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Bill Belichick: ‘I have all the respect in the world’ for John Harbaugh

01.19.12 at 2:32 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Don’€™t look for a pair of feuding coaches’€™ in this year’€™s AFC Championship Game, as Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh have nothing but good things to say about each other.

Harbaugh was hired as the head coach of the Ravens four years ago this week, and according to reports, Belichick was instrumental in serving as a reference. Harbaugh was effusive in his praise of the Patriots coach.

‘€œMaybe it’€™s the old special teams guys, you know?’€ joked Harbaugh, who, like Belichick, made his bones initially as a special teams coach. ‘€œI just respect Bill Belichick as a coach and as a man. I just really do. I think he’€™s the greatest coach in our league right now, and that’€™s proven. And that’€™s why you get so excited to have an opportunity to play against a guy [like him] as a coach.’€

Belichick, a Maryland native, returned the compliment before practice on Thursday, saying that he and Harbaugh have ‘€œa good relationship.’€

‘€œI see him from time to time,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œI spend a little bit of time in that area because of my roots being back there. We’€™re both pretty entrenched in what we’€™re doing. But (in) Indianapolis or league meetings, stuff like that, I enjoy talking to John, I think he’€™s a great guy (who) does a good job with his football team. I have all the respect in the world for him. This week, I hope our team can play a little better than theirs, that’€™s all.’€

Belichick said that in a relatively short time, Harbaugh has managed to put his distinctive stamp on the Ravens.

‘€œThey’€™re tough, they’€™re physical, they don’€™t make many mistakes, they’€™re very well prepared, they do a great job of situational football,’€ Belichick said of Harbaugh’€™s team. ‘€œThey’€™re physical in all three areas of the game. They run the ball well, obviously they have a physical defense, they’€™re very physical in the kicking game. I think that’€™s what John wants — he really wants them to be a tough, physical, hardnosed football team. And they are.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh,

Tedy Bruschi named third honorary captain for Sunday’s AFC title game

01.19.12 at 2:05 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Thursday that former linebacker Tedy Bruschi will be one of the honorary captains for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Ravens. The club previously announced Monday that former wide receiver Troy Brown and cornerback Ty Law were the first two members of the group, all of which will come from players who were part of the 1996 AFC Championship team, as well as the 2001 team.

Read More: Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Ty Law,

For many veteran Patriots like Kevin Faulk, opportunity is knocking once again

01.19.12 at 12:11 am ET
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FOXBORO — The circus is in town, but it’€™s nothing that veteran Kevin Faulk hasn’€™t seen before.

The media crush, megahype and general mayhem that come with an AFC Championship Game has descended on the Patriots and Gillette Stadium. It means more questions, more logistical discussions about tickets and, possibly, more distractions.

It’€™s something that was commonplace throughout the earlier stages of Faulk’€™s career when the Patriots went to three Super Bowls in four seasons. Because of that, Faulk — as well as the rest of the veterans on the roster who have played deep into January on previous occasions — are well schooled in dealing with the (potentially) big distractions that come with the big games.

‘€œIt’€™s a circus. That’€™s all it is, a circus. The most important thing is playing a football game and preparing for a football game. The other stuff doesn’€™t even matter,’€ Faulk said. ‘€œIt’€™s pretty obvious what you have to be aware of or walk away from.’€

Faulk is one of several players on the New England roster who has been to the circus on several occasions. The Patriots have seven players on the roster who have played in at least 10 playoff games, including quarterback Tom Brady (20 postseason games), Faulk (19), left tackle Matt Light (18), defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (14), defensive end Shaun Ellis (13), wide receiver Deion Branch (13) and Logan Mankins (11).

(While it’€™s debatable how much playoff experience can help this time of year, the postseason history on New England’€™s roster matches up favorably with Baltimore, which has six players with at least 10 games of playoff experience under their belt, including linebacker Ray Lewis with a team-high 16 games.)

As a result, one of the things that many of the veterans on this roster understand is that these kinds of opportunities don’€™t come around that often. For wide receiver Wes Welker, that point was driven home to wide receiver Wes Welker following the 2007 season. In the wake of that record-breaking year that saw the Patriots fall just short of a perfect season in Super Bowl XLII, he confessed that he believed the Patriots would go to the Super Bowl every year.

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Read More: Deion Branch, Kevin Faulk, Logan Mankins, Matt Light

Take me to your leader: Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo now in charge of Patriots’ defense

01.18.12 at 8:57 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The last time the Patriots faced the Ravens in the postseason, the New England defense was a fundamentally rudderless ship.

Caught in the throes of transition, New England was trying to take the first few steps beyond the Tedy Bruschi/Rodney Harrison/Richard Seymour/Mike Vrabel era, and made several missteps along the way, both when it came to personnel and off-field chemistry. In many cases, the veterans who were around wanted no part of being a leader (or were simply lousy at the job), while the young guys who might have had leadership potential didn’€™t feel like it was their place to speak out.

Two years later, the Patriots are back in the playoffs against Baltimore, and the leadership situation for New England on the defensive side of the ball is far different than it was in 2009. In the time since that hideous postseason defeat, the Patriots made a clear effort to flush out anyone who might have been a problem in the locker room. In their place, new leaders have emerged. Two guys who were a little cautious about speaking up in 2009 now have no such problems. Vince Wilfork — who delivered a memorable rant before the start of the 2010 season about the need for a new era of leadership with the Patriots — has emerged as a bonafide defensive leader, while linebacker Jerod Mayo has also stepped forth to put his imprint on this team.

While Wilfork’€™s leadership skills have come to the fore when it comes to working with the other defensive linemen, Mayo’€™s has been more across the board. This offseason, it was Mayo who provided the spark when it came to organizing workouts, and watching a few minutes of those unofficial practices, it was clear that Mayo was running the defense.

Wilfork, who said Mayo ‘€œby far (is) one of the best leaders that we have on this team,’€ acknowledged that while Mayo was a special player from the start, it took a few years before he got used to the idea of being a leader. Part of that likely stemmed from the fact that at that time, the rookie was part of a defense that included veterans like Bruschi, Vrabel, Harrison and Seymour. But when all those guys departed within months of each other, he was quickly pushed into the spotlight.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Jerod Mayo, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour

Forget Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, it’s Tom Brady vs. Terrell Suggs in a battle to the death

01.18.12 at 8:05 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady stood at the podium on Wednesday like a politician on the stump before a big debate.

He wasn’t about to give any ammunition to his opponent.

“They’€™re great players,” Brady said Wednesday of Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. “I’€™ve played against both those guys quite a few times. You always enjoy going up against the best because you can really measure where you’€™re at. You can’€™t take plays off against those guys. You can’€™t take things for granted when you’€™re out there against them. You have to see where they’€™re at on every play because they’€™re guys who change the game. Not only the games that we play them, but every single game that they’€™re in they’€™re making plays.”

It was Lewis and Suggs who didn’t blast Brady per se but how the NFL protects Brady and “babies” the New England quarterback, especially after his season-ending knee injury of Sept. 2008. The next season, there were a couple of crucial roughing the quarterback calls in New England’s 27-21 win over the Ravens at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 4. The Ravens were called for nine penalties for 85 yards, including a pair of crucial 15-yarders.

Lewis ripped the refs after the game, saying they were overcompensating to protect Brady.

“Without totally going off the wall, it is embarrassing to the game,” Lewis said. “Brady is good enough to make his own plays, let him make the play. When you have two great teams that are going at it, let them go at it. Did [penalties] win or lose the game? No, but it got them 14 points.”

Suggs added he thought the NFL was especially interested in protecting “some quarterbacks more than others.” The Ravens were called for a pair of penalties when the Suggs grazed Brady, who fell to the turf.

“They don’t want the quarterbacks getting hurt,” Suggs said after that game. “Maybe next year it’ll be two-hand touch for the sack because we can’t tackle.”

Fast forward to Wednesday. While Suggs was offering to take Brady up on his offer of Uggs in exchange for “Ball So Hard University” shirts, the linebacker made it clear it’s not personal with Brady.

“There’s no beef,” Suggs said. “You grow and mature. I’m not the same guy I was in ’09. I’m 20 pounds lighter. There’s no beef. It’s pretty much over. I respect him.”

Our own Kirk Minihane is in enemy territory this week with the Ravens and had this unique take on The World According to Terrell Suggs.

And remember when the Patriots beat the Ravens, 23-20, in overtime last year? Suggs said Brady ‘€œmade some plays . . . But like I said, he just better hope he don’€™t see us again.’€

Brady replied on Dennis and Callahan the next day, “they talk a lot for only beating us once in nine years.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 playoffs, AFC Championship, Baltimore Ravens, Ed Reed

Ty Law named the second honorary captain for Sunday’s game

01.18.12 at 7:05 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Wednesday that former Pro Bowl cornerback Ty Law has been selected as the second of four honorary captains for the team’s AFC Championship Game against the Ravens on Sunday. The club previously announced Monday that former wide receiver Troy Brown was the first of the group, all of which will come from players who were part of the 1996 AFC Championship team, as well as the 2001 team.

Read More: Troy Brown, Ty Law,

The world according to Terrell Suggs

01.18.12 at 4:16 pm ET
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Things are a little different around here.

When one walks into the media work room at Gillette Stadium, there is zero chance that they will find a player eating a slice of pizza while talking to three reporters about a clothing line titled “Ball So Hard.” I’d frankly be stunned if any player on the knows where the media work room is located, save for those who make trips to the podium. Let’s just say fraternizing is not exactly encouraged.

But that’s not the attitude at the Ravens facility, at least at sure wasn’t on Wednesday. Just a very loose scene both inside and out of the locker room, completely in contrast with what goes on in Foxboro. That’s not to suggest that the Patriots are at all wrong, it just goes to show that different approaches can lead to success.

And maybe if Terrell Suggs one day leaves Baltimore and signs with New England he’d keep his head down, say all the right things and keep away from the Papa Gino’s in the media room. Who knows? But on Wednesday the five-time Pro Bowler weighed in on a variety of topics during his six-minute session with local and national reporters (but not Rob Lowe) …

On the criticism of Joe Flacco from teammate Ed Reed: “I don’t have to stick up for Joe, his reputation speaks for itself. That’s all it’s about. This whole team has been anybody’s favorite, and he fits in with our persona, not flashy, but he’s right there in the locker room with us. We’re a different kind of group, we’re some special cats.”

On the Suggs/Tom Brady feud: “What? There’s no beef. I guess the genesis of that — there was the incident in ’09, where I almost hit him below the waist. That’s where it all started. You grow and mature, you can clearly see I’m not the same guy I was in ’09, I’m 20 pounds lighter. Like I said, I’m pretty much over it. Like I said yesterday, when it’s all said and done there are going to speak on three quarterbacks: Johnny [Unitas], Peyton [Manning], and him. There’s really no beef.”

On if he was aware that Brady (on WEEI) offered him a pair of Ugg boots to continue the recent peace between the two: “Yeah, I am. What does he wear, Ugg boots? I hear they are really comfortable. Maybe he can get me some. Tell him I’€™ll take a pair. I’€™ll send him some ‘€˜Ball So Hard’€™ wear.”

On Bill Belichick calling Reed the best player he’s ever coached against: “You know he said that to us before and constantly threw the ball back at him, so … I don’t know. I agree, when it’s all said and done he’s going to go down as one of the best safeties in history. We’ll have to see on Sunday.”

On if the Ravens can win a shootout: “Can we? I think so, I hope so. If that’s what it’s going to take, if we need to win the game 63-60, that’s what it going to take. We don’t really want that, but if it is, it is.”

Read More: AFC Championship, Patriots, Ravens, Rob Lowe
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