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Mike Petraglia, Ryan Hannable detail Patriots’ preparations for Falcons in Super Bowl LI 01.26.17 at 11:52 am ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots have officially started on-field preparations for Super Bowl 51 in Houston against Atlanta. Mike Petraglia and Ryan Hannable have your report inside Gillette Stadium.

Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots, nfl
Bill Belichick, the art of preparing for Super Bowl trick play and why Mohamed Sanu is on the radar at 11:19 am ET
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Jan 22, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (12) scores a touchdown ahead of Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Joe Thomas (48) during the first quarter in the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Mohamed Sanu found plenty of open space against the Packers defense in the NFC Championship. (Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — When it comes to game planning for the Super Bowl, the two teams have to be ready for anything and everything at anytime.

The Patriots know that one aspect of the Falcons high-powered offense that could be a challenge are the different looks they could see, including a wildcat snap to either one of their running backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Matt Ryan could go off on a naked bootleg.

And then there’s Mohamed Sanu. With Cincinnati from 2012-15, the wide receiver out of Rutgers threw five passes and completed them all in various formations. He threw for a pair of touchdowns, including a 73-yarder against Washington in 2012. Sanu has been resting his arm the last two seasons, not having thrown a pass since 2014, when he went 3-for-3 for 79 yards and a touchdown. As the numbers would suggest, Sanu has a perfect career quarterback rating of 158.3. Even though he hasn’t shown off that arm in the last two seasons, Bill Belichick will certainly be prepared for it in the biggest of games.

“Yeah, but we know he can do it,” Belichick said Thursday. “Look, this is the kind of game where a team could be working on a play like that all year and running out of games. It could be a lot of other plays, too. A reverse, a pass, a double-pass, some kind of gadget play. Absolutely.

“The longer the season goes, I think the more you have to prepared for those kind of plays. If a team’s been working on it, at some point, they’re probably going to use it [and] the fewer games there are to call it. So, if you’ve been working on a play all year, a lot of coordinators will [say], ‘Might as well call it.’

Of course, Sanu was not brought to Atlanta to supplant Matt Ryan. He was brought in from Cincinnati to complement Julio Jones. And with 59 catches, an 11.1 yards per catch average and four touchdowns, he’s fit the bill nicely. In two playoff games, he has added nine catches for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“He’s big, he’s tough, he’s got great hands, tremendous hands,” Belichick said. “He has a great catch radius. He catches everything. He’s a tough blocker and he’s hard to tackle. He’s an explosive player. Sanu would help any team. There’s not a team in the league he wouldn’t help.”

As for the trick play possibility, Belichick went in depth.

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Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Bill Belichick, Mohamed Sanu, New England Patriots
Nate Ebner dealing with concussion, Patriots list 7 limited on first Super Bowl injury report 01.25.17 at 5:48 pm ET
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Jan 22, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Sammie Coates (14) runs past New England Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones (31) and defensive back Nate Ebner (43) during the first half in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Ebner (43) hits the deck during the first half in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Patriots don’t begin practice for Super Bowl LI until Thursday in Foxboro but they were mandated by the NFL to produce a projected practice report with injuries on Wednesday.

The most notable item on the report was appearance of special teams star Nate Ebner, who is dealing with a concussion suffered in the first half of Sunday’s AFC championship against the Steelers.

He did not return to the sidelines for the second half and was marked officially as “did not participate” on Wednesday’s initial Super Bowl report.

Ebner plays a vital role on kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return units.

There were seven other Patriots listed as limited with nagging injuries that they have been dealing with for some time.

The Patriots will practice Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday before leaving for Houston on Monday.

Here is the complete report from both teams:

Patriots

DID NOT PARTICIPATE

ST Nate Ebner (concussion)

LIMITED

WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
LB Dont’a Hightower (shoulder)
DE Jabaal Sheard (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)

Falcons

LIMITED

WR Julio Jones (toe)
DE Dwight Freeney (not injury related)
C Alex Mack (fibula)

Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Nate Ebner, New England Patriots, nfl
How Alan Branch has turned into a beast in the middle of Patriots defensive line, and what it means in Super Bowl LI 01.24.17 at 2:41 pm ET
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Jan 14, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Alan Branch (97) and teammates on the field against the Houston Texans in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Alan Branch (97) has been the anchor of a dominating defensive line in the second half of the season. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

One of the biggest reasons that the Patriots were able to contain the Steelers run game – and their offense overall – Sunday night was a groin injury to Le’Veon Bell that he had been dealing with for some time.

But right there with Bell’s injury was the work of Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch.

It’s hard to think that, at 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds, a man like Branch could be overlooked. But on Sunday, as NFL expert Michael Lombardi noted on Monday, he took on Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and won several battles, pushing him backwards and containing him at the line so the rest of the line could get up field.

When Branch had his four-game suspension rescinded by the NFL at the beginning of December, it kept one of the best and most productive players on the field for the stretch run. Branch and his celebratory dance were alive and well on the Patriots defense.

Branch played 48 of 69 snaps with four tackles Sunday in the 36-17 win over the Steelers. Only defensive end Trey Flowers (58) played more on the defensive line. On the game-turning red zone stop late in the second quarter, he was on the field on first and second down, when the Patriots hit DeAngelo Williams for losses of 1 and 3 yards before coming off the field on the third down incomplete pass by Ben Roethlisberger.

What Bill Belichick noted Tuesday in his conference call is how much more stamina Branch is playing with this year. He has played a career-high 626 snaps on defense (60 percent) and 153 on special teams. By comparison, Branch played just 432 defensive snaps in 2015.

“Yeah, Alan has done a great job for us, and along with his play which is certainly significant, one of the things that’s really been impressive about him has been his play time,” Belichick said. “So, in addition to his overall production he’s played a lot more than he has in quite a while in terms of number of plays. From a production standpoint he’s got, again, quite a few tackles, tackles for loss. It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those.”

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Read More: Alan Branch, Atlanta Falcons, Maurkice Pouncey, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick says Jon Bon Jovi ‘had the place rocking, maybe a little more than we did’ 01.23.17 at 2:16 pm ET
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Jan 22, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick celebrates with recording artist Jon Bon Jovi after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick celebrates with rocker Jon Bon Jovi after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick paid old friend Jon Bon Jovi quite the compliment Monday.

About 12 hours after his team dismantled the Steelers, 36-17, in the AFC championship in front of the rock icon, Belichick said he actually paid attention to the crowd singing to one of Bon Jovi’s greatest hits.

The Patriots coach may not have known who won the NFC championship before his team took the field Sunday but he certainly didn’t block out the music once his team got rockin’ in the third quarter.

Once LeGarrette Blount bowled in from one-yard out to make it 27-9, “Living on a Prayer” started blasting over the sound system throughout the stadium and then – on cue – the video boards showed a shot of the artist who performed the song in the suite with Rob Gronkowski. Bon Jovi smiled and then started conducting the crowd in an acapella version, which rang throughout the stadium.

“Yeah, I was definitely aware of it,” Belichick said Monday in a conference call. “Jon… I mean I’ve heard him play that song dozens of times, but he had the place rocking, maybe a little more than we did. Yeah, pretty impressive. He’s a great friend, been a great friend for a long time all the way back into the 80’s.

“We’ve shared a lot of great moments together including the 1990 Super Bowl in Tampa where he was in the locker room after the game still taking crazy pictures and stuff like that; great memories from there. It was great to have Jon here and I always appreciate his great support. Yeah, it was quite a moment, one that you usually don’t see at a professional football game. Yeah, it was special.”

Bon Jovi gave Belichick a good luck hug and peck on the cheek after the Patriots concluded their on-field warmups before heading back into their locker room one final time before kickoff. Bon Jovi, a former owner of the Philadelphia Soul (2004-08) of the Arena Football League, is a frequent visitor to Patriots training camp. But his roots with Belichick go back to his days in New Jersey with the Giants.

“Jon is a big Giants fan,” Belichick said. “He grew up in New Jersey, so when I was coaching the Giants. We had a lot in common. We both liked the Giants.”

Bon Jovi was quick to bond with Belichick but not so much Bill Parcells.

“I don’t think Bill [Parcells] was a big Bon Jovi fan or Bruce Springsteen fan or anything like that,” Belichick said. “It wasn’t exactly his musical style at that point in time. Some of the younger coaches on the staff, one in particular connected to him. [Sean] Landeta, you know Sean was another one. Sean and Jon and I – we’ve done a few things together. Yeah, back to the Jersey-Giants days.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, jon bon jovi, New England Patriots,
Bill Belichick admits his players ‘put up with a lot from me’ but proves it’s all worth it at 1:39 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have had quite a run. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have had quite a run. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — When cameras caught Martellus Bennett doing the pom-poms with Patriots cheerleaders after New England’s 36-17 win over the Steelers in the AFC championship, it was equal parts celebration of going to the Super Bowl and relief after passing the latest Bill Belichick exam.

What did Belichick think of Bennett’s cheerleading tryout?

“Yeah, I missed all of the dancing with the cheerleaders; sorry. We’ll have to get a replay on that,” Belichick said on Monday’s conference call. “But you know, I’d say just in general it’s great to, obviously it was a great win for our team and our organization last night, but it’s great to see the players who have worked so hard take so much satisfaction in their relationship with their teammates and the goal that they accomplished last night.”

Bennett, who is headed home to Houston for his first Super Bowl appearance, caught five passes on all five targets from Tom Brady on Sunday, amassing 32 yards. He was the third-leading receiver behind Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman.

Bennett is just one example of what Belichick has always sought in his players – a firm belief in the team as one. Bennett came to New England from Chicago in the final year of his four-year deal. He’s used it as a platform to show his talents for a new deal in New England or elsewhere – and he’s done it while playing over half the season with a broken bone in his right ankle.

“Another step in a season where the team has already won 16 games but it was another significant step,” Belichick added Monday. “When you see them reacting and congratulating each other and celebrating like that, you know you have a closeness on the team that is special. I mentioned that last night and it’s true. These guys, they work hard. They put up with a lot from me and they put up with a lot of significant demands and requirements here, but it’s done with the intent to try and produce a good product and a good team.”

For as much as he is considered super serious and rigid, Belichick has always encouraged his team to celebrate big plays and big games with one another. The team that wins together celebrates together, and vice versa.

“They buy into it,” Belichick said. “They perform well in critical situations like [Sunday] night. I take a lot of satisfaction in seeing them achieve that because they’ve worked so hard for it and I think they deserve it, but you’ve got to go out and prove it.

“Again, going back to [author] Jerry Izenberg – ‘No Medals for Trying.’ [The 1990 book on the New York Giants] This time of year everybody tries hard. Everybody has a good team that is still playing. You’re only rewarded for achievement. Last night we were fortunate enough to earn that. It’s a great feeling to see everybody have that kind of interaction with each other and feel so good about their teammates and the guys they’ve worked so hard with.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jerry Izenberg, Martellus Bennett, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick reminds everyone why Pats are in Super Bowl: ‘We take the hand we’re dealt and play the cards’ at 1:11 am ET
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FOXBORO — No one appreciates hard work and team unity more than Bill Belichick.

It’s those two qualities the Patriots coach pointed to when summarizing his feelings following a 36-17 win over the Steelers Sunday in the AFC Championship that sends him to a record seventh Super Bowl as a head coach.

Specifically, Belichick was asked about his thoughts when reflecting on what his team has accomplished despite overcoming some major obstacles this year. Beginning with Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, continuing with the trade of Jamie Collins and then the injury to Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have overcome a great deal to reach their record ninth Super Bowl as a franchise.

“Yeah, well we never dwell on that,” Belichick said. “We take the hand that we’re dealt and play the cards. We’re very fortunate. We have a good team. We have a lot of good players. We have good depth. Nick Caserio and his staff, Dave Ziegler on the pro side, Monti [Ossenfort] on the college side and all of the guys that work in there. I mean they’ve done a great job of helping to build the depth on this team. Look, every team has injuries. Every team loses a player. It’s unfortunate, but that’s life in the NFL.

“But we’ve had players that have been able to work hard, be prepared and take advantage of those opportunities and help the team win in all three units and really in every game. You referenced the beginning of the year but it’s been true in every game really. It’s a credit to those guys. It’s a credit to the depth on our team and the way that those guys prepare. They work hard. They don’t know if they’re going to get an opportunity or not and then when it finally comes and they do get it, they’re usually ready to take advantage of it and help the team win.”

Thanks to the play of Tom Brady and his team’s overall execution of a well-thought out game plan, there wasn’t much adversity to overcome Sunday.

“That’s why we’re where we are,” Belichick continued. “We have a special team, a special group of guys that really work hard. They deserve the success that they’ve had. I mean it’s hard to win 16 games in this league. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the players and the job they’ve done all year week after week. It’s tough but they come in and grind it out. They sit in these seats for hours, and hours, and hours, and prepare, and prepare, and go out there and lay it on the line every week. Again, it’s a good group of men.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers,

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