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Brandon Stokley overjoyed Peyton Manning beat Patriots to go to Super Bowl: ‘Still got a smile on my face’ 02.04.16 at 7:34 pm ET
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Peyton Manning and Bill Belichick have knocked heads on several occasions. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Peyton Manning and Bill Belichick have knocked heads on several occasions. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — There’s clearly no shortage of former NFL players who can’t stand the Patriots.

Former Colts receiver Brandon Stokley, who played with Peyton Manning on the Colts from 2003-06, couldn’t have been more overjoyed that Manning beat the Patriots to get back to his fourth Super Bowl.

“You can’t imagine. He’s like a brother, so happy for him because I know what he’s put in, not only his whole career but this year. I know what he’s been though,” Stokley told WEEI.com Thursday. “I know how hard he’s worked to have a chance to get back out on the field.

“For me, watching him do it against the Patriots a week and a half ago, it didn’t get better than that.”

Why does it mean so much to see the Patriots go down?

“To beat them to go to the Super Bowl, for me, was like watching him win the Super Bowl because I don’t care for the Patriots because I could hardly never beat them. I still dislike them. It was that rivalry, that type of rivalry where I didn’t like then, I don’t like them now. I’ll never like them. So, to see Peyton beat them to go to the Super Bowl put a big smile on my face. I’ve still got a smile on my face from that game.”

Stokley, who is working for Denver’s Channel 7 covering Manning and the Super Bowl, also insists that the report on NFL.com that Manning has told close friends he’s retire “is crap.”

Like Super Bowl loser Brad Hoover of the 2003 Panthers, Stokley’s emotions and recollections of his four-year rivalry with the Patriots in the mid-2000s are still vivid. The Patriots dominated early on, but the Colts won both games in Foxboro in 2005-06 and the memorable AFC championship in Indianapolis in Jan. of 2007.

“Didn’t win a lot. That’s the biggest thing. They always seemed to have our number,” Stokley said. “I know we won one regular season game there and ’06, the AFC championship game. But they were always battles. It really was. You knew that when you played a team like that, you couldn’t make a lot of mistakes.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Stokley, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts
Bill Belichick on Peyton Manning: ‘Preparation is definitely different’ than Brock Osweiler 01.18.16 at 3:09 pm ET
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Peyton Manning will likely be throwing a lot of shorter passes Sunday against the Patriots. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports)

Peyton Manning will likely be throwing a lot of shorter passes Sunday against the Patriots. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports)

Bill Belichick has seen enough of Peyton Manning to know one simple truth: You’re not going to outsmart him.

This will mark the 20th time Belichick has prepared for Manning as head coach of the Patriots. He is 10-5 in the regular season against Manning and 2-2 in the playoffs. He knows that while he wants to have all his bases covered going into the game, he doesn’t want his players overthinking things on the field during a game.

In other words, prepare the defense to do what they do well and trust that they will make the plays when they need to against one of the most cerebral quarterbacks the game has ever seen.

“That’s really the basis of trying to come up with a game plan and figuring out how you want to play a team like that,” Belichick said Monday during a conference call. “You don’t want to put yourself in bad situations but at the same time, you don’t want to make it too much of a game where it’s a lot of multiples. ‘If they do this, we do that. If they do that, we do this.’ That can just go on forever. At some point, you’ve got to line up and play what you’re going to play.

“Just because they know you’re in something isn’t always the worst thing in the world. All good teams have tendencies. All good players have tendencies. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing. It means you’re doing something well. At some point, it’s going to come down to you have to play well. You have to do what you do well better than what they what they tried to do against it.

“I think there are elements of all those things in a game. You certainly don’t want to make it easy for them. You can outsmart yourself sometimes by trying to play too much of a mind game. Manning is a great quarterback. He’s a hard guy. He’s seen it all.”

Belichick also acknowledged the obvious Monday when he said preparing for Manning this time around will be different than Thanksgiving week, when they spent time getting ready for Brock Osweiler, who led the Broncos back from a 21-7 fourth-quarter hole to beat the Patriots in overtime, 30-24.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Bill Belichick, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts
Larry Bird backs Tom Brady: Deflategate was just a ‘bunch of lying’ 11.11.15 at 6:49 pm ET
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Larry Bird thinks Deflategate was a bunch of lying about Tom Brady. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Larry Bird thinks Deflategate was a bunch of lying about Tom Brady. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

One former Boston sports legend has the back of a current one.

Speaking with Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessey, Indiana Pacers team president Larry Bird said Wednesday that he thinks Deflategate was a complete fabrication, built up to tear down Tom Brady.

Bird knows Indianapolis columnist Bob Kravetz very well his work on the Pacers. When he read the initial Deflategate story that Kravitz broke three hours after the AFC championship, he thought something was very off.

“I thought it was a bunch of lying, if you want to know the truth,’€ Bird told Shaughnessey. “That’€™s something Kravitz came up with, and I never believed any of it.

“It doesn’€™t really matter. It was written about a lot around the country, but here in Indianapolis, most people knew. We knew the Patriots was going to beat them anyway. I thought it was pretty chintzy. People finally realized they would have beat us anyway. I just laughed about it.”

Bird admitted that he does root for his hometown Colts but couldn’t help but see that the inflation of the balls had little to nothing to do with the 45-7 outcome in the game that sent the Patriots onto Super Bowl XLIX.

“They got the footballs they played with and we got our footballs,” Bird continued. “And their footballs beat our footballs.

“I watch every one of the Colts games. I really like them. But my son loves all things about the Patriots. And I never root against the Patriots.”

The Pacers were in town Wednesday to take on the Celtics at TD Garden.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Deflategate, Indiana Pacers, Indianapolis Colts
Jonathan Kraft on Darrelle Revis: ‘There’s absolutely no hard feelings at all’ 10.25.15 at 12:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The return of Darrelle Revis is not a bitter pill for Jonathan Kraft and the Patriots to swallow.

The Patriots team president said on the team’s pregame radio show Sunday that he harbors no ill will toward the perennial All-Pro cornerback who return to New York last March after spending one season in New England and winning a Super Bowl ring.

“€œDarrelle was exactly what we thought we were getting as a player, both on and off the field,” Kraft said Sunday. “He made contributions everywhere. He will always be a part of Patriots history. He was part of a Super Bowl-winning team and brought a lot to us. I think it was always understood that we would get to the end of last year and the way the contract was structured would lead to a discussion that gave each side options. Darrelle is one of those players who probably should be commended. He’€™s taken the business side of his career very seriously since he’s been in the league. And it’s hard to begrudge a guy that.

“It was pretty clear to us, as we entered the offseason, starting in December with some of the public comments that were made, that it was probably going to be unlikely that there would be another year here.”

Revis left in March after the Patriots declined their $20 million option for 2015. He signed with the Jets for five years and $70 million.

“€œThere was a little bit of discussion,” Kraft said of trying to bring him back long term to the Patriots. “He’€™s on the record as saying that New York is home to him. You have to respect that. He did everything that was asked of him when he was here. He’ll go down as one of the all-time greats and won a championship. You’d have to ask him what was going through his mind. He’€™s There’€™s absolutely no hard feelings at all. We respect him as a player.”

As for the Jets, Kraft was asked if he thinks the Jets are again the Patriots’ top rival with their 4-1 start.

“€œThat’€™s a good question. I think there are a lot of rivals,” Kraft said. “If you’€™ve grown up with team, and growing up, it was the Dolphins. They were the class of the division. I was lucky to be a part of ‘€œSquish the Fish’€ [in 1985]. There have been different teams. I don’€™t ever really think of the Bills. They were dominant in the late 80s, early 90s, and we weren’€™t good.’€

Kraft also stayed far away from commenting on the $100,000 fine that the NFL levied against Jets owner Woody Johnson for indicating during the playoffs that he’d like to have Revis back with the Jets.

“€œI’€™m not commenting about league punishment,” Kraft said. “There are tampering rules and punishments. I’€™m going to comment on whether it’€™s appropriate or not.”

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Read More: Darrelle Revis, Indianapolis Colts, Jonathan Kraft, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick explains how Rob Gronkowski does a lot more than just catch passes 10.19.15 at 9:08 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski runs for his history-making 60th touchdown Sunday night. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski runs for his history-making 60th touchdown Sunday night. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Fans see Rob Gronkowski catch passes, bulldoze would-be tacklers, score touchdowns and dent the earth with his otherworldly spikes.

Bill Belichick sees much more.

He sees an All-Pro tight end who is also a force on special teams. That was certainly evident on Sunday night when Gronkowski fielded an onside kick from Pat McAfee that saved the game in the final 70 seconds.

“The onside kick, Rob made a good play on that,” Belichick said Monday after watching the film. “The guys in front of him made a real good play. They knocked off the blockers and Jonathan Freeny actually had a block where he kind of pushed his guy into [Donte] Moncrief and kind of got a two-on-one and that made it clean for Rob to handle the ball. The ball was spiked high. It was a good kick. I’€™m not sure if he hadn’€™t have handled it, like if there had been somebody in his way where he couldn’€™t have fielded the ball, it looked short of 10 yards. I think it would have eventually gone 10 but I don’€™t know if it would’€™ve gone 10 when it hit the ground. But I thought he made a good play.

“We tell him, if you can handle the ball cleanly to get it and he did. So, it was a good play by him, but it was well executed by the entire hands team.”

Gronkowski showed sincere frustration that he couldn’t tip-toe on the sidelines and stay in bounds. Had he been able to, he was home free to run down the left sideline for a touchdown. What’s interesting about that is that Belichick was actually happy he did, since all the Patriots had to do was take two knees to run out the clock.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, nfl
Bill Belichick says scoring after swinging gate ‘was the best thing about it’ at 4:55 pm ET
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Bill Belichick is getting ready for the Jets this week. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick is getting ready for the Jets this week. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Back in New England after their 34-27 win over the Colts Sunday night, Bill Belichick was still being asked Monday about the single-most talked about play in the NFL.

The Colts attempted a trick punt formation known as the “swinging gate” with 1:17 left in the third quarter, trailing just 27-21 and facing a 4th-and-3 at their own 37.

By now, everyone in the football world, and even many on the outside, knows what happened next. Gunner Griff Whalen snapped the ball to Colt Anderson, leading to a Patriots possession at the Colts 35. Six plays later, LeGarrette Blount caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady and the game was basically decided.

On Monday Belichick, in a conference call, explained in detail what he saw.

“The play was a version of the swinging gate play,” Belichick explained. “I don’t know exactly how it was supposed to work. That’s something you’d have to ask them about. They brought the gunner in to snap the ball so he would have been an eligible receiver. We had to cover him.

“I think basically you want to try, on punt formations like that, it’s just a numbers game. You want to have enough guys to match to the smaller numbers and as many guys as you can to match to the larger number where they’re overshifted. We certainly knew that the punter could throw. He’s done that before. He’s thrown passes to uncovered guys in punt formations. We saw him run against Tennessee. We’re aware of those things so it’s just kind of everybody making sure they take care of their responsibility on the shift and make sure we can defend the formation and know who’s eligible.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Bolden, Colt Anderson, Griff Whalen
Rob Gronkowski on his 2nd-half surge: ‘When my number’s called, I’ve just got to make a play’ at 9:10 am ET
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Rob Gronkowski runs for his history-making 60th touchdown Sunday night. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski runs for his history-making 60th touchdown Sunday night. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — Maybe Rob Gronkowski just needed a half to get his bearings with no Sergio Brown to throw out of the Lucas Oil Stadium club. Perhaps Tom Brady wasn’t looking his way that often.

Or maybe it was just that the Colts were doing everything in their power to stop the all-world tight end.

Whatever the reason, the first half Sunday night was an eerily quiet one for Gronkowski, with no catches on just one target from the Patriots quarterback.

But that didn’t mean he was quiet. Far from it. With left tackle Marcus Cannon going down with a toe injury, Gronk had even more of an impact inside in the run-blocking game.

“We just had a lot of people filling in,” Gronkowski said. “They did a great job, the offensive line. Marcus went down, Nate Solder went down last week. You’ve got to give credit to our line. They did a great job protecting Tom and we did a great job running the ball, too.”

But in the second half, things finally changed. On the very first drive, Tom Brady found his go-to guy on third-and-6 at the Indy 40 for 10 yards, his first catch. Two plays later, it was Gronk on the receiving end of a Brady pass that led him on a 25-yard romp to history. Gronk raced the corner pylon and spiked the ball for his 60th career touchdown in 70 career games, the fastest such mark in NFL history, beating Antonio Gates by 40 games.

“It just is what it is,” Gronkowski said. “When my number is called, I’ve just got to make a play. If it’s not, I’ve just got to run a good route. That’s why it’s such a great game. It’s just a team game. I’ve just got to go out there and do my job. If it’s blocking, receiving, whatever it is.”

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Read More: Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Rob Gronkowski,
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