Time for confidence game
In locker room, team sounds like it’s ready
FOXBOROUGH - The words have a ring of familiarity to them now. As the Patriots wrapped up preparations for tomorrow’s AFC Championship game against the Ravens, players expressed confidence and Bill Belichick was in a good mood during his news conference.
Belichick was similarly chipper last week before New England faced Denver and that game ended in a lopsided win. Typically when Belichick is at ease in his final news conference before a game, the Patriots perform well.
“I think we have a lot of confidence,’’ wide receiver Wes Welker said. “We have a lot of good players and we feed off each other knowing that somebody is going to make a play. We all have to step up to that challenge to make a play. When you’re in it together like that, it makes it tough on defenses. We have players that want to go out there and make a play for is. It’s great to see.’’
Belichick said players “worked hard this week’’ and covered a lot of ground.
“It’s a different week, but we feel confident going into the game. We feel like we practiced hard and got some things done,’’ defensive back Devin McCourty said. “We’ll go in there with confidence on Sunday and now we have to execute.’’
Safety James Ihedigbo, who played the last two seasons with the Jets, said, “We’re confident in each other and trust each other to get the job done. That’s where our confidence stems from, just understanding the importance of this game and the level of play you have to bring to this game . . . That’s really going to carry us through. It’s going to be a physical battle and we’re mentally prepared for it.’’
Likely contributing to the team’s good feelings is the health of Tom Brady. New England removed Brady (left shoulder) from its injury report yesterday. He sat out Wednesday’s practice, though that is believed to have been more of a rest/maintenance day for the quarterback.
But for all of the confidence expressed, some old Patriot ways linger.
When Deion Branch was asked about his team being favored - the Las Vegas line is 7 points - he used a tactic Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, and others employed with great success during their years with the team.
“We’ve been the underdog all year,’’ Branch said. “If we let it stay that way, we’ll be cool. We’re not even supposed to be here, according to the media. The only focus we have are the guys in the locker room. We worry about our game plan and execution. We don’t worry about the rest of the stuff.
“I think the guys in the locker room are focused on one task, and that’s taking care of our business.’’
Rex chimes in
Everybody’s favorite blowhard, Jets coach Rex Ryan, was at it again yesterday, telling New York radio station WFAN, “the Ravens are going to win this game.’’
Ryan continued that he believes Baltimore will take a similar defensive approach to the game that the Giants took during the regular season, rushing four players. Ryan said Terrell Suggs “might be the difference in the game’’ and boasted that no one can block the Ravens linebacker.
“I think [Baltimore’s offense] can move the ball on the Pats, I don’t think there’s any doubt,’’ Ryan said. “I think they can move. And let’s face it, I’m cheering for the Ravens.’’
Ryan was a longtime defensive assistant with the Ravens before taking the Jets’ head coaching job in 2009.
Ryan went on to say that his Super Bowl guarantees might have hurt the Jets this season.
“I thought the bull’s-eye was going on my back, and that’s fine,’’ Ryan said. “I was trying to put pressure on myself. So that’s something that obviously I have to learn from.
“Clearly, when you have a team that went to back-to-back championship games, what else is there to go for? It’s Super Bowl or bust. Well, we busted.’’
During a second radio appearance, Ryan said it would be more painful for him to see the Patriots win the Super Bowl than the Giants, with whom the Jets share a stadium.
When apprised of Ryan’s prediction, Welker carefully crafted a response: “That’s Rex for you. Hopefully, we can prove him wrong.’’
Aching, but able
While the Patriots removed Brady from their injury report, there were 14 players listed as limited in yesterday’s practice and questionable for the game: Branch (knee), Welker (knee), Ihedigbo (shoulder), Marcus Cannon (ankle), Patrick Chung (knee), Dane Fletcher (thumb), Aaron Hernandez (concussion), Kyle Love (ankle), Logan Mankins (knee), Rob Ninkovich (hip), Nate Solder (concussion), Brandon Spikes (knee), Sebastian Vollmer (foot/back), and Tracy White (abdomen). It is likely that only Vollmer, who was injured Nov. 27, will be a game-time decision. Kyle Arrington (foot), Dan Connolly (groin), and Matthew Slater (shoulder) are listed as probable; all practiced fully . . . Aerosmith lead singer and “American Idol’’ judge Steven Tyler will perform the national anthem tomorrow . . . Chung and the Broncos’ Von Miller were each fined $7,500 by the NFL for unnecessary roughness in the Patriots’ win over Denver last Saturday. Chung hit Willis McGahee late on a third-quarter play, and Miller shoved Connolly on Brady’s fourth-quarter punt.