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Ty Law on why he respects Peyton Manning, and a forgotten memory of the Snow Bowl

01.13.15 at 2:52 pm ET
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In case you missed it, we caught up with Ty Law last night to discuss the opportunity that Darrelle Revis has this postseason, “to become a legend.”

Here are some leftover thoughts from Law on Peyton Manning, as well as one of the unsung plays of his Patriots career, in the Snow Bowl against the Raiders.

On Manning: Law picked the future Hall of Famer three times in the 2003 AFC title game, cementing his place as one of the great postseason performers of this generation.

But whereas many consider Manning a postseason choke artist, Law looks at the QB differently.

“I didn’t get many balls thrown at me most of my career,” Law said. “Peyton Manning, he always threw it. Peyton was a little different. I understand I’m covering Marvin Harrison, his go-to guy. He’s supposed to think his guy is better than me. He’s supposed to be confident. He’s one of the best two or three quarterbacks ever to play the game.

“It was like a Super Bowl or the playoffs. If I knew there was any game where I was going to be on ESPN all week either getting beat or making a play, it was going to be against Peyton, because he was one of the few QBs who wasn’t afraid to throw at me consistently. You’ve got to respect that. I actually looked forward to it. Hell, you ain’t getting no stats if nobody throws at you!”

On the Snow Bowl: The Patriots would never have had a chance for Adam Vinatieri to send the game to overtime if they hadn’t stopped Raiders fullback Zack Crockett on third and 1 with just over two minutes left in regulation. Richard Seymour shot into the backfield to blow up the play, and Tedy Bruschi and Law flew over the line to finish him off.

“I wasn’t thinking about covering Jerry Rice or Tim Brown,” Law said. “I’m thinking in this situation they’re going to run the ball and play it safe, because they need that yard to keep the ball. You play the situation and you take the same approach to making that tackle as breaking up a pass.

“I didn’t want to be known as just a cover corner or tackler. I wanted to be known as a complete player that could do everything. In that particular situation, it’s doing what you have to do to get your team to the next level, and if that means sacrificing your body, that’s what it means. It didn’t matter what surface we were playing on. You’re going full bore as hard as you can to make sure he doesn’t get that yard.”

Bill Belichick views Andrew Luck ‘like a sixth receiver you have to cover’

01.13.15 at 1:53 pm ET
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The Patriots are aware of Andrew Luck's ability to run and throw at the same time. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Patriots are aware of Andrew Luck‘s ability to run and throw at the same time. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

On Nov. 16, the Patriots prepared for the mobility of Andrew Luck and had a great deal of success, limiting him to just three runs out of the pocket for 15 yards, including a long of seven yards.

If they can repeat that again on Sunday night in the AFC championship, the odds are good they’ll be going back to the Super Bowl for a sixth time in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. But that’s a big if. And the Patriots head coach acknowledged as much in a Tuesday conference call.

The reason is that the Patriots have shown the ability to cover receivers downfield in their routes for the better part of the season. When a quarterback scrambles and still possesses the strength to throw or run for big chunks of yardage, that can (as defensive coordinator Matt Patricia pointed out Monday) wreak havoc on defensive responsibilities.

“He’€™s like a sixth receiver you have to cover,” Belichick said of Luck. “He can run, but again, if he extends the play then he has the ability to create big plays. We’€™ve seen him do that multiple times throughout his career already. The play he made against Denver where he kept the ball on about the nine, 10-yard line in the red area and ran it in for an easy touchdown ‘€“ it was called back, but it was an easy touchdown.

“It’€™s another guy you have to defend in the running game, the passing game in terms of his ability to scramble and make first-down yardage on possession-type downs. And he makes good decisions, so all those things are a problem: having to cover receivers longer and having to deal with his ability to run for yardage.”

Comparisons to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have been made, in terms of Luck’s toughness as a runner and in the pocket. But Belichick noted Tuesday that the thing to watch Sunday is Luck’s pure speed as a running quarterback, something that can get overlooked.

“He’€™s a big, strong guy that runs out of a lot of arm tackles and that type of thing. He’€™s a lot faster than Roethlisberger, so he’€™s much more of a threat to gain more yardage and gain it quicker,” Belichick said. “But, yeah, similar. Roethlisberger is, that guy is really hard to tackle. He’€™s a really strong guy in the pocket. So is Luck, but they’€™re both a problem.”

Luck is not exactly a zone-read quarterback like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick or Andy Dalton. But there is an element of it in the Colts’ offense.

“Yeah, he’€™s done it,” Belichick said. “We’€™ve definitely seen the play before from them. I wouldn’€™t say that’€™s a main part of their offense, like we saw from Miami, for example. It’€™s something they do, but it’€™s not something you’€™re going to see 20 times a game, like other teams in the league do it like that, or more.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2015 playoffs, AFC Championship, Andrew Luck, Bill Belichick

Rodney Harrison on MFB: Colts are a ‘favorable matchup’ for Patriots

01.13.15 at 12:29 pm ET
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NBC Sports NFL analyst Rodney Harrison made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming AFC championship game and also to talk about other matters around the league, including Peyton Manning. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The Colts come into this weekends game after upsetting the Broncos in Denver on Sunday and beating the Bengals at home in the wild card round. Although the offense, led by Andrew Luck, led the NFL in passing yards in the regular season with 4,894 yards, Harrison feels they can be beat, especially with Luck being prone to turn the ball over.

“I think from a physical standpoint, I think the Ravens were probably the most physical team that [the Patriots] have played all year,” said Harrison. “The Colts really surprised me. I didn’t believe in the Colts and you watch them during the regular season and they lost to the Patriots. Ben Roethlisberger put up what, 500, 600 passing yards, 51 points on them. They didn’t really beat any marquee teams. Cincinnati isn’t really a marquee team. I didn’t really believe in the Colts with Andrew Luck and all the turnovers, but I do believe this is a favorable matchup for the Patriots.

“You didn’t want to see Denver. As terrible as they played against the Indianapolis Colts I think with Andrew Luck and these weapons, which I think these weapons are a little bit overblown. I think T.Y. Hilton is a standout, Reggie Wayne — he’s not the same player, Coby Fleener is a decent tight end and they can make some plays. Hakeem Nicks is nothing that you’re going to lose sleep over. I do believe if they can get pressure on Andrew Luck, which other teams have shown, they can rattle him and he will turn the ball over.”

Much of the talk after Sunday’s Colts-Broncos game was more about Peyton Manning and whether or not the 38-year-old will retire after the season. It was also learned on Monday he played the final month of the year with a torn right quad. Harrison thinks it might be time for the quarterback to call it a career.

“Obviously Peyton coming off an emotional loss, it’s going to take time,” he said. “I mean, right now he’s at a crossroads in his career because the last few years have been a huge disappointment — obviously this loss to Indianapolis to me is just devastating. This is a team that you should have beat. To go out there and play the way that team played, to spend the money that John Elway spent, bringing guys on the defensive side of the ball and that is all they preached all season. ‘We finally got all the pieces to our puzzle. We knew what we needed from a defensive standpoint. We already have the offense.’ To go out and play the way they played was absolutely stunning to me.

“I think Peyton Manning, he has to look long and hard at what his options are. Retirement, he can go into the booth. He’d be a great broadcaster, but at the same time, you keep playing, your arm is not going to get any stronger. Things won’t get better as you get older. He’s at a point, he’s 39 next year and if I am him I am really seriously considering walking away from the game.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Peyton Manning, Rodney Harrison,

Bill Belichick doesn’t want to discuss Bryan Stork’s knee injury

01.13.15 at 10:41 am ET
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Bryan Stork

Bryan Stork

Starting center Bryan Stork left Saturday’s divisional round game with the Ravens in second quarter with a knee injury. It was then announced right after halftime he would not return to the game.

The rookie was not seen in the locker room following the game, and coach Bill Belichick didn’t have much of an update to offer on Tuesday’s conference call.

“I think Bryan has done a good job for us,” said Belichick. “We finished the game without him last week and if he wasn’t available then we’d be in a similar situation this week. Whether it would be the same [personnel] or different, I don’t really want to get into that. He’s obviously done a good job for us, he’s grown along the way.”

When Stork went down the Patriots made some adjustments on the offensive line, as Ryan Wendell shifted over from right guard to center and Josh Kline was inserted at right guard. Kline has emerged as the team’s top backup offensive linemen, as he started in place of Dan Connolly at left guard when he missed the final two games of the regular season. When it comes to Sunday’s game against the Colts, if Stork cannot play, it would seem Jordan Devey would become active, and along with Marcus Cannon, serve as the backup offensive linemen.

Another scenario to consider is rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming could be active, as the team had a lot of success in the last meeting with the Colts with Fleming serving as an extra offensive lineman. The Patriots ran for a total of 257 yards in the game.

Stork has been very important to the offensive line after taking over at center in Week 4. As noted last week, when the Patriots had a starting offensive line of Nate Solder, Connolly, Stork, Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer, they allowed only four sacks in the regular season, compared to 17 with any other combination. Tom Brady also a QB rating almost 14 points higher.

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Bill Belichick, Bryan Stork, Josh McDaniels

Tedy Bruschi on D&H: ‘I think you have to give [Jonas Gray] a chance’ vs. Colts

01.13.15 at 8:00 am ET
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ESPN NFL analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi joined Dale & Holley Monday afternoon for his weekly interview to revisit Saturday’s Patriots-Ravens divisional round game and to also look ahead to the AFC championship game this weekend. To hear the full interview, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

The last time the Patriots took on the Colts, the Patriots won 42-20 on Nov. 16 where Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards and four touchdowns. Since that game, Gray has ran for 80 yards and one touchdown. He has been inactive for the last two games — the season finale with an ankle injury and while he was on the injury report last week listed as probable with an ankle injury, he practiced all week and seemed like he could have been able to play.

Bruschi feels the Patriots should give Gray a chance this week.

“I think you have to give the kid a chance,” Bruschi said. “It may be one player does outstanding against one team, I don’t know. But you have to have that type of element there to see if that is the case to see if he can have the same success. I mean a lot of this is mental game. A lot of it is emotional. A lot of it is confidence. And to Jonas Gray to get a big pat on the butt this week and to say we’re going to give you another shot here, we will see if you can get even half of what you did. I mean that has to fire him up to tout that rock for the AFC championship game.

“So yes, I think it’s got to be revisited. I think it has to be addressed, but the one thing I know also is sometimes this coaching staff has a tendency to out think themselves. Most of the time it works, you see all the intellectual thought that went into that game plan and the different formations and how you attack people with trick plays and things like that. And the timing of it, I mean that way too, they sometimes over think things, so I hope they don’t do that this week because this Colts team can run on.”

Many were surprised with the Colts upsetting the Broncos in Denver this past weekend. The biggest surprise for Bruschi was the protection that Luck had in the game — not being sacked once.

“I was surprised at the Colts protection,” Bruschi said. “The Colts protection in terms of Andrew Luck not getting sacked — I thought those tackles were going to get eaten alive by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, but Andrew Luck did not get sacked. Andrew Luck did throw two interceptions, but they were glorified punts if you ask me. That is something that tells me if they are able to protect Andrew Luck like they did against the Broncos, Luck’s put this team on his shoulders and he can continue to do that if there is no pressure on him.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Jonas Gray, Tedy Bruschi,

Time check: Tom Brady goes against season trend, succeeds when getting ball out quick vs. Ravens

01.13.15 at 7:00 am ET
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Tom Brady had an average of 2.27 seconds from snap-to-attempt by our numbers against the Ravens. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady had an average of 2.27 seconds from snap-to-attempt by our numbers against the Ravens. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Everyone knew going into Saturday’s divisional round game against the Ravens of their powerful pass rush, as they finished second in the NFL with 49 sacks in the regular season, and were able to sack Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times in their wild card win.

Prior to the game there were a few ways mentioned for Tom Brady to offset the Ravens’ pass rush. One of them worked in a big way, and was one of the main reasons why the Patriots came away with a come-from-behind, 35-31 win — Brady getting the ball out quick.

Overall for the game, according to our numbers Brady took an average of 2.27 seconds from snap-to-throw — 2.34 seconds in the first half and 2.16 seconds in the second half. As a reminder, these numbers need to take into consideration of plays such as quick receiver screens effecting the numbers a bit, but it was clear there was a conscious effort for Brady to get rid of the ball quickly before the Baltimore pass rush could get to him.

By our count, when taking more than 2.25 seconds from snap-to-attempt Brady was 8-for-21 passing for 126 yards with an interception. In the second half, where the Patriots did most of their damage on offense — scoring touchdowns on three of their five possessions, not including the final punt of the game — Brady took less than 2.25 seconds from snap-to-throw on 16 of his 17 attempts.

All three of his touchdown passes were less than two seconds — 1.65 seconds on his first half hook up with Danny Amendola, 1.23 seconds on his 5-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski, and 1.8 seconds on his beautiful throw to Brandon LaFell for the game-winner in the fourth quarter.

“You’€™ve got to keep it moving against a great rush like that,” Brady said after the game. “They do a great job of the edge rushers and they get a lot of good inside moves and you have to counter with sometimes getting the ball out quick. And then obviously taking some opportunities down the field when you have time. We hit some quick ones, especially there in the second half, which we needed to. Guys made a lot of great plays. Whatever we had to do to move the chains and score points, that’€™s what we wanted to do.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Tom Brady,

Past is prologue: 2014 Patriots following same script as 2003 team

01.13.15 at 12:39 am ET
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Tom Brady and the rest of the 2003 Patriots celebrated with a Super Bowl win. Could the same thing happen this time around? (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Tom Brady and the rest of the 2003 Patriots celebrated with a Super Bowl win. Could the same thing happen this time around? (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

When it comes to the 2014 Patriots, there’s a creeping sense of deja vu.

Eleven years ago, the 2003 Patriots put forth a blueprint for success that included losing a respected veteran in the early going, a brutal stumble out of the gate (that prompted an ill-advised gaffe from an ESPN talking head), a key rookie who stepped in and helped stabilize the offensive line, a mid-season win streak and a playoff win in freezing temperatures in Foxboro.

It remains to be seen if there will be a finish similar to what happened in 2003 — where the Patriots beat Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII, 32-29 — but to this point in the season, many of the same elements from that year have been repeated in some form or fashion this time around. With the understanding that teams go through many of these same basic events over the course of the season, here are 10 similarities between the two teams that are especially striking, at least from this viewpoint.

1. There was the decision to cut ties with a well-respect veteran prior to the start of the season. In 2003, the Patriots released popular defensive back Lawyer Milloy in the days leading up to the regular-season opener against the Bills. The move stunned players, media and fans alike on a number of levels, not the least of which included the fact that Milloy and Bill Belichick were considered close. Milloy’s release was compounded by the fact that Buffalo quickly scooped him up, and he and the Bills crushed the Patriots in the opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium, 31-0. While Logan Mankins was dealt as far away as possible — he was shipped off to Tampa Bay prior to the start of the season in exchange for tight end Tim Wright — the backlash in some corners of the locker room was palpable. (Quarterback Tom Brady grew a beard as a tribute to the gruff veteran.) The loss of Mankins’ was magnified in the early going when the offensive line struggled in the early going, causing some to call for the Patriots to chase after free agent Richie Incognito. While there are still protection issues up front for the offensive line, things are far more secure now than they were at the start of the season.

2. There was the road loss to open the season against a divisional foe, and a home victory at the end of the season to gain a sizable measure of revenge. In 2003, the Patriots were throttled by the Bills in Buffalo, as Drew Bledsoe and Milloy celebrated at the expense of their old mates. But New England was able to return the favor at the end of the year, as the Patriots crushed the Bills 31-0 in the regular-season finale. This year, New England was shocked in the season-opener in Miami, as the Dolphins rolled to a 33-20 win. Back in Foxboro in December, the Patriots returned the favor, taking an easy 41-13 win, clinching the AFC East title in the process.

3. There was the former player-turned-analyst for ESPN putting his foot in his mouth at the start of the season, only to turn around and regret what happened as the season continued. In 2003, Tom Jackson went on TV in the wake of the 31-0 loss to the Bills and stated, “They hate their coach,” a shot at the feeling in the locker room in the wake of the decision to release Milloy. (According to Michael Holley‘s “Patriot Reign,” Belichick told Jackson exactly what he thought of his statements after the Super Bowl.) This season, Trent Dilfer went on ESPN following the 41-14 loss to the Chiefs and said, “We saw a weak team. The New England Patriots, let’s face it…they’re NOT good anymore. They’re weak.” To Dilfer’s credit, he issued a mea culpa in a recent interview with WEEI’s MFB, saying, “I am as shocked as anybody on this turnaround by the New England Patriots. I have had to take a long look in the mirror on why I made those [comments].”

4. There was the 2-2 start. In 2003, the Patriots stumbled out of the gate, and it wasn’t just the 31-0 loss in the opener to the Bills in Buffalo that caused critics to speculate that the Patriots weren’t a serious title contender. New England lost to Steve Spurrier and the Redskins in Week 4, leaving the Patriots with a .500 record and causing some to revisit the idea that the Patriots weren’t all that they were cracked up to be. It was a bad loss, but not nearly as awful as the beatdown the 2014 Patriots suffered against the Chiefs that dropped them to 2-2 on the season.

5. There was the midseason streak. The 2003 team started 2-2, but was able to win out the rest of the way, posting a 12-game streak to finish off the regular season. Along the way, there were all sorts of wins, including a pair of overtime victories, blowouts, and physical struggles that steeled them for the postseason. Meanwhile, the 2014 team wasn’t able to run the table the rest of the way — there were two regular-season losses mixed in for good measure, which left their final record at 12-4 — but the style of wins and the resiliency that grew out of those victories has been able to help forge the same sort of mental toughness which paid off in the divisional playoff win over the Ravens.

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, New England Patriots,
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