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Third straight day of perfect attendance for Pats practice

01.11.13 at 12:15 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For a third straight day, the Patriots had perfect attendance Friday at their practice in sweats and shells inside Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots have listed 20 players as limited in their first two practices this week, including linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who injured his left hip in the season finale against the Dolphins.

The Patriots will have a walkthrough on Saturday before taking on the Houston Texans in an AFC divisional contest Sunday afternoon at 4:30 at Gillette Stadium.

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Peter King on M&M: Texans need to limit Patriots’ possessions

01.11.13 at 12:07 pm ET
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Sports Illustrated NFL insider Peter King made his weekly appearance on Mut & Merloni on Friday morning to talk about Sunday’s Patriots-Texans AFC playoff game and other news from around the league.

King said the key for the Texans to avoid a repeat of the Dec. 10 shellacking at the hands of the Patriots is to limit Tom Brady‘s opportunities.

“The only way I see it being close is if Houston really limits the number of possessions by the Patriots, which I think is going to be hard anyway,” King said. “And even if they do that, part of me thinks that Brady with eight possessions is still going to be able to put up enough points on the board. If I’m Houston, I’m playing the four-corners offense that Dean Smith used to play at North Carolina. You’ve got to slow the game down. You’ve got to play the way the Giants played the Bills in the Super Bowl 21 years ago.

“I would also make this point, that I think one of the things during the course of the year that has really become noticeable: No matter who’s on the field for New England — whether they have [Rob] Gronkowski, whether they don’t; whether [Aaron] Hernandez is healthy or not — they’re still running fast and running a lot of plays. I was amazed when I looked this up this week: The New England Patriots ran 13 more plays a game in 2012 than in 2010. They ran 205 more plays this year than they did just two years ago.

“It’s just another instance of Bill Belichick learning as he gets older as a coach. You’re never finished learning in this business, because once you think you are, some new Chip Kelly or some new defensive guy comes in there and makes your job a lot more difficult. Hats off to the Patriots for basically advancing the ball down the field really in a schematic sense.”

King said he expects Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, known for being reliant on the blitz, to avoid being as predictable as he has in the past.

“I think he’ll change up from the first game they played,” King said. “One of the things I think they’ll emphasize, a change in this game I think is going to be a healthy Brooks Reed, assuming that he is. And Connor Barwin coming as well as J.J. Watt and occasionally Whitney Mercilus.

“I think that one of the things you have to look at if you are the Houston Texans is you’ve got to make sure that your linebackers are going to be cognizant of the intermediate stuff. And they’ve just got to clog the field. To me, when you play Tom Brady, I couldn’t agree more: I think blitzes — I’m not saying they’re fruitless, because you have to do everything. But I think you’ve got to clog the middle of the field against him because he loves doing so many things with a guy like Gronkowski. I’m not sure about this, but I heard Connor Barwin on the radio saying yesterday he’s never played Gronkowski before. So, there’s a newness to this. There’s going to be a feeling-out early that’s going to be an interesting thing in an X’s and O’s sense to watch.”

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Wade Phillips’ comments on Wes Welker create stir

01.10.13 at 8:55 pm ET
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Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips stirred some mild controversy on Thursday when answering a question on Patriots receiver Wes Welker. Phillips was asked by whether or not Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph — who covered Cincinnati’s A.J. Green in Houston’s wild-card win over the Bengals — would draw Welker in this week’s divisional playoff matchup.

“Welker’s not Green,” Phillips said. “He’s a good player, but he’s not that big or a real athletic guy. He’s a quick guy that gets open on option routes. [Brandon] Harris actually played him pretty good.”

For what it’s worth, in the first game between the two teams Welker was held to three catches (matching a season-low) for 52 yards in the 42-14 win over the Texans.

Later in the day, Phillips tweeted the following message: “Wes Welker is a great athlete and one of the best receivers of all time. #twistthataround”

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Devin McCourty explains why he feels so comfortable at safety

01.10.13 at 7:11 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’s arguably the most important move of the season for the Patriots.

Trading for cornerback Aqib Talib and moving Devin McCourty from corner to safety.

Since that deal at the trade deadline in early November, the Patriots defense – particularly the secondary – has looked like a new group, a group playing with a great deal of confidence.

On Thursday, McCourty shed some light on what the transition from corner to safety was like for him and whether the move came naturally.

“Not at first,” McCourty said. “Like any time you change positions, you have to get reps and get used to it. But last year, moving a little bit of safety on pass downs, I think the biggest thing was just adjusting to playing it every down of the game. Once I got more and more reps in practice and then actually being out there in the game, I felt like I started to get a good feel for it. I was able to make a couple plays. Now I feel that I’€™ve gained a good amount of confidence in playing either position. Now it’€™s just going out there and playing.”

Starting with the Jets game at home on Oct. 21, McCourty was the starting safety out of necessity when Steve Gregory was out with a hip injury and Patrick Chung was sidelined with a shoulder injury. But then Talib was acquired, allowing McCourty to stay at safety. McCourty played eight straight games at safety before moving back to cornerback for the final two games of the season with the knee injury to Alfonzo Dennard.

Against Houston, he had a key first-quarter interception that changed the tone of the game early on. He read Matt Schaub’s eyes over the middle and picked him off at the goal line as the Texans were threatening to tie the game, 7-7.

“Just catching the ball,” McCourty recalled. “The biggest thing is just trying to read the quarterback and go from there. It sounds simple, but at different times against quarterbacks in this league, sometimes they do a good job of looking you off and doing different things like that. Just trying to read the quarterback. Bill [Belichick] is big on telling on us, ‘€˜Just do your job’€™. I felt like that was a play where they threw the ball down the middle, I’€™m supposed to be in the middle of the field and just made a field.”

He had another interception the next week against the 49ers as the Patriots wiped out a 28-point second-half deficit. McCourty finished 2012 with a team-leading five picks.

What’s been the key? McCourty says understanding the mentality of a safety and quarterbacking the secondary.
Adding to that confidence were

“I mean that’€™s one thing,” he said. “But I think you also put the communication level and the importance is way greater at safety. At corner where you’€™re only one side of the field, you’€™re not asked to communicate as much to the rest of the defense as you are at safety.

“With [Jerod] Mayo making so many calls, he has to really worry about handling the linebackers and the front four. I think once you talk about the secondary, the safeties have to worry about handling everything with the coverage aspect. When you’€™re at safety, you have to really make sure everyone gets the calls and everyone is listening. Whenever I’€™m back at that position, I put a lot of that on myself. Along with Steve [Gregory] and Pat [Chung] being back there, just making sure everyone gets what we’€™re doing.

Here is the remainder of Thursday’s presser with Devin McCourty: Read the rest of this entry »

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Logan Mankins on his 2012 season: ‘Of course, it’s been tough’

01.10.13 at 6:25 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Logan Mankins laughed at the mere mention of the question.

Has this year been difficult for the big, bruising starting left guard for the Patriots?

“Physically? Yeah. I’€™ve missed some games; of course it’€™s been tough,” Mankins said Thursday. “You’€™d like to be healthy for the whole season, but it just doesn’€™t always go that way.”

To be specific, Mankins missed six games this season with various injuries. He missed Sept. 30 in Buffalo with a sore hip. He missed the Jets game at home the Rams game in London with a recurrence of the hip issue along with a bad calf. Then, he came back against the Bills at home on Nov. 11, only to turn his left ankle, forcing him to miss the next three games before starting the final four of the season.

But a little perspective reveals that a bum hip, ankle and calf isn’t about to stop a man who played with torn ACL and MCL in his right knee last season.

“I feel a lot better,” Mankins said when asked to compare how he feels now to 12 months ago. “Last year at this time I had a torn MCL and a torn ACL. So I feel a lot better.”

Mankins was one of those who really needed the bye week to get extra rest for the playoffs. Does he feel like a new man this week?

“Well I was until the last three days of practice,” he said with a smile. “You know you always feel pretty good after a bye, after a couple of days off. Not having a game, you freshen up a little. So yeah, I feel pretty good.”

Is the bye particularly beneficial for the offensive line given the physical nature of the position?

“Yeah, if you make the most of it,” he said. “If you get a few good lifts in, some good running and get off your feet when you go home, it’€™s always beneficial, if you use it to your advantage.”

But now, the task gets tougher – a lot tougher. J.J. Watt and the Texans defensive line will certainly try to find different ways to pressure the Patriots offensive line Sunday afternoon.

“Well it’€™s going to be really tough,” Mankins said. “You have probably the best D-lineman in the league in J.J. Watt and then you’€™ve got Antonio Smith, another very good defensive lineman. So those two together are very tough and then you put all four of them out there at one time and they’€™re a tough matchup for anyone. You see the problems they give teams every week. Cincinnati scored six points on offense, so that says a lot right there, to hold a team to six points in the playoffs.”

What makes J.J. Watt so special in Mankins’ eyes?

“It starts with he’€™s got all of the physical tools: he’€™s big, strong, fast and then he plays relentless,” Mankins said. “He’€™s a high-motor guy that hustles a lot and he’€™s got a great playing style, so that’€™s why he’€™s good.”

Here’s the rest of Thursday’s interview with Mankins:
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No changes in Patriots injury report on Thursday

01.10.13 at 5:42 pm ET
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The Patriots injury report remained the same Thursday, with no players missing the session that was held in sweats and shells on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. As was the case on Wednesday, 20 players were listed as “limited,” including tight end Rob Gronkowski (forearm/hip), linebacker/edge rusher Rob Ninkovich (hip) and cornerback Aqib Talib (hip).

Here is Thursday’s complete report:

Limited Participation

TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm/hip)

DB Marquice Cole (finger)

LB Mike Rivera (ankle)

CB Aqib Talib (hip)

CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee)

OL Nick McDonald (shoulder)

LB Tracy White (elbow)

DE Chandler Jones (ankle)

G Logan Mankins (ankle/calf)

G Dan Connolly (back)

S Patrick Chung (shoulder)

TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle)

LB Dont’a Hightower (hamstring/shoulder)

DB Nate Ebner (hamstring)

WR Brandon Lloyd (knee)

LB Brandon Spikes (knee/ankle)

LB Rob Ninkovich (hip)

WR Wes Welker (ankle)

LB Jerod Mayo (elbow)

DE Trevor Scott (knee)

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Brandon Lloyd says Josh McDaniels ‘is my bridge’ to Tom Brady

01.10.13 at 5:24 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When Brandon Lloyd signed in New England, he admitted Thursday, it was all about making the playoffs.

He entered the NFL in 2003. He’s played with the 49ers, Redskins, Bears, Broncos and Rams. But this season, his first with the Patriots, he’ll finally be getting a taste of the NFL playoff when he takes the field on Sunday.

But joining the Patriots and having success with Tom Brady can be two different things altogether. Just asked Chad Ochocinco, aka Chad Johnson.

Lloyd had 74 catches for 911 yards and four touchdowns, far more production from this No. 85 than its predecessor in 2011. Still, Lloyd heard all season about getting comfortable with Brady. Now that the regular season’€™s over, what has it been like?

“It’€™s a work in progress,” Lloyd said.

The question was repeated. Still a work in progress?

“Yes,” Lloyd said.

This is the third year in a row where he’s caught at least 70 passes. Has it been a different process than in the past or relatively the same?

“It’€™s been different than the past just because of the organization,” Lloyd explained. “It’€™s been different than the past because of Tom and his style of preparation, but it’€™s been similar in the sense that we have to put the work in during the week in all the weeks and during the camps, and then we’€™ll go into the game and that’€™s where we’€™ll really find out about one another. That’s what makes it similar.

“In playing with the less experienced quarterbacks like in St. Louis playing with [Kellen Clemens], it would be different. When he was thrown into the staring lineup, it was more of a situation where I was like, ‘€˜Where do you want me to be? I’€™m not going to tell you where I’m going to be; you tell me where you want me to be and then I’€™ll do my best to get there.’€™ With Tom, we have a little bit of give and take. Some plays, I have that freedom and there are some plays where I can say, ‘€˜Hey, I want to be here’€™ and then he’€™ll work it out. Other plays, he’€™ll say, ‘€˜You need to be here and that’€™s the way the plays go. It’€™s similar and it’€™s different, but it’€™s equally rewarding.”

But, as Lloyd himself pointed out, the most important factor this year may have been Josh McDaniels, the offensive coordinator he’s worked with the last three seasons. How much has that relationship with helped bridge the relationship with Brady?

“I think the bridge with Tom is Josh because Josh gives me credibility,” Lloyd said. “Being with Josh the last three seasons, that’€™s what gave me the credibility to come here and be accepted as a productive member of this team.”

Here is the remainder of Lloyd’s transcript from Thursday’s press conference:
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