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Jersey Four: Rex goes out swinging, Mangold vs. Wilfork and Nick Folk is ready

01.14.11 at 4:22 pm ET
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Here are the four things you really, really need to know about the Jets following Friday’s practice (and good luck finding the 262 foot references I’ve managed to sneak into the column):

1. Rex goes out swinging. No comment from the Jets head coach on the foot buffet of quotes from Wes Welker, but Rex Ryan had some notable moments during his final meeting with the media before Sunday’s playoff showdown with the Patriots, a game that Ryan called “the second biggest game in the history of this franchise, with Super Bowl III being the most [important].”

Well, how does that work, exactly? The Jets have played in three conference title games since winning the Super Bowl, including last year. How does a divisional playoff game mean more than a conference title game?

“Even more so than last year’s Indianapolis [AFC title] game, this year is huge because you’ve got your rival, a team that’s won three Super Bowls right there in your own division, at their place, coming off the huge, embarrassing loss that we had in the Monday night game,” said Ryan. “I think this will be the second-biggest game in the history of the franchise. That’s my opinion.”

I can buy that, it sure feels as big as an AFC title game, right? Works for you and me and CBS, I suppose. Ryan was asked what his message to his team will be before the game Sunday. He declined to give specifics but is (brace for shock) confident about his club’s chance in the divisional contest.

“One thing I can tell you right now is this: We have plenty of respect for them but we don’€™t fear them.” Ryan said. “I can promise you that. We do not fear them, we respect them and we’€™re going there to win the game. That’€™s our message every week. The stakes are as high as you can stack them and we’€™re going out there and we know we have to go out there and take it, and that’€™s what we plan on doing.”

2. Nick Mangold doesn’t hate Vince Wilfork. The three-time Pro Bowl center will have to battle Wilfork again on Sunday, a matchup Mangold said Friday will be “really, really tough.”

“He’s just fantastic,” said Mangold of Wilfork. “He uses his size to his advantage as well as anybody. So quick, too. And now they line him up all over the place. He’s got good agility and plays perfect technique. He’s a handful.”

Mangold — who Brian Schottenheimer said is “playing the best I’ve ever seen him play” — has been called the toughest center in the league by Wilfork. Mangold wasn’t interested in ranking Wilfork — “let’s just leave it at really good” — but did say that limiting Wilfork’s impact on the game Sunday could be a huge factor for the Jets.

“We have to keep him out of the backfield, keep him away from the backs,” said Mangold. “If he’s able to get that push it’s going to be tough to establish anything.”

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Read More: antonio cromartie, Jets, Patriots, playoffs

Six Pats questionable for Sunday

01.14.11 at 4:15 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Six Patriots were listed as questionable for Sunday on Friday’s injury report, including rookie OLB Jermaine Cunningham. The only player listed as doubtful is defensive lineman Myron Pryor, who has been out with a back injury.The full injury report is as follows:

Did Not Participate
DE Myron Pryor (back) Doubtful

Limited Participation in Practice
LB Tully Banta-Cain (groin) Questionable
WR Deion Branch (knee) Questionable
DE Jermaine Cunningham (calf) Questionable
TE Aaron Hernandez (hip) Questionable
DE Eric Moore (hamstring) Questionable
T Sebastian Vollmer (shin) Questionable

Full Participation in Practice
CB Kyle Arrington (elbow) Probable
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder, foot) probable

Read More: Deion Branch, Jermaine Cunningham, New England Patriots, New York Jets

Devin McCourty ready for the big stage

01.14.11 at 3:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Devin McCourty is not about to rest on his laurels.

With seven interceptions, the Patriots rookie cornerback – named Rookie of the Year this week by Pro Football Focus – has had one of the best seasons by a first-year Patriots DB since Hall of Famer Mike Haynes in 1976.

McCourty fell just one pick shy of Haynes’ franchise rookie record. One of those interceptions came on Dec. 6 at Gillette Stadium as the Patriots routed the Jets, 45-3, before a national audience on Monday night football.

But none of that matters now to McCourty.

“No, that’€™s over with,” McCourty said when asked if that game gave him confidence in covering the talented duo of Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. “Now we are focused on Sunday and being ready to go out there and play.

“The first time we played them was in week two. I have gotten a lot more experience since we played them later in the season. I still have gotten to play a few more games [since]. Each game and each week in practice I think I’€™ve gotten better and I will just keep putting that under my belt ‘€“ trying to put good games and practices together and keep going.”

Like his counterparts on the offensive side, McCourty is looking forward to his NFL playoff debut.

“Just going out there and playing,” McCourty said Friday. “Guys say, ‘€˜It’€™s a bigger stage but at the end of the day it’€™s just football.’ You’€™ve got to go out there and prepare the way you’€™ve been preparing all year and you’€™ve got to put a little extra in your preparation. When Sunday gets here, you’€™ve just got to go out there and play.”

Preparation is key, especially if the Jets show run and pass to their backs out of the backfield, which is a distinct possibility with the re-emergence LaDainian Tomlinson in third-down situations.

“You just have to be aware of them, especially if we’€™re in zone coverage,” McCourty said. “You’€™ve got to know when a guy is good at coming out the back and catching the ball. You’€™ve got to know how quick he can get to you and how far you have to drop away from him to come up and make that tackle.”

McCourty has hardly shown any signs of hitting the proverbial “rookie wall.”

“If I hit it [rookie wall] I’€™m over it now,” he joked. “I’€™m just ready to go.”

As for the X’s and O’s, McCourty said the Patriots will have to be ready for a confident Mark Sanchez, who led his team to a last-minute, come-from-behind playoff win last weekend at Indianapolis.

“I think he showed that last year, too,” McCourty said of the quarterback the Patriots picked off three times and held to 164 yards on Dec. 6. “He is very poised and he is a competitor. I don’€™t think that situation really changes who he is as a player. He is going to go out there in a close game ‘€“ and he made a big throw to set up for a field goal and I think that’€™s where he is showing that he is a competitor. He is going to come out there and play.”

Read More: Devin McCourty, LaDainian Tomlinson, Mark Sanchez, New England Patriots

Ready for his NFL playoff debut, Aaron Hernandez says hip is ‘feeling good’

01.14.11 at 3:09 pm ET
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FOXBORO — They are arguably the hottest rookie combo in New England since the Gold Dust twins landed on the scene in 1975.

Fred Lynn and Jim Rice led the Red Sox to the World Series in 1975. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski — the most productive tight end combo in football — combined for 16 touchdowns this season and are hoping their season ends at Cowboys Stadium on Feb. 6.

Will it translate into the playoffs?

With his NFL playoff debut just 48 hours away, Hernandez admitted Friday he might be “too excited” to make his postseason debut.

“I always hate the process of waiting until the games,” Hernandez said. “I feel honored just to be out here and to be in a big game like this ‘€” it’€™s special and I’€™m too excited to play.”

While he caught his first career touchdown in the opener against the Bengals, Hernandez had his breakout game the next week against the Jets, catching six balls for 101 yards but no TDs. On Dec. 6, Hernandez had just three catches for 51 yards but did find the end zone once. He is expecting the Jets to do what they normally do ‘€” play man-up.

“They are a man-to-man team and they’€™re going to come in and do what they do,” he said. “They’€™re going to play man [coverage]. In a man-to-man game it’€™s you vs. him and you’€™ve got to get open. I love man-to-man and I’€™m ready.”

As for the team, Hernandez has no doubt the Patriots will be prepared.

“I feel like we are ready,” Hernandez said. “We are a team that comes out to work. With coach [Bill] Belichick as your coach, you are going to come out and give it your all every day, so we come out and work. I feel like we’€™re ready.”

Hernandez also confirmed that his injured hip ‘€” which caused him to miss the last two games of the season — is healed and he will be ready on Sunday.

“I feel great,” Hernandez said. “[My] hip is feeling good. We had a good week of practice and I am ready to go.”

Hernandez finished with six touchdowns, including two against Green Bay, the last game he played before his injury.

His next game will be a whole new level of intensity.

“Definitely, that is what I’€™ve heard,” Hernandez said. “I’€™ve never been in a game like this and I don’€™t even know what the playoffs are about yet, but I will definitely see on Sunday. I am ready to go and I’€™m ready for this experience. If the pace picks up, then I’€™ll have to pick up my pace.”

He’s noticed that already in practice this week.

“[The] coaches are a little bit more intense,” he said. “Everyone is a little more intense and more focused. You have to be more focused in a game like this. You can tell in everybody’€™s eyes that we are ready to play.”

The other veterans have had simple advice for he and Gronkowski.

“That basically, it’€™s time to make plays,” Hernandez said. “Give it your all or you are going home ‘€” there is no tomorrow. We have got to leave everything on the field. The intensity is going to pick up and the game is going to get faster, so I am ready to see what happens.”

Read More: 1975 World Series, Aaron Hernandez, Boston Red Sox, Fred Lynn

Bill Belichick laying comments at the feet of Wes Welker

01.14.11 at 2:16 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick would not offer any reaction on Wes Welker‘s 11 foot references during Thursday’s press conference at Gillette Stadium.

“Right now, my comments are just on the Jets,” Belichick said Friday. “That’s what we’re focused on. You’ll have to ask him.”

Asked for his take, rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez – who lockers next to Welker – would only say, “I thought it was an interesting interview.”

Much was made of Welker’s comments in light of the published reports last month detailing video of Jets coach Rex Ryan admitting to foot fetishes with his wife. Asked to comment on it at the time, Ryan said it was “a personal matter.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, New York Jets, nfl

Cromartie: ‘I can say what the hell I want’

01.14.11 at 1:42 pm ET
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie was asked by on Friday about the possibility that he could be fined by the NFL for his comments about Tom Brady. Many in the media are suggesting that a fine is in order for Cromartie, who told the New York Daily News on Tuesday that he “hates” Brady and used several expletives to describe the New England quarterback.

“I really don’t care,” said Cromartie on Friday. “I’m not going to take anything back about what I said. It’s my opinion and it’s how I feel. I don’t like him [Brady]. That’s how I feel. Go back to the First Amendment — I can say what the hell I want to say. Go to that. If you have a problem with me, oh well, go read the First Amendment. If you don’t like it take the First Amendment out.”

Read More: antonio cromartie, playoffs, Tom Brady,

Patriots practice: Final preparations and Robert Kraft

01.14.11 at 12:25 pm ET
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FOXBORO — In their final full-scale practice before Sunday’s showdown with the Jets, the Patriots worked out on the main Gillette Stadium field on Friday. And for the second straight day, only defensive lineman Myron Pryor was missing from the practice.

Pryor has missed practice all week with a back injury.

Also on hand for the practice was Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who spent time talking to Tom Brady on the sidelines during stretching before the team took the field.

The Patriots play the Jets at 4:30 Sunday afternoon in an AFC Divisional game, with the winner advancing to play either the Ravens or the Steelers in the AFC Championship the following Sunday.

Read More: Myron Pryor, New England Patriots, New York Jets, nfl
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