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Brandon LaFell declares himself ‘fine,’ says ‘it’s go-time’ for him, Patriots this Saturday

01.08.15 at 1:44 pm ET
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FOXBORO — If you’re worried about the way Brandon LaFell left the game against the Bills with an ailing shoulder on Dec. 28, the Patriots wide receiver said Thursday to save your fears for something else.

LaFell, who missed practice during the bye week, showed up this week with shoulder and toe issues on the official injury report. He was limited on Wednesday but took part all three days.

The wideout said before Thursday’s practice that he’ll be ready to go for Saturday against the Ravens.

“I’m doing great, man,” LaFell beamed. “Doing great, resting my body up a little bit and now it’s game week, I’m ready to go out there, play and make plays.”

As for the fans who consider LaFell the best deep threat for Tom Brady and fear he won’t be at 100 percent?

“No need to hold their breaths on me,” LaFell said, before giving props to the likes of Julian Edelman, Brian Tyms, Josh Boyce and Danny Amendola. “I’m fine. But also, we’ve got guys like Brian Tyms, Josh Boyce, we’ve got Ells and we’ve got D.A., guys that have played ball around here for a long time and make plays. So don’t worry about anything.”

Not even the cold?

“Man, there’s nothing you can do for this cold weather,” LaFell said. “Just go out there and hopefully, your body will warm up sooner or later and just go out there and play fast.”

For all of the receivers practicing in the bitter cold Thursday, including tight end Rob Gronkowski, LaFell said there’s been no change in attitude or approach.

“It’s definitely is [business as usual],” he said. “You’ve got to approach this week like we approached the last 16 weeks of the season and go out here and do our job like we’ve been doing all year.”

This is LaFell’s second taste of postseason action, losing to San Francisco in the NFC divisional round last year.

“Man, I’m really excited. We had the bye week last week, got a couple of guys back on the field, did a lot of good work, worked on ourselves last week but now it’s go-time now.”

Read More: 2015 playoffs, Baltimore Ravens, Brandon LaFell, New England Patriots

Trent Dilfer on MFB owns up to early season comments: ‘I am as shocked as anybody on this turnaround by the New England Patriots’

01.08.15 at 1:35 pm ET
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Trent Dilfer defended his early season critcism of the Patriots on with MFB. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Trent Dilfer defended his early season critcism of the Patriots on with MFB. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer joined Middays with MFB on Thursday to defend his comments on the Patriots from earlier in the season and to look ahead to this weekend’s divisional round game against the Ravens. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

After the Patriots’ blowout loss to Kansas City in Week 4 on Monday Night Football, Dilfer went on the air on ESPN and said the Patriots were a “weak team”€ and “not good anymore.” He defended those comments and explained where the comments came from on Thursday.

“I am as shocked as anybody on this turnaround by the New England Patriots,” Dilfer said. “I have had to take a long look in the mirror on why I made those. I don’t try and be a knee-jerk guy. I don’t try to just say stuff to say stuff, particularly when I talk on TV. It comes from a lot of study and is a strong opinion because I believe it. At the time I believed that.

“Where I whiffed is player development. I think if there is an apology to be made, it is to Coach [Bill] Belichick and the entire department, the entire organization for not understanding the level of player development they are committed to.  They have developed young players that you didn’t realize at the time were going to be good players. They have done a heck of a job developing them. They have developed great schemes that enhance those players.

“Defensively, this a very, very good football team. Offensively, how they have been able to [hide] some of the personnel flaws is amazing. It speaks to the genius of Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Josh McDaniels, all the offensive coaches — they do as good of a job as anybody of getting the most from the least and the best from the best.”

Dilfer was also critical of the Patriots for not surrounding Brady with enough talent. Brady was spotted talking with Dilfer before the game, and some thought it was what Brady told him that led to Dilfer making those comments. Dilfer said that was absolutely untrue.

“Tom had nothing to do with those comments,” Dilfer said. “Those comments had everything to do with how poorly the Patriots had played early on, and especially not be able to get open and pass protect and run block. That is all where it really stemmed from. Here you have one of the greatest players that has ever played he game in Tom Brady — I felt like you should have an obligation to a player like that to make as many runs to the Super Bowl as you possibly could by surrounding him with offensive personnel that could get it done.

“At the time [Rob Gronkowski] was not the Gronk we’re seeing now. He was coming off the injury and it looked as if he wasn’t going to be the same guy. You’re saying to yourself, ‘How in the heck do they line up with this offensive line, with these skill position people and think that they are going to get the best out of Tom Brady?’ Now, they have. Which, I don’t have an answer. I am blown away by the whole thing — how successful they have been with this.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Trent Dilfer

Patriots register perfect attendance for third straight day in bitter cold outside

01.08.15 at 12:57 pm ET
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The Patriots work out in the bright sun and bitter cold on the main stadium field Thursday. (Mike Petraglia/

The Patriots work out in the bright sun and bitter cold on the main stadium field Thursday. (Mike Petraglia/

FOXBORO — The bitter cold inside Gillette Stadium didn’t keep the Patriots from posting perfect attendance for a third straight day.

The Patriots braved the cold and practiced on the game field at Gillette Stadium on Thursday in preparation for Saturday’s divisional round game against the Ravens. Every player on the 53-man roster and practice squad was in attendance at the start of practice.

It was the second straight practice on the stadium field and the second straight that was held in sweats and shells after Tuesday’s full pads practice. After working out in 11-degree wind chill on Wednesday, the team endured a wind chill of zero and single digit temperatures on Thursday.

The big of good news for the players was the bright sunshine that warmed spirits, if not bodies, on the field.

Bill Belichick explained earlier Thursday that he wants his team practicing outdoors in the bitter cold to get ready for Saturday.

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots,

Steve Smith Sr. on MFB: ‘So proud’ of former teammate, ‘brother’ Brandon LaFell

01.08.15 at 12:39 pm ET
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Wide receiver Steve Smith has provided a boost for the Ravens passing game this season. (Larry French/Getty Images)

Wide receiver Steve Smith had some great things to say about his former teammate in Carolina, Brandon LaFell. (Larry French/Getty Images)

Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. joined Middays with MFB on Thursday to discuss the upcoming game with the Patriots, his past time with the Panthers and his relationship with Brandon LaFel. He also talked about how he almost joined the Patriots this past offseason. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Smith was teammates with LaFell in Carolina for three years before both players departed after last season with LaFell heading to New England and Smith to Baltimore. He says the two still keep in touch.

“Brandon LaFell was drafted in Carolina and I saw a young man and when I look at the film now — I still watch his film and I still give him little tips, text him — [New England] has a man, and I am so proud of him,” Smith said. “He walked in as a teammate and we both walked out as brothers.”

Smith was scheduled to have a meeting with the Patriots on a Monday, but met with the Ravens on the previous Friday and was signed before the Patriots even had the chance to meet with him. Smith said he and LaFell kept in touch through their whole free agent process.

The wideout explained the free agent process and how he ultimately ended up in Baltimore.

“Honestly, I had never really been a free agent so everything is new to me,” said Smith. “I was just trying to absorb everything in and also look at the situation and look at everything without being biased. If you’re going to sit here and ask me would I turn down an opportunity [with New England]? No, I didn’t turn down an opportunity, but I also knew once I got into an organization and started going through the process I liked it [in Baltimore].

“It’s not to say I wouldn’t have liked it in New England because I never got the opportunity because I chose to play here off my visit here. When I walked into Baltimore, I walked into Baltimore saying, ‘I am going to evaluate this place based on what I see and feel and not on where I may go, or may have an option to go to after this.’ That is kind of how I walked in there. Would I have loved to play with Tom Brady? Of course. Who doesn’t want to play with such a phenomenal quarterback? But at the same time, I also had a feeling with my gut and that is what I went to. I don’t have any regrets.”

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Read More: Brandon LaFell, Darrelle Revis, Steve Smith Sr.,

Cold man winner: Bill Belichick won’t let a little cold keep his team from practicing outside

01.08.15 at 11:02 am ET
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FOXBORO — Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness nor brutal cold will keep Bill Belichick from accomplishing his appointed rounds Thursday. Even if it means subjecting his team to the sub-zero wind chill on the main Gillette Stadium field.

“We play outside, we practice outside,” was his reply to a suggestion that he’s “mean” for making his Patriots practice outside in single-digit temperatures, just over 48 hours before kickoff with the Ravens in the AFC divisional contest in Foxboro.

Did he have any concerns about the health of his team that made him think about moving the practice indoors to the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse?

“Nope,” Belichick answered.

The main reason he is having his team practice outside is because the forecast for the 4:35 p.m. Saturday kickoff calls for temperatures in the mid-teens with winds out of the west making it feel like zero.

Belichick was asked if there’s a bigger physical or mental edge he gives his team by practicing outside.

“What mental side of it? We’re practicing in it. Whatever we practice in, I’m sure at some point we’ll play in it,” Belichick said. “We’ve practiced in everything this year, hot, cold, windy, still, day, night, rain, whatever it is, it is.”

Belichick was also asked if he could recall previous cold games that he’s coached in.

“There’s been a few but I don’t think any of those really matter right now,” Belichick said. “Just trying to get ready for Baltimore right now.”

For the record, the coldest Patriots game on record is the playoff game, also in the divisional round, against the Titans on Jan. 10, 2004 when the Patriots outlasted Steve McNair and Tennessee, 17-14, at Gillette Stadium. The game was at 8 p.m. and temperature at kickoff was 4 degrees with a wind chill of minus-10.

Another brutally cold day for Belichick came in Jan. 1986 in Chicago. That’s when Giants punter Sean Landetta whiffed on a punt and the Bears advanced to the NFC championship with a 21-0 win. Bill Parcells was the Giants head coach and Belichick was on Parcells’ staff.

How Tom Brady, Patriots offense can offset Baltimore’s powerful pass rush

01.08.15 at 7:00 am ET
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Tom Brady will be looking for ways to avoid being pressured in Saturday's game against the Ravens. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady will be looking for ways to avoid being pressured in Saturday’s game against the Ravens. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

There is no denying the Ravens have a good defense that has done well against Tom Brady in the playoffs.

In Brady’s three playoff games against the Ravens, he has a 1-2 record and is 74-for-132 passing (56 percent), for 713 yards, with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s thrown multiple interceptions in every game.

“They’€™re a very tough team, they’€™re physical, they’€™re smart, [and] they’€™ve got a lot of playmakers,” Brady said Tuesday. “It’€™s a lot of fun — we’€™ve got a great history with them so we’€™ve got a lot of meaningful games against them. I’€™m sure this will be another one.”

Baltimore gets it done by getting after the opposing quarterback. They were second the NFL with 49 sacks this year, and in their wild card win over the Steelers, they were able to sack Ben Roethlisberger five times last Saturday night. With the intensity of the Ravens defense and stepping up their play in big games, the Patriots will surely need to take their pressure into account, but it doesn’t mean they are unbeatable — there are ways to offset the pressure.

As Chris Price pointed out earlier this week, running the no-huddle offense would be a good start. Even though the Patriots ran just seven percent of their plays in the no-huddle this year, they’ve had tremendous success in the past, and at some points this season — including sparking the offense in Week 16’s comeback win against the Jets.

Going uptempo would keep the Baltimore defense on its heels and prevent them from subbing in and out their defensive linemen, as they constantly do, keeping players fresh and giving them a better shot of getting to opposing quarterbacks. If the Patriots can run the no-huddle offense with success, it will certainly limit the pressure Brady is under.

Another way is Brady getting the ball out quick before the pressure can get to him. The Patriots have done this a lot this season — and over the years — primarily with quick wide receiver screens and quick passes to tight end Rob Gronkowski. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady has thrown the ball in less than 2.5 seconds from snap-to-attempt on 66 percent of his drop backs this season, which is the second-highest in all of the NFL. His 399 attempts are also the second-most in the league.

Brady is actually statistically better when he gets the ball out fast, opposed to when he takes more time. Also per Pro Football Focus, Brady is completing 70.7 percent of his passes when taking less than 2.5 seconds from snap-to-throw with a 101.1 QB rating. This, compared to when he takes more than 2.5 seconds, his completion percentage drops to 50 percent and he has an 89.3 QB rating.

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Patriots offense, Tom Brady,

Dont’a Hightower explains how Jerod Mayo stays relevant by keeping his voice heard

01.08.15 at 6:10 am ET
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FOXBORO — Sometimes a player can make his impact without stepping on the field.

In rare cases, that player can help inspire his teammates to a new level that helps them achieve something special and unexpected.

For Dont’a Hightower, that player is Jerod Mayo.

Like he did in 2013, when he tore his pectoral muscle midway through the season and missed out on the playoff run that ended in the AFC championship in Denver. History unfortunately repeated itself on Oct. 12 in Buffalo when Mayo injured his knee. Season over. Again.

But ever since then, Mayo has made it a point to stay involved with direction and focus of the defense. It’s that involvement as a type of sounding board that Hightower pointed to as a big reason for the maturity of defense and its evolution into a dominant unit.

“Most definitely. A guy that’€™s been in this defense as long as he’€™s been in [it] and a lot of games, big games he’€™s played in and a lot of big plays he has,” Hightower said Wednesday. “We all still stay pretty close. We’€™ll run [things] by him, we’€™ll catch film, he’€™ll throw pointers out there and different things. He’€™s run this defense for so long. Me, him and Jamie [Collins], we’€™re always still picking each other’€™s brains as far as different perspectives on things.”

Hightower can only sympathize with Mayo not being able to play in the playoffs for a second straight season.

“Mayo is a great player and he means a lot to this team and this organization,” Hightower said. “He’€™s not taking it for granted. He’€™s still, what little he can do as far as off the field, as far as his film study or giving us actual notes, maybe he’€™s watched the game a week or two in advance that we haven’€™t and he sees some things. He’€™s still in our ear and our back pocket. He’€™s still out there with us.”

Mayo isn’t the only player who has been taking Hightower and fellow young linebacker Jamie Collins under his wing. Vince Wilfork made it clear that he’s never had more trust in the pair than he does heading into this playoff push. Having a healthy Wilfork for most of the season has allowed Hightower to reach another level, something Wilfork was unable to do last season since he was lost in Week 4 with a torn Achilles.

“Last year in this spot we weren’€™t able to have as much meat ‘€“ best way to say it ‘€“ in the front,” Hightower said. “Vince helps a lot, especially having an older guy, a veteran guy who knows the game as well as he does. It slows everything down. It slows the offensive line from getting on top of us. Nobody is just going to leave Vince Wilfork single-blocked at all. He helps a lot, as well as Sealver [Siliga] and [Alan] Branch and Chris Jones as well.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Baltimore Ravens, Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo



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