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Peyton Manning explains ‘Omaha’ audible

01.15.14 at 9:57 pm ET
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It was heard so often by TV boom mics in the AFC divisional game against the Chargers that many began wondering if Peyton Manning had a lot of relatives living in Nebraska.

The call “Omaha” was heard from Manning over 20 times at the line of scrimmage.

That begs the question, naturally, what does Omaha mean? Manning finally answered that question on Wednesday but listening to the tongue-in-cheek answer you wonder if there’s some intentional misdirection included.

“I know a lot of people ask what Omaha means,” Manning said, acknowledging this week’s furor. “Omaha is a run play, but it could be a pass play or a play-action pass, depending on a couple things: which way we’re going, the quarter, and the jerseys that we’re wearing. It varies, really, from play to play. So, there’s your answer to that one.”

There were cackles of laughter heard in the Broncos media work room as Manning answered. That laughter will probably be drowned out by the crowd – and Omaha – on Sunday at Sports Authority Field.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you first.

Read More: Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl, Omaha

Devin McCourty says Denver Broncos TE Julius Thomas presents ‘every type of matchup problem’

01.15.14 at 9:40 pm ET
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FOXBORO — On Nov. 24 at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots didn’t have to worry about tight end Julius Thomas.

Thomas missed the game with and the following one with a knee injury.

The Patriots didn’t have to account for the size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and catch radius of one of the best young receiving tight ends in the NFL.

Thomas finished with 65 catches for 788 yards for a 12.1 yards per catch average and 12 touchdowns in the regular season. He matched that average last week with six catches and 76 yards in the 24-17 win over the Chargers.

What have the Patriots seen on the film from Julius Thomas and what type of matchup problems might he present this time after not playing in the first game?

“Every type of matchup problem,” Devin McCourty said. “Going into the first game we didn’€™t know if he would be playing or wouldn’€™t be playing so we studied him a lot for that game too. He is a bigger, taller tight end but he is very explosive. I think he creates a tough matchup. They use him to make sure they get him against safeties, get him against linebackers and even get him against corners sometimes.

“I think it will be similar to when we played Jimmy Graham on the Saints. He’€™ll be out wide, he’€™ll be backside sometimes, he’€™ll be in the tight end position, so we’€™ll just have to know where he’€™s at and different guys will be on him. You just have to play tough and try to match him but he’€™s a very good player and he knows what he’€™s doing out there depending on the matchup he has.”

The Patriots won’t have to just disguise coverages for Peyton Manning. A tight end like Thomas will necessitate different looks from the defense.

“I think this is one of those games where you have to understand that each guy is going to have to take different matchups and you have to perform,” McCourty said Wednesday. “It is going to be the toughest game of the year and it is the biggest game of the year and there are going to be times where, across the board all four of those guys are going to be man-to-man coverage with somebody on our team and you are going to have to try and win the matchup.

“I think defensively you do different things against them and you try to do one thing, do another thing. In these big games usually it comes down to one man versus another man and whoever comes up with the play.”

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Aqib Talib on Marquice Cole: ‘Cash that check, baby’

01.15.14 at 8:28 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Aqib Talib is happy for ex-teammate Marquice Cole.

Cole, who signed with the Broncos Tuesday after spending nearly two seasons with the Patriots, was still a popular player in the Patriots locker room on Wednesday despite the fact that he’ll be on the opposing sideline for Sunday’s AFC title game, and especially with Talib.

‘€œThat’€™s my dog,’€ Talib said of the 30-year-old Cole, who has played 64 career games and totaled 36 tackles with four interceptions and 14 pass breakups to go with 51 special-teams stops.

Cole was cut by the Patriots and out of the game for a couple of weeks before the Broncos picked him up Tuesday. While a few fans harassed Cole on Twitter for the decision, Talib said it was OK with him.

“Cash that check, baby,” he said with a smile when asked about Cole. “Got to pay the bills, man.’€

Talib said he wasn’t worried about Cole potentially divulging any secrets to the Broncos.

“Quice can’t tell Peyton Manning nothing that Peyton Manning doesn’t already know about us,” he said.

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Logan Mankins on Patriots running game of late: ‘We have blocked better’

01.15.14 at 6:39 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There is no denying the Patriots running game has been on a roll the past few weeks, as in the last three games the team has rushed for 545 yards and 10 touchdowns. With that has come all of the headlines for the running backs, particularly LaGarrette Blount.

But Blount wouldn’t be making the cover of Sports Illustrated and getting all the added publicity without the work of the Patriots€™ offensive line.

“I think we have blocked better,” guard Logan Mankins said. “I think the backs have run better. It is just a combination of everything. It is not just the line, it’€™s the tight ends, the fullback. On those big, long runs you need receivers blocking. So it is just a total group effort and I think we have all done a better job.”

Even with the great play of the offensive line, Blount has been a monster rushing for 431 yards in his last three games with eight touchdowns. Leading the way for Blount on a number of his runs, Mankins has noticed a steady improvement for the 27-year-old over the course of the season.

“I think for the linemen I think his speed has surprised us but we saw that a couple times earlier in the season,” said Mankins. “It is just opportunities. He has gotten enough opportunities here lately and the holes have been pretty good. He does a great job of having patience and finding the hole first of all. He doesn’t overrun it. He doesn’t cut it too soon. He gives you time to get your block made and he hits it going forward. The most impressive thing is the way he’€™s just dragging people. No one is just arm tackling. He is not going down with just one guy. He is always gaining yards, even after contact, which is very impressive. It is great to have a guy doing that.”

Some say offensive linemen prefer run blocking over pass blocking, but for Mankins it doesn’t matter.

“As long as we’€™re scoring points we’€™re happy,” the 31-year-old said. “You can’€™t win if you don’€™t score. If we’€™re throwing the ball well we’€™re happy, if we’€™re running the ball well we’€™re happy as long as we score.”

The leader of the offensive line also discussed the closeness of the unit as a whole — one that allowed just 40 sacks in the regular season and led the way for the Patriots’€™ rushing attack, which averaged 129 yards a game.

“We get along good. Linemen usually do,” said Mankins. “We hang out a lot together. We do a lot of things together. We enjoy being around each other. Am I the leader of the line? I don’€™t know, you can ask those guys. I know we are a tight knit group. We always pull for each other. We enjoy being around each other.”

Mankins is in his ninth season in the league, all coming with the Patriots, and he will be playing in his 17th playoff game Sunday afternoon and seeking his third Super Bowl appearance.

“It has been a long ride,” Mankins said. “When you say nine years it seems like a long time but it has flown by. That is the one thing about this game, you can say you are in the game a long time but it feels like it’€™s gone like this. It has been fun. I’ve enjoyed it. I just hope it continues for a few more years and hopefully a successful one this year.”

Read More: AFC Championship, LaGarrette Blount, Logan Mankins, Patriots

Patriots rushing attack in red zone will be key against Broncos

01.15.14 at 6:28 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When looking into what the Patriots’€™ game plan may be come Sunday afternoon in Denver for the AFC championship game, much has been made of the Patriots€™ running attack and just how much they will run the ball.

Over the past three weeks the Patriots have ran the ball 123 times, averaging 41 rushes per game, something very un-Patriot like in the past few years. But, with the temperatures in Denver expected in the 50s at kickoff and a Denver secondary without star cornerback Chris Harris, maybe the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady will try and take advantage with more of a passing attack.

Regardless of their offensive game plan, once the Patriots get inside the red zone they will need to have an effective running game.

It’€™s clear the Patriots offense misses tight end Rob Gronkowski as once they get inside the opponents 20-yard line, in the seven games he played, the Patriots had a 69 percent (22-of-32) touchdown success rate in the red zone, compared to 49 percent (19-of-39) in the 10 games (postseason included) without him. But, in the last three games where the Patriots have piled up 545 yards on the ground, they’€™ve had a 69 percent (9-of-13) touchdown success rate in the red zone —  the same as when Gronkowski was in the lineup, and of those nine touchdowns, seven have come on the ground.

One of the biggest reasons for the Patriots’ success in the red zone of late has been LaGarrette Blount, who has rushed for 431 yards (6.7-yard average) and eight touchdowns in the last three games, including five coming from inside the red zone.

“€œThe offense is definitely clicking at the right time of the year,” Blount said. ‘€œThis is the time we need to get hot. This is the time we need to stay hot. With me, Stevan [Ridley], [Shane] Vereen and [Brandon] Bolden, all of us are productive backs and we bring something different to the table. They have just been trying to get the ball in my hand just a little bit more.”

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Read More: Broncos, LaGarrette Blount, Patriots, Rob Gronkowski

Mike Petraglia, Chris Price preview Patriots-Broncos AFC championship

01.15.14 at 6:26 pm ET
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Read More: AFC Championship, Chris Price, Denver Broncos, Mike Petraglia

Patriots injury report Wednesday: Tom Brady, Danny Aiken miss with illness

01.15.14 at 4:24 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady went home sick before practice Wednesday and did not take part in the Patriots first on-field workout as they get ready for the Broncos Sunday in the AFC championship.

Coach Bill Belichick would not elaborate on Brady’s absence.

“We’€™ll talk about that when [injury report] comes out,” said Belichick, who doesn’t speak again until Friday morning. “We’€™re not going through it player by player. I’€™m not doing that. I know we’€™d love that, but I’€™m not doing that.”

Belichick did show a lighter side moments later when asked if he’s ever been surprised by anything Brady does.

“This morning,” Belichick quipped, referring apparently to his departure from the team’s complex to go home and get better.

Also missing due to illness was long snapper Danny Aiken.

Ryan Allen was back on the practice field after an MRI on his right shoulder on Sunday afternoon. Allen injured the shoulder Saturday night in the win over the Colts and did not punt in the second half. He was also replaced by Brady as the team’s holder on a pair of extra points for Stephen Gostkowski.

Devin McCourty, who had been dealing with a concussion from Dec. 22 in Baltimore, and Steve Gregory (finger) were both removed from the injury report completely.

Also new to the report this week was an ankle injury that limited linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

Here is Wednesday’s complete report:

Did Not Practice
QB Tom Brady (shoulder/illness)
LS Danny Aiken (illness)

Limited Participation
P Ryan Allen (shoulder)
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
LB Dane Fletcher (groin)
LB Dont’a Hightower (ankle)
OL Logan Mankins (ankle)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)
RB Shane Vereen (groin)

Read More: AFC Championship, Danny Aiken, Denver Broncos, Dont'a Hightower



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