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Patriots players discuss pick plays, season coming to an end 01.20.14 at 3:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The day after the Patriots fell to the Broncos 26-16 in the AFC championship game it was a somber locker room at Gillette Stadium, where the players cleaned out their lockers and many said goodbye to teammates, some of whom likely will not be teammates again because of free agency and the general nature of the NFL.

A few players spoke with the media reflecting on both the season and Sunday’s game, with pick plays in the league being a main focus.

Here are a few quotes:

Devin McCourty

On the season coming to an end: “It’€™s always tough when your season ends in the playoffs, it just ends so fast.”

On the Broncos and their pick plays: “Each team is different, but they run that a lot and do a good job doing that.”

Steve Gregory

On what the the defense could have done better in the loss: “I wish we could’ve gotten off the field a little bit. Third downs we weren’t able to get off the field, they kind of pretty much moved the ball and chewed up a lot of clock. We would’ve liked to have gotten a turnover or two and given the ball back to our offense in good field position, even just forcing a punt. We weren’t able to, they were clicking. Peyton [Manning] was on his game. They are a good football team. It’€™s going to be a good game.”

Overall thoughts on the season: “At the end of the season there is only one team that is going to be happy. Every other team is going to go home and wonder what they could’ve done more of to accomplish their goals. I am proud of this group of guys. They played hard all year long. We had so much adversity that we overcame. By no means was it a bad season, we made it to the AFC championship and played a great team in the Denver Broncos and yesterday they were just a little bit better than we were. They made more plays than we did and they deserved it. At the end of the day we can hold our heads high. We played a heck of a year, the guys fought hard, you just have to learn from it, move on.”

On pick plays and what they’ve become: “The game has evolved to that with bunches and stacks with guys trying to create separation especially in man coverage and things like that. Receivers try and rub routes with picks like that, pick plays is what they are called — trying to create separation for guys so the quarterback can get the ball in there. It’€™s kind of become part of the game. To what extent it’€™s a flag or a penalty, I don’€™t know. It’€™s something you have to deal with and work through.”

Andre Carter

On pick plays in the NFL: “It’€™s football. It’€™s part of the offensive scheme, we understand that. Sometimes for defensive linemen like myself, the crack-toss play, it happens. You just have to prepare for it. Sometimes you get caught in the wrong place, but like I said it’s football. The league will review it and see what they can do to protect players.”

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LeGarrette Blount on re-signing with Patriots: ‘I’d like to be here, but we’ll see how it goes’ at 2:10 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount is now a free agent. (AP)

LeGarrette Blount is now a free agent. (AP)

FOXBORO — Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount slowly removed items from his locker and into a trash bag Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after his team was eliminated from the playoffs following their 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game.

Monday could be the last time Blount sets foot in the Patriots locker room as the 27-year-old is now a free agent, but that doesn’€™t mean Blount isn’€™t open to a return with New England.

“I’€™d like to be here, but we’€™ll see how it goes,” Blount said.

His contract this past year was reportedly for the four-year league minimum of $630,000 with an added $50,000 workout bonus.

The 250-pound running back had a breakout season, particularly in the final two games of the regular season carrying over into the divisional round game against the Colts. He averaged 143 yards on the ground in those three games and recorded eight touchdowns, including four against the Colts.

For the season he finished with 772 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, but only ran the ball five times for six yards in Sunday’s loss to the Broncos.

“I’€™m proud of how far we went, obviously we didn’€™t reach our ultimate goal, but we’€™re proud of the strides we made,” said Blount.

He came to the Patriots from Tampa Bay this offseason in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick and sprinter Jeff Demps, who only played in two games for the Buccaneers this season.

Blount went undrafted out of Oregon coming into the league in 2010 where he rushed for 1,007 yards with Tampa. In 2011 he ran for 781 yards before a down year of just 151 in 2012. The Patriots took a chance on him and Blount joined a team where he fit right in.

“Hard, tough-nosed, the ability that this whole team has. A lot of guys here are underdogs and undrafted guys. There are a lot of not first-round guys coming in here stepping up doing things guys didn’€™t expect them to do,” Blount said of the Patriots as a team. ‘€œWe’€™ve come out here and proved them wrong a bunch of times.”

Although the team didn’€™t reach their ultimate goal, there was still a lot of take away from the season with just how many injuries the team was able to get past — something Blount took a lot of pride in.

“We did everything we could to overcome them,” he said. “We made it as far as we could’€™ve without getting to the big show.”

Whether Blount is apart of the Patriots team next year that hopes to get to “the big show” still remains to be seen.

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Andre Carter on Wes Welker’s hit on Aqib Talib: ‘It was a nasty play’ at 1:21 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Much of the talk the day after the Patriots’€™ 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game has been surrounding the apparent pick play across the middle of the field early in the second quarter when Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker ran into Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, forcing him from the game with a knee injury.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave his thoughts on the play, calling it “one of the worst plays I’ve seen” in his press conference Monday morning.

Defensive end Andre Carter, a 12-year veteran, echoed his coach’€™s comments, speaking as the Patriots cleaned out their lockers at Gillette Stadium.

“When I saw it, as a play in general, Wes, was he doing his job? He was to a certain degree,” Carter said. “Do I think the hit could’ve been cleaner? Yes. I’ve been around a lot of football to see that. At the end the end of the day it was a nasty play, but we’€™ll see what happens and what the league does.”

Talib was not spotted in the locker room during the media availability period.

Other members of the Patriots defense didn’t have much to say on the play as they haven’€™t had a chance to see it on film.

“I haven’t seen it yet. I just remember being on the field and the collision happening,”€ safety Steve Gregory said. “I haven’€™t seen the replay or anything like that.”

Defensive captain and safety Devin McCourty also didn’t see the hit, but noted he’€™d probably go along with what Belichick said.

“€œHe’€™s seen a lot of football, so I’€™d probably go with what he says, I don’€™t know,”€ McCourty said. “I haven’€™t gotten a chance to watch it and a chance to look at it.”

McCourty noted it’€™s hard to say a player would deliberately hit another player with the intent to injure, but winning the game is always the ultimate goal.

“That’€™s tough to say someone would do that, but I think all of us out there would do anything to try and win that game,” he said.

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Bill Belichick moving on to next season: ‘We’re in 2014 now’ at 10:55 am ET
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FOXBORO — Like a being on a treadmill, the Patriots season was going and going but then came to a sudden stop Sunday afternoon in Denver with their 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game.

Bill Belichick is ready to focus on the 2014 season after completing his season-ending press conference Monday at Gillette Stadium. (AP)

Bill Belichick is ready to focus on the 2014 season after completing his season-ending press conference Monday at Gillette Stadium. (AP)

Coach Bill Belichick now shifts his focus to the 2014 season. Belichick spoke of what that entails at his season-ending press conference Monday at Gillette Stadium, noting decisions regarding the makeup of next year’€™s team will come in the next two months.

“I would say in the neighborhood of 6-8 weeks. Free agency starts a little less than two months from now so we definitely need to be ready by then,” Belichick said. “There will be some other transactions along the way before then relative to tenders and those types of things. There are a few situations that will precede that, but I would say somewhere in the 4-8 weeks category, some sooner than others. Trying to compile all the information on players and situations as well as things like responsibilities on our staff, looking at scheme and maybe a player could fit a little bit better into a scheme, or maybe not as well into a different scheme if we are planning on making some changes along those lines. That’€™s all part of it, too.

“Some decisions need to be made sooner than others, other decisions honestly may wait. We’ve re-signed players in April, May, June and we’ve also released players in that range. I don’€™t think there is a specific timetable, but I would say somewhere in that 6-8 week range is probably when most of the decisions need to be made or at least, even if they are delayed, you’ve made that decision to delay.”

Of those decisions to be made, some of them surround the team’s free agents: Aqib Talib, Julian Edelman, Brandon Spikes and LeGarrette Blount. Belichick said he will speak to each of them as well as other players on the roster in the coming days and weeks.

“We have a number of players whose contracts are going to expire that I am going to talk to one way or another,” Belichick said. “I’€™m not saying there’€s any decision to made, but there is certainly a conversation to be had. A lot of guys on the team that I have and will talk to personally about their situation and appreciation for what they’ve done, whatever it happens to be.”

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Logan Mankins on Patriots running game of late: ‘We have blocked better’ 01.15.14 at 6:39 pm ET
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Logan Mankins will be playing in his third AFC Championship Game on Sunday. (AP)

Logan Mankins will be playing in his third AFC championship game on Sunday. (AP)

FOXBORO — There is no denying the Patriots running game has been on a roll the past few weeks, as in the last three games the team has rushed for 545 yards and 10 touchdowns. With that has come all of the headlines for the running backs, particularly LaGarrette Blount.

But Blount wouldn’t be making the cover of Sports Illustrated and getting all the added publicity without the work of the Patriots€™ offensive line.

“I think we have blocked better,” guard Logan Mankins said. “I think the backs have run better. It is just a combination of everything. It is not just the line, it’€™s the tight ends, the fullback. On those big, long runs you need receivers blocking. So it is just a total group effort and I think we have all done a better job.”

Even with the great play of the offensive line, Blount has been a monster rushing for 431 yards in his last three games with eight touchdowns. Leading the way for Blount on a number of his runs, Mankins has noticed a steady improvement for the 27-year-old over the course of the season.

“I think for the linemen I think his speed has surprised us but we saw that a couple times earlier in the season,” said Mankins. “It is just opportunities. He has gotten enough opportunities here lately and the holes have been pretty good. He does a great job of having patience and finding the hole first of all. He doesn’t overrun it. He doesn’t cut it too soon. He gives you time to get your block made and he hits it going forward. The most impressive thing is the way he’€™s just dragging people. No one is just arm tackling. He is not going down with just one guy. He is always gaining yards, even after contact, which is very impressive. It is great to have a guy doing that.”

Some say offensive linemen prefer run blocking over pass blocking, but for Mankins it doesn’t matter.

“As long as we’€™re scoring points we’€™re happy,” the 31-year-old said. “You can’€™t win if you don’€™t score. If we’€™re throwing the ball well we’€™re happy, if we’€™re running the ball well we’€™re happy as long as we score.”

The leader of the offensive line also discussed the closeness of the unit as a whole — one that allowed just 40 sacks in the regular season and led the way for the Patriots’€™ rushing attack, which averaged 129 yards a game.

“We get along good. Linemen usually do,” said Mankins. “We hang out a lot together. We do a lot of things together. We enjoy being around each other. Am I the leader of the line? I don’€™t know, you can ask those guys. I know we are a tight knit group. We always pull for each other. We enjoy being around each other.”

Mankins is in his ninth season in the league, all coming with the Patriots, and he will be playing in his 17th playoff game Sunday afternoon and seeking his third Super Bowl appearance.

“It has been a long ride,” Mankins said. “When you say nine years it seems like a long time but it has flown by. That is the one thing about this game, you can say you are in the game a long time but it feels like it’€™s gone like this. It has been fun. I’ve enjoyed it. I just hope it continues for a few more years and hopefully a successful one this year.”

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Patriots rushing attack in red zone will be key against Broncos at 6:28 pm ET
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LaGarrette Blount has been a force in the red zone for the Patriots in their last three games. (AP)

LaGarrette Blount has been a force in the red zone for the Patriots in their last three games. (AP)

FOXBORO — When looking into what the Patriots’€™ game plan may be come Sunday afternoon in Denver for the AFC championship game, much has been made of the Patriots€™ running attack and just how much they will run the ball.

Over the past three weeks the Patriots have ran the ball 123 times, averaging 41 rushes per game, something very un-Patriot like in the past few years. But, with the temperatures in Denver expected in the 50s at kickoff and a Denver secondary without star cornerback Chris Harris, maybe the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady will try and take advantage with more of a passing attack.

Regardless of their offensive game plan, once the Patriots get inside the red zone they will need to have an effective running game.

It’€™s clear the Patriots offense misses tight end Rob Gronkowski as once they get inside the opponents 20-yard line, in the seven games he played, the Patriots had a 69 percent (22-of-32) touchdown success rate in the red zone, compared to 49 percent (19-of-39) in the 10 games (postseason included) without him. But, in the last three games where the Patriots have piled up 545 yards on the ground, they’€™ve had a 69 percent (9-of-13) touchdown success rate in the red zone –  the same as when Gronkowski was in the lineup, and of those nine touchdowns, seven have come on the ground.

One of the biggest reasons for the Patriots’ success in the red zone of late has been LaGarrette Blount, who has rushed for 431 yards (6.7-yard average) and eight touchdowns in the last three games, including five coming from inside the red zone.

“€œThe offense is definitely clicking at the right time of the year,” Blount said. ‘€œThis is the time we need to get hot. This is the time we need to stay hot. With me, Stevan [Ridley], [Shane] Vereen and [Brandon] Bolden, all of us are productive backs and we bring something different to the table. They have just been trying to get the ball in my hand just a little bit more.”

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Tom Brady goes home sick, Ryan Mallett takes first-team reps: ‘It was a lot of fun’ at 2:31 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Following Patriots practice Wednesday at Gillette Stadium, backup quarterback Ryan Mallett acknowledged he took snaps with both the first team as well as the scout team stepping in for Tom Brady who was not present at the media portion of practice.

Multiple reports indicate that Brady was on site at Gillette Stadium early Wednesday morning but went home sick, as did long snapper Danny Aiken, who was also missing at the media portion of practice.

“€œIt was a lot of fun. I like getting to play in our offense,” Mallett said.

The 25-year-old said he was notified he’d be taking the first team snaps this morning by coach Bill Belichick, but wouldn’t elaborate any further, although he did acknowledge he spoke to Brady earlier in the day.

“This morning,” Mallett said, when asked about when he found out he’d be taking first-team reps. “You have to ask coach, I just do what I am told and do my job.”

The backup quarterback said his focus didn’t change as even when Brady is practicing, he is still mentally preparing like he is out there.

“Even when I am not taking snaps with the first team I am watching and playing the game in my head so I get my reps in case something happens and I’€™ll be going into the game,”€ said Mallett.

Mallett also simulated Peyton Manning on the other side of the ball for the Patriot defense.

“Peyton does a lot of different stuff and we do our best to emulate that and give our defense a good look,” he said. “A few Omaha’€™s.”

The exact reason for Brady’s absence at media portion of practice will be revealed in the injury report which will be released later in the afternoon.

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