|01.15.13 at 1:00 pm ET|
Former Ravens receiver Qadry Ismail, now a TV/radio host in Baltimore, joined Mut & Merloni on Tuesday to preview Sunday’s AFC championship matchup.
Ismail said the Ravens defense won’t be intimated by New England’s high-powered offense, especially considering the teams’ recent history of games against each other. And the key to the Ravens’ offensive success is how Baltimore handles Vince Wilfork.
“Offensively, Joe Flacco and the offense, they’re churning, they’re doing things, they’re feeling pretty good,” Ismail said. “I think that’s something that you take into consideration. I know one thing, offensively, you’re going to have to find a way to stop Vince Wilfork. You stop Vince Wilfork, you give yourself a chance. You don’t stop Vince, it’s going to be a long day.”
Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo took to Twitter on Sunday night to sound off on the Patriots’ hurry-up offense, accusing New England of borderline cheating. He apologized on Monday for embarrassing himself and the organization.
“I absolutely am shaking my head, like, ‘What are you thinking?’ He’s normally spot-on in regards to just his measure and understanding what’s the right thing to say and what’s the incorrect thing to say, and don’t say that incorrect thing,” Ismail said. “When you’re looking at the Patriots offense ‘¦ you’re absolutely right, it’s about situational football. If you ain’t ready on defense and we are, and that referee says, ‘OK, the play clock is started,’ what am I supposed to do, wait for you?”
Added Ismail: “That’s what you look at when you’re talking about a veteran like Tom Brady. He’s figured out another way to enhance the probability of a play working. You as a defense, you have to be honed in and ready to perform or he will make you pay. It’s that simple.”
|01.15.13 at 12:20 pm ET|
According to multiple reports, Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm in a different spot than his original injury in November. While attempting to make a catch down the sideline during the first quarter of Sunday’s victory over the Texans, the tight end apparently landed on the end of the plate that was inserted in his arm to protect the fracture, leading to a new break.
Gronkowski, who underwent surgery on Monday, was said to have been completely healed from the original fracture. The new injury “had nothing to do with whether the arm was ready or not,” a source with knowledge of the situation told CSNNE’s Tom E. Curran.
Gronkowski suffered the first fracture in the closing minutes of a 59-24 victory over the Colts on Nov. 18. He missed five games before returning for the regular-season finale, a 28-0 win over the Dolphins.
|01.15.13 at 12:07 am ET|
Speaking on an episode of “NFL Monday QB” on CBS Sports Network, former Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts took a veiled shot at Tom Brady, hinting the Patriots quarterback gets special treatment from officials.
“Tom Brady has to be protected to be effective,” said Fouts, who has become an NFL analyst for CBS Sports. “He’s protected better than anybody — not only by his offensive line, but sometimes, by those guys in the striped shirts.”
Brady and the Patriots are preparing to face the Ravens in the AFC championship game, set for Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium. On the same show, former NFL quarterback Steve Beuerlein also chimed in on Brady and what Baltimore has to do slow him down.
“If you’re the Baltimore Ravens, you have to get Tom Brady’s uniform dirty,” he said. “If you don’t get him on the ground, if you don’t get him beat up and thinking about the pass rush, moving around the pocket and get him off his spot, you do not have a chance. If he has a clean uniform at the end of the game, that is not a good sign for [the Ravens].”
|01.14.13 at 7:49 pm ET|
According to our pals to FootballZebras.com, Bill Leavy will work Sunday’s AFC title game between the Patriots and Ravens at Gillette Stadium.
Leavy, who became infamous with football fans in the Pacific Northwest after his work in Super Bowl XL (which he later apologized for), has worked in the league as an official since 1995, and was promoted to referee in 2001. He has worked several New England games over the years, including last year’s contest against the Bills at Gillette Stadium, as well as the divisional playoff loss to the Jets in the 2010 postseason.
|01.14.13 at 7:31 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Usually very expansive when talking about the Patriots’ special teams, Matt Slater was fairly brief Monday afternoon when asked about the work of the kick coverage unit against the Texans in Sunday’s AFC divisional playoff game.
‘We’ve got to get better,’ the Patriots’ special teams captain said on Monday.
‘There were several breakdowns,’ Slater added. When asked if the breakdowns were the result of poor execution or missed assignments, Slater said. ‘Both. I think a little bit of both.’
In the game, Houston’s Danieal Manning had four returns for a total of 216 yards, including returns of 94, 35 and 69 yards. New England was one of the best teams in the league in the regular season when it came to kick coverage — teams averaged 20.5 yards per return against the Patriots, third in the league. But Manning was able to shred New England, averaging 54 yards per return.
‘Overall, our kickoff coverage this year has been one of the best things we’ve done all year. We’re right at the top of the league in kickoff coverage,’ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ‘We didn’t have a good play in the San Francisco game and then we had three bad plays [Sunday], but overall, that’s been probably as consistent as anything we’ve done as a football team for the entire season.
‘Of course it’s disappointing. Those are plays that you don’t want to happen; certainly not three of them in one game. That’s not what we want. That’s not good enough. It has to be better.’
It’s not the kind of thing you want to see from your coverage units heading into Sunday’s AFC title game against a Baltimore team that features Pro Bowl kick returner Jacoby Jones, part of a group that averaged 27.3 yards per kick return in the regular season. The Ravens were the only team in the NFL two return two kicks for touchdowns on the season.
‘We face good returners every week,’ Belichick said. ‘Every team has a good returner; it’s the National Football League. Just like every team has good runners and good receivers and good passes and good everything; it’s the National Football League.
‘We have to do a better job than what we did. It starts with me — better coaching, better playing — we just have to do a better job. We’ve done a good job there pretty much all year — as good as anybody in the league has — but it wasn’t anywhere near our standard or where it needs to be yesterday. It’s always a huge point of emphasis for us, but it will continue to be. [You] just can’t put a team in that kind of field position consistently and that’s what we did.’
How can it be fixed?
‘You go back to the basics,’ Slater said. ‘Go back to the fundamentals and the rules that we have as coverage players. Doing our jobs better; doing our assignments better. It’s been a strength for us this season, kickoff coverage, and I’m confident that we’ll get it fixed.’
|01.14.13 at 7:07 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Like the divisional playoff clash with the Texans, the Patriots have a regular-season history with their next opponent, the Ravens. The two teams met each other in a memorable September showdown in Baltimore, one that included a fourth-quarter comeback by the Ravens, a questionable game-winning field goal and a terrific performance on both sides of the ball.
That evening, Baltimore ended up coming away with a memorable 31-30 win. But now, almost four months later, it certainly sounds like neither team will be taking too much from that matchup as they prepare for Sunday’s AFC title game.
‘It was a completely different time of the season — really, it really means nothing right now,’ said running back Shane Vereen. ‘The only thing that matters is what happens on Sunday.’
‘That was a long time ago — I don’t remember too much about that,’ said linebacker Rob Ninkovich on Monday when asked about the first meeting of the year between the Patriots and Ravens. ‘I’m going to move on from the Ravens from earlier in the season. They are a completely different team, we are a completely different team.
‘That is the way the NFL season works. You progress throughout the year. Both teams have improved throughout the season to get where we are at right now. Again, they have done a lot of great things. We are going to have a tough time preparing for all the things they do. They are a good football team.’
Ninkovich’s point is well taken in that there have been several changes. First, the real officials have returned. (The image of Patriots coach Bill Belichick chasing a replacement ref off the field at the end of the game has already been shown on a loop by ESPN.) In addition, the Patriots will go into this one without tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman — both of who played in the first game, but are now sidelined for the rest of the season because of injury.
Meanwhile, the Ravens have lost cornerback Lardarius Webb for the season and veteran linebacker Ray Lewis is continuing to battle back from injury. In addition, they have changed offensive coordinators in December, going from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell.
‘I look at it completely different,’ said Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. ‘It’s the playoffs, and they are playing well ‘ dominating guys out there offensively and defensively. It’s a completely different team. And, the refs were just coming back as well. That was an adjustment for some guys, too.
‘But New England is New England. We have a lot of respect for those guys, and they have been in this position so many times over the past few years. They have the history. They have been there, and we want to get to where they have been. They were there last year. They knocked us out, and for us, we want to get to that point, get this win and get to the Super Bowl.’
Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who will be facing Belichick for the sixth time as a head coach since he took over in Baltimore prior to the start of the 2008 season, knows that no matter how many times you face the Patriots — whether it’s the regular season or the playoffs — they’ll always bring something unique to the table.
‘Everybody evolves and grows as a team,’ Harbaugh said Monday. ‘Players are hurt; players are back. Schemes change. This is a team that changes a lot. They are like a chameleon; you never really know schematically what they are going to come out and do. That’s been a trademark of coach Belichick’s [teams] for as long as he’s been coaching. He does a great job of that, because he schemes the next game. That’s something that lends to their success.’
|01.14.13 at 12:54 pm ET|
Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins checked in with Mut & Merloni on Monday to talk about Sunday’s victory over the Texans and next Sunday’s matchup with the Ravens.
The Texans stuck with their blitz-heavy game plan on Sunday, which came as no surprise to Mankins.
“They did the same thing all season long. They’ve had great success with it, so why were they going they stop?” Mankins said. “We did a good job of picking up the pressures at times and had some good plays from it. Other times we should have done a better job. But for the most part it went pretty well.”
Added Mankins: “They’re frustrated, and deservedly so. They do a great job all season, and the two times they play us they give up over 40 points. If I was them I’d be pretty frustrated.”
The Patriots had success with their hurry-up offense against the Texans. Mankins said the hurry-up presents challenges for the offense as well as the defense.
“We’ve done it for pretty much the whole season,” Mankins said. “You get down there, you make a good play to get down there. The line and the guys on the field, all of a sudden we just hear Tom [Brady] yelling a play, so it’s time to go. We just get lined up and go. A lot of times they’re not set and ready, so we get the jump on them. Then it just comes down to guys trying to figure out who to block, because they’re moving around everywhere, you don’t know who is who. Luckily we’ve been able to get guys on the right guys and there’s been a nice crease there for the backs, and it’s worked out very well.”
The Patriots have been criticized for their hurry-up offense — most recently by Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo — but Mankins said opponents would be better off focusing on how to stop it.
“It’s part of the game now,” he said. “We’re not the only team that quick-counts people. ‘¦ Whatever team you play, you have to be prepared for the nuances that they do. If you want to complain about it, that’s fine. If you want to try to prepare and get ready to stop it ‘¦”
The Ravens head to Foxboro for the AFC championship game with a team known for its defense, and Mankins is looking forward to the challenge.
“This is the game we wanted to get to. It gives us a shot to move on,” Mankins said. “The Ravens are always a tough test. They’re proven mentally tough and they’re physically tough. It’s always a hard-fought game. They’ve got a good defensive line — big, physical, strong guys. You’ve got big, physical linebackers. So, it’s always a tough matchup for the offensive line.”