THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Patriots savor a little longer

AFC title contest a day to remember

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / January 24, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - Patriots players and coaches typically take 24 hours to enjoy a victory, and once that time has ended, they turn the page and get ready for their next opponent.

But Sunday’s 23-20 cliffhanger against the Ravens, the 15th win of the season for New England and the one that stamped its ticket to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis - well, that one can be savored a bit longer.

The Patriots were back at Gillette Stadium for meetings yesterday, with a handful taking time to chat about the lasting thrill of winning the AFC title, facing the Giants for the second time this season and in the Super Bowl for the second time in four years, and getting ready for the biggest game of their lives.

“You’re definitely excited; you grow up wanting to play in a game like this,’’ said receiver/cornerback Julian Edelman, one of 45 Patriots who will be making their first Super Bowl appearance. “You definitely do get to let it soak in a little bit because once we start hitting it, it’s just another week. That’s how you have to take it, even though it’s the last week.

“It’s definitely very exciting.’’

Edelman said “everyone’s coming out of the woodwork’’ since Sunday night - friends and family, including cousins he’s never met before. But he’s embracing the chance to hear from people who have supported him since he began playing football, such as youth coaches.

Because of what’s at stake in terms of getting to the Super Bowl, players typically consider the conference championship games the most stressful. They are incredibly close to their goal, but yet still so far.

James Ihedigbo knows. As members of the Jets, both he and defensive end Shaun Ellis went to the AFC title game the last two years, but New York fell short each time.

“It’s awesome,’’ Ihedigbo said. “Playing in two of them and coming up short, the third try definitely is a charm, and to do it in the fashion we did it, it’s awesome. It’s a blessing to be part of, it really is.’’

In the conference championship, Ihedigbo added, “any little play, either way - if you lose your leverage on a play . . . it could result in a big play and result in your team losing. Playing with that type of pressure [but] at the same time you have to play with same amount of composure and rely on each other. When you have the opportunity to make a play you make it. And that’s the difference of winning and losing.’’

The Patriots will have some time off today and tomorrow, then return Thursday for two days of on-field practices. On Sunday, the team will depart for Indianapolis after a rally outside of Gillette Stadium.

When they return to work Thursday, that’s when the page will be turned.

“I think the switch was slowly being turned over today,’’ cocaptain Matthew Slater said. “I think we’re still enjoying what we did but we know that it would be a terrible feeling to come all this way and not finish the job. I think that switch will be fully on [today] and we’ll realize, ‘hey, we have to prepare for the Giants.’ ’’

Ah, the Giants. The team that handed the Patriots their only loss of the 2007 season, on the biggest stage the NFL has to offer. Only seven players on the 53-man roster (plus Dan Koppen and Mike Wright, who are on injured reserve) were with New England that day, so the game does not have the revenge factor that it has for many fans and maybe even some players who went through that agonizing defeat.

“It’s exciting to be in the Super Bowl; it doesn’t matter who we play, I’m just excited for the opportunity, I’m excited to be back,’’ said kicker Stephen Gostkowski, one of the seven. “We can’t pick our opponents. Whether we beat the Giants or we beat any other team, being able to call ourselves world champions will be just as sweet no matter what.

“It’s not the same exact rosters, completely different people. A lot of the guys that were on our team and their team weren’t part of that game, and there’s no blood for them and we don’t care who we play, we just want to win.’’

Many current players have a more tangible example to draw from: the Patriots’ last loss this season was to the Giants Nov. 6, which snapped New England’s 20-game home winning streak.

“They’re a really good team and they’ve only gotten better,’’ Edelman said. “We didn’t play against some of their key players [the Giants were without their starting center, running back and one of their top receivers], so we’re going to play the best team that we’ve faced. It’s going to be a big game.’’

Ihedigbo captured the moment more succinctly.

“Right now, it’s prepare. You have to prepare for the best game of your life and understand what’s at stake,’’ he said. “We’re playing for all the marbles here.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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