|Tough enough: Even into their 30s, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning remain two of NFL’s most durable quarterbacks||10.29.14 at 4:20 pm ET|
FOXBORO — When you’re talking about football toughness, it’s easy to overlook the quarterback position.
They’re the ones who draw the multimillion dollar deals, marry the supermodels and get too much of the credit when their team wins and too much of the blame when they lose.
But at the same time, they remain some of the toughest players on the roster. And on Sunday, two of the most durable quarterbacks in the recent history of the game will do battle when Tom Brady and Peyton Manning meet for the 16th time in their careers at Gillette Stadium.
“I think really to play in the National Football League, you have to be tough. It’s a tough way to earn a living,” said Denver coach John Fox. “In my opinion, [the quarterbacks] earn every penny.”
Brady and Manning can be measured using a wide variety of metrics, but one thing that certainly sets them apart from their contemporaries is their durability. Brady had started 88 consecutive games, fourth-best among current NFL quarterbacks. (By way of comparison, Eli Manning is first overall with 158 straight games played, all of them starts. San Diego’s Philip Rivers is second with 137 straight games played, while Baltimore’s Joe Flacco is third with 104 straight games played.)
Before he sat out the entire 2011 season following neck surgery, Manning had a consecutive start streak of 227 games (including the postseason), one that dated back to his rookie year of 1998.
When talking about durability on Wednesday, both referenced Brett Favre, who started 297 straight games over 19 seasons.
“His toughness and his durability [have] been similar to Brett Favre,” Brady said of Manning, who has started 43 straight games with the Broncos since e took over as the starter prior to the 2012 season.
“That’s probably why he’s been breaking all those records because he’s been so consistent and durable [and] dependable for his team,” Brady added. “He’s off to another great start this year. He does everything right. I don’t know what more else I can say about him as a player. It means a lot to him. Obviously, he’s got great leadership, and that’s what it takes at the quarterback position.”
As for Manning, his durability comes down to a simple philosophy.
“Certainly, I think quarterback’s job — first and foremost — is to be out there,” Manning said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve always wanted to be there.
“I’ve always had great respect for Favre’s consecutive start streak because he was always there. He played hurt and had great toughness and durability. I think Eli holds the longest streak now, which speaks to his [durability],” he added. “That was always one I was always kind of proud of — making all those starts until I got injured. That was kind of difficult, because I couldn’t always be there. I wanted to get back out there. I’ve been pleased I was able to be there for these two and a half years.”
Despite the fact that Brady was sidelined for most all of the 2008 season because of a knee injury he suffered in the regular season opener, Manning views Brady through the same lens.
“Brady is always there,” Manning said of the New England quarterback. “He’s always there. He had his long season where he was injured [in the first half] of the first game of the season, I think. I know I’ve talked to him. I know that was difficult for him for a lot of those same reasons. He couldn’t be there to help his team. Now, he’s been back, and he’s been playing like Tom Brady does.
“That’s one of his real strengths — always answering the bell.”
|Updates on Patriots rules proposals, Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon working out for New England and other notes from league meetings||03.25.14 at 2:57 pm ET|
ORLANDO — A few picked-up pieces to report from the NFL’s annual meetings in Central Florida:
1. The proposal to extend the goal posts by an extra five feet “seems likely to pass” when voted on Wednesday, according to Judy Battista of NFL.com. An initiative sponsored by Bill Belichick and the Patriots, the coach said Tuesday that the idea of doing it certainly seems like a no-brainer. “Virtually every kicker at the combine can kick them over the top of the goal posts [and] some of those guys aren’t even going to be in the league,” Belichick said Tuesday morning when asked about the idea. “I’d say every kicker can do that.” In addition, the other three proposals proposed by the Patriots are also scheduled to be voted on by the owners Wednesday.
2. In other end-zone related news, the league announced Tuesday it will penalize players who dunk on the goal posts in 2014. In the past, the league has cracked down on group celebrations, as well as using the football as a prop, so it would appear that this is the next step in the process. In addition, it was announced Tuesday that the NFL officiating department will help referees rule on instant replay reviews starting next season. Referees will now be allowed to consult with director of officiating Dean Blandino and his staff — who will be monitoring games from the league offices in New York — to help determine whether a call should be upheld or overturned.
3. This doesn’t have anything to do with the goings on in Florida, but according to a league source, wide receiver and special teams coaches from New England were in Ann Arbor on Tuesday to work out wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. The 5-foot-8, 187-pound Gallon has put up impressive numbers over the last two years with the Wolverines, including 89 catches for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013. He also posted good numbers as a return man, compiling 589 yards on 27 kick returns in 2010, and 192 yards on 31 punt returns in 2011.
“We had an offer on the table to [Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie]. They were working through it. I don’t get involved in this stuff’this is agents and [Director of Football Administration] Mike Sullivan. It’s scholarships with price tags,” Fox said. “We obviously are an appealing place but the reality is it comes down to the contract, usually. We were all over that and then it flipped and we were very pleased to get Aqib.”
On Talib as a player: “He’s long, he’s fast, he’s quick, he’s tough. The only real negative is he had some off-the-field issues early in his career. I knew him even when I was in Carolina and he was in Tampa. I knew their coaches there pretty well. You get a pretty good feedback on players when you’re in the division’even on other teams. I knew how he grew, got married, started a family and matured.”
5. Reports continue to link running back Maurice Jones-Drew to the Patriots, with one story saying that Jones-Drew was going meet with the Patriots, Steelers, Dolphins and Jets this week in Orlando. (Jones-Drew has already apparently met with Pittsburgh, but has not received an offer from the Steelers.) It remains to be seen how all of this will play out — given the Patriots depth at running back, as well as the current state of the market, you would have to think they’d be more inclined to bring back LeGarrette Blount at a cut rate price instead of likely investing more in Jones-Drew. (Jones-Drew could also sit out until the summer to see if the market shifts and he’s able to play one team against each other in hopes of reaching the reported $3 million annually he’s seeking.) But it’s certainly a situation that bears watching going forward for Patriots fans — even if he doesn’t land in New England, two of the three other teams reportedly in the hunt for the diminutive back are in the division.
|Setting the scene from the Mile High City as Patriots battle Denver Broncos in AFC championship||01.19.14 at 1:04 pm ET|
DENVER — Mother Nature is apparently a big fan of the Broncos and Patriots.
In January weather more befitting of Florida or Southern California, sunshine and 67 degrees is expected for the 1 p.m. MT kickoff here in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, as the Patriots and Broncos do battle in ideal conditions for the AFC championship.
The temperature is expected to reach as high as 69 by halftime before cooling off in the evening.
If that holds, it will unofficially go down as the warmest outdoor game in Patriots playoff history.
On Jan. 12, 1986, when the Patriots beat the Dolphins, 31-14, the game-time temperature at the Orange Bowl was 64 degrees. It was officially 60 when the Patriots lost in the 1998 playoffs in Jacksonville. When the Patriots beat the Chargers, 24-21, in the 2006 playoffs it was only 53 and Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville was only 59.
Ironically, today’s AFC championship is the 12th anniversary of the epic “Snow Bowl” at Foxboro Stadium, a game won by the Patriots over the Raiders, 16-13, in overtime in the last game ever played at the venue.
The two biggest injury question marks coming into the game appear to be the health of two rookie receivers that could challenge the Broncos secondary deep.
Kenbrell Thompkins continues to nurse a sore hip while Aaron Dobson is dealing with a stress fracture in his left foot. Both were limited all week in practice and both were questionable coming into the game. Dobson returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the Colts playoff game.
The Broncos have won both previous playoff meetings against the Patriots in Denver, beating the Patriots 22-17 in the 1986 AFC divisional round and winning, 27-13, in the 2005 playoffs, the game most infamously remembered by New England fans by Champ Bailey‘s game-changing 100-yard interception return off a Tom Brady pass to the end zone.
The Patriots gained their revenge two seasons ago when they blew out Tim Tebow and the Broncos, 45-10, in the divisional round. Including Super Bowl XXXVIII, when the Patriots beat the Panthers, 32-29, Bill Belichick is 2-0 against John Fox in the postseason.
|Patriots-Broncos predictions: Media prognosticators lean toward Denver taking close game||01.17.14 at 1:17 pm ET|
One thing is clear about the predictions coming in for Sunday’s AFC championship game between the Patriots and the Broncos — most believe it’ll be a close game. Both local and national media favor Denver, but, like the score predictions, neither team has a blowout lead.
On WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan, Gery Callahan was the only one to favor the Patriots. While Callahan thinks Tom Brady will lead New England to a 31-28 win, John Dennis (37-24) and Kirk Minihane (31-24) believe Denver will win it behind a Peyton Manning MVP effort. Minihane and Callahan predict the 49ers will take the NFC title, while Dennis projects the Seahawks will pick up the game on their own turf.
On Mut & Merloni, Mike Mutnansky is going with the Broncos, 35-28. Lou Merloni has the Patriots emerging victorious, 31-27. The two are split on the NFC game as well, with Mutnansky taking San Francisco and Merloni tabbing Seattle.
At SB Nation, the Patriots and Broncos split the panel, with Ryan Van Bibber, Jason Chilton and Stephen White leaning toward New England while Joel Thorman, David Fucillo and Matt Ufford predicting a Denver win.
ESPN‘s group of 13 panelists, on the other hand, favor the the Broncos. Merril Hoge, Adam Schefter, Mike Ditka, and Cris Carter project that the Patriots will come out with the win. Meanwhile Eric Allen, Mike Golic, Ron Jaworski, KC Joyner, Chris Mortensen, Mark Schlereth, Seth Wickersham, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson are sticking with Denver.
USA Today‘s panel of seven favors the Broncos 6-1, with Jarrett Bell, Jim Corbett, Lindsay H. Jones, Pete O’Brien, Tom Pelissero and Simon Samano favoring Denver. The lone vote for the Patriots came from Nate Davis.
Following are more predictions from around the country:
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 26, Broncos 23 — “The Patriots didn’t need to play the Bengals, and blew by the Colts. Now that they survived to get to the Broncos, it’s easier to trust them to advance. While the expected hype is around Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, the real matchup is Bill Belichick vs. John Fox.”
Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Broncos 34, Patriots 31 — “It still sounds quite strange, but I think Tony Dungy had it right when he told me on Monday that this meeting of Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks will likely come down to the running games, and the run defenses.”
|Ex-Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker ready to face his old team again||01.16.14 at 6:00 am ET|
‘He’s been exactly what we thought we were getting,” Fox said when asked about Welker. “Even people in the New England organization said that we would enjoy coaching him, and we have. He came in, made a pretty big impact. The fact that he was voted captain and just got here is a pretty good indicator of what his peers and teammates think of him. He’s fit in in exactly what we thought he would be, and that’s important.’
‘Like Coach Fox said, a lot of things that I think a lot of people thought about Wes as an opponent all proved to be true once he joined us as a teammate,” Manning said. “I always assumed that he was an extremely competitive guy that loved football and a guy that loved to work, he loved to practice. The way he played ‘ I saw him many a time play Colts versus the Patriots ‘ so to have him become a Bronco, all those things checked out.
“He’s a gym rat. He loves the game, loves to work after practice [and] loves to talk in meetings about routes that he thinks might have a chance to get open,” Manning added. “He’s very knowledgeable of defenses and how teams have played him in the past, whether they’ve double-covered him or whatever it may be. So he’s been a fun guy to play with, I’ll say that.’
After six seasons in New England, Welker finished his first year with the Broncos with with 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games. After going down with a concussion that caused him to miss the final three weeks of the regular season, he returned to the lineup in last weekend’s divisional playoff win against the Chargers, and had six catches for 38 yards and a touchdown.
Welker said that after his first game against the Patriots — which ended in a loss in his return to Gillette on Nov. 24, a game where he had four catches for 31 yards — he was able to get some of that nostalgia of facing his old team out of the way. Now, heading into this weekend’s AFC title game, the focus is on football.
‘It’s still another game,” he said Wednesday when asked about facing the Patriots. “You understand it is the AFC Championship, and everything like that. You want to go out there and prepare as much as possible. At the same time, it is still an opponent and it’s a team and you’re going out there and playing to the best of your ability and go out there and try to win the game.’
|Peyton Manning, Broncos teammates will enjoy win over Chargers before starting real prep work for Patriots||01.13.14 at 6:15 am ET|
In the wake of Sunday’s divisional playoff win over the Chargers, the Broncos acknowledged they were going to take a few hours to enjoy the moment before moving on to prepare to host the Patriots in Sunday’s AFC title game.
‘Well, I think I’m just going to enjoy this one first,” said Denver coach John Fox of the 24-17 victory over San Diego. “It hasn’t sunk in. We’ll dig into [the Patriots] tomorrow. We’ll enjoy it tonight for what it is. We’re very honored and pleased to be in that position.’
‘We’re going to address [the Patriots on] Wednesday,” said quarterback Peyton Manning. “We’ll certainly talk about them plenty on Wednesday. But, we’ll enjoy this one. You’re supposed to enjoy these wins. They’re hard to come by, and we’ll start working on the Patriots tomorrow.’
Two Denver players who have a history involving the Patriots are Manning and wide receiver Wes Welker — Manning because he’s so connected to Tom Brady (this will mark the 15th time they’ve squared off against each other), and Welker because of the fact that he spent six seasons with New England before signing with the Broncos this past offseason.
“Tom Brady has just been an outstanding quarterback for such a long time, but the game next week is the Broncos versus the Patriots,” Manning said. “I know there will be some individual matchups that will get headlines, but it will be a battle between two good teams. Teams that have been through a lot, that have overcome a lot to get to this point, and that’s where my focus will be — trying to help the Broncos get a win against the Patriots.”
‘It’s the AFC Championship game, so there will be plenty of juice,” said Welker.
It’ll be the second matchup of the season between the two teams — in the first game, the Patriots dug themselves out of a 24-0 halftime deficit to post a 34-31 overtime win.
Defensive end Robert Ayers said the Broncos are not going to be motivated to beat New England because of that November loss.
‘That’s not going to motivate me,” Ayers said. “I can’t speak for anyone else. That’s not going to motivate me at all. That’s the last thing on my mind. We have to go out there and try to win. Regardless of what happened last time, if we don’t bring our ‘A’ game, we’re going to lose. We’re just going to focus on bringing our ‘A’ game. We are going to enjoy this victory for the night and tomorrow we’re going to start back preparing and that is what we are looking forward to, just getting another win and moving one step forward.’
‘We’re looking forward to it,” said defensive end Shaun Phillips. “Obviously we’re the two best teams in the AFC because we’re playing for the AFC Championship, so what more can you ask for? That’s what you want as a football player. Tom Brady is my second favorite quarterback behind Peyton. I really like Tom. I think he’s a great player and a great person, but what better way to do it? You want the two best teams going head-to-head, and that’s what’s going to happen.’
|Bill Belichick doesn’t plan on ‘doing anything differently’ in light of John Fox, Gary Kubiak health issues||11.05.13 at 9:41 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Coaching in the NFL can be all-consuming. It can also be hazardous to one’s short and long-term health.
One needs to look no farther than this past weekend’s developments with John Fox and Gary Kubiak to see proof of that.
Texans coach Kubiak was released from a hospital Tuesday after suffering a transient ischemic attack during Sunday night’s game against the Colts. According to the Broncos, Fox remains ‘on track’ to a full and complete recovery after undergoing surgery Monday to replace an aortic heart valve.
Bill Belichick, who normally gets away to a home on Nantucket, was asked Tuesday if the Fox and Kubiak cases make him think more about taking care of himself and taking extra time to rest during the bye.
“No, I don’t feel that way,” Belichick answered.
His daily routine would suggest the 61-year-old Belichick still takes superior care of himself, preparing for the rigors of the day-to-day demands of the job. He arrives early, runs and exercises regularly before beginning his day of planning, preparation and coaching.
“I’m comfortable with the schedule that I’m on and what I’m doing. I feel about what I feel normally at this time of the season which is good but it’s not like you feel on July 28 when you start the year or whenever it is. I feel good. I’m planning on making it through the rest of the year. I don’t really see, I don’t really plan on doing anything differently.”
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