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For Patriots, creating game plan for success in Glendale starts with good week of practice in Foxboro 01.22.15 at 4:02 pm ET
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Rob Ninkovich says maximizing practice time is key when it comes to Super Bowl prep. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Rob Ninkovich says maximizing practice time is key when it comes to Super Bowl prep. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — For the Patriots, one of the big points of emphasis this week before they leave for Glendale, Arizona, next Monday is maximizing prep time while at their own facility. While the two teams have been gifted with two weeks between the conference championship and the Super Bowl, the key comes down to using your time wisely.

“You’ve got to be efficient in what you’re doing with your time, especially right now,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said before practice on Thursday. “Looking at extra tape, looking at yourself, film of yourself and the things that you need to work at are key. Right now, it’s getting better and everyone as a group — defensively, offensively, special teams — working to get better. That’s what it’s all about.”

This will mark the second Super Bowl for Devin McCourty, who indicated that its important to keep a sense of normalcy in the days leading up to departure for the Super Bowl.

“It’s huge — to be in our normal setting, coming in, going to practice and doing what we do on a normal basis,” McCourty said. “That’s kind of the easiest way to prepare and get ready to go. We can really take advantage of this time and get a lot done as far as preparing and having a little edge or a little step ahead once we go down to Arizona.

“It’s a little harder once you get in a new setting. If you can take care of a lot of things and kind of be going over it for a second time once we get into Arizona I think that’ll give us a big advantage going into the game.”

Wide receiver Brandon LaFall, who will be going to his first Super Bowl, echoed McCourty, saying that the four days worth of practice before they leave for Arizona — Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday — are vital to creating a foundation of success.

“It’s very important,” he said. “These four days we are really working on ourselves and [when we] start putting the game plan in and get the basics down. And when we get out there, the goal of everything is [to] just go over your final walkthrough of things to make sure you got everything understood.”

Read More: 2015 NFL playoffs, Brandon LaFell, Devin Harris, Rob Ninkovich
Patriots locker room reaction over Deflategate flap: ‘We’re just focusing on Seattle’ at 3:07 pm ET
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FOXBORO — A handful of Patriots players addressed the charges of under-inflated footballs in last Sunday’s AFC title game against the Colts in the locker room Thursday morning:

Special teams captain Matthew Slater: “Certainly that is something we have addressed and will continue to address. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the hoopla. Your families are really excited but we have a job to do. This is not a vacation for us. This is not a celebration. We have a job to do and at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to and that’s where our focus needs to be. As a team, to a man, we need to make sure we have our minds in the right place, our focus in the right place, and that’s playing football. That’s all that matters at the end of the day.”

Slater on any worries about Deflategate? “I feel pretty confident in saying we’re just focusing on Seattle. … We’re all about focusing on what’s going on inside these doors here and there’s always going to be a lot of buzz going outside these doors, and we’ve been trained to ignore that, and we have to. We can’t allow ourselves to get caught up in positive or negative things. We just have to focus on us and doing our jobs.”

Defensive end/long snapper Rob Ninkovich: “I’m not even getting into that, because really I’m focused on what I have to do, and that’s get better today. Practice for the biggest game of my life. I’m moving on from that — I have nothing to say about that. I’m going to focus in on what my job is and that’s to play good football. I’m not even thinking about anything from the past. I’m thinking about the future.

“The only time I touch a football is if I recover it or if I’m snapping it. Or intercept it. Or causing fumbles. I’m past that. I’m looking forward ti another opportunity that you don’t get often. I’m excited — very, very excited to get this week of preparation going, and get gong in the process.”

Cornerback Kyle Arrington: “Well, I’m sure like a lot of guys have said — and I’m no different — that I don’t have anything to do with that process or that nature when it comes to the footballs. I can’t really comment. … We’re only concerned about the guys in this locker room and winning the football game.”

Arrington on whether or not he can tell if its a deflated football: “Well, considering that typically, historically, we all have the worst hands of anyone on the football field, I don’t care what condition it’s in, as long as we can catch it. … I don’t really handle the ball too often. It’s not really my concern.”

Punter Ryan Allen: “I can’t really shed any further light on the whole ball situation. We’re just focused on what we need to do this week and next week to prepare for Seattle.”

Running back Jonas Gray on Deflategate: “I have no idea. I think that’s the one thing about this entire team. We really don’t know anything about the balls and inflation. I didn’t know they even checked it beforehand. It’s one of those things where we just go out and play the game.”

Read More: 2015 NFL playoffs, Deflategate, Jonas Gray, Kyle Arrington
Julian Edelman on MFB: ‘We just so happened to do a lot of things right’ vs. Colts 01.19.15 at 12:59 pm ET
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Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman and defensive end Chandler Jones joined Middays with MFB on Monday to discuss Sunday’s rout of the Colts in the AFC championship game. To hear the interviews, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The Patriots had their way with Indianapolis on both sides of the football Sunday night.

“They’re a good team. We just so happened to do a lot of things right,” Edelman said. “We played a complementary football game. … We were just able to execute at a high level last night. Hopefully that goes on to two weeks.”

Said Jones: “It’s good for the coaches to give out a game plan, but at the end of the day it’s up to the players to execute and buy into what the coaches are coaching. I feel like our players did a good job of buying into the coaches’ game plan, and we outexecuted the other team and it definitely showed on the scoreboard at the end of the game.”

Jones credited fellow defensive end Rob Ninkovich with having a standout game.

Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones

“I want to personally take the time to point out Rob Ninkovich‘s game that he had last night,” Jones said. “I just finished watching him. Rob had a tremendous game. It might not show on the stat sheet, but he did a really good job of pressuring Andrew Luck. Like I said, I want to shout him out. That was a great game by Rob Ninkovich.”

Edelman said he knew nothing about the controversy regarding allegedly underinflated footballs.

“I’m not even getting involved in this one,” Edelman said. “Ask coach Bill Belichick on all situations.”

Added Edelman: “Those guys [on the sideline] didn’t do anything. They’re probably just overreacting on something. It’s ridiculous, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We’re going to just try to get better for Seattle.”

Offensive lineman Nate Solder scored a touchdown in the third quarter, catching a short pass from Tom Brady and running into the end zone. Edelman said he was happy to share the spotlight with his underappreciated teammate.

“Those big dogs, they do all the grinding work each and every week. They don’t ever get the credit they deserve,” Edelman said. “To see one of your big dogs get a touchdown, especially in such an important game, it’s always awesome. You get to see those guys, they light up like a Christmas tree. It was awesome to see that.”

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Read More: chandler jones, Julian Edelman, Rob Ninkovich,
Patriots defensive line looks to avoid being cut down by Ravens zone-blocking scheme 01.07.15 at 4:07 pm ET
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Vince Wilfork and the rest of the Patriots defensive front will face a unique challenge this Saturday in the Ravens zone-blocking scheme. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Vince Wilfork and the rest of the Patriots defensive front will face a unique challenge this Saturday in the Ravens zone-blocking scheme. (Elsa/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — This week, the Patriots will be going against a Ravens’€™ offensive line that utilizes a zone-blocking scheme. The zone-blocking front operates differently than many traditional lines in that the focus is on clearing lanes and specific spaces as opposed to blocking individual defensive linemen. The goal is to create lanes for a running back or quarterback. In this system, quickness, coordination and technique often trump size and strength.

It’s a philosophy backed by Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who implemented the system when he was an offensive coordinator in Denver and a head coach in Houston. It’s a system that Bill Belichick has schemed against several times over the years.

It’s also an approach that not all defensive linemen are crazy about, because it also calls for cut blocking — a move that calls for offensive linemen to occasionally dive at a defenders knees in hopes of taking him out of the play. It’s a completely legal maneuver, but one that could ultimately be addressed sooner-rather-than-later in the name of player safety.

When asked Tuesday if Baltimore utilizes cut blocks, Belichick flashed a small smile.

“Is the Pope Catholic?” he replied.

“The same offense they ran in Denver, the same offense they ran in Houston is the same offense Kubiak runs in Baltimore,” he added. “So, all the characteristics from those other teams are the same characteristics in Baltimore.”

When asked about the challenge of facing a zone-blocking scheme this week in the Ravens, veteran defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said the first thing you look for are the cut blocks, utilized primarily in hopes of springing running back Justin Forsett.

“Facing a team like this, they cut block,” he said. “And then, also, they make the play-action pass look the same exact way. That’s probably one of the hardest things to figure out during the course of the play is if it’s a [bootleg] or if it’s a run. And they make it look exactly the same, so that’s a credit to them.

“It’s always challenging to face a team that runs this type of an offense, just because there are so many things that they can do off of it with the cut blocks, with the play-action pass, trying to get the ball vertical, not knowing where the running back is going to cut,” he added. “So, it gives their offense a lot of different areas that they can actually create lanes up front. So, we’re going to have to do a real good job up front of just playing good technique.”

In his first season as a starter with the Ravens, Forsett has done very well. Serving as a multidimensional threat, the Cal product ended the season with 235 carries for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns, and became the only running back in the NFL to finish with at least 1,200 rushing yards and average at least five yards per carry (5.4). The 5-foot-8, 197-pounder also has 44 catches on 59 targets for 263 yards.

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Gary Kubiak
Game-changers: Patriots prepare for heightened intensity of playoff football 12.28.14 at 8:04 pm ET
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Matthew Slater know the game changes when the postseason rolls around. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater know the game changes when the postseason rolls around. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — In the wake of Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Bills, the Patriots will spend the next few days flipping the calendar — and the mindset — from the regular season to the postseason. The veterans who have been through the playoff grind in years past understand the pace of the game also shifts. Things get quicker, and considerably more intense.

Linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who has played in nine playoff games since joining the Patriots in 2009, said that the best way to describe the changes in the pace of the game for a rookie (or any young player who has never experienced the postseason before) is that the move from the regular season to the postseason brings the same sort of spike in intensity players get when they move from the preseason into the regular season.

“Everything is magnified,” he said following Sunday’s contest against the Bills. “Everything means that much more, and it always comes down to a play here, a play there, for the outcome of these games. It comes down to execution — the best teams are in the playoffs. You have to really work hard during the week and prepare well to know who you’re playing and understand what they do well. It all comes down to studying.”

“That comparison is adequate,” said special teams captain Matthew Slater when told of Ninkovich’s assessment. “It’s like going from preseason to regular season. It’ll be like nothing they’ve experienced before. They’ve got to realize everything is on the line. The whole season. It started back in OTAs, it’s all on the line now. There’s got to be a sense of urgency, a sense of purpose, a drive that every play in practice and in the game is the season. That’s the message we have to send out as leaders on this team. And hopefully, everybody understands that.”

Then, there’s the danger that comes with resting on your laurels. The Patriots finished the regular season with a 12-4 mark and the top seed in the AFC, but now that the playoffs loom, everyone is back to 0-0.

“I think it’s important for us to understand all we’ve done is we’ve put ourselves in good position, but the real work remains,” Slater said. “I think what we have to do over the next week-and-a-half or so is to make sure our focus is on continuing to show improvement. The teams that are able to continue to improve at this point in the season will move forward. For us, what we’ve done in the 16 games over the course of the regular season isn’t good enough. We have to keep getting better.

“And the other half of that is taking advantage of the bye. Guys getting rest. That doesn’t mean guys flying all over the country. That doesn’t mean guys staying up late. We have to do a good job of taking are of ourselves physically, or that bye really doesn’t mean anything if we don’t do that.”

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Read More: Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, Rob Ninkovich,
Rob Ninkovich looking forward to facing college teammate Kyle Orton: ‘I’m sure I will enjoy going after him a little bit’ 12.26.14 at 2:56 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich will be seeing a familiar face on the other side of the ball when lining up Sunday against the Bills and quarterback Kyle Orton. Orton was the quarterback during Ninkovich’s time at Purdue and he even caught two touchdown passes from the 32-year-old.

“Yeah, an old teammate,” Ninkovich said Friday. “Again, he’s a good quarterback. We go back a long ways, caught a couple of touchdown passes from him. I’m sure I will enjoy going after him a little bit.”

When the Patriots played the Bills on Oct. 12, Orton had just replaced starting quarterback E.J. Manuel. With more than two months under his belt working with the Bills’ offense, it’s a much different offense than it was in their prior meeting. In 11 games as the Bills quarterback, Orton is 271-for-424 for 2,842 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

“We saw him, again he was early in his progression, he first got there and now he is the starting quarterback,” said Ninkovich. “He’s had a bunch of time with the wide receivers and just the timing of everything so again, the more time a quarterback can spend with his receivers and his running backs and tight ends especially, they can get a feel for what he wants and again, he’s a good quarterback and can make a lot of great throws. They’ve done some good things on offense with him in there.”

Even with Sunday’s game essentially meaningless, as the Patriots have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC, Ninkovich is still focused on the game at hand and not looking past the game, especially facing the Bills, a tough division team looking to improve to 9-7 on the year.

“For me I enjoy it,” said Ninkovich. “It’s a division game. Buffalo always plays us tough. They are a good football team. They have weapons everywhere — I mean running backs, tight ends, quarterback, receivers, they have a lot of good football players on that team so it is going to be another challenge for us and it is another challenge in the NFL. That is what I am here to do. I am here to play football and I am excited to play Buffalo at home.”

Read More: kyle orton, Rob Ninkovich,
Rob Ninkovich’s ‘consistent’ play has him mentioned with Hall of Famer Andre Tippett 12.18.14 at 6:00 am ET
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FOXBORO — There was a time where Patriots defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich was considered underrated. Not so much these days, especially when he is now in the same sentence as former Patriots great Andre Tippett.

By recording a sack in last Sunday’s win over the Dolphins, Ninkovich has recorded eight or more sacks in three consecutive seasons — the first Patriots player to do so since the Pro Football Hall of Famer Tippett achieved the feat from 1985-87.

“Every year I have high expectations of what I should do out there and set goals for myself,” Ninkovich said Wednesday. “I’ve been able to just be consistent. The more consistent you are the better you are.”

The versatile Ninkovich is able to lineup seemingly anywhere in the front-seven. He can line up as a defensive end, an outside linebacker, or even get down in a 3-point stance if need be. Ninkovich isn’t the only player with such versatility on the defense, as Chandler Jones and newcomer Akeem Ayers are virtually the same way.

Ninkovich finally got to be on the field at the same time with both players on Sunday, as it was Jones’ first game back since suffering a hip injury in Week 7. Having all three on the field presented some matchup problems for Miami, and paid off with Jones having 1.5 sacks, Ninkovich adding another, while Ayers had a tackle for a loss.

“The more guys that you can have doing different things defensively you’re better off,” said Ninkovich. “You can just be very multiple and what you can do and you have guys that can do a lot of different things and that helps your team out. The more you can do the better. I am happy to have all those guys out there with me making plays.”

The nine-year veteran — six with the Patriots — has played in 84 straight regular-season games, the most in the NFL among defensive ends. He’s also started in 63 straight, also the most in the NFL.

As much as he plays, he’s done a tremendous job of not being flagged for penalties. He was not flagged once this year until he was flagged twice against the Colts, nine games into the year, and he hasn’t been flagged since. The Patriots as a team have not been as good, as they have been flagged for 110 penalties (fifth-most in the league) for a total of 987 yards (third-most in the NFL).

“It’s tough because obviously you want to play smart football,” said Ninkovich. “Sometimes some of those calls it is hard to prevent some of them. But you have to do your best to play within the rules. That is what they are there for. Again, we’re out there playing hard, flying around, trying to make football plays. You can’t really slow yourself down, you just have to go play.”

Read More: Andre Tippett, Rob Ninkovich,
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