€™s a magnet to the ball. His guy might be open, but they’€™re not throwing it to him. When they’€™re throwing to his guy, he’€™s right there where he should be,” Belichick said of Reed. “He’€™s 20 yards away from his guy but he’€™s close to the ball. He’€™s got great vision and anticipation. He’€™s very fast. He’€™s got good quickness. But I think the big thing with him is his instincts.

“He has a great understanding of what’€™s happening on the play, where the ball’€™s going, who’€™s threatening. He’€™s almost always in great position and usually getting there before the play has totally unfolded. As it’€™s developing, that’€™s when he figures it out and he’€™s already started to make his move to the point of attack,” he continued. “You’€™ve got to be careful with him. You’€™ve got to know where he’€™s at because he’€™s going to be by the ball. If you’€™re throwing it, you better make sure you can get it there before he does. … His anticipation and instincts, I’€™d say, are second to none at that position, very comparable to Ray Lewis as a middle linebacker.”

As for Lewis, Belichick first met the middle linebacker in 1996 when he a defensive coordinator for the Patriots after he’d been fired by the Browns (who were about to relocate to Baltimore to become the Ravens). Belichick met with Lewis, a linebacker at the University of Miami, in the spring before the draft.

Ultimately, Lewis ended up going with the No. 26 pick of the first round to the Ravens, while the Patriots took Terry Glenn with the No. 7 pick of the first round (and later nabbed Lawyer Milloy with their second-round pick, the No. 36 overall selection, as well as Tedy Bruschi in the third round). Though Belichick didn’t end up taking Lewis, he left the meeting with him with an extremely favorable impression. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis

Transcript of Tom Brady on D&C: ‘It’s about this week,’ not revenge for ’09

01.16.12 at 10:10 am ET
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Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning, following Saturday night’s victory over the Broncos that put the Patriots in the AFC championship game against the Ravens.

While the Ravens stunned the Patriots in the playoffs two years ago — Baltimore’s only victory in seven career games against New England — Brady said revenge is not what is driving this team. It’s simply a chance to return to the Super Bowl.

“That’s all we need,” Brady said. “This is nothing about ’09 or ’10. This is nothing about last week or last season or last month or 10 years ago. It’s about this week. The clock’s ticking. And every second that goes by, we’re one second closer to getting to that game. We’ve got to use our time wisely, to repair, get our rest, and be ready to go out and face our biggest challenge of the season.”

Following is a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Did your hair get messed up or your uniform dirty at all Saturday night?

We had great protection, there’s no question about that. I thought those guys played well, really as they have all year. The offensive line has been our biggest strength on offense. It was that way in the regular season and it continues to be that in the playoffs. It was a great effort by those guys, and really all those guys that stepped in and moved spots. Logan [Mankins] is in there, and then Logan’s not in there and other guys are adjusting. But they all played really exceptionally well, both in the run game and pass game. We’ll have a good week of practice and face our toughest challenge this year.

Does that offensive performance qualify as being in the zone in your mind?

Well, I thought that a lot of guys played really well. A lot of guys were really on the same page. So, I thought that there were things we were definitely doing more to our level of expectation. And still, I think there’s ways that we need to be able to improve. A couple of turnovers hurt us. But for the most part it was really a good, solid effort. I feel like you win the game, and then immediately you’re thinking about the next game. So, there’s not too much you take from the game other than winning and moving on. That’s something we haven’t done here in a while, and it was good to go out there and get a win.

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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis
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