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Mike Petraglia, Chris Price look ahead to Patriots bye weekend

01.01.14 at 5:35 pm ET
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Tom Brady: Patriots fans ‘let it rip’ in the playoffs at Gillette Stadium

01.01.14 at 5:20 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady has always given praise to the loyal fans that show up in all elements to cheer him and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

Sometimes, like in 2011, Brady even went as far as to suggest those fans come “lubed up” to yell to their hearts content.

On Wednesday, Brady took time again to give it up for the fans when he was asked about the atmosphere at Gillette when he takes the field Saturday night Jan. 11 in the AFC divisional round. The Patriots completed their fifth perfect season at Gillette with a 34-20 win over the Bills last Sunday.

What is it that he likes so much about playing at Gillette?

“Well, we’€™ve got great fans that come out and let it rip,” Brady said. “I think they are always into the game, and the communication at home is really important for an offense, and our communication on our offense, there’€™s a lot of it, so the better we can communicate, the more we’€™re on the same page. Typically the less chance there is to make a mistake, because you can just communicate pretty easily. If I want the receiver to do something, I just yell out there and tell him. When you’€™re on the road, there’€™s different non-verbal communication that you try to use.

“If you don’€™t get it right on one play, that one play could be a difference in the game. But there’€™s a little margin of error you get at home with your communication, because it’€™s just pretty easy to communicate as an offense. But it’€™s equally as difficult for a defense, though. It’€™s a home game for our offense, but for our defense, they get crowd noise and they have to communicate. We’€™ve done a good job winning because we go out and execute well, but on offense I think our communication is typically better at home than it is on the road.”

Everyone in attendance knows that Brady comes out on the field for warmups to ‘€œPublic Service Announcement’€ by Jay-Z. He was asked if that was his choice or that of the game staff at the stadium.

“That’€™s been my choice for a long time,” Brady said. “I’€™m a big fan of his.”

Brady acknowledged, however, that neither fans nor Jay-Z can keep the Patriots from making mistakes if they’re not prepared.

“I think the execution has to be ‘€“ you’€™re playing the best teams, so I think you just can’€™t make ‘€“ the mistakes are really magnified, I think that’€™s the difference. You can’€™t ‘€“ when you play a good team, it’€™s hard to beat good teams and not play your best. Typically, if you play less than what you’€™re capable of, you don’€™t get the win, because the other teams are just too good. Some days if you play a team that struggles and has been struggling, you may not play your best but you still may win. Usually it doesn’€™t happen that way in the playoffs, so that’€™s why we’€™ve got to be able to eliminate turnovers, not turn the ball over, just make the other team earn it, be at our best, be right on our assignments all the time, be [as] mentally and physically sharp as we could possibly be, and then see if the other team can beat us.”

Funny that Brady was asked about Gillette on a day when his alma mater was hosting the largest hockey audience in NHL history as over 105,000 jammed the “Big House” at the University of Michigan to watch Toronto edge Detroit, 3-2, in the “Winter Classic.”

“That’€™s today? There’€™s a lot of good things on today, so [I’€™ll] be channel-surfing,” said Brady, who was asked what he thought it must be like in that stadium for hockey. “Pretty cool. It’€™s a great environment, so I wish I had a chance to get back there at some point to watch a football game. Maybe when I retire, but to do a hockey game in there is pretty sweet. It’€™s a lot of people; I know they did it at Fenway a few years ago which was really cool, so it’€™s a great ‘€“ really neat experience. Really smart of the NHL to do that.”

Will Brady watch the wild card games this weekend? Do you think there is value in watching those games, or do you actually prefer not to?

“I’€™ve done both. I mean, I’€™ve watched and I haven’€™t watched,” Brady said. “I don’€™t know, sometimes you get really riled up watching the game, and then you start cheering for teams to win or lose, and then, you know’€¦ Yeah, you don’€™t want to ride the wave, so I try to just ‘€“ I’€™ll use my time as best [as] possible to prepare myself, so whatever it needs to be, that’€™s what it will be.”

The Patriots will play the Bengals if Cincinnati beats San Diego or the winner of the Chiefs-Colts game if San Diego wins.

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Patriots’ Potential Playoff Opponents: Chiefs

01.01.14 at 3:48 pm ET
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With the Patriots securely in the playoffs, it’€™s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is a series on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. We’€™ve already taken a look at the Chargers and Colts. Now, it’€™s the Chiefs.

The skinny: The Chiefs started 9-0 and finished 11-5, taking second place in the AFC West and earning the first of two AFC wild-card spots. The jury is still out on Kansas City for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the Chiefs beat just one playoff team this year (the Eagles, on the road in Week 3). But with a few moments, the offense has been steady and consistent, leaning primarily on running back Jamaal Charles, while the defense has managed to keep them in games for most of the season. (The only time Kansas City was anywhere close to being on the losing end of a blowout was when it went down to Indy, 23-7, on Dec. 22.) In his first year at the helm of the Chiefs, Andy Reid has done a lot to turn the program around, and will get plenty of consideration when it comes to Coach of the Year consideration. They’€™ll travel to Indy for a date with the Colts on Saturday, and will be attempting to capture the first playoff win for the franchise since Joe Montana led the Chiefs past the Oilers in January 1994.

Offense: Charles is as dynamic an offensive option as they come. The running back leads the Chiefs in rushing (259 carries, 1,287 rushing yards, 12 TDs), as well as receiving (70 catches, 693 receiving yards, 7 TDs). The 5-foot-11, 199-pounder out of Texas is supported in the passing game by Dwayne Bowe (57 catches, 673 yards, 5 TDs) and Dexter McCluster (53 catches, 511 yards, 2 TDs). Quarterback Alex Smith has done a good job leaning on a wide variety of options this year — he hasn’€™t been statistically overwhelming, but he’€™s completed 61 percent of his passes (308-for-508) for 3,313 yards, to go along with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Knile Davis has also augmented Charles in the running game with 70 carries for 242 yards and four TDs. For the most part, Smith, Bowe, McCluster and Davis all bring a high level of competitiveness to the Kansas City offense, but everything it does offensively flows through Charles. Numbers-wise, the Chiefs are pretty much middle of the pack when it comes to offense: they’€™re 21st in total offense (337.3 yards per game), tied for 24th in passing offense (208.8 yards per game) and 10th in rushing yards per game (128.5 yards per game). But they’€™re tied for sixth in points per game (26.9).

Defense: Justin Houston was Kansas City’€™s best defensive player, but the linebacker went down Nov. 24 with an elbow injury. In his absence, the Chiefs’€™ defense has struggled — KC’€™s points per game allowed was at 13.8 with him in the lineup for the first 10 games, but was 27.3 over the final six without him on the field. Some of that had to do with other things, but his impact is undeniable. Houston is expected back for Saturday’€™s wild-card game, but the rust from his time on the shelf will likely take some time to knock off. Even without Houston, the defense is still really impressive — they tied for fifth in the league in terms of points allowed (19.1 per game), and the +18 in the takeaway department is due in large part to a ball-hawking secondary that came away with 21 interceptions.

Why the Patriots should be afraid: Charles is the sort of multidimensional offensive option that gives defensive coordinators nightmares. He had four games where he rushed for 100 yards or more, and had four games where he had at least 50 receiving yards. He had an epic game against the Raiders in December when he had eight catches for 195 yards and five TDs. (I mean, it was against Oakland, but that’€™s nuts.) If Houston is back to anything near full strength, that defense will also be difficult to contain.

Why the Patriots shouldn’€™t be afraid: Kansas City is a young team with almost no playoff experience, and one that appeared to be a little overwhelmed when faced with the spotlight against some of the other elite teams in the league this season. In addition, while a game at Arrowhead might get a little dicey for New England, the thought of playing them at Gillette isn’€™t nearly as daunting.

One guy to look out for: Tamba Hali spent most of the season working opposite Houston at the right linebacker spot, and finished the year with 11 sacks. He’€™s not the consistent stud that he used to be — the 30-year-old saw most of his sacks come in bunches this season — but is still a handful for opposing tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, Hali led the Chiefs in quarterback hurries with 59. When you’€™re talking about slowing down the Kansas City defense, so much of the focus is on shutting down Houston, but Hali remains a priority.

Potential playoff villain: The Chiefs’€™ leading receiver from 2008 through 2011 (he had over 1,000 receiving yards in three of those four seasons), Bowe is no longer the primary offensive option for Kansas City — he’€™s clearly been usurped by Charles — but can still be a difficult cover. At 6-foot-2 and 221 pounds, the 29-year-old out of LSU is a big, rangy pass catcher who can really do some damage. Like Hali and Houston, Bowe has carved out some good numbers this season because so many defenses are focused on slowing down Charles.

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Tom Brady on Josh McDaniels: ‘I’m glad he’s my coach’

01.01.14 at 2:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Whether or not the Patriots lose offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to the Cleveland Browns, Tom Brady made a point of appreciating the work McDaniels has done in his two stints in New England.

Brady and McDaniels worked together from 2001-2008, when McDaniels left to become the head coach of the Denver Broncos for a season and a half. He then spent most of 2011 as the Rams offensive coordinator before returning to the Patriots late in the run to Super Bowl XLVI.

It was a natural when McDaniels, a native of Northeast Ohio, became a candidate for the Browns head coaching vacancy when Rob Chudzinski was fired on Monday.

“I’m not surprised by much anymore in the NFL,” Brady said of McDaniels’ name coming up as a leading candidate. “He’s a great coach and I said the other day, he’s one of my best buds and I’ve been around him for a long time so I know him pretty well. I’m glad he’s my coach.”

He was not as effusive about another former offensive coordinator. Bill O’Brien will reportedly be hired as the new coach of the Houston Texans. He was on the Patriots staff from 2007-11, and was the fiery offensive coordinator during the ’11 season with Brady.

“That was a long time ago,” Brady said of his time with O’Brien. “Truthfully, I’m just trying to stay focused on this week. That’s not really in my thought process right now.”

As for other teams tapping the Bill Belichick coaching tree, Brady said he’s grown accustomed to it by now.

“Multiple times but it’s a credit to those guys and what they’ve accomplished,” Brady said. “It’s a very flattering thing when other people are interested. But you know, they’ll make their decisions based on whatever they make their decisions based on. I still have to go out there and do my job, which is ultimately what I owe this team and what I signed up for and what I promised Mr. Kraft when I signed my contract. What I commit to Belichick and all my teammates that I’m going to do the best I can do. It doesn’t matter who’s coaching or who’s running routes or who [I’m] handing the ball off to or who’s blocking or who’s playing defense. I’ve got to do my job and that’s where my focus is.”

He wasn’t staying up late on New Year’s Eve worrying about his coaching staff or partying.

“I was asleep. We had an early-morning practice,” Brady said.

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Patriots practice Wednesday: Logan Mankins (ankle) absent, Devin McCourty returns

01.01.14 at 11:51 am ET
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FOXBORO — On a frigid New Year’s morning outside Gillette Stadium, the Patriots returned to practice in their bye week and joining the Patriots for the first time in two weeks was safety Devin McCourty, who missed the season finale with a concussion.

Logan Mankins was one of four Patriots not on the field after injuring his ankle on Sunday in the win over the Bills. Mankins injured his left ankle when he helped spring LeGarrette Blount on the 39-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. He went down into the locker room and missed just one series before coming back to play. He had a walking boot by his clothes at his locker after the game.

Alfonzo Dennard (knee), Josh Boyce (ankle) and Aaron Dobson (left foot) were three other players not spotted Wednesday morning as the team practiced in sweats and shells on the lower grass practice field. Julian Edelman and nose tackle Chris Jones were two of the only players spotted not wearing long sleeves on a morning where the wind chill was near zero.

McCourty’s return is encouraging after injuring his neck in the win over Baltimore on Dec. 22 and suffering a concussion. He missed a full week of practice before sitting out the game against the Bills.

Even with the impending snow storm, the Patriots are still scheduled to practice Thursday and Friday before taking the weekend off to enjoy their bye. After the weekend, the Patriots will return to practice on Tuesday as they prepare for their divisional playoff game at Gillette on Jan. 11.

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Patriots’ Potential Playoff Opponents: Colts

01.01.14 at 10:15 am ET
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With the Patriots securely in the postseason, it’€™s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is the first in a series of features on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. We already took a look at the Chargers. Now, it’€™s the Colts.

The skinny: The Colts captured the AFC South crown with an 11-5 mark, good enough for the fourth overall seed in the playoff chase. Like just about everyone else in the conference, Indy is a wildly flawed team that demonstrated it could be terrific one week (the Colts beat the Niners and Chiefs on the road, as well as the Seahawks and Broncos at home) and an absolute hot mess another week (they lost to the Rams at home by 30 and got waxed by the Cardinals in the desert by 29.) They have, however, played well down the stretch, winning four of their last five games by an average of 17 points. (Their final three wins were by a combined score of 78-20.) Players say they were spurred on late in the season after a players-only meeting following the November loss to Arizona — whatever was said, it appeared to work.

Offense: Quarterback Andrew Luck and the passing game is carrying the load here. The second-year signal caller out of Stanford has continued to make impressive gains, finishing the year with a 60 percent completion rate (343-for-570), 3,822 passing yards and 23 touchdowns against just nine picks — half of what he threw last season. The leading target is T.Y. Hilton, who has matured into one of the better young receivers in the game with 82 catches (on 138 targets) for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns, all of which are team-highs. Coby Fleener (52 catches, 608 yards, four TDs) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (29 catches, 309 yards, one TD) have also managed to pick up some of the slack in the wake of Reggie Wayne going down with a season-ending injury. It’€™s a good thing they have, as they have struggled to run the ball with any sort of consistency — Donald Brown (102 carries, 537 yards, six TDs) is the only real threat in the ground game for the Colts. Indy committed the fewest turnovers in the league with 14.

Defense: As we stated previously, the team has played well down the stretch. And while much of that is due to Luck’€™s evolution as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, there’€™s also something to defensive improvements. They allowed 6.7 points per game over their final three games, and old reliable Robert Mathis has been a big reason for their success — he’€™s piled up a whopping 19.5 sacks this season to lead the league. Defensive lineman Cory Redding has done well in run support, while defensive back Vontae Davis and ex-Patriot Darius Butler (a team-high four picks) have led an competitive secondary. Overall, the Colts are ninth in the league when it comes to points allowed (21 points per game), 13th in the league against the pass (231.9 passing yards per game) and 26th in the league against the run (125.1 rushing yards per game). The defense is really good when it comes to takeaways with 27 (15 picks, 12 fumbles), one of the better totals in the AFC.
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Patriots’ Potential Playoff Opponents: Chargers

01.01.14 at 8:30 am ET
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With the Patriots securely in the postseason, it’€™s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is the first in a weeklong series of features on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. Today, we open with a look at the Chargers:

The skinny: The Chargers won five of their last six to emerge from the morass to finish 9-7 and capture the sixth seed in the AFC. San Diego was up-and-down over the course of the regular season — it posted some really impressive wins, including road victories over the Broncos, Chiefs and Eagles, all playoff teams. Of course, the Chargers also lost to the Raiders, Jaguars and Redskins, three teams who saw their playoff chances evaporate somewhere around Halloween. You catch them on a good day, they can be dangerous. You get them on a bad day, and they can be beaten.

Offense: The Chargers will rise and fall on the arm of quarterback Philip Rivers, an occasionally erratic signal-caller who had one of the best seasons of his career. He finished in the top 5 in most major passing categories, including completion percentage (69.5, first in the NFL), touchdown passes (32, fourth), passer rating (105.5, fourth) and passing yards (4,478, fifth). The ground game is led by Ryan Mathews (285 carries, 1,255 yards, six touchdowns) and old pal Danny Woodhead (106 carries, 429 yards, two TDs). Woodhead is also part of a group of four pass catchers who have more than 600 receiving yards. Rookie Keenan Allen is the top target (71 catches, 1,046 yards, eight TDs), and he’€™s ably supported by ageless tight end Antonio Gates (77 catches, 872 yards, four TDs), Eddie Royal (47 catches, 631 yards, eight TDs) and Woodhead (76 catches, 605 yards, six TDs).

Defense: While it does have some impactful players — safety Eric Weddle, defensive end Corey Liuget — San Diego is essentially middle of the road defensively. The Chargers are middle of the pack when it comes to points allowed per game (21.8, 11th), total defense (366.5 yards allowed per game, 23rd) and run defense (107.8, 12th). If they do have anything resembling an Achilles’€™ heel, it’€™s probably their pass defense: the Chargers allow an average of 258.7 passing yards per game, 29th in the NFL. As a defense, San Diego isn’€™t great when it comes to forcing takeaways, as it had just 17 on the year, third-worst in the AFC. Weddle and Marcus Gilchrist lead the team with two picks each.
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