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Patriots DE Rob Ninkovich on M&M: ‘We’ve got our work cut out for us’ vs. Andrew Luck, Colts

01.06.14 at 1:08 pm ET
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Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich checked in with Mut & Merloni on Monday to discuss the NFL playoffs. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

The Patriots will meet the Colts on Saturday night, after Andrew Luck led Indianapolis back from 28 points down to beat the Chiefs in an opening-round game. Luck showed an ability to gain yards with his feet as well as his arm.

“Luck obviously, his comeback there was pretty good. We’ve got our work cut out for us just to prepare well for those guys,” Ninkovich said. “He’s a good, big quarterback, he can get around the pocket there and scramble a little bit. But he’s definitely looking to throw the ball instead of run.”

Luck has taken huge strides in his second pro season.

“Especially at the quarterback position, confidence is huge. So I think this year he’s definitely more confident,” Ninkovich said. “He’s in control of everything, he’s making more checks this year, definitely controlling what’s going on on the field. With him being able to run around a little bit, he has more control of the offense and check things, check out of a certain look. If we’re showing him a certain thing he’s going to check to another play. I think that that just comes with more experience. This year he’s got the experience from his rookie year, he’s more confident, he’s making a lot of great throws. We have our work cut out for us.”

Some of the games over the weekend were played in frigid temperatures. If that’s the case Saturday night in Foxboro, Ninkovich still won’t wear long sleeves under his jersey.

“I’m never wearing sleeves,” Ninkovich said. “Once you get into the game you don’t really need them anyway. You’re warmed up from running around, and you’re focused on making plays, and you get off to the sideline they’ve got those jet engines on the sideline there shooting out hot air. You’re fine when you’re out there. Everybody gets too into the weather sometimes. It’s just go out there and play.”

Asked if he considers players who wear sleeves to be soft players, Ninkovich said: “I just feel like maybe you can get in their head a little bit easier.”

Professional wrestling legend Hulk Hogan released a video last week in which he paid tribute to Patriots tight end Matt Mulligan and said he was pulling for New England in the playoffs. Mulligan, a longtime fan of Hogan, drew Hogan’s attention because his wife had purchased a replica WWE championship belt as a tribute.

“It’s a pretty sweet belt,” said Ninkovich, who said he was a pro wrestling fan as a kid. “I saw the video. I thought it was pretty funny.”

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Hulk Hogan, Matt Mulligan, Rob Ninkovich

Cooking with Julian Edelman

01.06.14 at 12:07 pm ET
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This looks … interesting. Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman breaks down “Smoothie Tyme” for us.

Nicely done, but when it comes to Patriots in the kitchen, this video with coach Bill Belichick is still our favorite.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Julian Edelman,

Tom Brady on D&C: ‘We’re going to need to be at our best on Saturday night’ vs. Colts

01.06.14 at 11:04 am ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday to preview Saturday night’s playoff game against the Colts. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Brady said he watched most of all four playoff games over the weekend.

“Just a lot of good football,” Brady said. “It’s good to sit around and watch a team and kind of think about some of the situations that you see so you can kind of get yourself in that mind frame where you never know what the opportunity’s going to be, or one play at this time of year could make or break a season.

“There were a lot of good football teams playing yesterday. And the teams that won all deserved it. The games this weekend are going to be equally exciting.”

The Colts pulled off the second-biggest comeback in playoff history (28 points) to beat the visiting Chiefs on Saturday.

“They kind of got themselves in a little bit of a hole there, but they dug their way out of it,” Brady said. “We’ve been in that situation. We’ve been down and haven’t really played great at any point in the game. And all of a sudden you catch some momentum and then it’s hard to slow you down. They can obviously score a lot of point on offense. Defensively, they probably have the Defensive Player of the Year in Robert Mathis.

“They’re a very good team, there’s no doubt about it. You can’t be playing this time of year without being a very good team. We worked hard last week to try to improve ourselves as a football team, and we’re going to need to be at our best on Saturday night.”

Brady said he hopes the Patriots learn from Saturday’s Colts-Chiefs game that they can’t let up if they get a lead.

“When you’re down 38-10, you’re down 28 points in the second half, you can’t make any more mistakes. Because one play by the other team, the game is basically over,” Brady said. “We’ve been in that situation where it requires a lot of improbable things to happen in order for you to win the game. Kansas City had its chances and didn’t make the most of the plays that they had. That’s why they got beat.

“If we’re in a situation where we’re ahead, we’ve got to do everything we can to make the plays necessary for us to win the game. Because there’s no lead at this point that’s safe. Kansas City had one of the better defenses in the league all season. To be up 28 points like they were, you’ve got to continue to do things that you were doing in order to keep scoring points and win the game.

“That’s a good lesson for us to learn. We’ve been down, came back, moved ahead and really held a lead and built on our leads. But there’s no relaxing in the NFL playoffs. There’s not a point where you say, ‘Well, we really have this wrapped up.’ You’ve got to keep the pedal to the metal. Especially when you’re playing a team at home like that, like Indy. Once they get the momentum, it’s hard to stop it. Then it takes a big effort from the opposing team to really get the momentum going back the other way. The Colts played a great game. They did what they needed to do to win. That’s why they advanced.”

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Read More: Bill O'Brien, Josh McDaniels, robert mathis, Tom Brady

Chilled: Colin Kaepernick and San Francisco edge Green Bay to advance to divisional round

01.05.14 at 8:15 pm ET
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Phil Dawson kicked a 33-yard field goal as time ran out to lift the Niners over the Packers, 23-20, in a frigid NFC wild-card contest Sunday night at Lambeau Field.

San Francisco survived the icy temps in Green Bay with 227 passing yards and 98 rushing yards from quarterback Colin Kaepernick, as well as wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who came away with eight catches for 125 yards in the win. On the other side of the ball, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was 17-for-26 for 177 yards with a touchdown.

The Niners now advance to face the Panthers in Carolina next Sunday at 1:05 p.m. in divisional playoff action.

This was a back-and-forth contest for most of the afternoon, as Kaepernick and the Niners took a 13-10 halftime lead on the strength of a pair of early field goals from Dawson, as well as a 10-yard rushing touchdown from Frank Gore. Rodgers countered with a touchdown pass of his own, while the Packers added a 34-yard field goal from Mason Crosby right before the half to cut the lead to 13-10.

The two teams were unable to score in the third, and traded touchdowns to open the fourth to make it 20-17, San Francisco. After the Packers knotted that game at 20 with 5:06 left on a 24-yarder from Crosby, Kaepernick and the Niners engineered a 14-play, 65-yard drive that ended when Dawson delivered the 33-yard game-winner as time ran out to lift San Francisco into the divisional round.

Bill Belichick impressed by Andrew Luck and ‘explosive’ Colts offense

01.05.14 at 7:50 pm ET
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A lot has changed about the Patriots-Colts rivalry, but the Indy offense the Patriots will face in Saturday’s divisional playoff game at Gillette looks just as explosive as the vintage version New England faced a decade or so ago.

In many ways, the only thing that’s different is that No. 12 is under center instead of No. 18.

“[They’re an] explosive football team –€“ we all saw it the other night, how quickly they can score, how explosive they are,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the Colts on Sunday, who put up 35 second-half points Saturday night in their wild-card win over the Chiefs. “They’€™ve done a real good job of not turning the ball over; haven’€™t given up a lot of negative plays, very few penalties — like 50 penalties or something like that, whatever it is, not very many.

“For the most part this year they’€™ve played mistake-free and have an explosive, well-balanced attack. Obviously [Andrew] Luck has done a great job and they have a tremendous passing game, but their balance, their running game, their offensive line, production out of their tight ends has been solid too.”

Belichick was impressed with just about every aspect of the Colts’ comeback win over Kansas City, one of the best come-from-behind wins in the NFL playoff history, including the mental toughness needed to come back from a 28-point second-half deficit.

“[Saturday’s] game was about as good as it gets,” Belichick said. “To be that far behind in the third quarter, it didn’€™t look too good for them — and then, all of a sudden in a hurry you could feel them coming back, or at least I could. If they could get it back to a two-score game in the fourth quarter, and then finally if they could get it to a one-score game and they were able to quickly drive it down and score and take the lead.

“I think they’€™re a very explosive and dangerous team.”

Belichick touched on a number of Indy-related topics in his Sunday afternoon conference call with the media.
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Read More: Andrew Luck, Bill Belichick,

Danny Woodhead: ‘If people are shocked, they’re shocked’

01.05.14 at 6:01 pm ET
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CINCINNATI — So many times in New England, Danny Woodhead was the silent little engine that could.

On Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, Woodhead – as he did so often in Foxboro – let his feet and hands do the talking in a 27-10 Chargers win over the Bengals that put Woodhead into familiar territory.

For the fourth straight season, the former Patriot finds himself in the AFC divisional playoffs. He figures to be another big weapon for Philip Rivers and the Chargers when they take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos next Sunday.

Sunday, he set the tone early with a five-yard TD run right up the middle, putting San Diego up, 7-0, and sending a message that the team that came within a bad call on an overtime field goal by Kansas City last week had come to Cincinnati with every intention of winning. The 11-5 Bengals, champions of the AFC North, were favored by a touchdown on their home turf in the rematch of the iconic “Freezer Bowl” in the 1981 AFC championship.

“We practiced all week with the idea of coming in here to win,” Woodhead said. “We were underdogs. If people are shocked, they’re shocked. There’s nothing we can do about that. Our job was to go out there and execute.”

That’s exactly what Woodhead, Rivers and the Chargers did against a Bengals team that didn’t lose all season at home before Sunday. The Chargers committed no turnovers in 56 snaps. Woodhead carried the ball 15 times for 54 yards and gained another 14 on two catches.

The Patriots let him go after the 2012 season and he signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Chargers in March, a deal that included a $1 million signing bonus. The Chargers wanted a threat in the backfield that would be hard to account for in open space. He was that and more Sunday as he cut through big holes his offensive line established.

“I just try to take advantage of every opportunity I’m given. Our offensive line was great today and set the tempo early,” Woodhead said. “We ran and ran and we just build momentum.”

Woodhead was there so many times on Sunday like he was in New England. Every time Rivers needed a big play to put the game away in the second half, it was Woodhead’s number that was called. He carried the ball three times on San Diego’s opening drive of the third quarter, which ended in a touchdown that put the Chargers ahead for good.

Now, as was the case in New England with Tom Brady, Woodhead is into the second round with a playoff-proven quarterback. Rivers was spectacular only in his efficiency Sunday, throwing just 16 passes and completing 12 for 128 yards and a touchdown and a 118.8 quarterback rating.

“Philip is a great quarterback who has done it in the past in the playoffs,” Woodhead said. “Everybody knows he’s a great quarterback. We went about our business and just executed today.”

Read More: Cincinnati Bengals, Danny Woodhead, New England Patriots, nfl

Five incredibly early thoughts on the Patriots and Colts

01.05.14 at 5:29 pm ET
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Here are five thoughts on Saturday’s divisional playoff contest between the Patriots and Colts:

1. Turnovers will be at a premium. The Patriots and Colts were two of the best teams in the league when it comes to turnover ratio. New England was a plus-9 over the course of the regular season, good for eighth-best in the NFL — the Patriots defense forced 17 picks and recovered 12 fumbles, while Tom Brady and the offense had 11 picks and just nine fumbles as a team. Saturday’€™s playoff game aside, the Colts also do a good job taking care of the ball — they were plus-13, third-best in the NFL. Andrew Luck threw 10 picks, while the team lost four fumbles. Meanwhile, Indy came away with 15 picks and recovered 12 fumbles of their own.

2. Expect a matchup between Aqib Talib and T.Y. Hilton for a portion of the evening. Since Reggie Wayne went down midway through the season, the Colts have leaned on Hilton fairly exclusively when it comes to the deep passing game. Hilton finished with 82 catches (on 138 targets) for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns, all of which are team-highs, and added 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’€™s wild-card win over the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Patriots have utilized Talib against the opposing team’s No. 1 pass catcher for the bulk of the season. The All-Pro corner has responded nicely with shutdown games against the likes of Julio Jones, Jimmy Graham and Vincent Jackson. It won’t be wire-to-wire, man coverage all night, but the two will face off against each other frequently throughout the contest.

3. When it comes to run defense, the Patriots caught a huge break. The Colts really struggled to run the ball consistently this season. They didn’€™t need to worry about it too much in their remarkable playoff win over the Chiefs — Luck had 45 pass attempts, while Indy ran the ball just 19 times on Saturday — but Indy is as one-dimensional as they come when you’€™re talking about a team in the final eight. Over the course of the regular season, the Colts averaged 108.9 rushing yards per game, tied for 20th in the NFL. Donald Brown had 102 carries for 537 yards and six touchdowns over the course of the season, and is the only real threat in the ground game for the Colts. For a New England team that struggled to stop the run over the course of the second half of the season, this represents a sizable break.

4. Conversely, the Patriots should be able to move the ball on the ground against Indy. The Colts showed some stoutness on defense over the last month of the season — Indy allowed an average of 6.7 points per game over the final three weeks of the regular season, and old warhorse Robert Mathis led the league with 19.5 sacks — and while the group certainly didn’€™t impress anyone over the first two-plus quarters against the Chiefs, they got some good stops down the stretch in the third and fourth quarters, allowing the offense the chance to climb back into the game. The one stat that really stands out as a potential vulnerability for Indy is its run defense: over the course of the regular season, the Colts were 26th in the league against the run, allowing an average of 125.1 rushing yards per game. Indy yielded 100 or more yards on the ground in 13 of its 16 games this season. Considering the fact that the Patriots have averaged 168 rushing yards their last three games, this is a winnable matchup for New England.

5. Penalties will be at a premium. These were two of the least-penalized teams over the course of the regular season. The Colts were best when it came to total penalties (66) and penalty yardage (576). Meanwhile, the Patriots were second in the league in penalties (69) and third in the league in penalty yardage (625).

Read More: Andrew Luck, Aqib Talib, Donald Brown, Raggie Wayne



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