|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.”
|01.14.13 at 12:38 pm ET|
Running back Shane Vereen, one of the heroes of the Patriots’ 41-28 victory over the Texans on Sunday, joined Mut & Merloni at Gillette Stadium on Monday to talk about his three-touchdown performance.
Vereen delivered the knockout blow Sunday, hauling in a 33-yard touchdown pass along the sideline in the fourth quarter.
“It was a favorable matchup,” he said of having a linebacker covering him. “It was what we practiced all week, and we were able to hit it in the game.”
Discussing the Patriots’ complex offense, Vereen said it present challenges trying to stay on the same page as the quarterback.
“It’s tough, because you’ve got to keep up with Tom Brady, who’s a 13-year vet, arguably the greatest quarterback,” Vereen said. “It’s tough sometimes to keep up with him. We go over so much throughout the week that in the game it kind of clicks and is like second nature.”
Vereen is one of a handful of young running backs on the team, and he said it’s a friendly battle to see who can contribute each week.
“It’s great competition,” he said. “We’re so close and it’s such a great group. We want each other to do well. We don’t really care who’s in the game. As long as we’re executing, as long as whoever’s in the game is doing well, we’re happy and the team is happy because we’re getting W’s.”
Asked about Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo‘s critical tweets regarding the Patriots’ hurry-up offense, Vereen said he’s not concerned.
“You keep it in your mind all week and you take care of it on Sunday,” he said.
|01.14.13 at 12:19 pm ET|
FOXBORO — According to multiple reports and sources, Rob Gronkowski was scheduled to have surgery Monday to repair his left forearm, which was re-injured in Sunday’s win over the Texans. He is out for the remainder of the playoffs, a fact Bill Belichick all but conceded Monday during his conference call with reporters.
“It’s disappointing to not have Rob available, but I thought that Shane [Vereen] and Hooman [Michael Hoomanawanui] both did a great job of stepping into the game yesterday and playing a significant role in terms of number of plays and their production, maybe more than was anticipated,” Belichick said.
When pressed further about the risk of putting Gronkowski out on the field in a compromised situation, Belichick refused to elaborate. Belichick was asked if Gronkowski’s arm 100 percent coming into last night’s game to the best of his knowledge.
“I covered that [Sunday],” Belichick said. “He was cleared medically. I don’t have anything to add to it.”
Was he told of any added risk in putting him out there?
“I have nothing to add to it,” Belichick said.
Gronkowski suffered the latest injury on New England’s second drive of the game when he dove to make a catch on the deep right sideline in front of the Patriots’ bench. Wearing a white protective wrap on the forearm, he landed out of bounds on the arm and immediately went to the bench, wincing in pain. He was tended to by team doctor Tom Gill before leaving to have x-rays, which showed the forearm, broken on Nov. 18, was re-injured.
Gronkowski had surgery on Nov. 19 and missed five games before returning on Dec. 30 against the Dolphins, catching a touchdown from Tom Brady.
|01.14.13 at 12:07 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Danny Woodhead injured his left thumb on the Patriots’ first offensive snap of the game Sunday. But Bill Belichick indicated that the running back could have returned had the Patriots needed him later.
‘Danny was examined and back on the sideline for the remainder of the game,” Belichick said during Monday’s conference call. “Had we needed to use him, he would have been available to go back in there.”
Woodhead left the field and went to the Patriots locker room and was fitted for a brace on his left hand. He returned and was spotted catching passes on the sideline from Ryan Mallett at the half. He did not return in the second half.
Belichick said even though he could’ve returned Sunday, the team now needs to examine him closely this week and doctors will have to clear him before joining the team in on-field preparations for the Ravens on Sunday in the AFC championship.
“Now that we are into a new week, we will re-address the whole situation and try to get a good feel of what he would and wouldn’t be available to do, and how functional he would be doing it. So I would say that’s something we’ll have to look at during the week. Assuming the doctors clear him to play, which is a medical decision, then the next situation would be from a football decision, what can he do and how well can he do it? What is he, and we, comfortable with him doing in this week’s game/game-plan. That would all be determined at a later point in time.’
Shane Vereen replaced Woodhead on the Patriots’ second play of the game and wound up scoring three touchdowns, tying a franchise playoff record.
|01.14.13 at 12:03 pm ET|
Patriots receiver Deion Branch joined Mut & Merloni on Monday, a day after an impressive 41-28 victory over the Texans set up an AFC championship matchup against the Ravens next Sunday.
Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo sent out a few tweets Sunday night critical of the Patriots’ hurry-up offense (he apologized Monday). Branch said it’s nothing new for the Pats.
“It’s always a problem, the Patriots are doing something, it’s always an issue, if you notice,” Branch said. “The Patriots are always coming up with something very controversial in everything that we do. Success brings that.”
Added Branch: “Once the ball is in play, anything goes. ‘¦ Once the referee spots the ball down and he moves, anything goes from there.”
Branch said he doesn’t expect that Bill Belichick will use Ayanbadejo’s comments for inspiration, as the Patriots won’t need it.
“I doubt if he’ll use it, because this isn’t the first time we’ve heard something like this,” Branch said. “I doubt if he’ll use it. But then again, who knows? He may bring it up. I don’t think we need any motivational speeches for this type of game, for this team. This is a team that we’re very familiar with, who deserves to be here. We deserve to be in this game as well. There’s no more speeches that need to be made for this game.”
|01.14.13 at 12:00 pm ET|
FOXBORO — In a move similar to bringing back Josh McDaniels during last year’s playoff run as an offensive coaching assistant, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick announced Monday that Brian Daboll is in the process of rejoining the coaching staff. Belichick said Daboll’s role hasn’t been specified yet.
“[It’s] similar to what Josh did last year but without any specific responsibility at this time,” Belichick said in announcing the move during Monday’s conference call with reporters. “As soon as we get that worked out, he’ll be part of our coaching staff going forward.”
Daboll was first with the Patriots in the early 2000s, serving as a defensive coaching assistant in 2000. He then worked with McDaniels and coached the wide receivers from 2002-06.
“It’s great to have Brian back,” McDaniels said. “He’s a very good football coach, very knowledgeable and can help us a will certainly help us in a lot of different ways. Certainly having another set of eyes with experience and has a lot of understanding of our system and how we go about doing things, I think, is only a positive for us and can help our football team going forward. I look forward to doing that with Brian.
“Last year when I came back, really anything they asked me to do, I was excited to do. You know, anything you can do to help at this time of year is useful, whether that’s drawing practice cards or sitting in a meeting and having a few ideas on a certain situation in the game plan or anything like that during the course of a week. Everything is so important; every detail is very critical at this time of year and having another football coach on your staff to help is nothing but helpful for us.”
Daboll left New England and joined the staff of head coach Eric Mangini with the Jets and served as quarterbacks coach in 2007-08.
After leaving the Jets, Daboll became the Browns offensive coordinator from 2009-10. He had the same job with the Dolphins (2011) and the Chiefs this past season.
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