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The Big Nickel: Patriots still in shock over loss as rookies discuss playoffs and team faces looming labor questions

01.17.11 at 3:20 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The five most important things to know about the Patriots on Monday:

1. Patrick Chung (whose appearance was covered here by colleague Mike Petraglia) was one of several players who took time out from packing up their lockers to reflect on the end of the season. It was a group that included wide receiver Deion Branch, tight end Rob Gronkowski and cornerback Devin McCourty, as well as linebackers Rob Ninkovich and Tully Banta-Cain.

Chung’€™s admission that he was the one who botched the fake punt was the big news of the day, as the safety, who was working as the up man for punter Zoltan Mesko, said ‘€œblame me’€ for what happened.

‘€œOf course, there are regrets,’€ Chung said. ‘€œThat’€™s part of the game. That’€™s all on me, not Bill, not [special teams coach Scott O’€™Brien], none of them. I take full responsibility. I just saw a look we have. That’€™s how it goes. Make the call and it didn’€™t work out for us. Leave [Patriots coach] Bill [Belichick] alone, leave Scotty alone. I take responsibility, blame me.

‘€œThere’€™s no if. There’€™s no if. I didn’€™t catch it. That’€™s part of the game. That’€™s part of the game. Some things happen, you have to bounce back from it. That play is over now and it didn’€™t work out for us. I take full responsibility. No one else.’€

Meanwhile, 12 hours after the loss to the Jets, the rest of the locker room was still dealing with the aftermath of the defeat.

‘€œWe obviously are all in shock. We weren’€™t expecting this to happen. It was one of those things where all you can do is just reflect and hope you do better going forward,’€ said Banta-Cain. ‘€œWe had gained some momentum from the regular season going into the playoffs, and it kind of felt like we had some good steam behind that momentum, and for it to come to a screeching halt, no one was expecting that.’€

‘€œI think everybody has different thought process on how the season was going and how it ended,’€ said Branch. ‘€œBut I think it all comes down to the fact that it ended the way we didn’€™t want it to end. I think that’€™s the biggest thing. We can all put our own spin on it, but it just didn’€™t end the way we wanted it to end.’€

2. Belichick and the Patriots are now in a curious spot ‘€” the uncertain labor situation involving the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has the league facing murky future. Belichick does have some history in this area, having worked an assistant coach when work stoppages altered the 1982 and 1987 schedules, and he knows enough to know that as a coach, he has very little control over the situation.

‘€œIt’€™s different, but similar to two other situations I was involved in in ‘€˜82 and ‘€˜87. It’€™s the same type of thing,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œI’€™d say if you are in the business long enough, that’€™s part of it. It’€™s uncertain in that situation. I’€™m certain it will get resolved in time … whenever that is, at some point. In the meantime, you do what you can do. Those things are all out of my control as a coach. I don’€™t deal with any of that. Whenever it’€™s resolved, it’€™s resolved. In the meantime, we’€™ll do the best that we can with the opportunities and the information that we have.

3. As far as the players were concerned, there was guarded optimism in the New England locker room that a new labor deal will get done in time for the 2011 season.

‘€œHopefully something gets done. I know there’€™s going to be football next year ‘€”  there’€™s going to be an NFL season, so you’€™ve got to prepare yourself like there is, and hope for the best,’€ said linebacker  Banta-Cain. ‘€œA lot of guys have contract situations and different offseason situations. That being said, you know there’€™s going to be a season next year, so I think the best thing is to just prepare yourself to be the best player you can be next year.

‘€œThere’€™s been many strikes. There’€™s been many work stoppages. There’€™s just too many people that love football and too much going on … I don’€™t see this as the end of football. But it’€™s going to have to get worked out somehow.’€

‘€œThere’€™s a lot of uncertainty. The only thing we can go off now is that we’€™re not close. We’€™re not close, but I’€™m optimistic that it’€™ll get done,’€ said Branch. ‘€œI’€™m optimistic that there will be football next year. I can say that. When? I don’€™t know. I can’€™t say, but I will and I do believe that at some point next year, you all will be in the locker room again.’€

Branch added that, at least among the skill position guys, there’€™s a plan on the table to get together, regardless of the labor situation.

‘€œI think the nucleus guys ‘€” the receivers and all the skill guys, we’€™re going to try to get together at some point and start getting with [quarterback] Tom Brady,’€ he said. ‘€œThat stuff is going to come from within the guys. This stuff, if there’€™s no league, then we have to take that initiative upon ourselves to make that happen.’€

4. With Sunday’€™s loss, McCourty put the wraps on one of the most notable rookie seasons in Patriots’€™ history. Finishing with seven interceptions, he played in all 16 games, and developed into one of the best young cornerbacks in the league.

‘€œIt’€™s been a good experience, going out there and being able to play as a rookie,’€ McCourty said. ‘€œI’€™ll take away all the different things I’€™ve learned on the field and off the field, and just go into the offseason work hard and try and get better.’€

McCourty was one of 16 Patriots players who were making their playoff debuts on Sunday. While he and fellow rookie Gronkowski acknowledged that the pace of the game changes in the playoffs, McCourty added it’€™s what’€™s at stake that’€™s even more important.

‘€œThe intensity is a lot higher [in the playoffs].’€ Gronkowski said. ‘€œIt’€™s a one-game season every single week. You can sense it out there that it’€™s a lot more hyped up. There’€™s a lot more intensity.’€

‘€œYou’€™re playing for another day of practice. You’€™re playing for another day here in the facility,’€ McCourty said. ‘€œI don’€™t know as much as a football game changes, but what’€™s at stake changes. I guess a little bit of the mentality changes because you’€™re playing for another day. You’€™re not just going out there and playing knowing you have another game next week. if you don’€™t have another game, that’€™s it.’€

As for Belichick, he doesn’€™t put stock in the idea that it was the mistakes of the younger players that ultimately doomed the Patriots against the Jets.

‘€œI think that collectively ‘€” as a team ‘€” we lost. I think that everybody that played in the game sure has plays that they would like to have back,’€ he said. ‘€œThere were mistakes out there by rookies, veterans, players in between, coaches. In that game, I think there’€™s something that each and every one of us that participated in the game or competed in it, I feel like there’€™s something that we could have done better, something we’€™d like to have back. I think that includes everybody. I wouldn’€™t just limit it to any single player or any group of players. I’€™d include the veteran players in there along with everybody else.’€

5. It’€™s off to the Pro Bowl for the New England coaching staff, as the elimination from the playoffs means Belichick will guide the AFC squad for the second time in his coaching career, and it’€™ll mark the first time since the end of the 2006 season that he’€™ll be headed to Honolulu.

‘€œIt’€™s definitely not where you want to be, but we’€™ll go out there and do it,’€ Belichick said on Monday morning.

His first appearance at the Pro Bowl was an illuminating experience for Belichick. He has talked on several occasions about how it helped him get to know opposing players like Ed Reed, Adalius Thomas and Chad Ochocinco on a different level when it came to pursuing possible free agents. It even helped squash a simmering feud between him and LaDainian Tomlinson.

Belichick was asked if he’€™ll be doing some free-agent scouting this time around.

‘€œBased on the level and the tempo of those practices, I think that’€™d be pretty minimal,’€ he said. ‘€œ[I’€™ll] scout the golfing.’€

Read More: Adalius Thomas, Bill Belichick, Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch
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