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Tom Brady goes to practice with a cold: ‘I’ll live [and] be there’ for playoff game 01.07.14 at 6:14 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady took to the podium Tuesday with a cough drop in his mouth and a little redness in his right eye.

It was pretty obvious that the Patriots superstar quarterback went through practice on Tuesday indoors at Dana Farber Field House a little bit under the weather.

Brady was asked point blank toward the end of the 13-minute session with the media if he had a cold.

“A little bit, but I’€™ll live,” Brady said. “I’€™ll be there [Saturday]. Hopefully [I'm] not on the injury report. I’€™ll try to talk my way out of that one.”

Whether it was for Brady or the general well-being of the entire team, Bill Belichick moved practice from the sub-zero temperatures and frozen turf outdoors to the climate-controlled environment of the field house.

“I feel good and I’€™m ready to go and that was very surprising for all us players,” Brady said of Belichick’s humane move.

While he gets his rest, he will have to find ways of dealing with a Colts team that came back from the dead, erasing a 28-point deficit against the Chiefs. Brady certainly has experienced that feeling this season in comebacks against the Broncos, Saints and Browns.

“It was a great game, a great team win and they got into a hole there and just had to dig their way out,” Brady said of Indy’s miraculous 45-44 escape. “Once you get some momentum going on your side, it’€™s pretty remarkable to be able to do that. Down 28 points there in the third quarter ‘€“ they just made a bunch of good plays and it took them until the very end to win and the defense made a great stop there in the fourth quarter with two minutes to go. There’€™s going to be a lot of close games ‘€“ we’€™ve been in a lot of close games, they’€™ve been in a lot of close games, probably more than anybody in the league. They find a way to win them. That’€™s how they got to this point. Hopefully we can go out and be the team that goes out on top.”

There’s something else Brady will be concerned about – the pressure from outside linebacker Robert Mathis.

“He’€™s a good place to start,” Brady said. “He’€™s a great player and been a great player for a long time. We’€™ve played these guys a bunch over the years. We kind of know what we’€™re up against. He’€™s having one of the best years of his career. They have a good defense. They are top-10 in a bunch of categories. They really have some good safeties that cover a lot of ground, really fast corners. They’€™re physical. They have a good team. We just have to outscore them I think. We have to go out there and put points on the board. That’€™s what our job is going to be.

“I can’€™t really run away from him, so that option’€™s out the door. You have to understand where he’€™s at. He really has a sense of urgency. It’€™s one thing to sack the quarterback. It’€™s another thing to strip-sack him and the ball’€™s flying all over the place. You have eliminate those types of plays. They’€™ve had a lot of those types of plays this year which have been a big benefit to their team where he runs the edge, the quarterback’€™s standing back there, here he comes and strip-sacks him. We just really can’€™t let that happen.

“That’€™s why he’€™s one of the best players in the league ‘€“ because he makes those types of plays happen. He makes them on a regular basis, it’€™s not a fluke when he does it. That’€™s a trademark of their team and we have to try to stop one of their strengths, probably one of their best strengths and still go out there and be aggressive enough to move the football and get the ball in the end zone.”

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Tom Brady on D&C: ‘We’re going to need to be at our best on Saturday night’ vs. Colts 01.06.14 at 11:04 am ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday to preview Saturday night’s playoff game against the Colts. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Brady said he watched most of all four playoff games over the weekend.

“Just a lot of good football,” Brady said. “It’s good to sit around and watch a team and kind of think about some of the situations that you see so you can kind of get yourself in that mind frame where you never know what the opportunity’s going to be, or one play at this time of year could make or break a season.

“There were a lot of good football teams playing yesterday. And the teams that won all deserved it. The games this weekend are going to be equally exciting.”

The Colts pulled off the second-biggest comeback in playoff history (28 points) to beat the visiting Chiefs on Saturday.

“They kind of got themselves in a little bit of a hole there, but they dug their way out of it,” Brady said. “We’ve been in that situation. We’ve been down and haven’t really played great at any point in the game. And all of a sudden you catch some momentum and then it’s hard to slow you down. They can obviously score a lot of point on offense. Defensively, they probably have the Defensive Player of the Year in Robert Mathis.

“They’re a very good team, there’s no doubt about it. You can’t be playing this time of year without being a very good team. We worked hard last week to try to improve ourselves as a football team, and we’re going to need to be at our best on Saturday night.”

Brady said he hopes the Patriots learn from Saturday’s Colts-Chiefs game that they can’t let up if they get a lead.

“When you’re down 38-10, you’re down 28 points in the second half, you can’t make any more mistakes. Because one play by the other team, the game is basically over,” Brady said. “We’ve been in that situation where it requires a lot of improbable things to happen in order for you to win the game. Kansas City had its chances and didn’t make the most of the plays that they had. That’s why they got beat.

“If we’re in a situation where we’re ahead, we’ve got to do everything we can to make the plays necessary for us to win the game. Because there’s no lead at this point that’s safe. Kansas City had one of the better defenses in the league all season. To be up 28 points like they were, you’ve got to continue to do things that you were doing in order to keep scoring points and win the game.

“That’s a good lesson for us to learn. We’ve been down, came back, moved ahead and really held a lead and built on our leads. But there’s no relaxing in the NFL playoffs. There’s not a point where you say, ‘Well, we really have this wrapped up.’ You’ve got to keep the pedal to the metal. Especially when you’re playing a team at home like that, like Indy. Once they get the momentum, it’s hard to stop it. Then it takes a big effort from the opposing team to really get the momentum going back the other way. The Colts played a great game. They did what they needed to do to win. That’s why they advanced.”

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Five incredibly early thoughts on the Patriots and Colts 01.05.14 at 5:29 pm ET
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Andrew Luck and Tom Brady will be in the spotlight Saturday night. (AP)

Andrew Luck and Tom Brady will be in the spotlight Saturday night. (AP)

Here are five thoughts on Saturday’s divisional playoff contest between the Patriots and Colts:

1. Turnovers will be at a premium. The Patriots and Colts were two of the best teams in the league when it comes to turnover ratio. New England was a plus-9 over the course of the regular season, good for eighth-best in the NFL — the Patriots defense forced 17 picks and recovered 12 fumbles, while Tom Brady and the offense had 11 picks and just nine fumbles as a team. Saturday’€™s playoff game aside, the Colts also do a good job taking care of the ball — they were plus-13, third-best in the NFL. Andrew Luck threw 10 picks, while the team lost four fumbles. Meanwhile, Indy came away with 15 picks and recovered 12 fumbles of their own.

2. Expect a matchup between Aqib Talib and T.Y. Hilton for a portion of the evening. Since Reggie Wayne went down midway through the season, the Colts have leaned on Hilton fairly exclusively when it comes to the deep passing game. Hilton finished with 82 catches (on 138 targets) for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns, all of which are team-highs, and added 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’€™s wild-card win over the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Patriots have utilized Talib against the opposing team’s No. 1 pass catcher for the bulk of the season. The All-Pro corner has responded nicely with shutdown games against the likes of Julio Jones, Jimmy Graham and Vincent Jackson. It won’t be wire-to-wire, man coverage all night, but the two will face off against each other frequently throughout the contest.

3. When it comes to run defense, the Patriots caught a huge break. The Colts really struggled to run the ball consistently this season. They didn’€™t need to worry about it too much in their remarkable playoff win over the Chiefs — Luck had 45 pass attempts, while Indy ran the ball just 19 times on Saturday — but Indy is as one-dimensional as they come when you’€™re talking about a team in the final eight. Over the course of the regular season, the Colts averaged 108.9 rushing yards per game, tied for 20th in the NFL. Donald Brown had 102 carries for 537 yards and six touchdowns over the course of the season, and is the only real threat in the ground game for the Colts. For a New England team that struggled to stop the run over the course of the second half of the season, this represents a sizable break.

4. Conversely, the Patriots should be able to move the ball on the ground against Indy. The Colts showed some stoutness on defense over the last month of the season — Indy allowed an average of 6.7 points per game over the final three weeks of the regular season, and old warhorse Robert Mathis led the league with 19.5 sacks — and while the group certainly didn’€™t impress anyone over the first two-plus quarters against the Chiefs, they got some good stops down the stretch in the third and fourth quarters, allowing the offense the chance to climb back into the game. The one stat that really stands out as a potential vulnerability for Indy is its run defense: over the course of the regular season, the Colts were 26th in the league against the run, allowing an average of 125.1 rushing yards per game. Indy yielded 100 or more yards on the ground in 13 of its 16 games this season. Considering the fact that the Patriots have averaged 168 rushing yards their last three games, this is a winnable matchup for New England.

5. Penalties will be at a premium. These were two of the least-penalized teams over the course of the regular season. The Colts were best when it came to total penalties (66) and penalty yardage (576). Meanwhile, the Patriots were second in the league in penalties (69) and third in the league in penalty yardage (625).

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Veteran Indy defenders Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis familiar with challenges of Patriots offense 11.15.12 at 4:29 pm ET
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Dwight Freeney has been a part of the Patriots-Colts rivalry since 2002. (AP)

While a lot has changed about the Colts over the last two years, two defensive constants remain — outside linebackers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The 32-year-old Freeney has been part of the rivalry since he arrived in Indy as a rookie in 2002, while the 31-year-old Mathis joined the Colts in 2003 and has been banging heads with a variety of New England tackles on a regular basis since then.

While he won’t be going against Matt Light this time around (at his retirement, Light said Freeney was the toughest opponent he ever faced), Freeney is looking forward to starting a new chapter in one of the best rivalries of the last 20 years.

“A lot of history between us and it never gets dull,” said Freeney. “For a few years there, it was like they were a division opponent. We would see them twice a year. It’s always been a battle. I’m sure it will be another one.”

“[There’s a mutual respect, because both teams have that history,” said Mathis. “Neither team takes each other for granted and it’s not an automatic win. You have to come out and play the game.”

Freeney said he isn’t concerned by the fact that this will be the first taste of the rivalry for many of his younger teammates -- he’s been working with them to try and get them ready for Gillette Stadium.

“You just have to prep them on the history, and I’m sure there are some guys that will be throwing the bird up on the way to the stadium,” Freeney said. “You’ll see a little bit of that. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s going to definitely be a football atmosphere and I can’t wait to be a part of it again.”

Even though there are new faces on both sides of the ball, the priority for Freeney and Mathis is the same as it ever was: get after the quarterback.

“Tom’s an amazing player,” Freeney said of Brady. “To be able to get to him, he’s not the fastest guy and all that, but he throws that ball quick and he understands the timing of certain pass plays and how to get rid of the ball and how not to get hit. I guess that’s the formula of him playing for so long is to have that. So yeah, it’ll be a little bit special. I always like to get Tom.”

“It’s very hard because he’s a smart quarterback,” Mathis said of the New England quarterback. “You tip your hand and he’ll make you pay. We just have to eliminate that and just try to stay on top of things.”

At the same time, the Patriots have gotten more production from their running game than they have in the past.

“Yeah, this year they’ve kind of got back to that ground game. That makes them that much more dangerous because you have two facets of their offense that you have to get ready for. You just can’t rely on (Brady) throwing the ball,” Mathis said. “[Stevan Ridley is] going to hit it. You just have to get on him and stop him from getting up on our (defensive backs) that quick. Our front seven, we have to be on our jobs this week.

“[It’s] classic New England,” he added. “They are going to come out and do what they do better than anybody else does. You just can’t let that happen.”

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How Andrew Luck sees leadership of his Colts at 11:16 am ET
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Andrew Luck will be armed and ready to attack the Pats this Sunday. (AP)

FOXBORO — With great talent comes even higher expectation.

And when you’re a 23-year-old quarterback gifted with a golden arm and tremendous athletic ability, the pressure of leading a team from the cellar to a playoff contender can be overwhelming.

But not for Andrew Luck.

Luck knew exactly what he was getting into when he left Stanford for the NFL and was drafted first overall by the Colts last April. Nine games into his rookie season, his stats (2,600 yards passing, 10 TDs, 9 INTs) are good – not great – but those numbers are not how his success story is being told. He has led his team to a 6-3 record, just two games behind the AFC leading Texans in the AFC South. With leading being the operative word.

Several coaches and players in Indianapolis were mildly amazed in mini-camp and training camp that a rookie who missed rookie OTAs to finish his degree at Stanford would be able to come in and call check-downs at the line of scrimmage. It earned him immediate credibility and respect in the offices and most importantly in the locker room, a locker room that still has names like Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

How does Luck see himself as a leader?

“That’s a good question,” Luck said. “I try and do the right thing, try and work hard, try and learn from other guys. If I have something to add or feel my opinion is pertinent, then make it known.

“It hasn’t been too bad because for one, our locker room’s great with a lot of veteran leadership and it’s a very comfortable locker room. I do try to defer them on things that I realize that I know nothing about and they do. I also realize as a quarterback you do assume some of the responsibilities by virtue of talking in the huddle and having the plays sort of run through you. I’m lucky to be part of a good locker room.”

Luck said his NFL learning curve has gone about as smoothly as he could’ve hoped.

“I knew that every day was going to be a new learning experience – every game, every trip, every practice – was going to be a new learning experience,” Luck said. “Some has gone well. Some has been sort of bumpy, if you will. But, I’m try to go get better every day and I think I’m continuing to improve and the team’s continuing to improve which is good.”

Here is the rest of this week’s Q and A with the Colts rookie quarterback, along with RGIII, a leader in the NFL offensive rookie of the year race.
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Five takeaways from the Tuesday afternoon conference calls with Bill Belichick, Bill O’Brien and Nick Caserio 12.06.11 at 4:15 pm ET
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Mike Shanahan (AP)

Five takeaways from the Tuesday conference calls with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and director of player personnel Nick Caserio:

1. Belichick spoke at length about his longtime relationship with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. The two go back a long ways as assistants, and have faced each other eight times as head coaches, with Shanahan holding a 5-3 edge on Belichick (when Shanahan was in Denver) in their head-to-head matches.

“I think Mike liked me because he used to like to beat up on us all the time,” Belichick said. “Mike was out in San Francisco when I was with the Giants, so we’ve always competed against each other; we’ve never been on the same staff. I’ve gotten to know Mike a little bit off the field, league meetings and stuff like that. He’s a great competitor, I have great respect for what he’s done, all the championships and all the outstanding teams he has had and coached. I’d say most of our stuff has been off the field.”

Belichick hosted Shanahan at training camp a couple of years ago, and clearly has a deep and abiding respect for the former Broncos coach.

“It’s great to be able to talk to somebody that has that perspective,” Belichick said. “The Jimmy Johnsons or the Mike Shanahans or people like that that have been through NFL seasons and have a lot of experiences and can relate to all the different points in time, whether it be the draft, training camp, regular season, Xs and Os, personnel and so forth. It’s great to be able to exchange ideas with somebody like that. Mike is a really smart guy and he’s had a tremendous career. I think he has a lot to offer in a conversation.”

2. We touched on this in our story today on the Redskins’ defense, but the strength of the Washington defense appears to be in their two young pass rushers, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.

“They don’t move them around a whole lot. They have a couple looks, but for the most part, it’s not hard to find them. The problem is blocking them,” Belichick said. “It’s kind of like [Robert] Mathis and [Dwight] Freeney. They move those two guys around a little bit, a couple of snaps here and there, but the problem isn’t finding them; the problem is blocking them. They’re very good. They each other well. They’re both strong guys, really powerful and can collapse the pocket and also are fast enough to run around, work the edges.

“They both do a pretty good job in coverage, better than a lot of linebackers that I’ve seen that are outstanding pass rushers. They use them in some coverage responsibilities and they’re pretty competitive there. They do a good job in the running game. They’re both strong tacklers – they wrap up well, they finish well. It will be a big challenge for us. These guys are two good bookends.”
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Missing out on the Gronk Browl 12.01.11 at 1:37 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski will get a chance to add to his numbers Sunday against the Colts. (AP)

FOXBORO — Last week, Baltimore and San Francisco gave us the Harbowl. This week, we were one pectoral injury from the Gronk Bowl.

If Colts’ fullback Chris Gronkowski hadn’t suffered a pectoral injury earlier this season — which landed him on injured reserve in October — it would have been brother against brother this weekend when the Patriots meet Indy at Gillette Stadium.

“I was definitely looking forward to that,” said his brother Rob. “But he’s on the IR now with surgery. He’s doing well — maybe next year I’ll get him.”

Even with Chris on injured reserve (and brother Dan as an occasional member of the Patriots this season), Rob has done more than enough to carry the family name this season. Through 11 games, he has 60 catches for 864 yards and 11 touchdowns, and will have a chance to add to those numbers this weekend against Indianapolis. Like coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday, Gronkowski said that no matter the 0-11 record, when you turn on the Colts’ film, you see a quality team.

“We see a lot of good players,” Gronkowski said. “They have good D-ends. They’re a really fast team. They have fast linebackers, fast defensive line, fast corners. Fast everything. We just have to go out there and execute. We have to play hard. It doesn’t matter what the records are. This is the NFL. Every team has good players.”

While Gronkowski has made a name as a pass catcher since he arrived prior to the start of last season (earlier this season, he reached 20 touchdowns faster than any tight end in NFL history, breaking the mark set by Mike Ditka), he will also likely be called upon to try and help out as a blocker against Indy’s defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, two of the fastest ends in the league.

“You have to be aware of when they’re going to make a move at all times,” Gronkowski said of the duo, which have a combined 11 sacks on the season. “If they’ll go inside, if they’ll go outside. If they’ll put the spin move on you. You just have to be aware of where those D-ends are going to go because they have so much speed.”

The Patriots put up 24 points in the first half last week against the Eagles, but for much of the season, they’ve struggled with slow starts. (In the previous six-game stretch before last week against Philadelphia, they averaged nine points in the first half.) Gronkowski said a large part of getting off to a fast start involves getting the running game in gear.

“(Just) making plays. Getting the ball down the field and getting the run game going,” he said. “Once we get the run game going, we can do some play action and stuff. Get the ball downfield and get some guys open. Basically going out right from the start and executing well.

“That’s what you want to do,” he added. “You want to find their weaknesses. You want to find the areas where you can get the ball down the field. You want to find the areas where you can get the ball down the field where there are gaps and everything.”

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