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Bill Belichick on The Big Show: How Ray Lewis left an ‘over-the-top’ first impression

01.16.12 at 5:25 pm ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick, in his weekly appearance on The Big Show, acknowledged that his team had a strong all-around performance against the Broncos before suggesting that it was incumbent on his team to “turn the page” and begin preparing for a Ravens team that represents what he characterized as an even more formidable challenge.

Belichick spoke highly of Baltimore, but was particularly effusive in his praise of safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis. Indeed, Belichick suggested that the two players enjoyed shared traits that have helped to make both standouts at their positions.

“He’€™s a magnet to the ball. His guy might be open, but they’€™re not throwing it to him. When they’€™re throwing to his guy, he’€™s right there where he should be,” Belichick said of Reed. “He’€™s 20 yards away from his guy but he’€™s close to the ball. He’€™s got great vision and anticipation. He’€™s very fast. He’€™s got good quickness. But I think the big thing with him is his instincts.

“He has a great understanding of what’€™s happening on the play, where the ball’€™s going, who’€™s threatening. He’€™s almost always in great position and usually getting there before the play has totally unfolded. As it’€™s developing, that’€™s when he figures it out and he’€™s already started to make his move to the point of attack,” he continued. “You’€™ve got to be careful with him. You’€™ve got to know where he’€™s at because he’€™s going to be by the ball. If you’€™re throwing it, you better make sure you can get it there before he does. … His anticipation and instincts, I’€™d say, are second to none at that position, very comparable to Ray Lewis as a middle linebacker.”

As for Lewis, Belichick first met the middle linebacker in 1996 when he a defensive coordinator for the Patriots after he’d been fired by the Browns (who were about to relocate to Baltimore to become the Ravens). Belichick met with Lewis, a linebacker at the University of Miami, in the spring before the draft.

Ultimately, Lewis ended up going with the No. 26 pick of the first round to the Ravens, while the Patriots took Terry Glenn with the No. 7 pick of the first round (and later nabbed Lawyer Milloy with their second-round pick, the No. 36 overall selection, as well as Tedy Bruschi in the third round). Though Belichick didn’t end up taking Lewis, he left the meeting with him with an extremely favorable impression. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis

Transcript of Tom Brady on D&C: ‘It’s about this week,’ not revenge for ’09

01.16.12 at 10:10 am ET
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Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning, following Saturday night’s victory over the Broncos that put the Patriots in the AFC championship game against the Ravens.

While the Ravens stunned the Patriots in the playoffs two years ago — Baltimore’s only victory in seven career games against New England — Brady said revenge is not what is driving this team. It’s simply a chance to return to the Super Bowl.

“That’s all we need,” Brady said. “This is nothing about ’09 or ’10. This is nothing about last week or last season or last month or 10 years ago. It’s about this week. The clock’s ticking. And every second that goes by, we’re one second closer to getting to that game. We’ve got to use our time wisely, to repair, get our rest, and be ready to go out and face our biggest challenge of the season.”

Following is a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Did your hair get messed up or your uniform dirty at all Saturday night?

We had great protection, there’s no question about that. I thought those guys played well, really as they have all year. The offensive line has been our biggest strength on offense. It was that way in the regular season and it continues to be that in the playoffs. It was a great effort by those guys, and really all those guys that stepped in and moved spots. Logan [Mankins] is in there, and then Logan’s not in there and other guys are adjusting. But they all played really exceptionally well, both in the run game and pass game. We’ll have a good week of practice and face our toughest challenge this year.

Does that offensive performance qualify as being in the zone in your mind?

Well, I thought that a lot of guys played really well. A lot of guys were really on the same page. So, I thought that there were things we were definitely doing more to our level of expectation. And still, I think there’s ways that we need to be able to improve. A couple of turnovers hurt us. But for the most part it was really a good, solid effort. I feel like you win the game, and then immediately you’re thinking about the next game. So, there’s not too much you take from the game other than winning and moving on. That’s something we haven’t done here in a while, and it was good to go out there and get a win.

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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis

Back at back: Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has run the ball before

01.15.12 at 10:51 pm ET
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One of the relatively new offensive wrinkles we saw from the Patriots on Saturday night against the Broncos was the use of tight end Aaron Hernandez as a running back.

Hernandez was able to give the New England offense a jumpstart with a 43-yard carry around left end that set up the Patriots’€™ first touchdown of the game, and he would end up with 61 yards on five carries.

‘€œWe didn’€™t have any backs in the game in that personnel grouping — we just had three receivers and the two tight ends,’€ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the 43-yard pickup by Hernandez, the longest run of the game for either team.

‘€œThat’€™s not something we’€™ve done a lot of. You see all those receivers on the field and you’€™re not really thinking too much about the running game defensively, so we tried to pop a couple runs in there just to keep them honest.

‘€œWe thought they might be thinking — I mean, obviously they’€™re thinking pass — we threw the ball most every time, but we tried to get a couple runs going there and Aaron made a good run. It looked like he broke a tackle and he did a nice job handling the ball there.’€

The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Hernandez, who also had four catches for 55 yards and a touchdown, has been used as a chess piece before by Belichick and the Patriots. He’€™s one of the most versatile pass catchers in New England history, as he’€™s lined up flush against the tackle in the traditional tight end spot, in the slot or split wide like a receiver. This season, the 22-year-old had 79 catches for 910 yards and seven touchdowns. The Patriots have used him in the backfield on occasion (they’€™ve showed that look frequently in training camp practices the last two years), but never to the extent that he was utilized on Saturday night.

While Saturday’€™s move caught some people by surprise, Bob DeSantis wasn’€™t shocked. Back when Hernandez was back at Bristol (Conn.) Central, the longtime athletic coordinator at the school said Hernandez did ‘€œeverything except sell popcorn.’€
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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Bob DeSantis,

Five incredibly early thoughts on the Patriots, the Ravens, Tom Brady, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and the AFC’s most underrated rivalry

01.15.12 at 4:56 pm ET
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Five very early thoughts on the AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and the Ravens, set for next Sunday (3 p.m. on WEEI 93.7 FM) at Gillette Stadium:

1. This will be the first time these two teams have met this year. The last time the Patriots faced the Ravens was back on Week Six of the 2010 season, and in that one, New England came away with a 23-20 win over Baltimore in a really good ballgame that featured, among other things, the final Tom Brady interception of the 2010 regular season and Stephen Gostkowski‘€™s first career overtime game-winner (a 35-yarder to win it in extra time). There are several differences between the two teams since then, including the fact that the Patriots now lean much heavier on their two young tight ends than they did early last season. Overall, the Patriots are 6-1 lifetime against the Ravens, with the one loss coming in the 2009 wild card matchup at Gillette, a game Baltimore won relatively easily, 33-14. More on that game later.

2. The Patriots were able to slay some of their recent postseason demons on Saturday night when they halted a three-game playoff losing streak with the decisive win over the Broncos. They’€™ll get a chance to take that a step further with a victory over the Ravens, a team that contributed to that three-game losing skid with a painful playoff beatdown back in 2009. That 33-14 loss (which started with an 83-yard touchdown run from Ray Rice on the first play from scrimmage and got worse from there) was a particularly ugly loss for New England — it marked the first home playoff loss for the Patriots since 1978, the first time the Patriots were one-and-done in the postseason in the Bill Belichick era. In addition, Brady suffered the first postseason home defeat of his career, and the Patriots suffered the first loss in franchise history to Baltimore.

In many ways, that contest, as well as memorable regular-season games in 2007, 2009 and 2010 between the two teams have fueled what could be one of the NFL’€™s most underrated rivalries. Terrell Suggs has never been at a loss for words when it comes to talking about Tom Brady and the Patriots (particularly the Brady rule), and he should be at his voluble best in the days leading up to the game.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin, Cosmo Kramer

Shaun Ellis, Gerard Warren and Kyle Love lead feeding frenzy on Tim Tebow

01.15.12 at 11:44 am ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots defensive line has long been associated with one man.

But while Vince Wilfork again held down the fort on Saturday night with three tackles and 1.5 sacks in New England’s 45-10 pasting of the Broncos, three others stepped out from the shadows and pounded Tim Tebow and the Broncos into offseason submission.

Shaun Ellis delivered a crushing sack of Tebow, Kyle Love had three tackles and former Florida Gator Gerard Warren did the “Gator Chomp” on one of the most famous Gators of all time as the defensive line picked a good time to have one of their most dominant games of the season.

The loudest play of the night actually came when Ellis missed Tebow on a scramble midway through the third quarter. Ellis broke through into Denver’s backfield only to have Tebow shake free. But Ellis didn’t give up. He got up off the ground and chased Tebow from behind, leveling him with sack that drew oohs and ahhs from the Gillette crowd when it was shown on the video replay boards.

“It felt good,” Ellis said. “I should’ve got him in the beginning. It should’ve even gotten to that but he kept the play alive and I was able to finish him and my teammates forced him back my way.”

Pure and simple, it was a feeding frenzy for the defensive line. Everyone had their chance to take a bite out of Tebow, even former Gator Gerard Warren, who tackle Tebow for a loss, and proceeded to do to the “Gator Chomp” after the play.

‘€œIt was far from easy, I’€™ll tell you that,” Warren said. “It took a whole lot of guts and technique and discipline. But we just went out and executed tonight.’€

“That’€™s always the defense here, we always feed off each other,” Love added. “Somebody makes a big play, you’€™ve got to be excited. Once we do that, the fans get into it. It’€™s kind of like you can’€™t stop. We played a full, 60-minute game. And this is the time we’€™ve got to do it.’€

Was it the best game of the year – all around – for the defensive line?

“It was one of them, definitely,” Ellis said. “It came in due time. We all made a lot of great plays, we all played well as a unit and we just want to keep rolling.”

One of the biggest reasons for the D-Line’s impact Saturday night was the play of the secondary. They stayed in good fundamental position, not allowing Tebow any easy targets down field when he took off scrambling.

“Really, we were just focused on what we had to do,” Ellis said. “DBs did a tremendous job of staying back when he was scrambling, stay on your man and let us handle up front and that’s what happened.”

Read More: Denver Broncos, Gerard Warren, Kyle Love, New England Patriots

Rob Ninkovich owns Tim Tebow while reminding Pats fans of Mike Vrabel

01.15.12 at 1:42 am ET
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FOXBORO — Rob Ninkovich has heard the whispers turn into full-fledged screams throughout the course of the season.

Tom Brady makes up for all the failings of the 32nd ranked defense in the NFL. The Patriots won’t go anywhere in the playoffs because of their defense. The secondary will eventually get burned for a big play at a bad time.

Following New England’s 45-10 throttling of Tim Tebow and the Broncos Saturday night in frigid Foxboro, what does he think of all of that criticism now?

“Just like all season, in one ear and out the other,” Ninkovich said with a good-natured smile beaming through his mountain-man beard.

Flying all over the field like Mike Vrabel used to do in the last decade, Ninkovich was all over the place Saturday night – in a very controlled way – keeping an eye on Tebow and not losing containment on the triple-option.

But it was was a play that he made on Tebow on Denver’s first drive that might have set the tempo on defense for the night, a night that ended with Tebow completing just 9-of-26 passes for 136 yards. On Denver’s first drive, Tebow escaped on 3rd-and-5 and ran 14 yards for a first down. Willis McGahee ran 19 yards up the middle to the Patriots 38.

Then two plays later, Ninkovich broke through and before Tebow could raise his arm, he sacked the Broncos quarterback, forcing a fumble. Brandon Spikes landed on the ball at the Patriots 41. Tom Brady would capitalize with another TD drive and the Patriots were in business, up 14-0.

All because Ninkovich, like Vrabel did years back, was able to play his run responsibilities while picking the right time to rush the QB.

“It was a good play, just turning the momentum in our favor to get that 14-0 lead,” Ninkovich said. “It’s great whenever you can get the sack, fumble and recovery. It’s a good play all the way around. I was happy I was able to do that and help the team.

“It definitely helps the momentum of the game and get the defense really pumped up and into the game, like, ‘Hey, we can control the game. We can give our offense the ball anytime.’ We just have to continue that mentality.”

Remember when Vrabel had two sacks of Jake Delhomme – including a forced fumble – in Super Bowl XXXVIII, making him an MVP candidate before Tom Brady led the game-winning drive?

On Saturday, Ninkovich finished with 1.5 sacks, five total tackles, two quarterback hits, one tackle for a loss and a forced fumble.

But Ninkovich also remembers what happened on Dec. 18 in Denver. Tebow was able to get to the edge, along with Willis McGahee and Lance Ball, on their way to 173 rushing yards in the first quarter. On Tebow’s first touchdown run, it was Ninkovich who was shedded by the big quarterback – something that seemed to inspire him Saturday night.

“The first series down in Denver, they were able to get the ball to the edge a couple of times and, being an outside linebacker, that falls on my shoulders, so I took that to heart,” he said. “Coming into this game, I wanted to be sure I was able to do that.”

That 14-yard run by Tebow on the opening drive Saturday was the biggest he had. Tebow would run the ball four more times, losing two yards in the process. And all because Ninkovich and Jerod Mayo were able to keep containment.

“It’s difficult because when you’re out there playing and you want to go one way because you see him, you know he’s got the ability to get outside and really hurt your team,” Ninkovich said. “It’s about discipline and keeping containment. You have to do that with a quarterback like that. If you don’t, that’s when big plays can happen. We were able to contain him tonight.”

Read More: 2012 playoffs, Denver Broncos, Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots

Key Moment: Rob Gronkowski’s first-quarter diving touchdown catch

01.15.12 at 1:02 am ET
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FOXBORO ‘€“ For New England football fans, the first Patriots playoff win in years certainly lived up to the hype. The 45-10 trouncing of Tim Tebow and the Broncos was more than just a victory that propels the Pats into the AFC Championship Game, but a statement to all of Patriot nation: the Pats have their eyes set on the prize.

This week’€™s key moment came pretty early on against Denver, with 6:42 remaining in the first quarter. The Patriots held a 7-0 lead before Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski ‘€“ the two heroes of Saturday night’€™s beat down – hooked up for the first of three touchdown connections. It was a 10-yard strike to the back left corner of the end zone. Gronkowski had to leave his feet in a dive and stretch out to make a one-handed snag, tipping it to himself and sealing it against his body before sliding out of bounds.

This score to Gronk gave the Patriots their first multi-score lead ‘€“ one that would only continue to grow over the course of the game. Brady said after the game that when the team makes plays like that, it really weakens the opponent.

‘€œI thought we just executed well. That catch that Gronk made for a touchdown in the corner was one of the best catches I’€™ve ever seen,’€ Brady said. ‘€œWhen you’€™re making plays like that, it’€™s really not about the defense. It’€™s about making spectacular plays. There were some great efforts ‘€“ Aaron [Hernandez] on the touchdown catch and run, Wes [Welker] really got us started, Gronk had some other pretty great touchdowns too. It was a good day.’€

The catch capped off a seven-play, 59-yard drive that ate 3:25 off the clock. Gronkowski said that the team will enjoy the win over Denver for a little while tonight and tomorrow, and as soon as the team knows who it is playing next weekend, the work begins. But as for tonight, he added that a team can’€™t start a game any better.

‘€œObviously you can’€™t start a game any better than that. Going down, scoring on the first drive; that’€™s what we’€™ve been aiming to do,’€ Gronkowski said. ‘€œIt was a good thing we started off good. We played all four quarters of the game. The defense was playing well and we were all just helping each other out.’€

Read More: Broncos, Patriots, Rob Gronkowski, Tim Tebow
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