|01.19.12 at 3:48 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots aren’t afraid of much. But in Haloti Ngata, there is a man that can strike fear into the even the most stout wearing the red, white, blue and silver. There has been plenty of talk this week so far about Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. But the key to containing the Ravens defense likely starts in the middle with a 350-pound nose tackle who can outrun some tight ends in the NFL.
What is it about the Ravens perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle that makes him so dangerous?
“He’s 350 pounds and not many guys that size can move like he can,” said left guard Logan Mankins, who no doubt will have his hands full keeping an eye on him over center. “With him, he can swim you, he can run you over, he can do many different things to you that a lot of guys his size can’t do. That’s what makes him so tough. Just like [Terrell Suggs], they’re guys that are better athletes and stronger and faster than a lot of guys so it makes them hard to block.”
While the Patriots offensive line goes up against the powerful one-gap tackle Vince Wilfork every day in practice, Ngata is a different type of nose tackle, one who can rush the passer and will move side-to-side more than Wilfork.
“He’s as good as there is in the game at that position,” Waters said. “His ability to play all over the defensive line, his ability to have power and athletic ability to go along with his size, it’s something that you really can’t account for until you’re out there. You really don’t know how strong he is and how athletic he is for a big man until you’re actually on the field with him. When he’s on the field he’s going full blast. That’s something that not only him, but a couple of those other guys when you start talking about [Pernell McPhee] and you add Cory Redding in there, these guys are big, strong guys but they’re also very athletic and very versatile because they’ll be all over the field.”
What was interesting to take from Waters Thursday was how much more confident he feels in the Patriots abilities – as an offensive group – to handle Ngata and the Ravens D-line.
“Honestly, I try not to really think back too much and try not to fall too much back on that because it was such a totally different team,” Waters added. “We were nowhere near the explosive football team that we are today. We’re a different football team. We depended almost completely on the run. We were just a different focus-type of football team. I try not to think of that too much.” Read the rest of this entry »
|01.19.12 at 2:32 pm ET|
Harbaugh was hired as the head coach of the Ravens four years ago this week, and according to reports, Belichick was instrumental in serving as a reference. Harbaugh was effusive in his praise of the Patriots coach.
‘Maybe it’s the old special teams guys, you know?’ joked Harbaugh, who, like Belichick, made his bones initially as a special teams coach. ‘I just respect Bill Belichick as a coach and as a man. I just really do. I think he’s the greatest coach in our league right now, and that’s proven. And that’s why you get so excited to have an opportunity to play against a guy [like him] as a coach.’
Belichick, a Maryland native, returned the compliment before practice on Thursday, saying that he and Harbaugh have ‘a good relationship.’
‘I see him from time to time,’ Belichick said. ‘I spend a little bit of time in that area because of my roots being back there. We’re both pretty entrenched in what we’re doing. But (in) Indianapolis or league meetings, stuff like that, I enjoy talking to John, I think he’s a great guy (who) does a good job with his football team. I have all the respect in the world for him. This week, I hope our team can play a little better than theirs, that’s all.’
Belichick said that in a relatively short time, Harbaugh has managed to put his distinctive stamp on the Ravens.
‘They’re tough, they’re physical, they don’t make many mistakes, they’re very well prepared, they do a great job of situational football,’ Belichick said of Harbaugh’s team. ‘They’re physical in all three areas of the game. They run the ball well, obviously they have a physical defense, they’re very physical in the kicking game. I think that’s what John wants — he really wants them to be a tough, physical, hardnosed football team. And they are.’
|01.19.12 at 2:05 pm ET|
The Patriots announced Thursday that former linebacker Tedy Bruschi will be one of the honorary captains for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Ravens. The club previously announced Monday that former wide receiver Troy Brown and cornerback Ty Law were the first two members of the group, all of which will come from players who were part of the 1996 AFC Championship team, as well as the 2001 team.
|01.19.12 at 12:11 am ET|
FOXBORO — The circus is in town, but it’s nothing that veteran Kevin Faulk hasn’t seen before.
The media crush, megahype and general mayhem that come with an AFC Championship Game has descended on the Patriots and Gillette Stadium. It means more questions, more logistical discussions about tickets and, possibly, more distractions.
It’s something that was commonplace throughout the earlier stages of Faulk’s career when the Patriots went to three Super Bowls in four seasons. Because of that, Faulk — as well as the rest of the veterans on the roster who have played deep into January on previous occasions — are well schooled in dealing with the (potentially) big distractions that come with the big games.
‘It’s a circus. That’s all it is, a circus. The most important thing is playing a football game and preparing for a football game. The other stuff doesn’t even matter,’ Faulk said. ‘It’s pretty obvious what you have to be aware of or walk away from.’
Faulk is one of several players on the New England roster who has been to the circus on several occasions. The Patriots have seven players on the roster who have played in at least 10 playoff games, including quarterback Tom Brady (20 postseason games), Faulk (19), left tackle Matt Light (18), defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (14), defensive end Shaun Ellis (13), wide receiver Deion Branch (13) and Logan Mankins (11).
(While it’s debatable how much playoff experience can help this time of year, the postseason history on New England’s roster matches up favorably with Baltimore, which has six players with at least 10 games of playoff experience under their belt, including linebacker Ray Lewis with a team-high 16 games.)
As a result, one of the things that many of the veterans on this roster understand is that these kinds of opportunities don’t come around that often. For wide receiver Wes Welker, that point was driven home to wide receiver Wes Welker following the 2007 season. In the wake of that record-breaking year that saw the Patriots fall just short of a perfect season in Super Bowl XLII, he confessed that he believed the Patriots would go to the Super Bowl every year.
|01.18.12 at 8:57 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The last time the Patriots faced the Ravens in the postseason, the New England defense was a fundamentally rudderless ship.
Caught in the throes of transition, New England was trying to take the first few steps beyond the Tedy Bruschi/Rodney Harrison/Richard Seymour/Mike Vrabel era, and made several missteps along the way, both when it came to personnel and off-field chemistry. In many cases, the veterans who were around wanted no part of being a leader (or were simply lousy at the job), while the young guys who might have had leadership potential didn’t feel like it was their place to speak out.
Two years later, the Patriots are back in the playoffs against Baltimore, and the leadership situation for New England on the defensive side of the ball is far different than it was in 2009. In the time since that hideous postseason defeat, the Patriots made a clear effort to flush out anyone who might have been a problem in the locker room. In their place, new leaders have emerged. Two guys who were a little cautious about speaking up in 2009 now have no such problems. Vince Wilfork — who delivered a memorable rant before the start of the 2010 season about the need for a new era of leadership with the Patriots — has emerged as a bonafide defensive leader, while linebacker Jerod Mayo has also stepped forth to put his imprint on this team.
While Wilfork’s leadership skills have come to the fore when it comes to working with the other defensive linemen, Mayo’s has been more across the board. This offseason, it was Mayo who provided the spark when it came to organizing workouts, and watching a few minutes of those unofficial practices, it was clear that Mayo was running the defense.
Wilfork, who said Mayo ‘by far (is) one of the best leaders that we have on this team,’ acknowledged that while Mayo was a special player from the start, it took a few years before he got used to the idea of being a leader. Part of that likely stemmed from the fact that at that time, the rookie was part of a defense that included veterans like Bruschi, Vrabel, Harrison and Seymour. But when all those guys departed within months of each other, he was quickly pushed into the spotlight.
|01.18.12 at 8:05 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Tom Brady stood at the podium on Wednesday like a politician on the stump before a big debate.
He wasn’t about to give any ammunition to his opponent.
“They’re great players,” Brady said Wednesday of Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. “I’ve played against both those guys quite a few times. You always enjoy going up against the best because you can really measure where you’re at. You can’t take plays off against those guys. You can’t take things for granted when you’re out there against them. You have to see where they’re at on every play because they’re guys who change the game. Not only the games that we play them, but every single game that they’re in they’re making plays.”
It was Lewis and Suggs who didn’t blast Brady per se but how the NFL protects Brady and “babies” the New England quarterback, especially after his season-ending knee injury of Sept. 2008. The next season, there were a couple of crucial roughing the quarterback calls in New England’s 27-21 win over the Ravens at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 4. The Ravens were called for nine penalties for 85 yards, including a pair of crucial 15-yarders.
Lewis ripped the refs after the game, saying they were overcompensating to protect Brady.
“Without totally going off the wall, it is embarrassing to the game,” Lewis said. “Brady is good enough to make his own plays, let him make the play. When you have two great teams that are going at it, let them go at it. Did [penalties] win or lose the game? No, but it got them 14 points.”
Suggs added he thought the NFL was especially interested in protecting “some quarterbacks more than others.” The Ravens were called for a pair of penalties when the Suggs grazed Brady, who fell to the turf.
“They don’t want the quarterbacks getting hurt,” Suggs said after that game. “Maybe next year it’ll be two-hand touch for the sack because we can’t tackle.”
Fast forward to Wednesday. While Suggs was offering to take Brady up on his offer of Uggs in exchange for “Ball So Hard University” shirts, the linebacker made it clear it’s not personal with Brady.
“There’s no beef,” Suggs said. “You grow and mature. I’m not the same guy I was in ’09. I’m 20 pounds lighter. There’s no beef. It’s pretty much over. I respect him.”
Our own Kirk Minihane is in enemy territory this week with the Ravens and had this unique take on The World According to Terrell Suggs.
And remember when the Patriots beat the Ravens, 23-20, in overtime last year? Suggs said Brady ‘made some plays . . . But like I said, he just better hope he don’t see us again.’
Brady replied on Dennis and Callahan the next day, “they talk a lot for only beating us once in nine years.” Read the rest of this entry »
|01.18.12 at 7:05 pm ET|
The Patriots announced Wednesday that former Pro Bowl cornerback Ty Law has been selected as the second of four honorary captains for the team’s AFC Championship Game against the Ravens on Sunday. The club previously announced Monday that former wide receiver Troy Brown was the first of the group, all of which will come from players who were part of the 1996 AFC Championship team, as well as the 2001 team.