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Breaking down exactly how Patriots are perfectly-suited to contain Steelers explosive weapons 01.19.17 at 4:31 pm ET
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Jan 14, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (26) is tackled by New England Patriots middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower (54) during the third quarter in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Dont’a Hightower will be a big part of the Patriots defensive game plan Sunday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Sunday night discipline and fundamentals will meet patience and speed.

The winner will advance to the Super Bowl. The loser will ponder why their approach didn’t work.

The discipline and defensive fundamentals belong to the Patriots defense while patience and speed belong to the Steelers and their explosive offensive weaponry.

The Steelers arguably possess the most feared running back and wide receiver tandem in the NFL in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. They also have a gunslinger in Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and a supporting cast in running back DeAngelo Williams, tight end Jesse James and wide receiver Eli Rogers totally capable of spreading a defense and finding weak spots.

The Patriots have built a reputation as the most disciplined defense in the NFL. They’re not spectacular playmakers but they’re rarely out of position and play with a healthy chip on their shoulders, which Logan Ryan pointed out again Thursday. It’s why Jamie Collins was traded and Jabaal Sheard was benched for a week. If you think you’re bigger than the sum of the parts, you will quickly find your way out of town, or – at the very least – the lineup.

What does discipline on defense mean exactly?

“Basically doing your job,” Dont’a Hightower said. “Patience is something than [Bell] does and discipline is something that will kind of counteract that. A lot of times it’s guys who may have an A-gap and they’re looking in the B-gap and they are shedding, trying to get off because of his patience—not having good enough discipline or getting off and causing those areas that he’s looking for. He has such great quickness and bust that’s he’s able to hit that hole and before you know it, it’s seven yards and he’s pulling the pile for another three yards. Those 2-yard runs, 3-yard runs turn into 11-yard runs real quick.”

Devin McCourty, just like he is on the field, was in sync with Hightower in explaining the approach.

“I think it’s going to start with everyone understanding their role and whatever the defensive call is,” McCourty said. “If you’ve got to be at that one spot we’re going to need you there. They’ve got guys on the field that if they catch a ball on the left side of the defense they can easily end up on the right side if they break a couple tackles. So first is just doing your assignment then I think it’s just pursuit. We can’t be out there jogging or not getting to the ball. We’ve got to get everyone to the ball once the ball is in the air.

“Whether it’s Le’Veon Bell running the ball and he’s so patient behind the line you don’t really know where he’s going to end up once he puts his foot in the ground and goes or it’s one of the receivers catching the ball. If it’s [Darrius] Heyward-Bey on a crossing route he has the speed to catch a pass and turn up field and go 70-80 yards. It’s just everyone hustling, [in] pursuit and just really wanting to get it done. We’ve had plays throughout this season where we’ve seen that. Where we have plays where it’s a five-yard gain and we get all 11 guys to a pile. I think we’ve got to have that for 60 minutes all day Sunday.”
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Read More: AFC Championship, Antonio Brown, Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower
Mike Tomlin ’embarrassed’ at way he dressed down Patriots 01.18.17 at 1:58 pm ET
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Mike Tomlin addressed Antonio Brown's video on Tuesday. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

Mike Tomlin addressed Antonio Brown’s video on Tuesday. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

With the chance to clarify his untoward comments about the Patriots in his post-game address to his team Sunday night, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said he would take those words back if he knew they were going to be public.

“I was embarrassed by the language,” Tomlin told reporters in a conference call Wednesday. “I take my role as a role model and the platform that we have in the National Football League, very seriously. As a parent, I’m just not into public displays of that type of language. So I was more embarrassed about that element of it, not necessarily the content or the message in the video.”

Did those words express true feelings about the Patriots?

“Man, you’ve could’ve applied that sentiment to any opponent,” Tomlin said. “You could’ve made that tape two weeks earlier [against the Dolphins] and applied it to that opponent. It’s not about the nameless, gray faces that we play for us, it’s about our overall readiness and preparation. And that was the sentiment of the message that was I sending to the guys, not necessarily about the New England Patriots. They just happen to be who we’re playing this week.”

In that video posted by Antonio Brown on Facebook, Tomlin made reference to the fact that the Patriots had head start on the Steelers in their preparation for the AFC championship this Sunday, made more difficult by the fact that the Steelers were playing on the road on Sunday night.

Tomlin was asked if the time change last Sunday has been difficult to compensate for this week.

“It’s not necessarily something to make up,” Tomlin said. “I was just trying to instill a sense of urgency in the group regarding our preparation. And I wanted them to understand that we didn’t have a lot of time to pat ourselves on the back, based on the performance of the last game. We needed to transition, and transition quickly and start the preparation process, whether it was actual preparation or just from a mentality standpoint.”

Back in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Tomlin said that he regrets that Brown posted the video and sent a thinly veiled message to his star receiver that that kind of behavior is the kind of thing that can start a trend of moving from team to team, even for a player of Brown’s caliber.

“I think time always tells those stories,” Tomlin said Wednesday.

Read More: AFC Championship, Antonio Brown, Mike Petraglia, Mike Tomlin
Patriots know 1-on-1 approach won’t work against Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown 01.16.17 at 1:04 pm ET
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Jan 15, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) runs the ball as Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Vernon Harris (48) defends during the second quarter in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Le’Veon Bell (26) runs the ball as Kansas City defensive back Vernon Harris (48) defends during the second quarter in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. (Jay Biggerstaff/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Patience, patience, patience.

That’s all you need to know about Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell and his approach to running the football. It’s been on full display all season. The back will wait behind the line of scrimmage for his offensive line to do its work and then pick a spot and go.

On Sunday night, in an 18-16 win over the Chiefs, he had 170 yards on 30 carries employing that approach. He is widely considered the most dangerous back in the game.

“He’s good all of the time. He’s really a hard guy to tackle. He’s got good vision, great patience, and he does a good job,” Bill Belichick said Monday in his conference call.

The Patriots’ coaching staff Monday acknowledged that the counter to Bell’s patience must be team discipline this Sunday. That, and not trying to do it all yourself.

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” Belichick said. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon [Bell] has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles.

“[He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps. Getting off and jumping around blocks or trying to get to the hole too quickly just opens up cut-back lanes or stays in the front somewhere and he does a great job of finding it. I mean team defense is the only way to stop it. There’s no one guy that can stop him. You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

Just how important will tackling be?

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Read More: AFC Championship, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell
Rob Gronkowski apologizes for cramping up: ‘It was freaky that it did’ 01.25.16 at 1:20 am ET
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DENVER — There are lots of physical adjustments to be made playing at altitude in the mile high air.

Rob Gronkowski found that out the hard way in the second half of Sunday’s AFC championship loss to the Broncos.

Early in the third quarter, the Patriots tight end began taking himself out of the game and started gulping large quantities of water on the sidelines. At one point, the Patriots training staff took away his helmet for a brief time before giving it back to him.

Gronkowski battled with this into the fourth quarter before all the water started taking its desired effect.

“Yeah, I was cramping. I was actually just kind of disappointed in myself at that moment,” Gronkowski said. “I don’€™t know exactly why I was cramping. I prepared for this game like I have for every other game with hydration and all that, but it just got to me. I had to fight through it. The trainers did a great job. I had to just pound a couple of bottles of water on the sidelines.”

At one point in the fourth quarter, trainers began rubbing the back of his left leg up and down with a roller as he was stomach-down on the sidelines, taking in oxygen at the same time.

“I felt really full at some point, but I battled back through it,” Gronkowski said. “As an athlete, you just don’€™t want that to happen. I’€™m definitely going to take that consideration down the road to make sure stuff like that doesn’€™t happen again in games, but it just did this time. It was freaky that it did. It didn’€™t happen all year but battled through it, came back and I was fine after I pounded a couple of bottles of water.”

Gronkowski started pounding the water when he came out after being taken down by Aqib Talib on a 31-yard gain. He didn’t return in that series as the Patriots had to settle for 38-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski.

On Dec. 28, Cincinnati nose tackle Geno Atkins, who had been recently diagnosed with sickle cell, had his snaps limited due to the dangers of dehydration at altitude associated with the disease.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, AFC Championship, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots
Tom Brady stands up for offensive linemen: ‘They hung in there all day’ 01.24.16 at 9:41 pm ET
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DENVER — Even though it might have been obvious to anyone watching in the stands or on television, Tom Brady was not about to throw his offensive line under the bus after Sunday’s loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship.

“They hung in there all day, and I think that’s the strength of their team,” Brady said. “Our strength was trying to get the ball to our skill guys and let them make some plays in space. It’s a tough front, and they’re good players.”

Instead of blaming his line consisting of tackles Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming, and the interior of Bryan Stork, Shaq Mason and Josh Kline, Brady chose to tip his cap to the likes of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

“They’re teeing off on cadence,” Brady said. “We’re trying to keep changing it up. And on defense, sometimes you’ve just got to get one play and you end the drive. So, I think they did a great job today.”

Miller set a new Broncos single-game playoff record with 2.5 sacks as the Broncos sacked Brady four times and hit him an astounding 20 times.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, AFC Championship, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots
Stephen Gostkowski: ‘I feel like I lost the game for the team’ at 9:05 pm ET
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DENVER — In the way of the shocking 20-18 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship, no one felt worse than kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

He missed an extra point after New England’s first touchdown of the day in the first quarter that turned out to be a pivotal point in the game. For Gostkowski, who holds the NFL record for most consecutive extra points made, it was his first miss of an extra point since 2006, his rookie season.

The Patriots came back and scored a touchdown with 12 seconds left in regulation but the Patriots were forced to go for two because of Gostkowski’s miss in the first quarter.

“I just feel terrible,” Gostkowski said. “These guys work a lot all day, put their bodies and lives on the line. For me to come out here, and us to lose by a point, and me miss the kick, it’s a nightmare scenario. I can’t really explain how I feel right now. It’s just kind of shock and feel I let a lot of people down. It’s just not a good feeling.”

With 1:49 left in the first quarter, the Patriots kicker came on for what is, for him, a routine 33-yard point-after try. But this wasn’t. The snap and hold seemed good but Gostkowski pushed the kick wide right.

“I didn’t hit a good kick,” Gostkowski said. “I’m not one to make excuses. I should’ve made it. I’ve made hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of those. Sometimes timing is everything and I never would’ve thought missing a kick in the first quarter would be the difference in the game. That’s why you’ve got to be good all the time and that wasn’t the case for me today.

“I’m always upset when I have a bad play. It’s part of the job. I feel sorry for myself but I’m not expecting people to feel sorry for me. I work hard to be good. And I came up short today. I let a lot of people down, a lot of guys on the team, a lot of fans. All I can do now is stand up here and take it all on me. I feel like I lost the game for the team.

“I should’ve been out there kicking that tying extra point and helping us go into overtime. It’s a sinking in feeling. I can’t put it into words. Nothing I can do about it now. I had a good week of practice. Just sometimes things don’t fall your way.”

In the end, even with his teammates consoling him, he couldn’t help but feel awful.

“It’s a nightmare scenario,” he said. “You want to help the team win. You don’t want to be the reason you lose. It’s not a good feeling. I deserve all the blame that I get and I’ll try to hold my head up high. I’m not going to make an excuse. I should have done better. I’m sorry I couldn’t come through.”

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, AFC Championship, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots
Gary Kubiak on Rob Gronkowski: ‘He can take over a game’ 01.23.16 at 1:42 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski (87) runs for a touchdown in front of Denver Broncos strong safety T.J. Ward (43) on Nov. 29. (Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports)

Rob Gronkowski (87) runs for a touchdown in front of Denver Broncos strong safety T.J. Ward (43) on Nov. 29. (Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports)

DENVER — The Broncos are fully aware they’ll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski on Sunday.

The last time they faced him, the Broncos did a very respectable job, holding him to six catches on 10 targets from Tom Brady, totaling 88 yards. Still, Gronkowski had a 23 yard touchdown catch less than four minutes into the contest that seem to set the tone for the first three quarters.

After that touchdown, and before the fourth quarter hit from Darian Stewart that nearly ended the tight end’s season, the Broncos held Gronkowski to four catches and just 56 yards and no scores.

On Friday, Gary Kubiak, who was Baltimore offensive coordinator in 2014, admitted the huge challenge of trying to repeat the defensive effort his linebackers and safeties put forth on Nov. 29.

“€œHe’€™s something special. I saw it firsthand in our game,” Kubiak said. “I saw it firsthand last year when I was with Baltimore. He can take over a game. He beats corners, he beats safeties, he beats linebackers and he’€™s going to play all over the place. A lot of respect for him. We’€™re going to have to find a way to somehow contain or do a good job against him because he’€™s going to make some plays. I mean they’€™ve got some great players, but we’€™ve just got to do the best job we can possibly do.”

Broncos corner Chris Harris Jr. said the game plan was to him Gronk “in the knees” on Sunday. But before he gets up a head of steam, Gronkowski’s path could cross the path of inside linebackers Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan.

“€œYou definitely want to be physical, I think within the five-yard mark,” Marshall said. “You don’€™t want to get a flag, but you want to put hands on him because the guy is like a freight train running at you. He’€™s a big body, so you want to be physical and you want to be on him. It’€™s a tough matchup, but I think we’€™re all equipped for it.”

Earlier in the week, it was Marshall who said that Gronkowski uses that “freight train” body to push off and get an advantage.

“I didn’€™t think that they would blow up like that,” Marshall said of the reaction on social media. “I definitely wasn’€™t aware that all the Patriots fans would be in my Twitter mentions and calling me all kind of explicit names. I’€™m sorry, I’€™m €”whatever, I don’€™t want to say the names. I didn’€™t think that would happen, but I mean I said what I said. I can’€™t take it back. I just have to be ready to cover him.”

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, AFC Championship, Brandon Marshall, Danny Trevathan
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