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Rob Gronkowski ‘all for’ coaches decision not to play in regular-season finale

12.31.14 at 2:28 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski missed his first game of the season Sunday in the regular-season finale. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski missed his first game of the season Sunday in the regular-season finale. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Rob Gronkowski was all about playing a full 16 games this season, referring to it many times over the course of training camp this past summer.

Being inactive Sunday prevented him from doing that, as he hasn’t played a full season since 2011, but the decision for him to sit out didn’t cause any hard feelings, with him being “all for it.”

“It was a coaches decision. I was all for it,” Gronkowski said Wednesday. “Coaches decision so just trying to get better this week. Practicing hard. Practicing hard.”

Gronkowski finished the year with 82 catches for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. Statistically it was his second-best season, as he was only better in 2011 when he had 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Even though the Patriots have a bye week this week — as they await their first-round opponent — it doesn’t mean the team is not working. They are constantly trying to get better.

“œA bye week [or] no bye week, you want to make corrections, you want to go out, you want to execute at practice,” said Gronkowski. “Whenever you step out on the practice field you want to practice hard. That’€™s what we’€™re doing. I’€™m going out there trying to get better every single time I step out on the field.”

The Patriots held an unusual blue and white scrimmage on Wednesday, as the team practiced against each other — a way to keep the team fresh and motivated despite the bye week. It was a spirited game, with a number of players still talking about it afterwards in the locker room.

“We’€™re just going out there [to] practice hard, practicing versus each other,” Gronkowski said. “[We’€™re] having fun out there — it’€™s football. [We’€™re] just practicing hard, getting corrections done and making plays and running, doing it all. We’€™re just having fun out at practice and working hard.”

Even with holding a team scrimmage, it still isn’t an actual game and Gronkowski is excited about getting to play in the postseason game, especially after missing last year’s action with his ACL injury.

“€œOh, always excited,” he said. “[I’€™m] just excited for practice, just practicing going out there is fun, but definitely. Especially when next week rolls around [I’€™m] definitely going to be mad eager and super excited.”

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Tom Brady on reportedly tweaking contract: ‘Hopefully I am here for the rest of my career’

12.31.14 at 1:29 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Even with winning three Super Bowls and being considered one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, the motivation for the 37-year-old quarterback hasn’t changed. Winning is still the most important thing.

It was reported earlier in the week that Brady modified his contract to give the team $24 million more to spend this offseason. Although Brady didn’t confirm the transaction, he spoke of how much the organization and winning means to him.

“It’s been a privilege to play here,” Brady said. “I love playing here. It’s been a great experience in my life. Hopefully I am here for the rest of my career and hopefully I go out and play really well for my team. That matters more than anything. I am going to try and be the best I can be. I’ve played with a lot of great teammates over the years. I don’t take those things for granted.”

It was the third time since March of 2012 that Brady has restructured his deal — he is signed through the end of the 2017 season. With the extra money available, the team is in better shape to go out and re-sign some of their own free agents in Shane Vereen, Devin McCourty, Darrelle Revis, Stephen Gostkowski, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, among others.

Winning has always been a motivating factor for Brady, even back in high school when he was a backup quarterback as a freshman for a team that went 0-8. The quarterback also spoke of how much the team means to him, and never wanting to let his teammates down.

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Bill Belichick goes deep on why Pats ‘lucky to have’ Jamie Collins, references Lawrence Taylor

12.31.14 at 12:18 pm ET
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Jamie Collins has been an impact player for the Patriots since he landed in Foxboro. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Jamie Collins has been an impact player for the Patriots since he landed in Foxboro. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — It’s not often that Bill Belichick throws out compliments and makes comparisons to hall of fame players he’s coached.

But in Jamie Collins’ case Wednesday, he did both in a way.

The second-year linebacker has played a significant role in allowing Belichick to modify his defense to different alignments and schemes. On Sunday, he single-handedly blew by the Bills offensive line, strip-sacked Kyle Orton and recovered the fumble in the second half.

In the early 80s, Belichick was able to use Lawrence Taylor to help revolutionize the outside linebacker position and disrupt defenses by moving him around on the edges and forcing offenses to account for him on every play.

With Collins, Sunday’s strip-sack was the kind of play Taylor repeated time after time in his career.

Defenses have been continually evolving to counteract offenses. Belichick was asked Wednesday if Collins could be a prototype of defensive players in the future, where there are fewer linebackers and more players flexing between the second and third levels of the defense.

“Look, Jamie Collinses don’€™t ‘€“ it’€™s not like there’€™s two or three dozen of them in the draft every year,” Belichick said. “We’€™re lucky to have one. Was Lawrence Taylor a prototype outside linebacker? Where’€™s the next Lawrence Taylor? Those guys don’€™t grow on trees. So, I don’€™t know.

“I think that’€™s part of building your team is trying to anticipate where your team is going and to a certain extent where, especially defensively because you have to react to what they put on the field. Defensively you have to be able to defend those things. How do you construct the defense so you can handle the different challenges that you have?”

How Collins is deployed is up to Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. What makes Collins so valuable is not just his play-making impact but his flex quality between base and “sub” defensive sets. Belichick gave some insight Wednesday in how using him in “sub” or nickel packages might different from 3-4 and 4-3 bases. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jamie Collins, Lawrence Taylor, New England Patriots

Brandon LaFell, Alan Branch not spotted at start of Patriots practice Wednesday

12.31.14 at 11:02 am ET
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Brandon LaFell

Brandon LaFell

FOXBORO — Wide receiver Brandon LaFell and defensive tackle Alan Branch were not spotted at the start of Patriots practice on Wednesday, which was held on the game field at Gillette Stadium. It appeared the team was splitting up to take part in a blue and white scrimmage.

LaFell was also not spotted at the start of practice yesterday. This comes after he left Sunday’s game with a foot injury — he did return for the final series of the game, though. Branch, hasn’t been on the injury report this season and was spotted at practice on Tuesday.

The team will hold another practice on Thursday, before the team has Friday-Monday off, before getting set for their divisional round playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 10 at Gillette Stadium at 4:35 p.m.

With it being the bye week, the team is not required to put out an injury report.

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Bill Belichick: ‘I don’t really have any control’ over the future of Josh McDaniels in New England

12.31.14 at 10:43 am ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots have seen this before. And so has Bill Belichick.

The Patriots earn a first-round bye and their offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels draws interest from other NFL teams looking to fill a head coaching vacancy.

On Monday, the Falcons, 49ers, Bears and Jets all said goodbye to their head coach. In San Francisco’s case, it was Jim Harbaugh leaving for Michigan. In the other three, it was a case of the team thinking they needed to go in a different direction.

On Tuesday, it was reported that McDaniels agreed to sit down with the Falcons and Niners in New England during the bye week and listen to what the representatives from Atlanta and San Francisco had to offer.

On Wednesday, Belichick was asked what it’s like to have McDaniels wanted again as hot coaching commodity.

“I don’t really have any control over it. We’ll see what happens. We’ve seen this before, multiple times, multiple coaches. We’ll go through the process,” Belichick said.

As far back as 2004, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel interviewed with the Browns for their head coaching job. That same postseason, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis interviewed with Notre Dame. Both left after the Patriots beat the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots

Report: Josh McDaniels agrees to head coaching interviews with Falcons, 49ers in New England

12.30.14 at 9:26 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Josh McDaniels insisted on Monday that he is “very happy” in New England and would be happy staying with the Patriots.

But since then, he’s apparently liked what he’s heard from two teams with head coaching vacancies. According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Patriots offensive coordinator has agreed to interview with the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers this week in New England, while the Patriots continue their bye week preparations for the divisional playoff game on Jan. 10.

The Falcons fired Mike Smith on Monday after he finished with a 6-10 record and was blown out in the season finale at home on Sunday by the Carolina Panthers with the NFC South title on the line. Jim Harbaugh left the 49ers on Monday to take the head coaching job at his alma mater, the University of Michigan.

McDaniels hasn’t held a head coaching job since 2010, when he was fired in Denver midseason after a 3-9 start. McDaniels started his coaching career 6-0 but lost 17 of his next 22 games.

Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots

Dont’a Hightower admits he’s injured but vows to ‘play through it’ for playoffs

12.30.14 at 9:02 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Dont’a Hightower has filled the void admirably for the Patriots the last two seasons when Jerod Mayo went down with season-ending injuries.

But now, it’s Hightower who is battling through his own injury issues, as he acknowledged Tuesday in speaking with reporters. Hightower has worn a shoulder brace for the last several weeks. Hightower sat out against the Chargers with a shoulder injury on Dec. 7 and missed last week as he rested the shoulder.

Now, Hightower has some extra time to rest that shoulder to get it ready for Jan. 10 in the AFC divisional round at Gillette Stadium.

“€œIt’€™s just football, next man up,” said Hightower, who also missed the games against the Bengals and Bills with a knee injury. “Guys are going to be injured. Sometimes there are going to be times where guys are going to have to make plays who might not have made plays throughout the year or maybe even the year before. We’€™re just playing football. That’€™s all there is to it. You can say injuries, you can say harder teams or whatever, but we’€™ve all played football before.

“It’s football, man. Everybody gets injured. I’m injured, but it’s football. I’m gonna play through it. It is what it is.”

The benefit of getting extra rest and healing far outweighs the downside of any potential game rust.

“I’m one of the first ones to agree about that,” said Hightower. “It’s good that we got a slower pace, making sure we’re understanding things, letting some guys get healed up. We’re definitely taking advantage of it all the way around.

“€œWhen you’€™ve been playing football this long, whether you take three weeks off or a month off, it’€™s still football at the end of the day. It’€™s going to be about executing, and that’€™s definitely what we’€™re taking advantage of now just getting back to square one and doing things that we weren’€™t able to do during the season.”
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