|01.20.12 at 10:42 pm ET|
FOXBORO — All things being equal, it’s good to be Drew Bledsoe.
When he was reached by phone on Friday, the former Patriots quarterback was out skiing, hanging out on a chair lift in between runs. He’ll climb down off the hill sometime this weekend and return to Foxboro, as he will join former teammates Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi and Ty Law as honorary captains for the AFC championship game Sunday against the Ravens on Sunday.
‘One of my very best buddies from grade school is turning 40 [years old] tomorrow,’ Bledsoe said. ‘I had to call and apologize, but I told him I would wave to him during the coin toss. Hopefully, he’ll forgive me.’
Bledsoe is enjoying something of a renaissance with Patriots’ fans. The last guy to be a regular starting quarterback in New England before Tom Brady, he was inducted into the Patriots’ Hall of Fame last year, and was cheered loudly at the ceremony. And when he was honored at halftime of the home opener against the Chargers, he received a sustained ovation from the Gillette Stadium crowd. It’s clear that any enmity that existed between Bledsoe and the franchise or the fans and the former quarterback has disappeared.
‘It’s been a real honor this year to, first of all go through the Hall of Fame thing, and then to get the call the other day from Mr. Kraft to have me come back and be an honorary captain,’ Bledsoe said. ‘It’s been a real honor and a lot of fun.’
Bledsoe certainly holds no ill will toward Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the man who handed his starting job to Brady. On Friday, he had nothing but kind words for Belichick, saying that if he wasn’t one of the top NFL coaches in history, ‘he certainly has to be in that conversation.’
‘I don’t know who you put up there with him in terms of his record with the Patriots, and what he did as a defensive coordinator with the Giants prior to that,’ Bledsoe said. ‘Then coming back and being a defensive coordinator with the Patriots in ‘96. Obviously the run he’s had as the head coach of the Patriots has been unmatched. If he’s not the greatest, I like to meet whoever else is in that conversation.’
Bledsoe played in two AFC championship games over the course of his career in New England. His first came in 1996 as part of a team that made an unlikely Super Bowl run. The quarterback still has fond memories of that game, an icy cold afternoon where the Patriots beat the Jaguars to go to Super Bowl XXXI.
‘It was a really special time for everyone involved and I know it was for our fans as well,’ Bledsoe said of that postseason run for New England, which hosted two home playoff games that year for the first time in franchise history. ‘The Patriots had been through a lot of years that hadn’t been much fun and then to have not just one, but two home games in that run was really neat.’
Being around the game at this time of year will almost certainly be bittersweet for Bledsoe. Like Brown said earlier in the week, Bledsoe said Friday he really misses being a player when the postseason rolls around. But he figures he’ll get a little taste of how things used to be right before they kick the ball off.
‘I certainly don’t miss training camp and preseason football and all of those things that you have to do to get to this time of year,’ he said. ‘When you have the privilege of playing playoff football, it’s a really exciting time.
‘I’ve found that my body had a very physical reaction to the National Anthem. That was always ‘go’ time. I always found myself standing there with my hair standing up and my body told me that it was time to go again. So I know it’s going to be like that this week, and it’s going to be very fun to be part of it.’
|01.20.12 at 7:12 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It was the subtlest of signals but Bill Belichick sounded like man Friday who knew his team is ready for the challenge of the AFC Championship on Sunday against the 13-4 Ravens.
Belichick was asked if there is a point at the end of the week where he can relax knowing the game plan is in place or does he think about the game plan up until kickoff?
“I think you get to a certain point here at the end of the week where you’re going at a fast pace early in the week, trying to get the scouting report, trying to get the information on the team that you’re playing, regardless of whether you’ve played them or not, doesn’t matter,” Belichick said. “Then you get into the process of the game plan and you try to pull everything together as you go through the week with the game plan Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, there are always things that come up that you need to kind of rethink or now that you’ve really had a chance to see this against multiple things, maybe you’re thinking of it in one particular situation but what if it’s something else? You have problems, things that happen during the week that you have to work your way through and then you see how your team handles all that.”
Then came the hint that he thinks his team is ready.
“Sometimes you come out of there on Thursday, like last night, sometimes you come out of there after a Thursday practice and you say ‘I think we can add this, we can add that, this would be good in this situation.’ And do that,” Belchick said. “There are other Thursdays where you are saying, ‘We can’t handle what we’ve got here, we have to get rid of this, this and that.’ And, ‘We don’t want to add anything more; we just have to go with what we’ve got. Let’s get rid of this stuff, let’s don’t make the players worry about these calls, we’re not going to call that. We’ll call this instead.’ But you just don’t know that on Monday, you don’t know it on Tuesday, sometimes you don’t know it until Thursday.” Read the rest of this entry »
|01.20.12 at 5:39 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The hay is in the barn.
With the game plan installed and a week’s worth of practices behind them, it’s an oft-repeated phrase that’s heard around Gillette Stadium late in the week. And with the AFC championship game looming on Sunday, the Patriots are now essentially done with the majority of the prep work in advance of their contest with the Ravens.
Over the course of the last few years, inevitably after a big victory, one of the first things the players (and coaches) usually say is that the groundwork for the win was laid with a solid week of practice. If New England comes away with the win over Baltimore, expect to hear a lot of talk about how the foundation for the victory came after a good week of work.
‘It’s been a good week of practice and preparation,’ wide receiver Wes Welker said after practice on Friday. ‘I think we have a lot of confidence. We’re a confident-type team. We have a lot of good players and we feed off each other knowing that somebody is going to make a play. We all have to step up to that challenge to make a play.’
The singular word that was repeated by several players was confidence. That confidence was borne out of several aspects, not the least of which they ended the week with back-to-back practices where they was perfect attendance from everyone on the 53-man roster. (The only player missing on Friday was practice squadder Dorin Dickerson.)
‘We came out and worked hard, and that’s the goal — coming out here and working hard all week at practice and give yourself a chance to just play well on Sunday,’ cornerback Devin McCourty said Friday. ‘We feel like we came out here and worked hard, and now it’s time to execute on Sunday.
‘We feel confident going into the game. We feel we practiced hard and got some things done, improved in practice, so we’re going in there with confidence on Sunday, and now we’ve just got to execute.’
‘We’re confident in each other and knowing that and (trusting) in each other to get the job done. That’s where our confidence stems from,’ said safety James Ihedigbo. ‘Just understanding the importance of this game and the level of play you have to bring to this game, and just playing and leaning on each other. That’s really going to carry us through. It’s going to be a physical battle, and we’re mentally getting ready for it.’
|01.20.12 at 3:59 pm ET|
Bill Belichick would be the first to tell you that media predictions are meaningless, but for what it’s worth, the Patriots are the popular pick to win Sunday’s AFC championship game and advance to another Super Bowl.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk predicts New England will win by a score of 27-20. Florio notes that the maligned Patriots defense has shown significant signs of improvement over the last several weeks and that the team as a whole will have extra motivation on its side.
Wrote Florio: The internal offense-vs.-defense strife in Baltimore seems to be real, and it could lead to an ugly confrontation on the sidelines if the Pats jump out to an early lead and the Ravens can’t respond. Also, the Pats’ defense quietly is improving.
Throw in the fact that the Patriots would love to give owner Robert Kraft something about which to feel good as he continues to mourn his wife’s passing (Myra Kraft’s initials remain on their jerseys), Tom Brady’s memory of a home thrashing two years ago from the Ravens, and a burning desire by Brady and Bill Belichick to finally get that fourth championship, and it’s hard to envision the Patriots losing.
Florio’s PFT counterpart Gregg Rosenthal also picks the Patriots to advance in a closely-contested 31-27 game. For Rosenthal, the vaunted Ravens defense has not proven that it will be able to contain a potent New England offense that ranked third in the NFL in the regular season with 32.1 points per game.
Wrote Rosenthal: Is the Ravens defense more dominant than the Patriots offense? After watching Houston’s running game push Baltimore around last week, I’m rolling with the Patriots there. Terrell Suggs disappears too often. New England’s tight ends are too hard to defend.
On the other side of the argument is FoxSports.com’s Peter Schrager, who calls for a 30-27 Ravens upset, citing the Baltimore defense as his primary reason.
Wrote Schrager: I know it sounds crazy, but I like the Ravens on Sunday. Like the Cowboys did earlier this season vs. New England, the defense should stifle Brady just enough to give the offense a chance. And unlike the Cowboys earlier this season, the Ravens offense will be able to get the job done.
|01.20.12 at 12:44 pm ET|
Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo made his weekly appearance on the Mut & Merloni show Friday, two days before the showdown with the Ravens for the AFC championship. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
“There’s a sense of urgency here,” Mayo said. “We feel like we’re ready to go. We’ve got a good game plan, and hopefully we can execute it on Sunday.”
Patriots players and coaches credited the team’s practices before the Broncos game as a key to the team’s success in the blowout victory. Asked how practice has been going this week, Mayo said: “Practice has been good. We’ve put in some different things, some different looks. been working on a lot of Baltimore stuff. They’ll be a challenge. It’s all about going out there and executing, and hopefully we can get it done.”
Joe Flacco has received a lot of criticism for his play, but Mayo said statements that the Ravens quarterback is unable or unwilling to move around the pocket aren’t accurate.
“Watching him these last couple of games, he’s been moving all right,” Mayo said. “I’ve seen a couple of runs where he’s run for like 40 yards on a play. So, I don’t know where these people are getting that from. I’m not going to sit here and say he’s Michael Vick, but at the same time, he’s not immobile. He can move around a little bit.”
|01.20.12 at 12:27 pm ET|
The Patriots announced Friday that former quarterback Drew Bledsoe will be one of the honorary captains for Sunday’s AFC championship game against the Ravens. The club previously announced that former wide receiver Troy Brown, linebacker Tedy Bruschi 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.
|01.20.12 at 10:40 am ET|
Who will be the MVP of Sunday's AFC championship game?
- Tom Brady (51%, 164 Votes)
- Rob Gronkowski (17%, 56 Votes)
- Aaron Hernandez (6%, 20 Votes)
- Tim Tebow (6%, 18 Votes)
- Wes Welker (5%, 16 Votes)
- A Patriots defensive or special teams player (4%, 13 Votes)
- A different Patriots offensive player (4%, 12 Votes)
- Ray Rice (4%, 12 Votes)
- Joe Flacco (2%, 6 Votes)
- BenJarvus Green-Ellis (1%, 4 Votes)
- Anquan Boldin (0%, 1 Votes)
- A Ravens defensive or special teams player (0%, 1 Votes)
- A different Ravens offensive player (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 323