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NFLPA meeting includes Brian Waters

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 31, 2013 08:09 PM

The Patriots’ missing man, guard Brian Waters, was in the media center on Thursday. Waters was on hand for the NFL Players’ Association’s annual Super Bowl press conference; he is a member of the union’s executive board.

After a Pro Bowl season at right guard in 2011, his first with New England, Waters never returned to the team despite being under contract for 2012.

He was excused from offseason work to be with his family in his native Texas. But once training camp began, Waters remained absent.

After a while, his locker was emptied, and then rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower was given jersey No. 54 – the number Waters had worn. In time, Waters’s nameplate was stripped off his former stall.

When approached after the press conference, Waters declined an interview. When asked if he will play in 2013, Waters would not say. If we're being honest, Waters did not look to be in playing shape.

Since he did not show up last year, Waters’s contract tolled and he will still be under contract with the Patriots for the 2013 season.

Rob Gronkowski says arm fractures were 'freak' accidents

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 31, 2013 02:45 PM
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski made the rounds at Super Bowl radio row this afternoon. He answered a couple of questions between appearances about his health.

Gronkowski broke his left arm late in the Patriots' win over Indianapolis in November, and returned to game play for the regular-season finale against Miami. Even though it was clear that he was favoring the arm in that game, Gronkowski insisted that he did not come back too early.

"No, definitely not. The doctors cleared me and as a player you want to be out there for every game, and definitely don’t believe I came back too early it was just a freak accident," he said. "It’s very frustrating when that happens too. I just think that you can’t really do anything about it."

No sooner did he come back did Gronkowski injure the same arm: in the Patriots' Divisional-round win over Houston, Gronkowski dove out of bounds trying to catch a pass and landed right on the arm. This time his fracture was just beyond the end of the metal plate that had been surgically placed after the first injury.

"Just the way I landed on it and how it broke so…just a freak thing, like I said – how the first one broke, how the second one broke, and the only thing it does is frustrate you but now is just the time where I’ve got to rehab it, take my time now, get it 100 percent nso it’s ready to go for next season," Gronkowski said.

Asked when he expects to be back on the field, he said, "It [the Patriots' offseason training program] doesn’t start for a couple more months so obviously I plan on being healthy within the same time frame as last time. Just gotta rehab, get my muscle strength back up, let the bone heal and obviously my goal is to be 100 percent before the season which I think it’s pretty fair to say that I will be."

The recovery time frame for his first fracture was 4 to 6 weeks. But with no games for months, Gronkowski can take his time getting better.

This is the second straight year Gronkowski has had to spend the offseason rehabbing. He does not feel that the injuries are setting him back.

"Not if you’re doing it right and just keep working hard, I believe you’ll be the same player if you just keep doing things right," he said.

Ed Reed clarifies comments about playing for Belichick

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 31, 2013 02:23 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Ravens safety Ed Reed clarified the statements that he made on Wednesday about possibly playing for the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick.

"Of course I want to stay in Baltimore," said Reed, who will be an unrestricted free agent. "I was asked, would I play for Bill Belichick? Yes. What football players wouldn’t play for Coach Belichick? Will I be in New England? Most likely not. It’s just terrible that people get half the story. It’s even more bad when you hear the comments that they make towards you. But it comes with it, man."

The day before, Reed told the Boston Herald: "Yeah, oh yeah, man, I could definitely play for coach Belichick. He is a great coach. I’m sure he can help me to expand my football knowledge even more as a player and as a coach, so if I’m ever able to be around him, just like I was at the Pro Bowl, it’s huge."

Reed also said today that he has long envisioned himself playing for one team, but circumstances can change.

"I always said when I came into the league and got drafted that I didn’t want to be one of those guys jumping from team to team," he said. "If it was up to me, I would be right in Baltimore. If it happens to be somewhere else, I can play football on the moon.”

Bill O'Brien to speak at coaches' clinic

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff January 31, 2013 09:25 AM

Former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, who guided Penn State to an 8-4 record in his first season with the Nittany Lions, will be the keynote speaker at the 2013 New England Football Coaches Clinic.

The clinic will be held March 8-9 at Gillette Stadium, and those interested in attending can register at www.newenglandfootball.com.

Super Bowl chat with Greg A. Bedard

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 31, 2013 06:00 AM

Globe NFL reporter Greg A. Bedard is in New Orleans covering the Super Bowl. He'll hold a chat at 3 p.m. on Thursday to talk about the big game and everything else in the NFL.

Set a reminder in the chat window below.

Super Bowl chat wiht Greg A. Bedard

Ed Reed on Belichick: 'I have so much respect for coach'

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 30, 2013 04:04 PM

There is a long-standing joke around Gillette Stadium: If you ever want to see Bill Belichick gush, ask him about Ravens safety Ed Reed. And it's not even a joke among media members - Tom Brady once quipped that Belichick was going to kidnap Reed and make him his son, "Ed Belichick."

The 34-year-old Reed is slated to become a free agent after this season, and assuming he wants to keep playing - he's wrestled with the idea in recent years - it's almost impossible to think Belichick wouldn't make a run at signing the object of his affection, though he could have stiff competition from Chuck Pagano, who left his job as Balitmore's defensive coordinator before the 2012 season to become head coach in Indianapolis.

Asked what kind of relationship he has with Belichick, Reed said on Wednesday it isn't much, but he truly respects Belichick.

"Man, I have so much repsect for coach and what he's about: his discipline and his structure of what he has, just how he came about being a coach, military background and everything," Reed said. "I read his book ['Education of a Coach']. Just so much respect for coach - how could you not? You won championships... How could you not respect a man for what he's had or what he's done?"

During "A Football Life: Bill Belichick," the documentary that followed Belichick during the 2009 season and aired two years later, Belichick and Tom Brady are shown in Belichick's office as the Patriots are preparing to face Baltimore, both saying again and again how good Reed is and Brady talking about a play the offense could run, one aimed at putting Reed in no-man's land and unsure of where the quarterback might go with the ball.

Not only has Reed watched the documentary, other NFL teams apparently have, too.

"Everybody is running the same play that they talked about on me, I mean everybody is playing the same play. I can't put it no other way - they're running the same play!," Reed said, smiling. "Everybody, every team run the same play that they talked about on there. It's funny.

"But I just took it out of respect and they understand football and they understand players. Going against those guys is always great, playing against Coach Belichick and Tom over there."

Also on Wednesday, Reed clairified a remark that he made during Media Day Tuesday, when he said Junior Seau probably had no regrets.

"When I said I know he doesn't have any regrets, I was talking about football. Not the fact the man passed away and lost his family," Reed said. "People tend not to write everything, and that's the bad thing about our business. No disrespect to his family. I think the utmost of Mr. Seau and his family, man, with all due respect."

Marshall Faulk still feels "cheated" by Patriots

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 30, 2013 02:50 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Former Rams running back Marshall Faulk said this week that he still feels cheated by the Patriots in their 20-17 victory in Super Bowl XXXVI at the Superdome.

"Am I over the loss? Yeah, I'm over the loss," the NFL Network analyst told CSNNE.com's Tom E. Curran. "But I'll never be over being cheated out of the Super Bowl. That's a different story. I can understand losing a Super Bowl, that's fine . . . but how things happened and what took place. Obviously, the commissioner gets to handle things how he wants to handle them, but if they wanted us to shut up about what happened, show us the tapes. Don't burn 'em.

"I know, in that game, in the red zone, the plays we ran, most of them, we hadn't ran most of those plays that year. And a couple of plays on third down that we walked through also . . . any time that I was offset, I was always stationary. And we had creating motioning in the backfield at the same depth on the other side of the field. And they created a check for it. It's just little things like that. It's either the best coaching in the world when you come up with situations that you had never seen before, or you'd seen it and knew what to do."


Super Bowl prediction

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 30, 2013 07:00 AM

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Little brother Jim Harbaugh should best his big brother on super Sunday. (Scott Halleran / Getty Images)

The universe became a little more screwy when little brother Harbaugh opened up as a favorite. It's like we have all been transported into the Gronkowski household.

Jim Harbaugh, little brother to John Harbaugh, leads the San Francisco 49ers into Super Bowl XLVII as 4-point favorites against big brother John's Baltimore Ravens. We all get to witness the Brothers Harbaugh out-grimace each other on the sideline as the 49ers and Ravens play out a title game that will be 10 times more about each team's defense than about the guy who is under center. Or wearing a headset.

It's the smash mouth defense of the twenty-teens, versus the old(er) smash mouth defense of the two thousands. It'll be peachy.

I'm 8-2 in the playoffs against the line and straight up. But neither of my Super Bowl picks are still playing. Sadly, the Patriots and Seahawks have more time to enjoy Mardi Gras and warm weather than prepare for a championship. So with one more pick to make, a year in which I went 169-83-1 during the regular season and picked the 49ers to win in 17 of their 18 contests, I have to go with little brother Jim and his 49ers once again.

Why? Simply put, the 49ers are loaded. From a deep and dependable offensive line, a secondary that is arguably tops in the NFL (despite a porous playoff stretch), and a linebacker corps that is second to none. Then add in an offense that is hitting its stride at the right time, quarterbacked by the speedy and hard-throwing Colin Kaepernick, and position players that are top notch throughout. The Ravens don't compare in that regard.

This is the 11th ranked offense versus the 16th ranked offense. The 3rd ranked defense versus the 17th ranked defense. The 4th best rushing team versus the 11th best rushing team. Only in the passing game do the Ravens take an edge. And even there, the pendulum could swing in the 49ers' favor with Kaepernick at quarterback. We don't know what kind of performance we'll get.

The X-factor here is whether or not the 49ers will show the same inconsistency they've shown in the past month. In Week 15, they went on a tear to beat the New England Patriots. The next week, they were in the dumps after getting blown out by the Seattle Seahawks. In each of their two playoff games, they allowed early leads against the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons, the latter of which went up 17-0 before they woke up.

That's where this game is dangerous, where expectations and numbers and matchups don't relate to the stun of the bright lights and the inspiration as well as emotive draw that takes place with more than 100 million people watching. That's a place where the Ravens thrive, both as underdogs and as veterans of big games that have a new-found rallying cry in the soon-to-be retirement of Ray Lewis.

This is going to be close, but I don't think it's going to be as close as Baltimore (and maybe Patriots fans) want it to be.

The key matchup will be how the 49ers handle the Ravens' passing game, orchestrated by the deft Joe Flacco. Torrey Smith is a deep threat and combined with Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, the Ravens have a layered passing attack that requires attention up and down the field. Nickel corner Carlos Rodgers has to be solid against Boldin while he's in the slot and you'll likely see 49ers LB Patrick Willis bodied up against Pitta at times while he keeps an eye on fullback Vonta Leach coming out of the backfield. Who wins in these one-on-one matchups should very well determine the dynamic and outcome of the game. I happen to think the 49ers are favored here.

Straight up winner: 49ers
Against the spread: 49ers
Prediction: 49ers 35, Ravens 27

49ers safety Goldson reflects on visit with the Patriots

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 29, 2013 05:24 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- After the 2011 lockout, the Patriots had free agent 49ers safety Dashon Goldson in for a visit and offered him a contract, but he returned to San Francisco for two years and was voted first-team All-Pro this year.

"I think the visit went well, man," Goldson said. "It was very nice. Got a chance to meet some of those guys, some of the players and coaches. Just a classy organization. Sat down with coach (Bill) Belichick, a good dude, sat there and talked football a little bit. It was a good event but I made the choice to come back here."

Goldson actually didn't have much of a choice. The Patriots offered Goldson a contract less than the one-year, $2 million deal he signed with the 49ers.

"Yeah," Goldson said when asked if it was a low offer. "And it was for one year, like San Francisco, so the choice was pretty easy."

Goldson said the chance to sit with Belichick for a few minutes made the trip worthwhile.

"Just the meeting alone," Goldson said. "I had a lot of respect for him, what he has done for the game of football and just giving me the opportunity to visit the organization."

Goldson, 27, may get that chance again. After playing for the franchise tag ($6.2 million) this year, Goldson will be a free agent if the 49ers don't tag him again ($7.44 million) or reach a contract extension by March 13. The Patriots, who will likely let Patrick Chung test the free-agent waters, will be looking for one or two safeties again this offseason.

Randy Moss on ... everything

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 29, 2013 04:50 PM

When Randy Moss was with the Patriots for three-plus seasons, he didn't really like chatting with reporters. When he relented, he would often tell us we had three questions, and you crossed your fingers, hoping that if you couldn't get one in, that they would be good questions.

Maybe then it was because he didn't really see the need to do media, and maybe it was the Patriots' rules on being tight-lipped, but at his podium on Super Bowl Media Day, the now-49er had lots to say about lots of topics.

A sampler:

* Moss, who is almost 36, has had a limited role in the San Francisco offense (28 catches for 434 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season) and candidly said he doesn't like it.

"I don't like my role; I don't. I like to be out there playing football. One thing that I've always had to really understand was being a decoy. It was put to me, coach Dennis Green [in Minnesota] just said, 'Even though the football is not in your hand, you're still out there dictating how the defense is playing the offense.'

"It took me a while to really understand where he was coming from. Later on and now in my career, I understand that my presence out on the field, I don't always have to touch the ball to be able to help the offense score touchdowns. Like I said, I don't really like that, but it's something that I'm used to. I have to grow to understand and grow to like it."

* Asked how he would describe 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, Moss said, "A coach."

* Moss compared Harbaugh to Bill Belichick thusly: "They both have their styles of coaching. I think coach Harbaugh, he loves to have fun. He has a lot of stories; some are very, very comical. Others are (about) just pushing forward and keep striving. Coach Belichick is very business-oriented. He doesn't really show a lot of emotion. He prepares guys and really doesn't crack a smile. I think the comparison between the two, if I could put it on, is coach Belichick is really straightforward and coach Harbaugh sometimes gets off the road and keeps it humorous."

* Though he sat out the 2011 season, saying it was to deal with family issues, Moss returned because of his love of the game, and wants to play another year.

He didn't return to play to reach the Super Bowl again, but being back, "It's a dream, really. By me taking a year off and having to work out for almost a whole year, being able to come back and be in the Super Bowl one year later is just a dream. I really didn't expect this.

"Everybody has their goals and has their own dreams of what they want to do and what they want to accomplish. For me to be here, I couldn't have told you this back in June or July -- it would have been more of a 'keep your fingers crossed. I hope I'm in New Orleans for the Super Bowl.' Now it's here, I just want to make the best of it and take advantage of it and bring a trophy back to San Francisco."

* On having to face your own brother in such a big game, as Jim and John Harbaugh will:

"Knowing they grew up in the same house -- same room? That makes it worse because me and my brother shared a room. I don't really think that I could talk to my brother for that week. If our mom came down to have dinner, I'd probably have to cancel that. I understand that it's the 49ers against the Baltimore Ravens, but I know John and Jim would like to beat one another. That's bragging rights forever.

"They could be long gone [from coaching], grandfathers or great-grandfathers, but they still have something to hold over the other brother's head. I think that both Jim and John want to beat each other. They don't care how they do it, they just want to win. I think that's the approach of each team."

* Moss also acknowledged the influence of one of his former teammates and good friends, Kevin Faulk.

"My responsibility (to younger players) is to try and lead, going out there and showing them how professionals are supposed to work. Early in my career, I looked at Cris Carter, Randall McDaniel, Randall Cunningham and John Randle, just seeing how professionals are supposed to work each and every day. That's what I thought I knew -- how to work.

"But then I went up to New England and ran into Kevin Faulk. Me and Kevin have a little bit of history together because we came out the same year in high school and were on the same All-American team. I said, 'Man, this is really how y'all work?'

"I thought I knew how to work. I was working out in the mornings doing this and that. [Faulk] took it an extra mile. He took it to the next level. What I've learned and what I've experienced and what guys like the Faulks and the John Randles and the Carters have taught me is that it's my duty to give it back."

No surgery needed for Chandler Jones

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff January 29, 2013 04:42 PM


Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, who had injuries to each of his ankles late in the season, will not require surgery on either, a team source confirmed Tuesday.

When Jones spoke with the media Jan. 21, a day after the season-ending loss to the Ravens in the AFC Championship game, he said he was going to speak with the team's medical personnel later that day to see if surgery would be needed. Turns out, it is not.

Jones suffered an injury to his right ankle in the Patriots' 59-24 win over the Colts Nov. 18, and missed the next two games -- road wins over the Jets and Dolphins -- while recovering. He played in the final four games of the regular season after returning, but his numbers (nine tackles, no sacks) were down from his first nine games, when he averaged 4.5 tackles and had all six of his sacks for the season.

In the Patriots' divisional-round playoff win over the Texans Jan. 13, Jones was injured again, this time hurting his left ankle. He was part of a goal-line pileup on a touchdown run by Houston's Arian Foster, left the game, and did not return.

That injury limited Jones to just two defensive snaps against the Ravens, even though he practiced all week and was listed by the team as "probable."

Ray Lewis denies using banned substance

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 29, 2013 04:40 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis spent part of Tuesday's Super Bowl Media Day denying charges that he may have used a banned substance to recover quickly from his torn triceps.

Sports Illustrated reported Tuesday that Lewis is believed to have used a deer antler spray product from SWATS (Sports with Alternatives to Steroids), which boasted that it contained IGF-1, which is banned by the NFL and most professional and college sports.

At first, Lewis sidestepped the question about using the product.

“Two years ago, it was the same report,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t give that report or (SWATS owner Mitch Ross) any of my press. He’s not worthy of that. Next question.”

When asked directly whether he had used the spray during his recovery this season, Lewis said, "Nah, never."

The Ravens released a statement saying that Lewis denied using the product, and coach John Harbaugh was asked for a comment.

"My understanding is that he’s passed every random substance test that he’s taken throughout his career," Harbaugh said.

But Sports Illustrated reported that it listened to audio recordings of Lewis taking directions from Ross on how to use the product after his triceps injury in Week 6. Here is the excerpt from the story:

Hours after he tore his triceps during an Oct. 14 home game against the Cowboys, Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis and Ross connected on the phone. Again, Ross videotaped the call.

"It's bottom, near the elbow," Lewis said of the tear. After asking a few pseudo diagnostic questions, Ross concluded, "All right, well this is going to be simple. . . . How many pain chips you got around the house?"

"I got plenty of them," Lewis replied.

Ross prescribed a deluxe program, including holographic stickers on the right elbow; copious quantities of the powder additive; sleeping in front of a beam-ray light programmed with frequencies for tissue regeneration and pain relief; drinking negatively charged water; a 10-per-day regimen of the deer-antler pills that will "rebuild your brain via your small intestines" (and which Lewis said he hadn't been taking, then swallowed four during the conversation); and spritzes of deer-antler velvet extract (the Ultimate Spray) every two hours.

"Spray on my elbow every two hours?" Lewis asked.

"No," Ross said, "under your tongue."

Toward the end of the talk, Lewis asked Ross to "just pile me up and just send me everything you got, because I got to get back on this this week."

Ross says he provided the products free of charge. He even trotted out a novel SWATS technology for the star client: undergarments -- black with Lewis's name and number in -purple -- drenched in pungent menthol liquid that Key and Ross exposed to radio waves. All Ross wanted in return, he told Lewis, is for the future Hall of Famer to tell the truth -- that he used SWATS products -- when he returned to the field.

On Dec. 5, Lewis practiced for the first time. He did not play in the final regular-season games, but remained a boisterous sideline presence and joined the jubilant locker room celebration after Baltimore routed the Giants, 33-14, on Dec. 23 to win the AFC North.
Lewis had not talked to media for 10 weeks while he rehabbed his injury. Asked by SI if he had worked with Key and Ross during his recovery, he initially demurred. "I didn't work with them personally this time," he said.

When pressed, Lewis said, "Nobody helped me out with the rehab. I've been doing SWATS for a couple years through Hue Jackson, that's it. That's my only connection to them."

Asked if he had talked to Ross the night of his injury, Lewis replied, "I told him to send me some more of the regular stuff, the SWATS, the stickers or whatever."

And did they help?

"I think a lot of things helped me."

Pees not taking victory lap after beating Patriots

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 29, 2013 04:10 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- You certainly couldn't blame Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees if he felt some measure of personal redemption for directing Baltimore's defensive attack in its 28-13 victory over the Patriots, his former team, in the AFC Championship game.

Pees, New England's defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick from 2006-09, departed the Patriots following the 33-14 loss to the Ravens in the 2009 playoffs before taking a job coaching the linebackers with Baltimore. Pees has maintained he wasn't fired or asked to leave after his contract ran out.

And, according to a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter, Pees thought he was headed to Denver to be defensive coordinator for Josh McDaniels after the 2009 season, but was "snubbed" when McDaniels instead hired Don "Wink" Martindale. McDaniels is now the Patriots' offensive coordinator.

But Pees, despite saying before the AFC title game that "I'm not going to lie and act like it's just another game," said Tuesday at Super Bowl Media Day that the victory over the Patriots was not personal in any way.

"Well, first of all, the only satisfaction that winning in New England gave to me was the fact that I got an opportunity to come here (to the Super Bowl)," Pees said.

"And second of all, the kind of thought that it didn’t end well in New England is totally false. I am great friends with Bill Belichick, with Pepper Johnson, with all those guys. You guys have no idea why I left there, and you never will. So whatever reason you guys think I left, you don’t know. And there’s nothing I have negative about New England. The players up there, the coaches up there are great friends. I had an opportunity to leave and I left."

Pees didn't reveal any inside information on his game plan that clearly stifled Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Pees said he didn't take anything from the game plans of Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has used similar "spin the dial" pass rushes and coverages against Brady in the past.

"Well, obviously we won and held them to 13 points so I’d say the guys did a pretty good job (executing)," Pees said. "Where I came up with it, we’ll probably play them again next year, so you ain’t going to know."

As far as the all-out blitz he called that left cornerback Ellis Hobbs one-on-one with Plaxico Burress on the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left in the Giants' 17-14 victory in Super Bowl XLII, Pees said he has no regrets.

"Sometimes you blitz and they get you, sometimes you blitz and they don’t," Pees said. "If I would have laid back and they would have scored, then it would have been, ‘Why didn’t you pressure him?’

"We had an opportunity. Trust me, that wasn’t something that just came up as a whim. That’s something that we game-planned for and we decided in that particular instance what we’re going to do. That was a whole staff (decision). We all talked about how you’re going to call the game and what you’re going to do in that situation. Hey, it is what it is."

Randy Moss says he's the greatest receiver ever

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 29, 2013 12:01 PM

In Super Bowl media day's first bombshell, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Randy Moss called himself the greatest wide receiver of all-time.

"I don't live off numbers," Moss said, noting he has had down years, including this year, his time in Oakland, and before he first retired. "I live off impact. So I really do think that I'm the greatest receiver to play this game."

Hall of fame receiver Jerry Rice, via Adam Schefter, responded saying, "Put my numbers up against his numbers."

Moss has played 14 NFL seasons and recorded 982 receptions for 15,292 yards and 156 touchdowns. Moss put together the finest season ever for a wide receiver when he played for the Patriots, catching 98 passes for 1,498 yards and single-season record 23 touchdowns.

Rice played 20 years catching 1,549 passes for 22,895 yards and 207 rushing and receiving touchdowns, the most all-time in each category.

Ray Lewis on Anna Welker's Facebook rant: 'I truly forgive her'

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 29, 2013 08:35 AM
You can sleep easy tonight, Patriots Nation, because Ray Lewis forgives Anna Welker for her Facebook rant that criticized the personal life of the Ravens "Last Ride" linebacker.

“I've always been a firm believer of the Good Book," Lewis said Monday upon arrival in New Orleans, where his team is preparing to face the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. "The Good Book always confirms even a fool is counted wise until he opens he or she mouth... I truly forgive her. I don’t have no hard feelings against her at all, but I believe people make mistakes and say foolish things.”

Anna Welker, wife of Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, took some shots at the 17-year NFL veteran on her personal Facebook page after the Ravens defeated the Patriots 28-13 in the AFC championship game:

"Proud of my husband and the Pats. By the way, if anyone is bored, please go to Ray Lewis' Wikipedia page. 6 kids, 4 wives. Acquitted for murder. Paid a family off. Yay! What a hall of fame player! A true role model!"

Lewis was charged with murder in 2000 along with two associates in the death of two men following Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta. The charge was eventually dismissed with the Ravens star pleading down to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice.

Welker apologized for the posting hours after it went public:

"I'm deeply sorry for my recent post on Facebook. I let the competitiveness of the game and the comments people were making about a team I dearly love get the best of me. My actions were emotional and irrational and I sincerely apologize to Ray Lewis and anyone affected by my comment after yesterday's game.

"It is such an accomplishment for any team to make it to the NFL playoffs, and the momentary frustration I felt should not overshadow the accomplishments of both of these amazing teams."

After Welker's posting made headlines, Linda Hogan, the ex-wife of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, told TMZ that it was “way uncool” for the wife of the Patriots receiver to diss Lewis. “In a public situation, [athletes’ wives] don’t really have a place to make an opinion.”

This isn't the first time a Patriots player's wife got involved in a public scrum. During a moment of frustration after Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis last year, Tom Brady's wife, Gisele Bundchen was caught on video telling New York Giants fans her husband could not throw and catch the ball at the same time, making reference to a critical incompletion on a Brady-Welker pass play.

Brady named to Sporting News All-Pro team

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 28, 2013 07:31 PM

Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady was chosen as the quarterback of Sporting News' 2012 All-Pro team, which is selected by a panel of 27 NFL coaches and team executives.

He is the only Patriot on the list. Brady was also a Sporting News All-Pro in 2010, and was its player of the year in 2007 and sportsman of the year in 2004 and '07.

Here is what SN wrote about Brady:

Quarterback: Tom Brady, Patriots

Brady wasn't as efficient or prolific as he was in 2011, but you wouldn't know it with his 4,827 passing yards and 38 total touchdowns to just eight turnovers. It was more impressive considering he really never had top tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski healthy at the same time.

Earlier this month, Brady was third in Associated Press All-Pro voting, behind Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.

Patriots to sign another from CFL

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 26, 2013 01:18 PM

Defensive lineman Armond Armstead won't be the only Canadian Football League player with the Patriots this offseason. The team has agreed to terms with Brockton native and former Northeastern standout end/linebacker Jason Vega on a contract, CFL and NFL sources said.

The Blue Bombers have to release him from his contract before he can sign with an NFL team.

Contract details aren't known, but similar structure to Armstead (three years) with less guaranteed money

Vega (6-4, 255 pounds) ran 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He had 12 sacks in two seasons with the Blue Bombers.

I'll have more on Armstead, Vega and why the Patriots suddenly like Molson beer so much in Sunday notes. But for now, here's a CFL executive on Vega:

“You see the same kind of stuff that a Ninkovich does. He does show ability to get to the quarterback with a high motor and some pretty good technique. He’s an OK athlete, like Ninkovich, but he makes plays.”

Patriots by the numbers: 2012 snap counts

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 26, 2013 07:30 AM

A couple of weeks ago, all of the snaps played in the regular season on offense, defense and special teams were tallied, Patriots center came out as the player who played the most snaps in the NFL. Teammates Nate Solder and Devin McCourty were second and third on the league list.

Though Wendell and Solder missed a total of 9 of the 1237 offensive snaps, McCourty was the team's iron man - he played in 98 percent of the total defensive snaps (1073 of 1096) and also played in 52 percent of the special teams snaps (256 of 495 - give or take one or two; couldn't find the exact number).

Here is the complete breakdown of snaps per player, taken from the official NFL gamebooks and compiled by FootballOutsiders:

C Ryan Wendell - 1379 (1231 offense, 148 SpT)
LT Nate Solder - 1339 (1234 offense, 105 SpT)
DB Devin McCourty - 1329 (1073 defense, 256 SpT)
QB Tom Brady - 1213 (1231 offense)
RT Sebastian Vollmer - 1179 (1096 offense, 83 SpT)
LB Jerod Mayo - 1132 (1047 defense, 85 SpT)
WR Wes Welker - 1127 (1074 offense, 53 SpT)
DL Rob Ninkovich - 1050 (906 defense, 144 SpT)
WR Brandon Lloyd - 1042 (1038 offense, 4 SpT)
CB Kyle Arrington - 1038 (824 defense, 214 SpT)
DT Vince Wilfork - 961 (888 defense, 73 SpT)
RG Dan Connolly - 950 (890 offense, 60 SpT)
TE Rob Gronkowski - 809 (731 offense, 78 SpT)
LG Logan Mankins - 793 (744 offense, 49 SpT)
DE Chandler Jones - 784 (729 defense, 55 SpT)
S Steve Gregory - 741 (733 defense, 8 SpT)
LB Brandon Spikes - 727 (721 defense, 6 SpT)
G Donald Thomas - 707 (606 offense, 101 SpT)
DB Tavon Wilson - 702 (465 defense, 237 SpT)
S Patrick Chung - 677 (531 defense, 146 SpT)
DT Kyle Love - 615 (543 defense, 72 SpT)
LB Dont'a Hightower - 607 (568 defense, 39 SpT)
CB Alfonzo Dennard - 583 (583 defense)
TE Aaron Hernandez - 567 (565 offense, 2 SpT)
RB Stevan Ridley - 550 (549 offense, 1 SpT)
RB Danny Woodhead - 483 (417 offense, 66 SpT)
WR Deion Branch - 479 (474 offense, 5 SpT)
DL Jermaine Cunningham - 443 (439 defense, 4 SpT)
DL Brandon Deaderick - 437 (374 defense, 63 SpT)
DL Trevor Scott - 427 (249 defense, 178 SpT)
TE Daniel Fells - 406 (307 offense, 99 SpT)
CB Marquice Cole - 395 (191 defense, 204 SpT)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui - 371 (290 offense, 81 SpT)
WR Julian Edelman - 369 (295 offense, 74 SpT)
DB Nate Ebner - 333 (36 defense, 297 SpT)
WR Matthew Slater - 330 (42 offense, 288 SpT)
LB Niko Koutouvides - 326 (9 defense, 317 SpT)
CB Aqib Talib - 321 (304 defense, 17 SpT)
OL Nick McDonald - 315 (246 offense, 69 SpT)
OL Marcus Cannon - 276 (175 offense, 101 SpT)
DB Sterling Moore - 270 (230 defense, 40 SpT)
LB Tracy White - 268 (70 defense, 198 SpT)
RB Brandon Bolden - 264 (99 offense, 165 SpT)
K Stephen Gostkowski - 212 (212 SpT)
DL Justin Francis - 212 (190 defense, 22 SpT)
RB Shane Vereen - 199 (161 offense, 38 SpT)
LB Mike Rivera - 195 (19 defense, 176 SpT)
P Zoltan Mesko - 166 (166 SpT)
LS Danny Aiken - 164 (164 SpT)
DB Derrick Martin - 121 (69 defense, 52 SpT)
DL Ron Brace - 112 (90 defense, 22 SpT)
CB Ras-I Dowling - 100 (82 defense, 12 SpT)
LB Bobby Carpenter - 80 (6 defense, 74 SpT)
TE Visanthe Shiancoe - 57 (57 offense)
LB Jeff Tarpinian - 53 (6 defense, 47 SpT)
DB Malcolm Williams - 34 (34 SpT)
DL Jake Bequette - 29 (29 defense)
QB Ryan Mallett - 24 (24 offense)
OL Mitch Petrus - 24 (6 offense, 18 SpT)
WR Donte' Stallworth - 20 (20 offense)
FB Lex Hilliard - 18 (9 offense, 9 SpT)
RB James Develin - 12 (12 SpT)
DL Terrell McClain - 11 (11 defense)
WR Kamar Aiken - 8 (3 offense, 5 SpT)
DL Marcus Forston - 8 (8 defense)
WR Greg Salas - 6 (6 offense)
TE Kellen Winslow - 4 (4 offense)

Three Patriots earn 2013 bonuses

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 25, 2013 03:53 PM

Punter Zoltan Mesko, end Rob Ninkovich and defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick saw their 2013 base salaries rise through bonuses earned last season.

Mesko got the biggest bump ($748,000), has his salary went from $575,000 to the restricted free-agent tender of $1.323 million.

Ninkovich saw his base increase $500,000 -- from $900,000 to $1.4 million.

Deaderick got a modest bump of $55,000. He missed an escalator -- likely tied to playing time -- that would have taken his base from $575,000 to at least $1.3 million. He played 34 percent of the defensive snaps this season.

UPDATE: Our friend @nyjetscap said that Deaderick's bump is from the CBA, and that the NFLPA has been slow to update those. So it likely wasn't an escalator.

Four Patriots players recognized by Pro Football Focus

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 25, 2013 07:20 AM

We're a little late on this, but the folks at Pro Football Focus announced their All-Pro teams this month, with four Patriots players receiving recognition.

(Quotes are from PFF explaining their reasoning for each choice)

Tight End
Rob Gronkowski (first-team): "The Patriot it, by some measure, the best tight end in the NFL."

Right Tackle
Sebastian Vollmer (second-team): There was a lot of discussion between Vollmer and the 49ers' Anthony Davis, with "the work of Vollmer in pass protection getting him the selection."

Outside Linebacker
Jerod Mayo (first-team): "In the past we've shouted from the rooftops how overrated Mayo has been. However, he's taken a big step forward this year with some strikingly consistent play."

Free safety
Devin McCourty (second-team): "He was good at cornerback and then he was good at safety. We had to find space for him and this was the most logical position."

PFF makes its picks by in part using its statistical analysis and comparisons of players during the season as well as simple discussion.

These picks are different than the Associated Press All-Pro teams, which is voted on by a panel of 50 media members. Vince Wilfork was selected to the first-team as a defensive tackle, and Logan Mankins was a second-team pick at guard; Gronkowski, likely because he missed a third of the season, was third at tight end.

Greg Bedard on Super Bowl XLVII, Pats

Posted by Robert Burgess January 24, 2013 04:01 PM




What is the main offseason priority for Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots? CineSport's Noah Coslov and The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard discuss this and preview Super Bowl XLVII.

Patriots announce more futures contracts

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 24, 2013 11:29 AM

The Patriots have announced the signing of seven players to futures contracts.

Five of the players we already knew of - RB James Develin, WR Jeremy Ebert, WR Andre Holmes, DL Tracy Robertson and LB Jeff Tarpinian.

Today two more were added to that list: QB Mike Kafka and DE Marcus Benard.

Kafka was a fourth-round pick of the Eagles in 2011, playing in four games as a rookie. But the 6-foot-3 Northwestern product was cut out of camp by Philadelphia last year and spent 2012 out of football.

Benard spent three seasons with the Browns after signing with Cleveland in 2009; he started that season on practice squad but played in six games and had 3.5 sacks. In 2010, Benard played in 15 games and tallied 7.5 sacks. Injuries limited him in 2011 and he was also injured last year in training camp.

Develin, Ebert, Holmes, Kafka, Robertson and Tarpinian signed two-year deals; Benard's deal is only for 2013.

Also, the contract for Armond Armstead is in, and it is a three-year deal totaling $1.485 million. Armstead received basically the same contract from the Patriots as Justin Francis did last year, when he was signed as an undrafted player.

Tom Brady fined $10,000 for slide into Ed Reed

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 23, 2013 09:09 PM

According to a league source, the NFL has fined Patriots quarterback Tom Brady $10,000 for unnecessary roughness for his slide/kick into Ravens safety Ed Reed in the first half of Sunday's AFC Championship game.

Reed told a Baltimore radio station on Tuesday that Brady had reached out to him by telephone to apologize. Reed said he understood that Brady was protecting himself with the slide.

"I know he's a great player. I respect Brady and his game for all it stands for, and I know he's not a dirty player...emotions get going in the game," Reed said. “Brady’s a great competitor, I love going against him, and I know where his heart is at for this game.''


Patriots sign DL Armond Armstead

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 22, 2013 05:24 PM

According to the NFL transaction wire, the Patriots have signed defensive tackle Armond Armstead, a 6-foot-5-inch, 298-pound Southern Cal product, to a futures contract.

Armstead spent the 2012 season with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, helping the team win the Grey Cup championship, and was named a league All-Star.

But there is an interesting back story that led to him ending up in Canada:

While at USC, where he played from 2008-10, Armstead says he was improperly given injections of Toradol, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, and those injections led to him suffering a heart attack in March 2011.

He says he was not informed when he was given the injections what the medication was or that there was a risk of heart attack or stroke when taking it.

Armstead was briefly hospitalized, and USC would not clear him medically to play in 2011. He thought about transferring to another college but opted instead to turn pro. He was not taken in the NFL draft or signed as a free agent in 2012, likely because of concerns over his health history. Armstead went to the CFL instead.

Last August, Armstead brought suit against USC, University Park Health Center, USC team physician James Tibone, and an unnamed pharmaceutical company.

NFL reportedly reviewing Tom Brady slide into Ed Reed

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 22, 2013 09:35 AM
Near the end of the first half of Sunday's AFC Championship game, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took off with the ball and attempted a feet-first slide to end the run. The only problem was Brady's right leg kicked out in the direction of Ravens safety Ed Reed, who was coming in to make the tackle.

Now the NFL want to take another look at the play to determine if Brady will be fined. According to ESPN reporter Ed Werder.

JUST IN - Tom Brady is being reviewed by league officials for his slide/kick in AFC Championship (via @edwerderespn)

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 22, 2013

Reed said in a radio interview on Monday that Brady reached out and apologized.

"He actually reached out to me, texted me. I tried to text him back, but the message exploded after 12 seconds, so I had to call him ... and he just apologized and what not. But I told him, 'You know, it's good, man.'"

Baltimore safety and notorious Patriots nemesis Bernard Pollard, who has been fined more than $100,000 for hits this season, took exception to the play on Reed and let his feelings be known after the game.

"You've got to keep them legs down," said Pollard to CSNNE.com. "You've go to keep the legs down. We all know and understand what's going on there. And as a quarterback, when you go to slide, we're taught ... we can't do anything. When you come sliding, and your leg is up in the air trying to kick somebody, that's bull crap."

On Monday, Pollard called for the NFL to step in.

“When you slide, everything is on the ground. He knew what he was doing,” Pollard said. “It has to go both ways. Hopefully the NFL will do something about it.”

Reed said his leg was "a little sore" from the play.

"I respect Brady and his game for all it stands for, and I know he's not a dirty player. And emotions get going in the game," Reed said.

Wes Welker's wife apologizes for comments about Ray Lewis

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 22, 2013 07:00 AM
The raw emotion of losing a big game has gotten the best of two Patriots spouses now.

Anna Burns Welker, wife of Patriots star receiver Wes Welker, took to Facebook to criticize Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis after the Patriots lost to the Ravens 28-13 in the AFC championship.

"Proud of my husband and the Pats," Burns Welker wrote. "By the way, if anyone is bored, please go to Ray Lewis' Wikipedia page. 6 kids, 4 wives. Acquitted for murder. Paid a family off. Yay! What a hall of fame player! A true role model!"

Burns Welker later apologized, releasing a statement to Larry Brown Sports.

"I'm deeply sorry for my recent post on Facebook. I let the competitiveness of the game and the comments people were making about a team I dearly love get the best of me. My actions were emotional and irrational and I sincerely apologize to Ray Lewis and anyone affected by my comment after yesterday's game.

"It is such an accomplishment for any team to make it to the NFL playoffs, and the momentary frustration I felt should not overshadow the accomplishments of both of these amazing teams."

Last year, after Super Bowl XLVI, Tom Brady's wife, Gisele Bundchen, angrily told New York Giants fans her husband could not throw and catch the ball at the same time.

Lewis, a 17-year veteran of the league, was charged with murder in 2000 along with two associates in the death of two men following Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta. The charge was eventually dismissed with the Ravens star pleading down to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice.

Patriots sign five to futures contracts

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 21, 2013 05:35 PM

According to the NFL transaction wire, the Patriots have signed five players to futures contracts:

RB James Develin, Brown
WR Jeremy Ebert, Northwestern
WR Andre Holmes, Hillsdale
DT Tracy Robertson, Baylor
LB Jeff Tarpinian, Iowa

All of the players spent time on New England's practice squad this season. Futures contracts allow players to spend the offseason with the team that had signed them.

Jones' second sprained ankle kept him sidelined

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 21, 2013 01:58 PM
Chandler Jones played in just two of 73 defensive snaps on Sunday night, watching from the sidelines for nearly the entire game thanks to a sprained ankle.

Jones injured his left ankle on a goal-line play against the Texans a week earlier, but practiced all week and was listed as probable by the Patriots. Despite that designation, it is believed that Jones' participation was a game time/coaching decision.

Fellow rookie Justin Francis started at defensive end in Jones' place.

It was the second sprained ankle for Jones - he injured his right ankle against the Colts in November and missed two games.

The rookie told reporters on Monday that he will remain in the Foxborough area to rehab both sprains and will consult with the team on whether he will need surgery to repair either one.

Arrington not thinking about free agency yet

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 21, 2013 01:16 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington is one of the team's 18 pending free agents, but is not yet prepared to think about what that will mean for him after Sunday's loss in the AFC championship.

"Me and my wife, we're just going to take it a day at a time," Arrington said.

The fourth-year defensive back has seen a shift in roles while with the Patriots, including on Sunday. In the early portion of the season, he worked as the team's starting right cornerback before being shifting inside to guard slot receivers in nickel and dime packages.

Against the Ravens, he was forced to move back outside after teammate Aqib Talib suffered a thigh injury. Talib's injury, Arrington said, didn't change the Patriots' game plan against the Ravens.

"It's definitely a loss to lose a player with Aqib's caliber, but it's always the next man up we preach here," he said. "We kept the same game plan."

Arrington has experienced a number of big games while with the Patriots -- and stinging losses.

"They're not easy games to win," he said. "Especially when it comes playoff time. You know, the competition just gets better every week. They're tough games to win, but we were confident, we felt like we were prepared. We just fell short. I think Bill said it best, it's not a soft landing when it's this time of year. It's a hard crash. You just got to do your best as a team to stick together and just try to move forward."

Arrington will spend his offseason time here in the New England area. His wife is expecting a baby boy in March.

@zuriberry

Aqib Talib: 'I enjoy being a Patriot'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff January 21, 2013 12:50 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- Cornerback Aqib Talib doesn't know if he'll return to the Patriots, since he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. All he knows is how much fun he's had the few months he's been with the team.

"I had a lot of fun here, I definitely enjoyed my time here," Talib said on Monday morning, some 12 hours after the Patriots lost to the Ravens, 28-13, in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. "We’ll see what happens in the future, but I definitely had the most fun I’ve had playing football in a long time here."

Talib was acquired by the Patriots on Nov. 1 in a trade with the Buccaneers, and improved a secondary that had been one of the team's defensive weak points. He was injured in the first quarter against the Ravens, pulling up with a thigh injury while breaking up a pass intended for Anquan Boldin. He retreated to the locker room with the medical staff, returned to the sidelines to see if he could get back on the field, then sat on the bench when he realized he could not.

"Aw, man, the worst way to go out in any game, let alone the AFC Championship," Talib said. "We came in here [locker room], we did some stuff, it just wasn’t strong enough to go compete at that level."

Talib, like some of the other Patriots who will become free agents at the end of the season, wouldn't speculate on how the process might play out or where he'll be playing next season.

He had a ready answer when asked about his future plans.

"I definitely enjoy being a Patriot," he said. "We’ll let everything … it’s the business side of the business."

How will he approach free agency?

"I’m not really worried about all that. The game was 12 hours ago, I’m in the training room with the guys, we’re having fun, right now I’m still a Patriot," Talib said. "Free agency doesn’t start until March, so until then I’m still a Patriot and enjoying my time."

Belichick expands on lost opportunities

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 21, 2013 10:23 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick watched the game tape Monday morning of the Patriots' 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship and bemoaned the team's lost opportunities in his final press conference of the 2012 season.

"I know that we definitely missed some opportunities," Belichick said. "I think the red area was the big deciding factor in the game."

The Patriots were 1 for 3 in the red zone and were similarly unsuccessful in Ravens territory, getting two crucial turnovers in the second half on Tom Brady interceptions.

"In that 30 to 20 yard-line range, we just couldn't really get it past that," Belichick said.

What's more, the Ravens were able to capitalize on their opportunities, Belichick said. The upset loss left a stunned Patriots crashing after a prosperous season that came with many expectations following a loss in Super Bowl XLVI.

"That's the NFL. The last game, if you're playing a game this time of year, you're either euphoria or it's a crash landing," Belichick said. "For us, it was a crash landing.

"A year ago at this time, it was the other feeling. It's one or the other. There's no in between. There's certainly no soft landing. A season that's very much alive and with great hopes and expectations and energy, suddenly crashes and it's over. And that's the way it is. It's going to be that way for every team but one each year. That's the NFL. It's not gonna change, that's the way it is.

"Unfortunately that's where we were last night."

Looking back on the year, Belichick was still happy with his team. The Patriots won 13 games, advancing to a step away from the Super Bowl.

"The players worked hard behind the scenes," he said. "Everybody doesn't see that. They didn't make excuses. They got better over the course of the season.

"We wouldn't have gotten where we were without consistent performances over the course of the season."

The team is now tasked with setting offseason priorities, preparing for the draft, and evaluating the team's roster as it relates to the team's free agents.

"I will not make any decisions on any players or their future [right now]," Belichick said. "[There's] too many factors, too many things to consider."

Belichick added he'll be back for his 39th year in the NFL, 19th as a head coach, and 14th with the Patriots.

"You'll have to deal with me again next year. I know that's disappointing for a lot of you. Till I'm told otherwise, I plan on being here."

Ray Lewis says 'retirement' billboard motivated him

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff January 21, 2013 09:58 AM



In an on-field interview following Baltimore's 28-13 win over the Patriots in Sunday's AFC Championship Game, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said he was motivated by a Massachusetts billboard counting down the hours to his "retirement party." Lewis said before the playoffs that this postseason would be his last.

“I was hurt when I saw a sign that actually said my retirement would [start] tonight,” Lewis said. “Man can’t dictate that. God dictates that.”

Lewis, of course, has extended his career for two more weeks with the win and a trip to the Super Bowl. Clear Channel, the owners and operators of the billboard, put up a clever follow-up this morning, seen below on the @MassBillboards Twitter account:

Welp. twitter.com/MassBillboards…

— CCO_Boston (@MassBillboards) January 21, 2013

Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted last week that, "Someone in New England wasted a lot of money on that Ray Lewis retirement billboard," but Clear Channel looks to have done well for themselves here with plenty of free advertising.

5 takeaways from the AFC Championship game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 11:58 PM

012113tombrady607.jpg

Tom Brady made a couple of bad decisions in Sunday's AFC Championship game. (Jim Davis / Globe Staff)

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots were beaten handily by the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, losing, 28-13, in the AFC Championship game. But one could still argue that the game would have turned out dramatically different had the home team capitalized on some key plays and executed better down the stretch.

There were numerous plays left on the field. There's no going back now, but let's highlight a few things that wrong in this week's takeaways.

1. Time management was an issue -- Tom Brady and Bill Belichick did their best to deflect the issue, but they had a problem toward the end of the first half managing the clock and burned all three timeouts at the end of the game, much too soon for any comeback effort. But the events at the end of the first half were particularly troubling. The Patriots were driving down the field, only 10 yards away from the end zone, with 26 seconds left. Brady couldn't find a receiver, so he scrambled for 3 yards and then tried to gather his teammates to attempt another play before realizing too much time had passed. He had to use the Patriots' final timeout of the half with only four seconds on the clock. Either Belichick or Brady should have immediately called a timeout after the play to preserve an opportunity to take a shot at the end zone. With only four seconds on the clock, they were forced to take the field goal. A touchdown would've changed the dynamic of the game and given the Patriots more confidence going into the second half.

2. Wes Welker's drop deflated a perfectly good drive -- The second half wasn't kind to the Patriots. They were outscored, 21-0, a remarkable display given the team's standing as the top offense in the league. Drive after drive, the Patriots were stumped by their own ineptitude. In the third quarter, they had a particularly good stretch that was mucked up by an all-too familiar episode of Welker's dropsies. (Forgive him, he was getting knocked around pretty good out there.) The Patriots had drove 57 yards to the Baltimore 34 and were facing third and 8 when Brady threw a pass that hit Welker in the hands and face mask. It would've given the Patriots a first down and possibly the opportunity to extend their lead. Instead, because of the fourth down and the windy conditions, they elected to punt. Which brings me to my next takeaway.

3. The Patriots punted from the Ravens' 34-yard line -- Zoltan Mesko recorded a 21-yard punt, pinning the Ravens at their 13-yard line, in the third quarter in one of the more confusing plays of the evening. At that distance, Stephen Gostkowski would have attempted a 52-yard field goal. But because of the wind, moving at about 17 miles per hour, it forced Belichick into one of the more conservative play calls we've seen in some time. Gostkowski's longest made field goal this season was from 53 yards, with room to spare. It was clear by the call on the field that the Patriots did not want to kick into the wind, which made Welker's drop all the more glaring. The Ravens responded with a 10-play, 87-yard drive to take the lead, which they never relinquished.

4. In the fourth quarter, Brady made one horrible decision -- In the Patriots' second offensive series of the final quarter, Brady did his best to find a groove. He completed 6 of 8 passes before facing a third and 4 at the Baltimore 19-yard line. Again, the Patriots were in the red zone with an opportunity to bring the game within a touchdown. On third down, Brady couldn't connect with Welker, who was hounded on the sideline. Instead of taking the field goal, the Patriots elected to go for it on fourth down with 8:35 left. It was a gutsy move, but necessary. Brady dropped back and was flushed out of the pocket to his left by Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. With open field in front of him and a practically guaranteed first down, he decided to throw it across his body to the middle of the end zone in a desperation pass to Deion Branch. That was the moment I knew the Patriots had lost. He should've taken the first down that was right in front of him.

5. Injuries had a large impact -- Belichick won't admit it, but losing both Kyle Love and Aqib Talib was a big deal. Add in Patrick Chung, who was hurt on the Ravens' goal-line touchdown in the second quarter, and the Patriots were practically in disarray on defense. They were forced to utilize Marquice Cole as their nickel corner and Tavon Wilson in their dime packages. Meanwhile, Brandon Deaderick took the bulk of the snaps at defensive tackle and Jermaine Cunningham (sized more like a linebacker than a defensive lineman) subbed in to help out up front. The Patriots were undersized and outclassed in key matchups. Cole was beaten easily by Anquan Boldin for a touchdown. He played well in spurts, as did Cunningham, but the Patriots needed their stars to win this game and it's certainly a sore feeling to know that they weren't available at the end.

@zuriberry

Aaron Hernandez: 'They came to play and we didn't'

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 11:49 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- It was a relatively somber Patriots locker room after the Ravens came into Gillette and left with a trip to New Orleans on their itinerary.

"Obviously we're down," Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez said. "Nothing really you can do now except get prepared for next year and hopefully, a different result."

Hernandez spoke about what went wrong for the Patriots in the second half when they were outscored, 21-0.

"They came to play," Hernandez said. "They made better adjustments than we did and they outplayed us."

Hernandez was asked whether Baltimore outhit and outwilled the Patriots Sunday night.

"I wouldn't say that," Hernandez said. "I would say they made more plays and they came up when they needed to more than we did."

Hernandez led the Patriots with nine receptions, setting a new career high for the postseason. Hernandez has at least six receptions in his last four postseason games.

Some Ravens are gracious, others gloat after victory

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff January 20, 2013 11:37 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- As the rejoicing Ravens streamed through the tunnel in the immediate moments after their 28-13 victory over the Patriots Sunday night in the AFC Championship game, it didn't take long for the whooping and hollering to turn into instant commentary on their vanquished opponent.

"They didn't respect us!,'' yelled cornerback Jimmy Smith to a group of Baltimore fans, among them swimmer Michael Phelps and Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who were gathered between the tunnel and the visiting locker room. "They didn't respect us."

Receiver David Reed followed with a nod: "They'd better respect us now! They respect us now!''

Ray Lewis was next, surrounded by security and trailed by a camera man and a boom microphone. For once, he did not speak -- he'd have more to say when the lights were brighter and the cameras had gathered around him.

But teammate Terrell Suggs could not wait. Once the Ravens had gathered in the locker room to receive the AFC Championship trophy, he had his say. "Shut them out in the second half!,'' he hollered. "Tell them to have fun at the Pro Bowl. Arrogant [expletives]."

Other Ravens were more gracious than Suggs, who has never shied away from an opportunity to take a jab at the Patriots, particularly Tom Brady. Said center Matt Birk. "It's unbelievable. When is the last time anyone shut out the Patriots in the second half in Foxborough? It's unbelievable.''

Ed Reed, the brilliant safety who is making his first Super Bowl appearance at age 34, had nothing but respect for the Patriots.

"We went up against a great team today,'' Reed said. "A great organization. They've been champions. I was standing out in the hallway looking at Super Bowl pictures and the parades. It was a hard-fought game, and I'm grateful to be on this side of it.''

Added coach John Harbaugh: "The New England Patriots are a great, great football team. A great organization, a tremendous coach, maybe the best coach in history. We admire them so much, the quarterback and so many of their players, and to come out and play the way we did means a lot.''

The Ravens overcame a 13-7 halftime deficit to the beat the Patriots, the first time in 68 games during their time together that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have lost at home when leading in halftime. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said the Ravens decision to throw the ball more in the second half was crucial.

"We realized we needed to put some pressure on them that way,'' said Flacco, who threw all three of his touchdowns in the second half. In the first-half we were probably a little bit run-heavy and they did a good job of stopping it. We came out in the second half and decided to go with what we went with. We didn't come all the way here to play it safe and hope to win. We came here to win the AFC Championship and you have to play to win.''

They did win, in convincing fashion. And once the Ravens had time to let it soak in, even Suggs was in a more gracious mood.

"They have the right to be [arrogant],'' Suggs said. "You win three titles and have six Super Bowl appearances with 12 [Brady] under center, they have the right to be. We respect them. That is, even enemies can show respect.


Watch: Belichick postgame interview

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 11:29 PM
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Watch Patriots coach Bill Belichick's comments after the Patriots lost to the Ravens, 28-13, in the AFC Championship on Sunday.

Watch: Patriots-Ravens game highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 11:23 PM
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Here's the recap of the key plays in the AFC Championship game.

Devin McCourty: 'It is the worst feeling'

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 11:13 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots safety Devin McCourty feels the pain of having the season end without a trip to the Super Bowl.

"It is the worst feeling," McCourty said after the crushing 28-13 loss to the Ravens in the AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium. "You get this far, you don't see your season coming to an end. you can't prepare for this."

McCourty talked about how cornerback Aqib Talib's injury played into the loss.

"We adjust and we moved on," McCourty said. "We know what we had to do to go on. We were prepared. We are always prepared for a guy that goes down but injuries always stink when they happen in the middle of a game like that."

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco seemed to make halftime adjustments and took what the defense gave him as Baltimore outscored New England 21-0 in the second half.

"We knew coming into the game that he is a smart quarterback," McCourty said praising Flacco. "He understands the game of football. He understands what is there. What he can do and what he can't do. He played well tonight."

McCourty also had accolades for Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

"He is a good player and he made plays tonight," McCourty said. "He did a good job of making plays tonight."

Shannon Sharpe critical of Bill Belichick

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 10:58 PM

The decision by Patriots coach Bill Belichick to decline an interview on the Gillette Stadium field after the AFC Championship didn't sit well with CBS broadcaster Shannon Sharpe.

"Bill Belichick makes it real easy for you to root against the Patriots," Sharpe said on CBS's postgame show. "You can't be a poor sport all the time. You're not going to win all the time. And he does this every time he loses. It's unacceptable."

Belichick did conduct his usual postgame press conference in Gillette Stadium's interview room.

Tom Brady: 'They earned it'

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 10:29 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots failed to execute and string enough good plays together to beat the Baltimore Ravens, quarterback Tom Brady said.

"We just couldn't make any critical plays when we needed to," Brady said. "We got behind in the second half there and became one-dimensional. We just couldn't string enough good plays together to get into the end zone."

Brady was 29 of 54 passing for 320 yards, a touchdown and two picks. He had several miscues in the game, including a late interception that sealed the win for Baltimore.

"Whatever we did, we didn't execute very well," Brady said. "The name of the game is execution. And when you don't execute against a good team, you don't come up on the winning end."

Brady lamented the loss, giving all the credit to the Ravens for playing a tough game.

"You have the opportunity to win the game," Brady said of the Patriots' missed chances. "But we came up short. There's frustration in that. But they're not gonna give it to you. They earned it. They played a good game."

Added Brady: "[The season] always comes to a screeching halt. There's only two teams at the dance, and those two teams deserve it. We've lost before and it takes awhile to get over it."

@zuriberry

Terrell Suggs: Have fun at the Pro Bowl

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 10:15 PM


FOXBOROUGH -- After beating the Patriots 28-13 in the AFC championship, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs took a few more shots at the Patriots.

"Tell them to have fun at the Pro Bowl," said Suggs, according to Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel on his official Twitter stream. "Shut 'em out in the 2nd half. Arrogant [expletive]."

"These are the most arrogant pricks in the world starting with Belichick on down."

Suggs added: "That's funny, ever since SpyGate they haven't been able to win."

He later tempered his comments a bit.

"All BS aside they are a hell of a ball club ... They have the right to be arrogant," he said.

Ridley suffers head injury after collision with Pollard

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 09:11 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots running back Stevan Ridley took a brutal hit on a run in the fourth quarter from Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard, who ruined Tom Brady’s 2008 season.

Pollard hit Ridley head-on on the play. Ridley was knocked hard to the ground and fumbled, and the Ravens recovered.

Ridley was taken to the locker room, and the Patriots announced Ridley suffered a head injury and will not return.

It was the latest incident in a string of injuries inflicted by Pollard to the Patriots. In last season's AFC Championship, Pollard was the player who caused Rob Gronkowski's ankle injury.

Pollard was also the Texans safety who tackled Wes Welker after Welker twisted his knee and tore ligaments in the 2009 season finale in Houston.

Watch: 49ers-Falcons highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 08:24 PM
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Here's a video recap of the NFC Championship Game.

Patriots 13, Ravens 7: Halftime thoughts

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 20, 2013 08:14 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Some thoughts as the Patriots lead the Ravens 13-7 at halftime:

  • Outside of the Ravens having terrible field position the entire first half, this is about how I thought things would go. Each team would make a few plays, but for the most part these are two evenly matched teams without Rob Gronkowski.
  • The Ravens have to feel really good about themselves that they’re only down six and they started their drives at the 13, 10, 8, 10 and 14 yard lines.
  • Doesn’t look like the Patriots will have Aqib Talib (right hamstring) the rest of the game. If he couldn’t re-enter in the first half, not sure why he’d be able to do it later. Of course, I’m not a doctor.
  • I don’t think the Talib injury affects much for the Patriots. They’ll still try to limit the big plays and play two deep safeties most of the time.
  • Of course, the Ravens are dead set on taking the Patriots out of that by running the ball. Whether or not they can could determine the winner.
  • Aaron Hernandez, who has been the offense so far, made a mistake not going out of bounds before halftime. Could have cost the Patriots four points.
  • The Ravens have protected their quarterback better so far. We’ll have to see if that’s a factor.
  • Brandon Lloyd’s going to continue to get opportunities. So far so good.
  • The Patriots are going to hit a wheel route to one of the backs at some point.
  • Great chess match between Tom Brady and the Ravens’ defense. Slight edge to Brady so far.

Aqib Talib leaves game with injury, return questionable

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 07:18 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib appeared to injure his right hamstring after breaking up a pass intended for Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin in the first quarter of Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

Talib was seen heading into the locker room with a member of the Patriots medical staff. His return was listed as questionable during the game, and he did not play again. Talib returned to the sidelines wearing a jacket and was testing out this thigh when he came back to the sidelines in the second quarter.

Cornerback Kyle Arrington replaced Talib on defense and covered speedy Ravens receiver Torrey Smith.

Patriots safety Patrick Chung was also shaken up when Ray Rice scored the Ravens' first touchdown. Defensive lineman Kyle Love suffered a knee injury. Neither Chung nor Love returned to the game, which the Patriots lost, 28-13.

Final: Ravens 28, Patriots 13

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 06:25 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Tom Brady threw two interceptions and Stevan Ridley had a crucial fumble down the stretch as the Patriots were upset by the Baltimore Ravens, 28-13, in the AFC championship.

The Ravens will move on to play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

Brady finished 29 of 54 for 320 yards and a touchdown along with the two picks. He had a 62.3 quarterback rating. He had several miscues in the game, badly mismanaging the clock at the end of the first half, passing up an opportunity to scramble for a first down on a 4th-and-4 in the fourth quarter, and his last interception with a little more than a minute remaning, a desperation heave down the field to Brandon Lloyd in the end zone.

But he also missed open targets early, a deep pass to Wes Welker that would've opened the game up with a first-series touchdown.

The Patriots were outscored 21-0 in the second half.

Brady wasn't helped by Welker, who had a crucial drop in the third quarter on third down. Or by Ridley's fumble in the fourth quarter, a play in which Ridley was knocked unconscious by Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. He didn't return to the game.

And when the Patriots did get going on offense, they found themselves having trouble in the red zone. The Patriots were 1 for 3 when they got within 20 yards of the end zone.

"I'd say we came up a little short in every area," head coach Bill Belichick said.

After being down 13-7 at the half, Joe Flacco warmed up nicely for Baltimore. He finished 21 of 36 for 240 yards and three touchdowns. He had a QB rating of 106.2. Two of his touchdown passes went Anquan Boldin, who caught five passes for 60 yards.

The Patriots lost defensive tackle Kyle Love and cornerback Aqib Talib early in the game to injury. Talib injured his thigh and Love hurt his knee. Backup safety Patrick Chung was also shaken up in the game.

1:06 4th quarter: Ravens 28, Patriots 13 -- Tom Brady was picked off in the end zone by Cary Williams, sealing what is now an inevitable win by the Baltimore Ravens.

2:11 4th quarter: Ravens 28, Patriots 13 -- When the Patriots defense needed to get off the field quickly, it did -- once. But not on this series. The Ravens picked up two first downs running the ball before the Patriots forced a punt. But in doing so, they burned all three of their timeouts.

6:49 4th quarter: Ravens 28, Patriots 13 -- A Tom Brady pass was tipped by Pernell McPhee and intercepted by Dannell Ellerbe.

The Ravens now have an opportunity to wipe minutes off the clock and keep the game out of the Patriots' reach.

This is a crushing play.

7:34 4th quarter: Ravens 28, Patriots 13 -- The Patriots forced the Ravens into a three-and-out, with Rob Ninkovich coming up with two big plays on the series. He sacked Joe Flacco for a 1-yard loss and hurried him on third down into a bad pass.

The Patriots still have hope. They need a touchdown ASAP.

8:27 4th quarter: Ravens 28, Patriots 13 -- After a promising drive, the Patriots turned the ball over on downs after Tom Brady couldn't find an open receiver on fourth down. He had open field to run, but chose to throw it over the middle of the field where it was out of reach for Deion Branch.

This could be the failed drive that killed the Patriots' Super Bowl hopes.

10:34 4th quarter: Ravens 28, Patriots 13 -- Stevan Ridley has a head injury, according to the Patriots, and his return is questionable. He likely has a concussion.

11:13 4th quarter: Ravens 28, Patriots 13 -- Anquan Boldin beat Patriots corner Marquice Cole soundly up the seam and caught an 11-yard touchdown pass as the Ravens capitalized on the Stevan Ridley fumble.

Ridley went to the locker room. We'll have an update as soon as we know something concrete.

12:46 4th quarter: Ravens 21, Patriots 13 -- Ravens safety Bernard Pollard gave a crushing hit to Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, knocking him out cold and forcing what appeared to be a fumble. After review, the play was upheld as a fumble and was recovered by Arthur Jones. It was a scary moment for Ridley, who ended up walking off the field under his own power.

Pollard, if you recall, knocked out Tom Brady in 2008. He was also the closest guy on the field when Wes Welker went down with an ACL injury and took out Rob Gronkowski last season. He did so for three different teams.

14:56 4th quarter: Ravens 21, Patriots 13 -- Joe Flacco hit Anquan Boldin over the middle of the field for a 3-yard touchdown. Boldin grabbed the football over the top of Patriots safety Devin McCourty, who was matched up with Boldin in one-on-one coverage.

The touchdown capped a 10-play, 63-yard drive and put the Patriots down by more than a touchdown.

End of the 3d quarter: Ravens 14, Patriots 13 -- The Ravens, when leading after three quarters, are 107-11 since the year 2000. Since 2008, they're 49-9 when leading at the beginning of the fourth quarter. In 2012, they were 8-2 going into the fourth quarter with a lead.

4:46 3d quarter: Ravens 14, Patriots 13 -- A holding call on Nate Solder killed the Patriots' latest drive. On 3rd-and-12, Tom Brady threw behind Aaron Hernandez, forcing a Patriots punt.

Zoltan Mesko now has five punts on the game.

6:14 3d quarter: Ravens 14, Patriots 13 -- Dennis Pitta put a nice little shimmy on Patriots safety Steve Gregory to get open for a 5-yard touchdown reception as the Ravens re-took the lead.

Joe Flacco led the Ravens on a 10-play, 87-yard drive down the field, going no-huddle toward the end.

He completed three passes to Pitta for 32 yards. A play prior to the touchdown, he hit Pitta for another 5-yard gain. Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo crushed Pitta on the reception, but it didn't seem to faze the tight end.

10:03 3d quarter: Patriots 13, Ravens 7 -- Wes Welker dropped a third down pass that hit him in his hands and his face mask as the Patriots were forced to punt in Ravens territory.

Zoltan Mesko's punt went 21 yards, just to give you an idea of how short a punt it was. And it was one of Welker's more egregious drops this season.

12:46 3d quarter: Patriots 13, Ravens 7 -- The Patriots forced another Ravens punt, getting Joe Flacco to throw two incomplete passes in a row and stuffing Ray Rice on a run up the middle.

Brandon Spikes came up with the tackle for a loss and Alfonzo Dennard had tight coverage (maybe too tight) on Torrey Smith on the sideline. In a case of what appeared to be miscommunication, Flacco misfired to Smith on 3rd-and-12.

15:00 3d quarter: Patriots 13, Ravens 7 -- The second half is now underway.

End of the 2d quarter: Patriots 13, Ravens 7 -- Stephen Gostkowski chipped in a 25-yard field goal as time expired in the first half after Tom Brady failed to call timeout with enough time to take another shot at the end zone.

Brady scrambled for a 3-yard gain just the play prior to Gostkowski's field goal, and tried to get his teammates to the line of scrimmage to run another play as time was dwindling before he called the timeout.

At the half, Brady is 14 of 24 for 124 yards and a touchdown. Stevan Ridley has 13 carries for 46 yards. Aaron Hernandez has 7 catches for 67 yards.

2:43 2d quarter: Patriots 10, Ravens 7 -- Rob Ninkovich went right through left tackle Bryant McKinnie to take down Joe Flacco fora 4-yard sack on third down. It forced another three-and-out punt by the Ravens.

A couple of observations: The Patriots are sticking to their base defense more and more after the Aqib Talib injury. He's on the bench, but he hasn't returned to the game. Kyle Arrington has taken his place and has been matched up on Torrey Smith.

Chandler Jones, who was probable with an ankle injury, has only played a handful of snaps. We saw him on the goal line but Justin Francis took the start and has played a majority of the game.

4:18 2d quarter: Patriots 10, Ravens 7 -- Tom Brady threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker on a quick out.

The Ravens appeared confused on their coverage of the play. Welker was wide open.

The drive allowed the Patriots torespond fairly quickly to the Ravens' touchdown, spanning 11 plays, 79 yards, in 5:10.

Welker came up with another huge play on the drive, a 24-yard screen pass that he took into the red zone.

9:28 2d quarter: Ravens 7, Patriots 3 -- Ray Rice escaped to the outside, eluding a tackle from Patriots safety Patrick Chung, for a 2-yard touchdown as the Ravens took the lead in the second quarter.

Chung was shaken up on the play.

The Ravens marched down the field in 13 plays, 90 yards for the game's first touchdown. Joe Flacco hit Torrey Smith for 25-yard pass and Dennis Pitta for a 17-yarder.

An update on Aqib Talib. He has a thigh injury and his return is questionable.

0:26 1st quarter: Patriots 3, Ravens 0 -- The Patriots went three-and-out. Tom Brady felt some strong pressure on first down, throwing it away, and then hit Aaron Hernandez for an 8-yard pass. On third down, he targeted Brandon Lloyd but the ball bounced off the receiver and was almost intercepted by Ravens LB Paul Kruger.

1:24 1st quarter: Patriots 3, Ravens 0 -- The Ravens got four more plays in and had to punt. Joe Flacco had tight end Dennis Pitta on a wheel route down the sideline, beating safety Steve Gregory, but overthrew him on third down.

Wes Welker had a great punt return for 28 yards.

2:48 1st quarter: Patriots 3, Ravens 0 -- Another punt by the Patriots after Brandon Lloyd stumbled on a route and couldn't recover to catch a third down pass from Tom Brady.

Aaron Hernandez took a licking on the drive, catching an 8-yard pass before getting hit by Ray Lewis. Lewis was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play.

5:00 1st quarter: Patriots 3, Ravens 0 -- Patriots corner Aqib Talib went back to the locker room. It appears he had some sort of issue with his right hamstring.

5:00 1st quarter: Patriots 3, Ravens 0 -- Patriots corner Aqib Talib recorded a pass defensed and was in coverage on another deep pass to Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin as the Patriots forced another Baltimore punt.

6:21 1st quarter: Patriots 3, Ravens 0 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 31-yard field goal to cap a 13-play, 67-yard drive.

The Patriots tried to utilize their hurry-up offense again, but were unsuccessful in ripping off any lengthy quick snap runs. The Ravens were certainly on their toes.

We already saw one new wrinkle in the Patriots' play-calling, a reverse to receiver/tight end Aaron Hernandez. That went for 6 yards.

11:37 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Ravens 0 -- The Ravens were forced into a three-and-out after a failed screen pass to Ray Rice in the flat. We saw two runs and a pass from the Ravens.

It's already getting a little chippy on the field.

12:57 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Ravens 0 -- On a third-and-2, Tom Brady looked for Wes Welker, who was wide open, on a deep pass but led him too much for the veteran receiver to haul it in.

The Patriots got the Ravens to burn a timeout when they inserted Ryan Mallett in their punt unit. Wary of a fake punt, they called the timeout instead.

15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Ravens 0 -- The Ravens won the coin toss and elected to defer. The Patriots will receive to begin the game.

Let's go.

FOXBOROUGH -- We're about to get underway for the final game of the season at Gillette Stadium, the AFC championship between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots.

The winner advances to play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

As usual, I'll provide updates throughout the game, series by series, right here. Feel free to converse in the comments and analyze the game with me.

It's about 41 degrees right now with winds at 18 miles per hour, making it feel about 32 degrees, according to Weather.com. As you should already know, Tom Brady is a great quarterback in the cold. And the Patriots are 14-3 at home in the postseason.

Enjoy the game. It should be a great one.

@zuriberry

When is the Super Bowl, and other details

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 06:00 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The San Francisco 49ers will face the winners of the AFC championship in Super Bowl XLVII after defeating the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 Sunday.

Here are some quick details on the Super Bowl:

When is the Super Bowl? -- 6:30 p.m. Sunday Feb. 3, 2013. The exact kickoff time will be determined at a later date.

What channel will the Super Bowl be on? -- CBS.

Where is the Super Bowl? -- Mercedez-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana.

What number Super Bowl is this? -- It's Super Bowl XLVII, or Super Bowl 47.

Who is singing the national anthem? -- Alicia Keys.

Who is the headlining the halftime entertainment? -- Beyonce.

Who will referee the game? -- Jerome Boger, an official with the league since 2006. His crew has yet to be determined.

How have the Patriots fared in the Super Bowl? -- The Patriots are 3-4 all-time in the Super Bowl, winning after the 2001, 2003, and 2004 seasons. The Patriots lost in the NFL's title games after the 1985, 1996, 2007, and 2011 seasons.

How have the 49ers fared in the Super Bowl? -- The 49ers are 5-0 in the Super Bowl, having won after the 1981, 1984, 1988, 1989, and 1994 seasons.

Who is the designated home team? -- The NFC team, the 49ers, are the home team.

Chandler Jones, Danny Woodhead active for Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 05:11 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots have announced the seven players that will be inactive for Sunday's AFC championship against the Ravens and there are no surprises among the group.

DB Malcolm Williams, OL Nick McDonald, OL Markus Zusevics, DL Jake BEquette, WR Kamar AIken, DB Derrick Martin and DL Marcus Forston were all listed.

That means defensive end Chandler Jones (ankle) and running back Danny Woodhead (thumb) are both active for today's game after suffering injuries against the Texans in the AFC divisional round.

Inactive for the Ravens are CB Asa Jackson, OL Ramon Harewood, DL DeAngelo Tyson, DT Bryan Hall, S Omar Brown, LB Adrian Hamilton, and WR Deonte Thompson.

Ravens running back Bernard Pierce (knee) will be playing.

Watch: Fans do their own pregame show

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 04:52 PM

Boston.com videographer Darren Durlach asked tailgating Patriots fans to do their own versions of a pregame show for the AFC Championship game, with one interviewing the other about the key points of the game.

It's as insightful as it is hilarious. Check it out.

Ravens at Patriots: 5 keys, prediction

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 20, 2013 04:39 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Finally, the game is almost here. Can’t wait. Think it will be a great matchup pitting two tough and physical teams.

Here are my five keys for the Patriots to emerge with a victory and go to their sixth Super Bowl under Bill Belichick:

  1. Stop the run in nickel: The Ravens have been doing a good job of running the ball out of one-back sets, instead of using the fullbacks. That’s big because, depending on how the Patriots match personnel groupings, the Patriots could be using their nickel package. The Ravens will want to run against that. If the Patriots can do a good job against the run with just the four linemen and two linebackers, that means that don’t have to send a safety screaming into the box on run plays; they can just sit back with two deep safeties, which would limit the big-play ability of the Ravens. That’s a win. If the Patriots can defend the run with five defensive backs on the field and with two deep safeties, they stand a really good chance of winning this game. If the Ravens can run out of that set, and the Patriots have to commit a safety to the run, the Ravens will control the game.
  2. Hold the edge on offense: One of the biggest areas where the Patriots have and will miss tight end Rob Gronkowski is his ability to hold the edge and not allow contain in the run game. Because of that, the Patriots have basically abandoned their outside running while he’s been out, outside of “stealing” a few plays when the opponent doesn’t get lined up against the speed offense. The Patriots’ greatest advantage offensively against the Ravens is running sideline to sideline. The Ravens are slower, and can be exposed that way. But only if the Patriots, through the tackles and tight ends, can pin Ravens ends Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger – who are very good against the run. If the Patriots can control them and make some plays on the outside, that’s really going to soften up the Ravens’ defense.
  3. Zone exchange: The Ravens’ revamped offensive line has been very good the previous two weeks. Quarterback Joe Flacco has been well protected. With a beat-up Chandler Jones (ankle), the Patriots will need big pass rush games from DT Vince Wilfork (probably against rookie LG Kelechi Osemele) and LE Rob Ninkovich (vs. inconsistent RT Michael Oher). But look for the Patriots to also catch the Ravens with some zone exchanges – a lineman drops into coverage while someone else takes his place rushing the passer. Patriots have dabbled in this, but not much of late. It’s another way to apply pressure without committing more people to the rush.
  4. Time for Lloyd: Look for the Ravens to commit to stopping Wes Welker and to compress the field by getting physical with Aaron Hernandez and the running backs. Baltimore will dare Tom Brady to beat them deep, so it’s time for Brandon Lloyd to deliver. This game is exactly why they signed Lloyd. If he can’t produce a few big plays, the Patriots are going to look a lot like the team that lost to the Jets in the 2010 playoffs.
  5. Target Lewis: Ray Lewis is still a very good between-the-tackles linebacker, but he can’t cover a lick anymore. Spread the Ravens out, figure out who he’s covering and go right at him.

Prediction

I talked more about this game in Sunday notes, and I expect a battle. Fans should throw the Texans’ game out. I don’t care what the stats say, that was an overmatched team in every respect. The Ravens are not. And if you’re a team that just “does what they do” on offense and defense, the Patriots are going to throttle you if you’re not as talented. That’s what happened against Houston. These Ravens are an entirely different animal. Not only do they know they can beat the Patriots, they’re nearly as talented. This one will come down to turnovers, and who can swing a handful of key plays. It’s a toss up to me.

Patriots 23, Ravens 20

Windy conditions in Foxborough

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 02:03 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Winds are gusting up to 26 miles per hour ahead of the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium.

It's a relatively warm day for Foxborough at this time of year, 53 degrees as of 2 p.m., but the weather is expected to dip to 36 degrees by game time in the 6 p.m. hour, according to Weather.com.

The Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship at 6:30 p.m., and winds are expected to be moving at 17 miles per hour, making the temperature feel closer to 26 degrees outside.

No rain or snow is expected.

@zuriberry

AFC Championship preview: Ravens at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 20, 2013 10:19 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- History is on the line. Tom Brady will become the first quarterback in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl six times if the Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens today in the AFC championship.

If the Patriots win, Bill Belichick will move into a tie with Don Shula for the most Super Bowl berths for a head coach.

With a victory, it will be the franchise's eighth Super Bowl trip, tying a league high with the Cowboys and Steelers.

It won't come easy.

Patriots statistics

Ravens statistics The Ravens come into today's game after beating the No. 1-seeded Denver Broncos, 38-35, in double overtime, setting up a rematch from last season's AFC title game. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 38 seconds left to tie the Broncos in regulation before Justin Tucker kicked a 47-yard field goal to win it for Baltimore in the game's second overtime. Flacco threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns in the win. His ability to throw the ball deep is cause for concern for a Patriots team that still has issues with consistency in its secondary.

In a 31-30 loss to the Ravens in September, Flacco threw nine passes of 20 yards or more, highlighting the Patriots' defensive woes.

Since that Week 3 loss, the Patriots have revamped, adding cornerback Aqib Talib and moving Devin McCourty to safety.

The Ravens went 10-6 during the regular season and the team's postseason play has been inspired by veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, who has announced this will be his final season. The 17-year pro has tallied 30 tackles in the Ravens' two playoff games thus far, energizing a defense that has been knocked for its age. Lewis, along with the stellar play of Flacco, has been joined by a host of Ravens who have had turned in big games, including wide receiver Anquan Boldin (6 catches, 71 yards), receiver Torrey Smith (3 catches, 98 yards, 2 TDs), and running back Ray Rice (30 carries, 131 yards, 1 TD) on offense last week. Paul Kruger, praised by Patriots coach Bill Belichick this week, has performed solidly. And that's not even including Ravens stars Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs.

Despite the loss to the Ravens in September, Brady is 4-1 against the Ravens. He'll be without one of his biggest weapons on Sunday after tight end Rob Gronkowski was placed on injured reserve. Gronkowski broke his left forearm again, an injury he originally suffered in Week 11 of the regular season against the Indianapolis Colts.

Backup tight end and fullback Michael Hoomanawanui will likely fill the void. Tight end Daniel Fells will also likely see some action.

Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones suffered an ankle injury last week against the Texans in the AFC divisional round, but has practiced all week and is probable for Sunday's game. Running back Danny Woodhead, who suffered a thumb injury on the Patriots' first offensive series, is also listed as probable for Sunday's game after practicing all week.

The Patriots are 7-1 in AFC championships and 14-3 at home during the postseason. One of the team's three losses in the playoffs came at the hands of the Ravens in the 2009 AFC wild card, 33-14.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 6:30 p.m.

Records: Patriots 12-4 regular season, 1-0 postseason; Ravens 10-6 regular season, 2-0 postseason.

TV/Radio info: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Steve Tasker, Solomon Wilcots); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos, Scott Zolak); Dial Global Sports radio (Kevin Harlan, Dan Fouts, Mark Malone).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.

Patriots offense: WR Wes Welker, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Aaron Hernandez, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork, DT Brandon Deaderick, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Ravens offense: WR Torrey Smith, WR Anquan Boldin, LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Kelechi Osemele, C Matt Birk, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Michael Oher, TE Dennis Pitta, QB Joe Flacco, FB Vonta Leach, RB Ray Rice.

Ravens defense: DT Haloti Ngata, NT Terrence Cody, DE Pernell McPhee, LB Terrell Suggs, WLB Dannell Ellerbe, MLB Ray Lewis, SLB Courtney Upshaw, LCB Corey Graham, SS Bernard Pollard, FS Ed Reed, RCB Cary Williams.

@zuriberry

Inside the matchup: Ravens at Patriots

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 19, 2013 05:10 PM

Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, continues to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.

INSIDE THE RAVENS OFFENSE

Another week has passed and the Patriots are once again facing a familiar foe. This time, it’s the Baltimore Ravens, who they’ve recently had great battles with. The last time the two met, the Ravens squeaked out a 31-30 win at home, but there’s been a change to the team since then.

Cam Cameron, who coordinated the offense at the time, has since been let go and replaced by play-caller Jim Caldwell. Caldwell hasn’t changed the offense a significant amount, sticking to Cameron’s preferred 11, 12 and 21 personnel groupings, but he has made it coherent.

Unlike Cameron, Caldwell’s play-calling has seen the Ravens attack the middle of the field more with combination routes, such as double posts, smash (hitch + corner route), Y-sail and pivot-dig. Cameron had a preference for isolated routes on the outsides, which didn’t benefit quarterback Joe Flacco. Since the firing of Cameron, Flacco’s improved as a passer and appears to have more control over the offense.

The concepts in the running game haven’t changed much. The offense still uses a lot of zone stretch concepts that allow Ray Rice to find cutback lanes and creases that spring him into the open field.

Other concepts used include lead and counter, which enable not only Rice to get downhill but rookie Bernard Pierce, too. Pierce had only four carries in the first meeting but could be a factor in this weekend’s game, assuming his reported knee injury doesn’t slow him down. When healthy, he’s a downhill runner with a blend of power, vision and quickness.

INSIDE THE RAVENS DEFENSE

On the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens were without pass-rusher Terrell Suggs in the last meeting but won’t be this time. Suggs has been playing with torn right biceps but still must be accounted for. Meanwhile, future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis has also returned from injury and is playing in his final postseason.

Like I wrote in the last meeting, the Ravens defense is multiple, featuring separate fronts of one, two, three and four defensive linemen. All of these fronts are not drastically different from each other, however, because they frequently amount to four man rushers. The reason they are used is for disguise when attempting to confuse the offensive lines protection schemes.

Last week against the Denver Broncos, the Ravens played a lot of nickel personnel and could be doing the same this week. With nickel personnel, they’ll likely be playing an array of coverages, such as Cover 1 (Man-Free), Cover 1 Robber, Cover 2 (five under, two deep zone), Cover 3 (four under, three deep zone), Cover 4 (Quarters), loaded zone and their variations.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • Ravens play action: If there’s one area of the Ravens passing game that should be a concern, it’s the play action passing game. As many know, Flacco has a very strong arm and throws an abundance of vertical routes to wide receiver Torrey Smith. Smith burned cornerback Champ Bailey and the Broncos numerous times last week and will have to be identified before the snap this week.
  • CB Cary Williams: The tall and lengthy cornerback sometimes struggles getting out of his breaks. He lacks the quickness to sink his hips and change directions, which is likely a big reason why the Ravens often have him play off-man coverage. Although he is physical, it is worth monitoring how he deals with any double moves that the Patriots throw at him or simple comebacks, which has given him trouble in the past.
  • Special teams: The Ravens gave up kick return and punt return touchdowns last week to the Broncos and can’t have that happen again. They didn’t do a good job of accounting for the entire width of the field on the touchdowns given up, which is something to watch in this game.
  • For the Patriots, they have to make sure that Jacoby Jones doesn’t make a big play on special teams. He’s done it on multiple occasions this season and overall has done a good job of getting the Ravens field position. During the regular season, he led the league with two touchdowns and an average of 30.7 yards per kick return.
  • Patriots RBs/TEs vs. Ravens LBs: The Patriots have had to make some adjustments since Rob Gronkowski has been lost to injury (twice), and one of the things they’ve done is use the running backs more in the passing game. Last weekend against the Texans, Josh McDaniels did a good job of getting running back Shane Vereen in space against the Texans’ slow linebackers. I expect him to look to do the same this weekend because the Ravens linebackers are also slow, lacking change of direction skills and foot speed.
  • Patriots LBs vs. Ravens TEs: Tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are also factors in the passing game for the Ravens, especially the former. Pitta is athletic and quick changing directions, making him a good route-runner. He is one of Flacco’s favorite targets, and he’ll look to him again this weekend with a belief that Pitta can beat the Patriots’ linebackers in coverage.

On the Beat: 5 questions about the Ravens

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 19, 2013 09:07 AM

We check in this week with the hardest working man in NFL beating, Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, to get the lowdown on the Ravens. Check him out on Twitter: @RavensInsider

1. OK, here's what I need to know: how is the Ravens defense, with the injuries they've had in the secondary and with the amount of snaps they've played the past two weeks, going to keep the Patriots under 30?

AW: "Honestly, they might not be able to hold them under that point total, but here's how they've got a shot to do so:

Second cornerback Corey Graham, a former New Hampshire standout, is playing some really good football right now. He effectively shadowed Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley to pick off Peyton Manning in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal. He also alertly returned a Manning interception in the first half for a touchdown. The pass rush has improved markedly since the first game, mostly because pending free agent outside linebacker Paul Kruger has played out of his mind with nine sacks in the regular season and another 2 1/2 in the playoffs. The run defense has been solid, but not great. Unless they get a pass rush on Tom Brady and disrupt the quick game he's thriving with, they're going to give up a ton of first downs and field goals. The red-zone defense is extremely stout, so that should help. Overall, though, this looks like a daunting task for the defense."

2. Who is the one Ravens player most Patriots fans don’t know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?

AW: "Initially, I was going to say Corey Graham, but Patriots fans are knowledgeable and watched the Ravens' AFC divisional-round victory over the Denver Broncos. I would say rookie backup running back Bernard Pierce, a bruising runner from Temple, if he didn't have a bad right knee that should limit his effectiveness. So, lets go with inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, an emerging three-down linebacker, a former undrafted free agent from Georgia who's regarded as a must re-sign for the Ravens in free agency with Ray Lewis retiring."

3. What’s the biggest weakness on the Ravens’ offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

AW: "Right offensive tackle Michael Oher has played better since shifting away from left tackle with Bryant McKinnie elevated from the bench. However, Oher is still vulnerable against quick pass rushers and has allowed some big forced fumbles and sacks this season. He's also prone to penalties."

4. What’s the biggest weakness on the Ravens’ defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

AW: "Middle linebacker Ray Lewis allowed eight receptions for 97 yards on eight targets against the Broncos and six catches for 80 yards on nine targets against the Indianapolis Colts. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is much better against the run than the pass and going forward than backpedaling at this stage of his stellar career. The 37-year-old needs to be blitzing on third downs not covering. Free safety Ed Reed has also lost a step and had zero pass deflections against the Broncos when he was a non-factor in pass coverage. Reed whiffed on a tackle attempt on Demaryius Thomas on a double-screen for a touchdown."

5. Finally, Ravens pull off the upset and go to the Super Bowl if....

AW: "Tom Brady turns the football over, or Jacoby Jones runs back a kick for a score or Joe Flacco plays a perfect football game."

Chandler Jones listed as probable for Sunday

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 18, 2013 03:54 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- Patriots rookie defensive end Chandler Jones was upgraded to full participation in Friday's practice session and listed as probable for Sunday night's AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Jones, who tweaked his ankle in last Sunday's 41-28 divisional-round victory over the Texans, was limited in the first two days of practice this week, but took full part in Friday's frigid practice in sweats and shells at Gillette Stadium.

He was one of five players the team listed as probable in Friday's injury report. The others included:

CB Marquice Cole (finger)
OL Nick McDonald (shoulder)
DE Trevor Scott (knee)
RB Danny Woodhead (thumb)

The Ravens, meanwhile, ruled out CB Asa Jackson (thigh) for Sunday's game while they listed 16 players as probable and four others as questionable.

Baltimore's questionables included:

LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle/back)
FB Vonta Leach (knee/ankle)
RB Bernard Pierce (knee)
WR David Reed (thigh)

Inside the Playbook: Flacco's big plays

Posted by Robert Burgess January 18, 2013 03:47 PM

In this episode of Inside the Playbook, the Globe NFL writer Greg Bedard highlights Joe Flacco's ability to make big plays.

Championship Today: Bedard's keys to the game

Posted by Robert Burgess January 18, 2013 03:33 PM

In this edition of Championship Today, Globe reporter Greg Bedard gives his keys to the Patriots-Ravens game.

Tom Brady reflects on being only QB with Super Bowl experience left

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 18, 2013 02:35 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- Of the four quarterbacks left in the NFL playoffs, only the Patriots' Tom Brady has experienced going all the way to the Super Bowl and hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy, doing so in the first three of his five overall trips.

Now that Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Denver's Peyton Manning have been eliminated from the playoffs, Brady ranks as the only quarterback left with any Super Bowl experience.

"Well, I like to be playing at this time of the year,'' Brady said Friday, in his last press conference before Sunday night's AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium. "There's nothing more exciting than this.''

This will mark Brady's seventh overall appearance in the AFC Championship, in which he's compiled a 5-1 record with the lone setback coming at Indianapolis in 2007. However, Brady is undefeated in the four AFC title games the Patriots have hosted at Gillette Stadium.

"Certainly, I've had experience in these games, but it only really matters when you go out and play well,'' Brady said. "Because there was a time when I was inexperienced and we did pretty well, so I think it's more a matter of our execution and how we play as opposed to anything that's been accomplished in the past.

"To be at this point, with four teams left, you need to have a pretty good football team in all three phases,'' Brady said. "Certainly I feel like we have one of those teams and we've played the 49ers and we've played the Ravens [during the regular season] and they certainly have those teams. We haven't played Atlanta, but they have one of those teams because I've seen them on TV a bunch of times.

"So you need to have a really strong team in all phases and the four teams playing now are all qualified.''

AFC, NFC championship picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 18, 2013 12:32 PM

flacco607.jpg

The AFC championship will be decided in the trenches. (Barry Chin / Globe Staff)

Last week was bittersweet for me. I went a sterling 4-0 against the spread, but my Super Bowl pick, the Seattle Seahawks, lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the team's NFC divisional bout.

It was a stellar game with the Falcons edging the Seahawks 30-28 on an inspiring game-winning drive by former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan certainly lived up to his nickname, Matty Ice, completing two passes with 31 seconds left in the game to get his Falcons down to the Seattle 31-yard line, setting up Matt Bryant's game-winning field goal. Bryant was clutch, nailing the 49-yard attempt after getting a practice kick courtesy of Pete Carroll.

Atlanta won the game, Seattle covered the spread. It was a small victory and a huge loss that has me re-thinking the whole Super Bowl dynamic now that the final four is set to kick off on Sunday. I've been fairly good at picking games. I'm 7-1 against the spread and 7-1 picking straight up winners during the postseason, but this week feels different. There's a lot of talent in Atlanta that I underestimated, namely the next-level worldly play of Ryan that the entire south has come to expect. But I have my doubts.

Meanwhile, we have two spreads that are virtually unbelievable. And that makes for this week's picks to be a little more hairy than usual.

49ers (-5) at Falcons (+5) -- When Jim Harbaugh installed Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, it was with the understanding that the second-year pro's performance would come with high risks and high rewards. Kaepernick proved as much against the Green Bay Packers, throwing a first quarter interception before literally running away with the game. His playoff-record 181 yards rushing (in addition to the 263 yards passing) buried the Packers in a 45-31 win at Candlestick Park. The onus is on Harbaugh and Kaepernick to replicate the effort at the Georgia Dome, proving the option is viable in the NFL once again. The Falcons got a taste of the option last week, clamping down on the Seahawks' powerful running game before eking out the win thanks to Ryan's heroics. One key I noticed in the Falcons' matchup with the Seahawks, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson failed to keep Atlanta on its toes by taking the option. He kept feeding Marshawn Lynch (16 carries, 46 yards) to no avail. I doubt the 49ers' young quarterback, who has seemingly grown up overnight on the football field, would be so hesitant to take advantage of the opportunities a leaky Atlanta defense will provide. The Falcons surrendered 491 yards against the Seahawks and were the No. 24 total defense during the regular season. Ryan will be facing a 49ers team that has a significantly better defensive line with Justin Smith leading the way. It won't be easy, but with the possibility of another breakout game from Kaepernick and an already shaky defense in Atlanta, I see this breaking for the 49ers. Matty Ice can only do so much.

Straight up winner: 49ers
By the line: Falcons

Ravens (+9.5) at Patriots (-9.5) -- Joe Flacco is a much better quarterback when the pressure is on the line. But what's more, he has enough moxie about him to throw the deep pass with regularity. And lucky for him, he has the talent to come up with the passes in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. Add in a steady dose of Ray Rice, who ran for 131 yards on 30 carries in the AFC divisional round, and the Ravens are the most balanced team the Patriots have faced this season. Also taking into consideration the Ravens' Week 3 win against the Patriots, a game in which Flacco completed eight passes of 20 yards or more, and fans in Baltimore are probably hyped at the possibility of taking down the Patriots again. The Ravens did it on the back of Rice in 2010 and by Flacco's arm in September. But I don't see that happening this time around. The Patriots have made the necessary adjustments on defense, particularly in tightening up the secondary, to fend off another upset. Devin McCourty has yet to take the bad angles we saw from Patrick Chung in Week 3 at safety. And Aqib Talib is a quality corner that can battle one-on-one with bigger receivers like Anquan Boldin. I fully expect to see McCourty playing over the top of Smith looking for those deep passes Flacco favors, and the game to be won in the trenches. The Patriots' run defense (No. 9 overall in the regular season) is my small cause for comfort. But I do expect this one to be close.

Straight up winner: Patriots
By the line: Ravens

@zuriberry

To defer or not to defer: That's the question for Pats' honorary captains

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 18, 2013 12:28 PM
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FOXBOROUGH --- Every Patriot fan has come to know the drill by now. New England wins opening coin toss and, without fail, defers until the second half.

However, with offensive-minded players such as former left tackle Matt Light and running back Kevin Faulk serving as the Patriots' honorary captains in Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens, there seemed to be some question as to whether they would be inclined to take the ball if the Patriots were to win the toss against the Ravens.

Light, famously known for being a prankster in the locker room during his time with the team, was asked Friday during the honorary captains' press conferencce if he had been instructed by Patriots coach Bill Belichick to defer. Or did he plan to tweak his coach by taking the ball?

"I mean, we actually need to have that conversation with him,'' Light deadpanned. "You know this is a big game and we need to take it serious. We're looking forward to that talk, yeah.

"But we'll coach him up and if you guys have any suggestions we'll take 'em.''

Said Faulk, "I know exactly how it's going to go; whatever we've been doing that's exactly what's going to happen.''

So expect the Patriots to defer?

Belichick's body language spoke volumes when he departed the podium after his press briefing Friday and was asked if he planned to instruct Light and Faulk to defer. The always-stoic and monotoned head coach simply responded by breaking into a sideways smirk.

Robert Kraft reminisces about family history in NFL playoffs

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 18, 2013 12:05 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he "just pinched myself'' Friday when he introduced honorary captains Matt Light and Kevin Faulk at a press conference Friday at Gillette Stadium. Kraft recalled as a long-suffering season ticket holder all those years the Patriots never made it to the playoffs.

"I was thinking as a fan sitting in the stands we had the privilege of going to one home playoff game in '78, which we lost to Houston,'' Kraft said, referring to New England's 31-14 setback against the Oilers at then Schaeffer's Stadium.

"I thought about that last weekend,'' Kraft said. "Today we're sitting here on the eve of [the team's ninth appearance in the AFC Championship] and our family has owned the team 19 years and this is our 17th home playoff game.''

Since that setback to the Oilers, Kraft noted, the Patriots have gone 14-2 in home playoff games, winning 11 in a row before dropping back-to-back games against the Ravens (33-14) in a 2010 AFC Wild Card matchup and to the New York Jets (21-18) in the a divisional-round matchup in 2011.

"I was thinking last year we had our honorary captains -- Drew Bledsoe, Ty Law, [Tedy] Bruschi [and Troy Brown] -- representing the '96 and '01 [AFC Champions], which were our first two championship games [under Kraft's ownership],'' Kraft said. "Our two [honorary] captains this year have been here for five [AFC titles].

"How do you do this? It's about having great coaches, but most of all it's about having great players and we've been blessed to have some wonderful players here,'' Kraft said. "I feel a special connection and attachment to both Matt Light and Kevin Faulk, who have been here for five [AFC] championship games, but also three Super Bowl titles.''

Patriots practice update for Fri. Jan. 18

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 18, 2013 11:58 AM

FOXBOROUGH --- The Patriots had all of its active players on the 53-man roster present and accounted for in Friday's practice at Gillette Stadium.

Injured tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was placed on the injured reserve Thursday, was not present.

The team conducted its final tuneup for Sunday's AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens in bright but frigid conditions in sweats and shells in the stadium, where the Patriots practiced twice this week.

Bill Belichick: 'The team is excited to play'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff January 18, 2013 11:30 AM
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FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick looked at ease during his final pregame press conference before Sunday's AFC Championship game, saying that it will take a strong game from his team to beat the Ravens and advance to Super Bowl XLVII -- as it should be.

"I think the players have done a good job this week, they’ve worked hard to get the scouting report, and new information on the Ravens, practiced well, good energy, I think the team is excited to play," Belichick said before Friday's practice. "If you can’t get excited for the AFC Championship game, I don’t know what you can get excited for.

"This is what we’ve worked all year for, this opportunity, and I know that everybody wants to make the most of it. The attitude is good, we’re looking forward to playing a great football team, going out there and knowing we need to play our best to beat them. But that’s the way it should be."

Counting Sunday, the Patriots and Ravens will have played six games since the start of the 2009 season. The Patriots have won three of the past five, but all have been close: 27-21 on Oct. 4, 2009, and a pair of 23-20 victories, in 2010 and in last year's AFC Championship game. The Ravens two wins in that span: 33-14 at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 10, 2010 in a wild-card playoff game, and 31-30 earlier this season.

Belichick said he's prepared for another close, tough game.

"As I said at the beginning of the week, we have a lot of respect for that organization. They win a lot of games, they’re in the playoffs, they win playoff games. We’ve had some great battles with them; we’ve won some, they’ve won some, most of them have come right down to the wire, very competitive, they’re a tough, hard-nosed football team that’s hard to beat, and we respect that challenge.

"We know that’s what will be out there on Sunday: We’ll get their best, they’ll get ours, both teams have had a lot of success, both teams have a lot of confidence. It’s a great matchup."

Chandler Jones relishes chance to play against his brother in AFC title game

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 18, 2013 10:45 AM
FOXBOROUGH --- Chandler Jones played at Syracuse with his older brother, Arthur, in 2009, but at no time did the siblings ever play against each other on the gridiron.

When the Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game Sunday at Gillette Stadium, it will mark the first time the Brothers Jones will find themselves on the opposite sides of the gridiron, with Chandler a rookie defensive end for New England and Arthur a third-year defensive end for the Ravens.

They will be playing in front of a large gathering of family and friends from Endicott, N.Y., with an AFC title and a berth in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, La., at stake.

"It's fortunate that I have the opportunity to play against my brother,'' said Chandler, who didn't expect the ankle he tweaked in last Sunday's 41-28 divisional-round victory over the Texans to prevent him from playing against his brother's team, the Ravens. "But it all boils down to us trying to win and achieve that goal."

Jones, who was limited in the first two days of practice this week, was asked Thursday how confident he was about getting back on the field. "I’m doing everything I can to be out there and to play against the Ravens. I’m doing my best to get out there as soon as possible,’’ he said.

Chandler said his middle brother, Jon, an mixed martial arts fighter who last month rose to the No. 1 ranking among UFC heavyweights, would be in attendance at Gillette Stadium but did not divulge which team he'd be rooting for.

"I feel like it's going to be a very exciting day for my family,'' Chandler Jones said. "I feel like, win or lose, they'll be very happy.''

View from Baltimore: Purple Friday, Ravens' new look

Posted by Staff January 18, 2013 09:54 AM
This morning, the Ravens' Twitter page featured another video by the same YouTube account that released the "Bring on Brady" parody on Thursday. They hashtagged it as #PURPLEFRIDAY, which is appropriate because the video is a spoof of Rebecca Black's popular hit "Friday" that came out in 2011.

It's #PURPLEFRIDAY!!! RT if you're wearing #Ravens gear today! youtube.com/watch?v=dRC0qo…

— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 18, 2013

In other news in Baltimore today:

The Baltimore Sun wonders if Ravens QB Joe Flacco will fall victim to the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

And, the Sun's staffers have made their predictions on the outcome Sunday.

In the Ravens' rumor mill this week is that safety Ed Reed could fly the coop and head north to New England next season. His contract with Baltimore is up and unless he decides to hash out a deal with his team, ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley thinks he could end up with the Patriots.

And do the Ravens have their own version of the Texans letterman jackets? Take it for what it is, but we think so.

Ravens' wide receiver Torrey Smith had purple and yellow t-shirts made for the team. The new slogan? "FINAO"

New T-shirts for #Ravens, provided by @torreysmithwr twitter.com/Ravens/status/…

— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 17, 2013

Get inside Tom Brady's helmet

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 18, 2013 09:06 AM

Here's your chance to get up close, personal, and inside the helmet of Tom Brady.

In case you missed it, NFL Films mic'd up Brady against the Houston Texans last week and the sound captured is a lot more revealing than what you get in the Patriot quarterback's weekly press conferences.

In the NFL's video footage, you'll hear Brady interact with Patriots players on the field and on the sidelines during the AFC divisional playoff battle in vintage NFL Films style.

"We ain't done fellas," Brady yells in the clip. "We got 60 minutes, we ain't done." The Patriots star quarterback also berates an official for what he perceived to be an early whistle before apologizing to the official and saying that he gets "fired up."

Brady was one of eight players that NFL Films mic’d up during last weekend's playoff games. Texans safety Glover Quin was also wired for sound at Gillette on Sunday, while on the other side of the AFC bracket, the Broncos' Von Miller and the Ravens' Terrell Suggs were mic’d up as well.

Patriots place TE Rob Gronkowski on IR

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 17, 2013 05:00 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- The Patriots placed tight end Rob Gronkowski on injured reserve Thursday after he underwent season-ending surgery Monday to repair a new fracture of his left forearm.

The move opened up a spot on the team's 53-man roster.

Gronkowski, who missed six weeks after initially fracturing his forearm Nov. 18 vs. the Colts, suffered the injury while tumbling out of bounds after a sideline catch in the first quarter of Sunday's 41-28 divisional-round victory over the Texans at Gillette Stadium.

He was the only player who was not spotted at Thursday's practice session in sweats and shells in the lower field behind the stadium.

DE Chandler Jones, who injured his ankle vs. the Texans, was the only player listed on the Patriots' injury report who was limited in practice.

CB Marquice Cole (finger), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder), DE Trevor Scott (knee), and RB Danny Woodhead (thumb) went from being limited Wednesday to full participation in Thursday's practice.

Championship Today: Will the Patriots hurry-up offense trip up the Ravens?

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 17, 2013 04:56 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Speed is good. Especially for the Patriots offense this season.

In Thursday's episode of Championship Today, the Globe's Shalise Manza Young and Greg Bedard discuss the Patriots up-tempo offense and whether or not it will be a factor in Sunday's AFC championship battle with Baltimore.

On Thursday, Patriots guard Logan Mankins shed some insight on the hurry-up, no huddle approach and what the challenges might be against the Ravens.

"It is tough sometimes on the conditioning but we’re pretty conditioned for an offensive line if you would call us conditioned, our position," Mankins said. "A lot of times we catch them off-guard, they’re not lined up. A lot of times that works to our benefit. Sometimes it doesn’t because guys aren’t where you expect them to be or where they should be so you get confused a little. I think for the most part we’ve done a good job of getting everyone in the right direction on the right guys. When you do catch them off-guard it works out pretty good sometimes."

Patriots safety Devin McCourty discussed the so-called home field advantage and what that means going up against a road-hardened Ravens squad.

"It’s good that we get to stay home, but once you get out there on the field, you have two teams going at it, all playing for one common goal," McCourty said. "I don’t care where you play; it’s not going to change how one team comes out. Just because you're at home doesn’t mean you're going to be more prepared than the team that’s on the road. I think the team we’re playing now shows that. They’ve won a lot of road playoff games over the last couple years, so I don’t think the home field advantage will really be that much of a difference as far as [assuming] since we’re at home we’re going to win. But as a player, you always love playing in front of your fans."

Matt Light and Kevin Faulk named Pats honorary captains for AFC title game

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 17, 2013 02:53 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots announced Thursday that former offensive lineman Matt Light and former running Kevin Faulk will serve as New England's honorary game captains in Sunday's AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium.

The former Pats, who played their entire careers in New England and helped the Patriots become one of the most successful NFL teams over the last decade, announced their retirements in 2012.

Each were honored with special halftime ceremonies during a pair of regular-season home games, which allowed fans the opportunity to thank the players for their meritorious service to the team.

Faulk and Light played key roles in helping the Patriots win three Super Bowls in a four-year span. Each played in six AFC championship games and celebrated five AFC championships.

AFC championship preview: Going gets tough in rematch with Ravens

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 17, 2013 01:42 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- It's deja vu all over again.

For the second consecutive year, the Patriots and Ravens will meet for the AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium.

Tom Brady will be looking to guide the league’s No. 1 offense to his sixth Super Bowl while the Ravens' Ray Lewis will bring his "last ride" to Gillette Stadium in hopes of avenging Baltimore's crushing 23-20 loss to the Patriots in this conference title game a year ago.

Brady is 1-1 against Baltimore in the postseason with a loss in 2010 and a victory last season in the AFC championship game. Brady suffered his first regular season loss ever to Baltimore this year in September at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Patriots have compiled a 7-1 record in AFC title games, including a 4-0 record at home overall and a 3-0 record at Gillette Stadium. Their only AFC championship loss was in 2006 at Indianapolis. With a victory, the Patriots would advance to their eighth Super Bowl, matching Dallas and Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl appearances.

The Ravens have the NFL’s second-most total victories (61, including playoffs) since John Harbaugh’s 2008 Baltimore arrival (New England is first with 63).

The Ravens passing game has produced some big gains this season. Baltimore produced 72 offensive plays of 20-or-more yards this season, setting a franchise record and ranking third in the NFL. Additionally, the Ravens threw 41 passes gaining at least 25 yards, a figure that ranks as the most in Ravens single-season history and second in the NFL.

Baltimore pressure-tested quarterback Joe Flacco threw for a career-high 3,817 yards, 22 TDs and just 10 interceptions. In the Ravens’ last six playoff games, Flacco is 107-of-184 for 1,485 yards, 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions (101.4 rating).

On the defensive side, the Ravens tightened things up down the stretch. Over the final six games, Baltimore allowed the NFL’s fourth-fewest yards per game, posted the third- best third-down defense, and permitted the third-fewest first downs.

In this week's Patriots preview video above, the Globe's Shalise Manza Young gives us her keys to the AFC championship showdown and looks into what matchups to keep an eye on when the two familiar foes square off with a trip to New Orleans on the line.

We also hear from Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, and Jerod Mayo on the challenges Ravens quarterback Flacco presents. And Aqib Talib and Stevan Ridley chime in on what they expect to see in Sunday's showdown.

Thursday roll call: Only Gronkowski missing

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 17, 2013 01:11 PM

The Patriots are practicing on the lower practice field behind Gillette Stadium in shorts and shells.

Alfonzo Dennard, who missed Wednesday's practice due to a Nebraska court appearance, was back on the field; the only player not present was Rob Gronkowski, which of course is to be expected.

That means Chandler Jones (ankle) and Danny Woodhead (thumb) were once again on the field.

Devin McCourty and Ray Rice will put school ties on hold in AFC title game

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 17, 2013 01:05 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- Devin McCourty and Ray Rice were in the same recruiting class when they played at Rutgers for former Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano, now head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"We came in together, so we're pretty good friends,'' the Patriots safety said of the Ravens' running back, whom he'll likely encounter in Sunday's AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium. "We hang out a little bit in the offseason. There are a bunch of us that went to school together and came in at the same time at Rutgers and won a lot of games there.

"The biggest thing, I think, is that none of that will matter Sunday.''

McCourty said the former college teammates will put their school ties on hold when they square off against each other for the right to hoist the Lamar Hunt Trophy and savor a berth to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

"We'll be going at it just like every other time we've played in the NFL,'' McCourty said.

Asked what one thing stood out about Rice when they played together in college, McCourty was quick to reply.

"His balance,'' McCourty said. "I think it still shows in the NFL. Just maybe because he is so small, he has great balance and leg strength that allows him to break a lot of tackles.''

Alfonzo Dennard missed practice for court appearance

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 17, 2013 12:59 PM

Patriots' rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was absent from practice on Wednesday, and the reason given by the team on the day's injury report was "not injury related."

Dennard was in Lancaster County, Nebraska for a court appearance because of his April 21 arrest outside of a Lincoln, Neb. bar, just days before the NFL Draft was set to begin.

On Wednesday, Dennard's trial date was set for Feb. 11, according to Lancaster County District Court records. Attorneys believe it will take up to four days.

Police say Dennard allegedly pushed and punched an officer in the head and four officers were required to take him into custody.

He is charged with third-degree assault on an officer, a Class 3A felony, resisting arrest, first offense, which is a Class I misdemeanor, and third-degree assault, which is also a Class I misdemeanor in Nebraska.

The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of five years and/or a $10,000 fine; the misdemeanors carry maximum punishments of not more than one year and/or a $1,000 fine.

The Patriots selected Dennard in the 7th round of the draft; he has started eight games at cornerback this season.

Corey Graham gets his chance with Ravens

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff January 17, 2013 12:50 PM

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Long before he got to Chicago, Corey Graham earned a reputation for being deadly on special teams. He was a four-year starting defensive back at the University of New Hampshire but his most memorable play was the kickoff he ran back 99 yards for a touchdown against Georgia Southern in the opening round of the 2004 NCAA Division I-AA Championship tournament.

In five years with the Bears, he became a special teams ace, to the detriment of his hopes of being a full-time corner. He left Chicago for Baltimore at the end of last season looking for the opportunity he didn't see coming to him with the Bears, and has taken advantage of it. His two interceptions last week against the Broncos helped push the Ravens to this weekend's AFC championship game against the New England Patriots, and for Graham the performance captured how much he's seized his opportunity with the Ravens.

“When you are good at something, it is tough" Graham said. "When you get the label of a special teamer, it is tough to get that label off of you no matter what you do. Lovie Smith, he loved what I did as a special teamer, and that is what he wanted from me no matter what.

“So, I could go out at practice and get six interceptions at corner, but no matter what in the meeting, I was going to be Corey Graham, special teamer. That is just how it was. That was what he wanted from me, and that was my role in Chicago.”

The doors opened for Graham when Lardarius Webb, who led the Ravens in interceptions a year ago, went down with an ACL injury and Jimmy Smith had to undergo surgery for a sports hernia. He took advantage of the snaps he was given, starting eight games and coming up with two picks

“Corey is just a great football player," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "And that’s the thing, when you see guys play well on tape, whatever they’re doing, if they do it well, you’ve got a football player. So, we started with that. He’s got very good ball skills. He’s got very good feet. He’s got tremendous understanding of the game. He's got all the things that make for a good defensive back.”

He will make his return to New England this weekend and he's already prepared for the boos he'll hear at Gillette Stadium. Some of them will be his old roommates.

“All of my roommates were big-time New England Patriot fans in college, and all of my friends still to this day are die-hard Patriots fans and Red Sox fans. It is a big game for me, obviously. I went to college in that area. I was up there all of the time. I know what it is like.

“They have die-hard fans out there. Obviously, you don’t want to lose against the Patriots, especially when all of my friends are going to be out there probably with a Patriot jerseys on. It’s going to be a little different his week, but no matter who you are playing, you want to go out there and win. This is for all of the marbles to get to the Super Bowl, so this is even bigger.”

Spygate question irks Logan Mankins

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 17, 2013 12:45 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo was the first to broach the subject of Spygate this week when he tweeted out a derisive message about the incident during the Patriots' 41-28 divisional-round victory over the Houston Texans last Sunday.

Ayanbadejo Monday backtracked from his comment and issued an apology on Twitter.

So when Logan Mankins was asked about it Thursday by NFL reporter Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports, the Patriots veteran left guard politely tried to dismiss it as old news.

"That was a long time ago,'' Mankins said, when Cole asked if it still bothered him when other players around the league remind him of Spygate.

"But does it get under your skin at all?'' Cole asked.

"No,'' Mankins replied, smiling, "But you are.''

Nervous laughter filled the visitor's locker room at Gillette, where Mankins spoke at the podium in advance of Sunday's AFC Championship game against the Ravens.

Asked about the chippy nature of the games between the two teams, Mankins replied, "I think we're two emotional teams and stuff happens out there. You just have to be smart about it, because any penalty can hurt your team. You can take [emotions] a little ways but you just have to make sure you don't take it too far.''

Devin McCourty doesn't discount Ravens' playoff road record

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 17, 2013 12:27 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- While the Patriots have never lost an AFC Championship played on their home field, safety Devin McCourty said Thursday he doesn't expect it to give New England an extra edge in Sunday's conference title game at Gillette Stadium against the Baltimore Ravens.

"I don't care where you play, it's not going to change how one team comes out,'' said McCourty. "Just because you're at home it doesn't mean that you're going to be more prepared than the team that's on the road. I think the team we're playing now has shown that they've won a lot of road playoff games over the last couple of years.''

The Ravens, the only NFL team to reach the playoffs in each of the last five seasons (2008-12), owns the second-best playoff winning percentage (.632) in league history with a 12-7 record and are 8-5 on the road all-time in postseason play, which ranks as the second-best road winning percentage (.615).

None was bigger, however, than last Sunday's 38-35 victory in double overtime at Denver.

"I don't think the home field advantage will really be that much of a difference, as far as 'since we're at home, we're going to win,' '' McCourty said. "But, as a player, you always love playing in front of your fans.''

Championship Today: Talib a difference maker

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 16, 2013 05:37 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- In the latest episode of Championship Today, Globe Patriots writers Shalise Manza Young and Mike Vega discuss Aqib Talib's impact on the Patriots and Vince Wilfork's relationship with fellow Miami alumnus Ray Lewis. Interviews from Bill Belichick, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo included. Check it out.

Patriots injury report for Wednesday

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 16, 2013 04:44 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots had seven players show up on Wednesday's injury report, including CB Alfonzo Dennard and TE Rob Gronkowski, both of whom missed practice, for which the players wore sweats and shells, at Gillette Stadium.

The team listed Dennard's absence as being not-injury-related. Gronkowski, meanwhile, refractured his left forearm in Sunday's 41-28 AFC divisional victory over the Houston Texans and underwent season-ending surgery on Monday.

The Patriots had five other players who were listed as having taken part in practice in a limited capacity.

They were:

CB Marquice Cole (finger)
DE Chandler Jones (ankle)
OL Nick McDonald (shoulder)
DE Trevor Scott (knee)
RB Danny Woodhead (thumb)

The Ravens, meanwhile, had one player (CB Asa Jackson, thigh) miss Wednesday's practice in Owings Mills, Md., and listed four others as being limited: RB Anthony Allen (head), G Gino Gradkowski (head), RB Bernard Pierce (knee), and WR David Reed (thigh). The Ravens listed 16 others as having fully participated in practice


Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin: 'We'll win'

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff January 16, 2013 04:30 PM

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Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin made a bold prediction concerning Sunday's AFC Championship game against the Patriots. Boldin was asked how this year's game would differ from the one played last year between the teams, won by the Patriots, 23-20.

“Because we’ll make it different,” Boldin said. Asked how, Boldin said simply, "We'll win."

Earlier this season, Boldin guaranteed the Ravens would win the AFC North, which they did.

Alfonzo Dennard missing from Patriots practice, not injury-related

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 16, 2013 04:05 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was one of only two players missing from practice Wednesday in preparation for the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Dennard's absence was not injury-related, according to the Patriots' practice report. Also missing was tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had surgery on his broken forearm on Monday.

The Patriots had five players who were limited in practice, including defensive end Chandler Jones (ankle), running back Danny Woodhead (thumb), defensive back Marquice Cole (finger), defensive end Trevor Scott (knee), and offensive lineman Nick McDonald (shoulder).

Ray Lewis of Ravens: 'No better way to write it up'

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff January 16, 2013 01:59 PM

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- This was the game the Baltimore Ravens have wanted for 12 months. Now that they've got an AFC Championship rematch with the Patriots, linebacker Ray Lewis said if they don't come away with a win, everything they've done to get to this point will be irrelevant.

"If you write it up, there's no better way to write it up," he said. "We all felt the same way leaving there last year. We had an opportunity to win that game, and what better way to go back to the Super Bowl than to go back at New England again?"

When they left Gillette Stadium after losing last season's AFC Championship game by a wayward field goal attempt, every Raven was in disbelief and disarray.

Kicker Billy Cundiff was shell-shocked. Defensive lineman Terrell Suggs was dumbfounded. Quarterback Joe Flacco was unsatisfied. Lewis, as usual, was inspirational, telling his teammates they would be here again.

"I just think going back to last year, we made up our mind that that wasn't it for us," Lewis said. "That's just kind of how the seasons go. For us to be back here again, same position, same situation, who would have ever thought of it?"

This will be the third time the Ravens and Patriots have faced each other in the playoffs since 2010.

"We know each other very well," Lewis said. "And every game we play is always those classic games that come down to that last play, that last drive."

Why Jacoby Jones didn't dance after his TD

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff January 16, 2013 01:27 PM

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- For every time someone's seen the clip of Jacoby Jones getting behind two Broncos defenders, catching a Joe Flacco deep ball and running it in for the score that forced overtime in the Ravens miraculous win last week, Jones has been asked why he didn't break out into his curiously intricate dance routine afterward.

It seemed like the perfect time for it.

He explained why.

"Joe made the throw -- heck of a throw at that -- I made the catch," Jones said. "And I know everyone was expecting me to dance, but that's just like, 'Oh, thank god.'

The more impressive part, he said, was Flacco's throw. He said Flacco has one of the best arms in the league.

"I like to call him Smokin' Joe," Jones said. "He's got a gun on him. For however deep he wants to throw it, whatever touch he's got, it be beautiful."

Patriots practice update Wed. Jan. 16

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 16, 2013 01:05 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- The Patriots conducted their first practice for Sunday's AFC Championship Game in sweats and shells inside Gillette Stadium and had almost everyone accounted for with the notable exception of tight end Rob Gronkowski and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.

Gronkowksi, who missed six games during the second half of the season after fracturing his left forearm Nov. 18 against the Indianapolis Colts, re-fractured his forearm in last Sunday's' 41-28 divisional victory over the Houston Texans. He underwent season-ending surgery on Monday.

Running back Danny Woodhead, who injured his left thumb on the Patriots' first offensive play from scrimmage, was spotted during the media-access portion of practice but it was uncertain if he was wearing a brace as he had his hands stuffed in the pockets of his sweat top.

Chandler Jones, who suffered a sprained ankle vs. the Texans, was back on the field and was spotted moving around well during warmups.

SI taps/jinxes Joe Flacco with cover

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff January 16, 2013 12:59 PM

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Having a 70-yard prayer of a pass answered at the last minute of regulation to leave Peyton Manning's Broncos schell-shocked was enough to land Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.

Of course, there's always a question about whether or not that's a good thing.

You can debate whether the SI cover jinx is real, but considering the Ravens are returning to New England, the same place they saw their season end a year ago by a field goal, Flacco wasn't exactly one to laugh it off.

"I sure hope not," he said.

Flacco said he's seen the cover, if only on Instagram. Besides, it's not the first time he's been the coverboy.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he hadn't seen it yet, but he wasn't worried.

"I am not superstitious," Harbaugh said.

Vince Wilfork to set aside collegial feelings for Ray Lewis in AFC Championship

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 16, 2013 12:01 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- Vince Wilfork spoke glowingly about his fellow University of Miami alumnus, Ray Lewis, when the veteran Baltimore Ravens linebacker announced before the start of the AFC playoffs that this season would be his last.

Lewis missed 10 games this season but returned from a torn triceps and gave the fourth-seeded Ravens an emotional charge in their victories at Cincinnati in the wild-card round and at top-seeded Denver in the divisional round to earn a rematch against the Patriots in the AFC title game.

"When you talk about football, especially defense, the first person you really think about is that guy,'' Wilfork said of Lewis. "What he brings to the team, what he brings to the game, the love and the passion he has for the game.

"It just goes to show you when he came back,it's a new ballclub in Baltimore,'' Wilfork said. "They feed of him because he's their leader, and that city feeds off of him. We have to do a real good job of making sure they don't feed too much off of him in this game because it'll already be tough, but to come in on the emotional high they're on after winning two big games in the playoffs, it's going to be tough.

"You can never question that man's level of execution,'' Wilfork said. "It's unbelievable.''

Lewis served as a mentor to a generation of Miami Hurricane football players, Wilfork included.

"We bleed Orange and Green,'' Wilfork said. "I love to see my guys around the league. It just shows you that we have something special down there [at the University of Miami]. We have mutual respect but at the end of the day, I want to win and he wants to win. We're always competitive.

"Hurricane or no Hurricane, I'm a New England Patriot and I want to win, plain and simple,'' Wilfork said. "I'm pretty sure being in Baltimore, he wants to win. However long it takes, we're going to battle our tails off and after the game we're going to wish each other luck.''

Win or lose, Wilfork expected to visit with Lewis and give him his proper respect.

"Hopefully, with that guy going out, just want to let him know what he meant to this game, because he meant a lot to this game,'' Wilfork said.

Tom Brady expecting tight game with Ravens

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff January 16, 2013 11:52 AM

Quarterback Tom Brady has faced the Baltimore Ravens seven times in his career, and even though the Patriots are 5-2 in those games, rarely has it been easy. Just twice, in fact, has the scoring margin been more than a touchdown: the Patriots beat the Ravens, 24-3, in 2004, and the Ravens ended the Patriots' season in 2010 with a 33-14 playoff win at Gillette Stadium.

"It’s not like you beat this team 50-0," Brady said at a press conference on Wednesday. "It’s always a tight game, there’s tight coverage, there’s tight throws, there’s tough reads, because schematically they do quite a few things.

"It’s never easy, there won’t be an easy throw this weekend. They really challenge you, that’s why they’re in this game, they’re not going to just hand you the ball, hand you points, hand you easy scores. They’re great in the red area, they’re great on third down, they really make you earn it, so that has to be our mindset, that’s what we’ll really need to be able to do."

Brady said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who has announced that this season will be his last, is someone he always needs to find. But even though he'll be able to see Lewis, Brady knows what kind of plays the 13-time Pro Bowler is capable of making.

"He doesn’t give up hardly any plays, makes a ton of tackles, great in the pass game, great in the run game," Brady said. "He blitzes well, like he did a few years ago. He’s really a playmaker for them, so they give him the opportunity to make those plays, and you see when he makes a play their whole sideline gets really amped up.

"You always have to know where 52’s at. He’s always right in the middle of the defense, but whether he’s blitzing or covering or he’s free in the middle of the field, you always have to take him into account."

Brady, unlike the regular-season game with the Ravens, won't have tight end Rob Gronkowski to throw to, since the tight end is out for the rest of the playoffs after breaking his left forearm in Sunday's win over the Texans for a second time this season. The Patriots went 4-1 without Gronkowski during the regular season, but they had the luxury of knowing they'd be playing a game the following week. They're not in that position anymore.

"We learned a little bit about ourselves. You prepare as if everyone’s going to be there, and then things happen in the game and you have to be able to adjust," Brady said. "There was quite a bit of adjusting the other night, same thing could happen this weekend. Whoever’s on the field has to perform at a high level, this is the biggest game of our year, so there’s really no excuses at this point, there’s nothing beyond this week that’s guaranteed, so we’ve got to go out there and earn it."

Ravens watch: Fan's reaction goes viral

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 16, 2013 08:20 AM

Since it's snowing like crazy, we decided to ski around the web to see what's making headlines within Ravens nation as the buildup to the AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Ravens continues.

Here's a look. Add your best finds in the comments.

-- The Baltimore Sun caught up with Keith Letourneau, a Ravens fan depicted going absolutely bonkers during the Ravens' dramatic victory over the Broncos. Watch the video above of his reaction to the game-tying touchdown by Jacoby Jones with less than a minute left. Parts 1 and 3 of his reaction videos are on YouTube.

Letourneau's wife, Rachel, told the Sun her husband takes fandom to a new level when the playoffs start, and that she'd threatened to record him celebrating in the past.

"I'm very passionate when I watch a game," he said. "It doesn't matter if I'm home or at a bar with friends or even at the stadium. I'm just one of those fans who screams and yells and just wants to have a good time."

-- Sun columnist Peter Schmuck dispels the notion that the Ravens' success is entirely due to the "Ray Lewis Effect."

"Lewis and the Ravens defense played a big role, so there's no denying his return has been a significant factor on a couple of levels, but it should be fairly obvious that the main reason the Ravens have come on so strong in the postseason is what has happened on the other side of the ball," he writes.

-- On ESPN's AFC North blog, Jamison Hensley and James Walker discuss all the possibilities in Sunday's game.

-- You may want to check out NFL Network starting at 11 a.m. They'll have live coverage of press conferences from the four teams in the conference title games.

-- Stay tuned to Extra Points all day. We'll have coverage from both the Ravens and Patriots camps today, and our Championship Today video in the evening.

Football chat with Shalise Manza Young at 12:15 p.m.

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 16, 2013 08:15 AM

The AFC Championship is right around the corner, and Globe Patriots reporter Shalise Manza Young will answer your questions in her weekly football chat session today at 12:15 p.m.

Please refresh your browser if you see the chat showing up as finished. We had a slight technical glitch.

Football chat with Shalise Manza Young

Inside the Playbook: Ninkovich's interception

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 15, 2013 02:03 PM

Greg A. Bedard and Jermaine Wiggins analyze the factors that led to a crucial interception by Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich in the third quarter of New England's victory over the Texans.

Ninkovich's play ended a Texans drive at the Patriots' 31 and kept the Patriots up by two scores.

"To me, it was the biggest play in the game," Bedard said.

Bill Belichick talks Ravens

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff January 15, 2013 01:03 PM
With Patriots players being given the day off on Tuesday, you're left with a media teleconference with head coach Bill Belichick to satisfy your playoff interest.

It's a juicy matchup with the Ravens on Sunday, a rematch of last year's AFC Championship game. Same teams, same stadium. The only thing different, at least before kickoff, is the time the game starts: the ball will be booted at 6:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium, the second game on Sunday's championship schedule. The 49ers and Falcons play at 3 p.m.

Belichick was asked quite a bit about the Ravens, a team that beat the Patriots, 31-30, this season in Week 3, on a last-second field goal by rookie kicker Justin Tucker. Among other topics, Belichick spoke about linebacker Ray Lewis, and whether the Ravens have changed defensively with him back on the field after an injury earlier in the season.

"Schematically they’re pretty similar. Ray’s an instinctive player, very good in the running game, play action, screen passes, things like that. He can certainly control the defense, he adds a lot, I’m sure they’re glad to have him back for a variety of reasons," Belichick said.

Belichick wasn't sure if he agreed with Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, who called the Ravens a "complete team" after Sunday's playoff win.

"I'm not really sure, you'd have to ask Vince what he meant by that. They’re a good football team, well coached, good players, strong in all three phases of the game," Belichick said. "They've won games on the road, in different fashions, high scoring, low scoring. They’ve done a good job all the way around. They have a good program, really solid organization, one of the top organizations in the National Football League from top to bottom, all the way down to their practice squad players."

Baltimore has shown the ability to score points in late-game situations, similar to what Houston was able to do in Sunday's Patriots win. Belichick was asked if that will be a point of emphasis this week.

"Yeah, absolutely. It’s a point of emphasis every week. We always think at the end of the half it can get a lot different situationally, teams change their attack, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it. I’m sure it will be important in this game. We did some things that were good, others weren’t as good as they needed to be, and Houston was good enough to take advantage. Hopefully it will be better this week."

AFC Championship game tickets on sale Thursday

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff January 15, 2013 10:14 AM

A small number of tickets for Sunday's AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens will be available for purchase, beginning on Thursday at 10 a.m.

Tickets will not be sold at the Gillette Stadium ticket windows. Orders from those interested in buying seats for Sunday's game can be taken and processed in one of two ways: either over the phone at 1-800-745-3000, or online at www.ticketmaster.com. Visa is the only accepted form of payment.

There are mostly single seats available, and customers can buy up to four. Seat prices, which are determined by the National Football League, range from $120 to $269 per ticket.

Championship Today: All about the Ravens

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 15, 2013 09:37 AM
In Tuesday's edition of our daily NFL playoffs video, Shalise Manza Young takes a look at the Patriots' opponent on Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens.

You'll hear from several New England players, as well, including special teams captain Matthew Slater, defensive back Steve Gregory, defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich, and running back Shane Vereen.

"They're a tough football team, they know how to play us well," Slater said. "They compete and play the game the right way. That's why they've had so much success the past several years, and its been no different against us. They've played us well every time we've played them, so we expect it to be the same kind of game this week."

Championship Today was produced by Boston.com's Marie Torto and Steve Silva.

The view from Baltimore: Ravens owner sends inspiring text message

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 15, 2013 07:47 AM

A few links to online content about the Ravens that might interest you.

Have you found something good as well? Please share the link in the comments section.

-- On the Ravens' web site, a story details how team owner Steve Bisciotti sent coach John Harbaugh a text message during their game vs. the Broncos, something he's never done before. After the game, Harbaugh read it to the players in the locker room. The story includes video of the postgame locker room scene.

-- The Baltimore Sun's lead story is headlined "Only fitting path to Super Bowl for Ravens is through New England," and it details how defensive lineman Haloti Ngata and other Ravens wanted the Patriots as their AFC Championship Game opponent.

"I think we, personally, kind of wanted to play the Patriots again," Ngata said. "If we were to go the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough and win there. So, it's another matchup that I think that we're excited about, and hopefully, we can get it done this time."

Also in the Sun: Columnist Peter Schmuck says "Something special is brewing with these Ravens," and columnist Mike Preston focuses on the Ravens' running game, led by Ray Rice.

-- Meanwhile, Ravens QB Joe Flacco's agent thinks he's a "top-five elite quarterback."

-- On NFL.com, Steve Wyche writes that Rice and the Ravens are a confident bunch after their stunning victory in Denver on Saturday.

-- On the Sun's Ravens Insider blog, we find the report that the Ravens have a whole new world of faith in their kicking game with rookie Justin Tucker.

Championship Today: Patriots will let their play do the talking

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 14, 2013 06:32 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- The trash talk has begun ... from the Baltimore side anyway.

In this episode of Championship Today, the Globe's Shalise Manza Young has the latest from Gillette Stadium where the Patriots gathered on Monday to set their sights on the Ravens and Sunday's AFC Championship game.

On Sunday, Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo posted a series of messages to his Twitter account critical of the Patriots use of the hurry-up offense. Earlier today, Ayanbadejo apologized for his Twitter criticism.

In the locker room on Monday, several New England players responded to questions about the trash-talking incident, and as is the Patriot Way, the players did not take the bait, instead preferring to let their play on the field Sunday speak for them.

Torrey Smith: 'We're definitely battle tested'

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff January 14, 2013 03:44 PM

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When the Ravens met the Patriots in September, there was more on receiver Torrey Smith's mind than football. His 19-year-old brother had died in a motorcycle accident just 18 hours prior. With the loss weighing on him, he played anyway, catching six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

When Justin Tucker's 27-yard kick eked over the right upright by the thinnest margin, no Raven hopped from the sidelines with more joy than Smith, able to put tragedy aside for a day.

Over the course of the Ravens' season, there seemed to always be something tugging at their emotions. Four days before their season opener, owner Art Modell died at the age of 87. As the year played out, the injuries that all teams deal with seemed to hit their defense hardest, at different points taking Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Ray Lewis. They're making a playoff run knowing Ray Lewis, the team's centerpiece since he arrived in Baltimore 17 years ago, will walk away from the game once it's over and managed to extend it with a double-overtime miracle over Denver last Saturday.

They will also come into Gillette Stadium for the AFC Championship for the second straight season, with the memory of coming within a field goal of going to the Super Bowl a year ago. Smith said this team has shown as much as any other team an ability to play through adversity.

“I think we're definitely battle tested and it starts at the top,” Smith said. “Everyone, they're fighters. Everyone has the heart. You have leaders like we have on our team, it's hard not to want to follow them and be a fighter and never want to throw the towel in. We've been through it all whether it's on the field or off the field, and we became stronger for it. Our coaches always say iron sharpens iron and I'm a firm believer in that.”

The Ravens' Week 3 win, when they trailed 13-0 in the first quarter and 30-21 in the fourth before clawing back, seems like ages ago, Smith said. The Patriots won nine of their last 10 regular season games, and again hung 40-plus points on the Houston Texans to reach the AFC Championship. This game will be its own monster, Smith said.

“I look at it as completely different,” Smith said. “It's the playoffs. They're playing well and they're dominating guys out there offensively and defensively. It's a completely different team. And the refs were coming back as well, so that was an adjustment for some guys, too. But New England's New England. We have a lot of respect for those guys, and they've been in this position so many times over the past few years. They have the history. They've been there. We want to get to where they've been.

Smith said on and off the field, the Ravens have shown they're resilient.

“Obviously, I had my own personal loss that my team helped me get through,” Smith said. “But that's just how we are. You look at the games we've been in, the games when we came out on top, and even the games we lost, we never laid down for anyone, that's just how we are and who we are as the Ravens.”

Ravens' Ayanbadejo apologizes for comments about Patriots

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 14, 2013 02:00 PM
Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is tweeting about the Patriots again, but this time it's to apologize for comments he made Sunday night.

Here's what he posted on Monday:

I made selfish comments on twitter last night that reflected poorly upon myself, my teammates, and the organization. For that I apologize.

— Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) January 14, 2013

On Sunday, Ayanbadejo posted a series of messages to his Twitter account about the Patriots.

Those tweets appear to have been removed from his Twitter history.

Josh McDaniels welcomes addition of Brian Daboll to staff

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 14, 2013 01:06 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said he welcomed the addition of former wide receivers coach Brian Daboll back to the coaching staff, a move that was announced Monday by head coach Bill Belichick during his teleconference with reporters following Sunday's 41-28 AFC divisional playoff victory over the Houston Texans.

With the Patriots set to host the Baltimore Ravens Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium, McDaniels said he expected to have Daboll, who last season was the Chiefs' offensive coordinator. Daboll, 37, previously coached in New England as a wide receivers coach but left in 2007 to join Eric Mangini's staff with the New York Jets as quarterbacks coach.

He joined Mangini in Cleveland and was the Browns offensive coordinator 2009-10 and was Miami's offensive coordinator in 2011.

"It's great to have Brian back,'' McDaniels said. "He's a very good football coach, very knowledgeable, and will certainly help us in a lot of different ways. Certainly, having another set of eyes that's experienced and has an understanding of our system and how we go about doing things is only a positive for us.

"It can only help our football team going forward and I look forward to doing that with Brian.''

Daboll's addition to the staff seemed to follow suit with McDaniels' return to the team last season, when he was added to the staff as an offensive consultant to help Bill O'Brien, who had agreed to take the head coaching position at Penn State.

"Last year, when I came back, anything they asked me to do, I was excited to do,'' McDaniels said. "Anything you can do to help at this time of the year is useful - and whether that's drawing practice cards or sitting in on a meeting and having a few ideas on a certain situation in the game plan or anything like that, everything is so important and every detail is so critical at this time of the year.

"Having another good football coach on the staff is nothing but helpful for us.''

Asked if Daboll's addition to the staff meant he was looking to go elsewhere, especially with NFL head coaching vacancies in San Diego, Arizona, Jacksonville and Philadelphia still open, McDaniels replied, "I'm excited to work with Brian. This will, hopefully, be a real simple transition for him to come back and fit in with all of us. I know all of us are excited to see him and have him help us here this week and see how many different ways to help us get better.

"I'm excited to be here and, like I said before, I'm very, very happy with my role here.''

Belichick mum on Gronkowski, but says Woodhead will be re-evaluated

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 14, 2013 11:52 AM

FOXBOROUGH --- Patriots coach Bill Belichick was terse in his response during Monday's teleconference to repeated questions about injured tight end Rob Gronkowski, who reaggravated his fractured left forearm in Sunday's 41-28 divisional playoff victory over the Texans and underwent season-ending surgery Monday.

"I already covered that [Sunday],'' Belichick said, repeatedly. "I have nothing to add to it.''

While he shut down any attempts to reveal the decision-making process a coach goes through before using an injured player who's been medically cleared to play, Belichick seemed to give a glimpse of that when he was asked about the status of running back Danny Woodhead, who injured his left thumb on the team's first offensive snap.

Woodhead left the game and did not return, although he did emerge from the locker room to return to the bench.

"Danny was examined and back on the sideline for the remainder of the game,'' Belichick said. "Had we needed to use him, he would have been available to go back in there. Now that we are into a new week, we will re-address the whole situation and try to get a good feel of what he would and wouldn’t be available to do, and how functional he would be doing it.

"So I would say that’s something we’ll have to look at during the week,'' Belichick said. "Assuming the doctors clear him to play, which is a medical decision, then the next situation would be from a football decision, what can he do and how well can he do it? What is he, and we, comfortable with him doing in this week’s game/gameplan. That would all be determined at a later point in time.''

Brian Daboll rejoining Patriots coaching staff

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 14, 2013 11:47 AM
Bill Belichick opened his day-after conference call by announcing that the Patriots are bringing former offensive assistant coach Brian Daboll back to the team.

Belichick said Daboll will have a role similar to what Josh McDaniels had when he returned to the Patriots last year during the playoffs, in that it won't be specific for now.

Daboll first came to New England in 2000, after two years as a graduate assistant at Michigan State, where he worked under Nick Saban and established his connection to the Belichick coaching tree. Initially Daboll was a defensive coaching assistant, but from 2002-06 served as the receivers coach.

When Eric Mangini left the Patriots to become head coach of the Jets in 2007, he took Daboll with him, and Daboll became quarterbacks coach there from 2007-08, and when Mangini then moved on to Cleveland, he brought Daboll as his offensive coordinator.

The 37-year old spent the 2011 season as the Dolphins' offensive coordinator and 2012 as the Chiefs' offensive coordinator.

Patriots, 49ers favorites to go to Super Bowl

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 11:58 PM

The Patriots are heavy favorites in the AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens.

The opening betting line pegged the Patriots as 10-point favorites, but it has dropped to 9.5 points, according to VegasInsider.com.

The San Francisco 49ers are 3.5-point favorites over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship.

@zuriberry

5 takeaways from Patriots-Texans

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 10:30 PM

011313gronk607.jpg

Rob Gronkowski dove for a pass from Tom Brady in the first quarter. He reinjured his forearm on the play and will miss the rest of the postseason. (Barry Chin / Globe Staff)

FOXBOROUGH -- In beating the Texans to make it to the AFC Championship, the Patriots are right where many expected them to be.

So there was no surprise in seeing them finish the game strong, winning 41-28, and forging ahead to play the Ravens next week. Unfortunately this game will be marked for the injuries the Patriots suffered and not for the dominating win.

Here are five takeaways.

1) Gronkowski, Woodhead, Jones injured -- While the severity of Danny Woodhead (left thumb) and Chandler Jones's (ankle) injuries are unknown, we know Rob Gronkowski is done for the season. Gronkowski broke his left forearm again, diving for a pass in the first quarter of Sunday's game. He left the game in a sling and will undergo surgery. Losing Gronkowski is not a deadly blow. The team went 4-1 in games he missed after breaking his arm against the Colts in Week 11. He came back in Week 17 hesitant to engage defenders, protecting his left arm a little too much for someone cleared to play. But two weeks later, he entered Sunday's game against the Texans looking like the Gronkowski of old. And then he was taken away, much too soon. Michael Hoomanawanui filled in ably for Gronk, but the team loses a dynamic threat. Hoomanawanui is a great blocker and has surprisingly good hands, but he isn't the same imposing figure as Gronkowski. The matchup problems that the Patriots once enjoyed with Gronkowski in the lineup are now gone and that should worry fans when considering the tough defenses that remain in Baltimore as well San Francisco and Atlanta. Remember, he was a decoy in Super Bowl XLVI. He can't even do that now.

"It's hard to replace a player like him because he's a freak of nature," said Aaron Hernandez. "Everyone has to step up and everyone has to keep making plays so we can keep it rolling."

2) Shane Vereen bounces back in a big way -- It's been a month since Vereen has seen significant action. He had a crucial fumble against the 49ers in Week 15 and had seen his snaps decrease significantly. On Sunday, he stepped in when Woodhead injured his left thumb on the Patriots' first offensive play of the game. Woodhead is the Patriots' no-huddle running back, a role that Vereen was primed to take over at the beginning of the season. But because of injuries and his own inconsistency, Vereen found himself playing mop-up duty over the course of the season. Not on Sunday. With a full game to show off his talents and a national audience watching, the former Cal star totaled 124 yards and three touchdowns to steal the spotlight. He had five receptions for 83 yards and two receiving touchdowns.

"Shane had a great game," said Tom Brady. "Really just a huge growing up moment for him, so very special. It was for everybody. There were a lot of guys that made a lot of plays. We needed it."

Earlier in the week, Vereen said he looked up to Walter Payton as a running back. After Sunday's his performance, there may be young New Englanders looking up to him. And many others expecting more from him.

3) How big of a deal was it that J.J. Watt spit on the Patriots logo? -- Not much, as it turns out. The All-Pro defensive end for the Houston Texans was just getting warmed up for the game, not entirely oblivious to where he was spitting, but unaware he was offending anyone.

"I do that every game, home or away,” Watt said. "I go out to midfield, I jog out there, spit a little bit, wipe my feet off then go through my stretches. No drama there, that's 100 percent what I do every game, home or away."

No need to take offense if none was intended.

4) The game shifted after the first drive -- The Texans' Danieal Manning had a field day on special teams. He returned four kickoffs for 216 yards, an average of 54 a pop. After the Texans won the coin toss and elected to receive to begin the game, Manning took the opening kick and returned it 94 yards to the Patriots' 12-yard line. This was the fast start the Texans needed to keep up with the Patriots' No. 1 offense. But alas, they were not ready to seize the moment. Fullback James Casey dropped a touchdown pass from Matt Schaub over the middle. The Texans settled for a field goal, but really they surrendered an opportunity to put the Patriots in a catch-up situation. It could have changed the dynamic of the game. Now, it's just another one of those what-if things the Texans will ponder over vacation.

5) Tom Brady is the all-time leader in postseason wins for a QB -- Brady (17) has surpassed 49ers legend Joe Montanta (16) in career playoff wins, adding to his own illustrious career that will surely end with a bust in Canton, Ohio. As a San Mateo, Calif., native, and a guy who rooted for the 49ers and Montana as a kid, it's tough for him to really express what it means to him in the middle of a playoff run. But he deserves all the praise thrown his way. If Brady makes it to his sixth Super Bowl, he will have a chance (again) to tie Montana in Super Bowl titles. Montana has four, Brady has three. But even without a fourth championship, Brady is arguably the better of the two quarterbacks, and in turn arguably the best quarterback in NFL history. Another championship will cement the argument for Brady.

@zuriberry

Wes Welker sets Patriots record for most postseason receptions

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 10:01 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- He didn't score any touchdowns against the Texans, but it was a huge day for Patriots receiver Wes Welker.

Welker finished the AFC divisional playoff game with eight catches and became the Patriots all-time leader in postseason receptions, moving past Deion Branch (54) and Troy Brown (58).

Welker also had 131 yards receiving yards. It's the 16th time a Patriot has had 100 yards receiving in a postseason game. It is Welker's second 100-yard postseason game. He had 11 receptions for 103 yards in Super Bowl XLII vs. the Giants.

"I think we are just where we are," Welker said about the Patriots offense, refusing to give himself any accolades for his performance. "We made a lot of good plays, had a lot of good drives out there and then we had some bad ones too. So it's kind of back and forth. We played well, but I feel like we can be a little bit more consistent."

Welker was asked to respond to Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips comments about him last week when Phillips said he wasn't "a real athletic guy."

"I'm not really too worried about that," Welker said when asked if he felt he silenced Phillips with his performance against the Texans. "It's all a lot of noise, I just go out there and try to do my job to the best of my ability."

Welker was also asked about how the team will respond to losing Rob Gronkowski again.

"It's unfortunate, but guys have to step up," Welker said. "Guys have got to come out, make plays and make up for his absense... I think we've shown that guys can step up and play that role. Everybody kind of upped their game and knows that we've got to step up."

Ravens player gets the trash talk started

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 09:50 PM
Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo kicked off the week leading to the AFC Championship game with a series of tweets aimed at the Patriots.

The Ravens face the Patriots for a trip to the Super Bowl on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Apparently, the Patriots' use of the hurry-up offense vs. the Texans set him off. His tweets are as follows:

New England does some suspect stuff on offense. Can't really respect it. Comparable to a cheap shot b4 a fight

— Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) January 13, 2013

Their offense is good enough to be successful with out that

— Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) January 13, 2013

You know the same organization that did spygate and cut a guy the day b4 the Super Bowl

— Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) January 13, 2013

18-1

— Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) January 13, 2013

Watt explains spitting on Patriots logo

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 09:41 PM
Multiple reporters saw Houston's J.J. Watt spit on the Patriots' logo at midfield during pregame warmups, and after the game Watt confirmed he did it, and that it's part of his routine.

"I do that every game, home or away. I go out to midfield, I jog out there, I spit a little bit, wipe my feet off and then I go through my stretch," he said. "No drama there. That's 100 percent what I do every game, home or away."

Watch: Patriots-Texans game highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 09:25 PM
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The Patriots defeated the Texans, 41-28, on Sunday in the AFC Divisional playoffs and advanced to the AFC Championship. Watch a recap of the game in the video embedded above.

Gary Kubiak stands behind quarterback Matt Schaub

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 09:07 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Texans coach Gary Kubiak has taken a lot of questions about his quarterback in recent weeks. In the four games since the Texans lost here in December, Matt Schaub threw just one touchdown pass and three interceptions as Houston went 1-3. The Texans are now out of the playoffs after their second straight loss at Gillette Stadium.

"We're right there as a team," Kubiak said after the game. "I think we're going to go back and be disappointed in our opportunities to make some plays. When you miss them and they make them, in the long haul that's the difference between winning and losing in this league."

Schaub was better Sunday, throwing for 343 yards, two touchdowns, and one pick, but several mistakes cost his team a chance to finish drives. On the first series of the game the Texans set themselves up nicely with a 94-yard kickoff return but failed to cap it off with a touchdown, settling instead for a field goal. Kubiak lamented his team's lost chances.

"It's quarterback-driven," said Kubiak. "I knew it was going to be that way. This team is very difficult to run the ball against. We had a lot of opportunities to make plays in the passing game, and we did make plays, but there was some more that we missed."

When a reporter characterized Schaub as "uneven", Kubiak said, "You're right." But Kubiak stood behind his QB later in the questioning, saying "This guy's won a lot of football games. He's one of the top quarterbacks in football. He's had his team in great position for the last two years."

He added, "I believe in our quarterback wholeheartedly. We're going to continue to push him to a new level."

Shane Vereen: 'People stepped up all over the board tonight'

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 09:02 PM
FOXBOROUGH --To say Shane Vereen had a career night on the football field would be an understatement.

The Patriots running back, now in his second season with New England, scored three touchdowns against the Texans, scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, an 8-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter and a 33-yard reception in the fourth quarter.

His three TDs overall ties a team postseason mark. Curtis Martin had three rushing touchdowns vs. the Steelers on Jan. 5, 1997 and Rob Gronkowski had three receiving TDs against the Broncos in last season's AFC Divisional playoff game in Foxborough.

"It's just good to have a team win," Vereen said after the game, deflecting attention away from himself. "And to come out here to get it and to play the way that we did... people stepped up all over the board tonight and it was a good win for us."

Although the Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship game against the Ravens for the second year in a row, the victory did not come without a cost. Rob Gronkowski is lost for the remainder of the postseason after re-injuring his forearm, Chandler Jones suffered an ankle injury, and running back Danny Woodhead left the game early with a thumb injury.

"We hate to lose Woody," Vereen said when asked about overcoming the loss of a running back early in the game. "He's such a key part of our offense but at the same time all the running backs hold ourselves accountable to be able to step up when somebody does go down."

J.J. Watt says Texans needed to create turnovers to beat Patriots

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 08:48 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday's 41-28 win over the Texans at Gillette Stadium. Those are numbers that fall squarely on the shoulders of defensive end J.J. Watt and the Houston defense.

"We didn't play a good game and they played a very good game," Watt said afterward. "They're moving on and we're not. So congrats to them."

Houston made it a game late in the second quarter, scoring 10 straight points in 75 seconds to cut the lead to 17-13 at the break.

"We came into halftime feeling good," said Watt. "We came out in the second half and didn't perform. We needed to create turnovers in the second half and didn't do that."

The big reason for New England's success, as it often is, was Brady. The Patriots quarterback did not turn the ball over and handled Watt's pressure at the line well.

"He's a very good football player," Watt said of Brady. "He's one of the best for a reason. We need to hit him and we need to knock some balls down, and we didn't do that.

"I can't stand losing. I can't stand any aspect of it. The taste in your mouth is terrible. We lost and we're going home tonight. We're not going on."

Before the game, several reporters saw Watt spit on the Patriots' logo at midfield during pre-game warmups, and postgame Watt confirmed that he did it - and that it's part of his routine.

"I do that every game, home or away," said Watt. "I go out to midfield, I jog out there, I spit a little bit, wipe my feet off and then I go through my stretch. No drama there. That's 100 percent what I do every game, home or away."

-- Texans running back Arian Foster heard it from some Patriots fans as he left the field through the tunnel after the game. He left the locker room without speaking to reporters.

Belichick: 'We had a bunch of guys step up'

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 08:09 PM
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FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots got nicked up pretty early against the Houston Texans, losing tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Danny Woodhead to injury, but the team didn't let it hurt its offense.

Gronkowski, who broke his left forearm again and left the locker room after the game in a sling, is not expected to return for the rest of the postseason. Woodhead suffered a thumb injury on his left hand.

Shane Vereen subbed in for Woodhead as the team ran the no-huddle, and he accounted for 124 total yards and three touchdowns. Michael Hoomanawanui replaced Gronkowski in the lineup and performed well as a blocking tight end.

"Fortunately we had a bunch of guys step up today that made the plays they needed to make," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "I'm happy for the players. They had a good week of practice. They earned it.

"[Hoomanawanui], and Shane [Vereen], stepped in there and did a great job. As he's been doing for the last month.

Not only did Gronkowski and Woodhead leave the game, but Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones missed time as well. Ninkovich was able to return, though.

"These kind of games, you never know where the dial spins and who it's going to end up on," Belichick said.

@zuriberry


Survey: Which Patriot gets game ball?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 08:02 PM

The Patriots defeated the Texans for the second time this season, and several players went above-and-beyond just doing their job to help secure the win.

Records were set, a running back looked pretty good lining up as a receiver, and an old standby, Wes Welker, turned in another solid performance.

Cast your vote for the game ball below.


Which Patriot deserves the game ball vs. the Texans?

Rob Gronkowski out for remainder of playoffs

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 07:27 PM

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FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will miss the remainder of the postseason after re-injuring his left wrist, a league source told the Globe.

Gronkowski will require a second surgery on the wrist. He first injured it during a 59-24 win over the Colts on Nov. 18.

Gronkowski left Sunday's game vs. the Texans with 8:16 remaining in the first quarter after diving to catch a pass that would eventually fall incomplete. He went to the locker room shortly after and did not return to the sideline.

Rob Gronkowski, Danny Woodhead, Chandler Jones all injured

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 06:43 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The biggest injury news for the Patriots Sunday concerns Rob Gronkowski, who is out for the rest of the playoffs after re-injuring his left wrist.

Other Patriots injuries:

-- Linebacker Rob Ninkovich briefly left the game in the 4th quarter to have his right hand/wrist attended to by team doctor Thomas Gill. Ninkovich would return to the game.

-- Defensive end Chandler Jones left the game at the end of the 2d quarter and did not return to the game. He was officially listed as questionable with an ankle injury.

-- Running back Danny Woodhead was questionable to return with a thumb injury but did not return to the game. Shane Vereen (three touchdowns) excelled in his absence.

Patriots 17, Texans 13: Halftime thoughts

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 13, 2013 06:20 PM

FOXBOROUGH – A few thoughts as the Patriots lead 17-13 at halftime:

  1. Big drive coming up for the Patriots to start the second half. Texans ran off the field feeling really good about themselves. A quick three-and-out would only enchance that.
  2. Big third quarter in general. Still don’t have a great deal of confidence in the Patriots have a good killer instinct in the fourth quarter. Second or third quarter? Yes. Not so much in the fourth.
  3. For that reason, I look for the Patriots to go turbo no huddle in the third quarter. Take it to the Texans.
  4. Patriots’ special teams, for the most part, were a disaster in the first half. Scotty O’Brien will be laying into his troops.
  5. Not sure what the Patriots were thinking on the final possession of the first half. Why not continue to press the issue? Is there an injury, perhaps to Tom Brady, that we don’t know about?
  6. Doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing Rob Gronkowski (arm) for the rest of the game, and perhaps the playoffs.
  7. What I feared – limited Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez – has kind of come to fruition. It’s basically Wes Welker (a golden god-like six catches for 120 yards in the first half) and the running backs running this offense. I think that’s enough for this game, but is it going forward?
  8. Not having Danny Woodhead (thumb) is huge, but Shane Vereen is doing a nice job in his place. The young buck will have to be on point in pass protection in the second half.

Wes Welker sets franchise record for postseason receptions

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 05:46 PM

With a 47-yard reception late in the 2d quarter, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker set the franchise record for postseason receptions with 59 (in eight games). Troy Brown held the previous record with 58 receptions, but it took him 20 games to reach that mark.

Final: Patriots 41, Texans 28

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 04:22 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots got a surprise performance from backup running back Shane Vereen, who totalled three touchdowns, en route to a 41-28 win over the Houston Texans Sunday to advance to the AFC championship against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Patriots will host the AFC championship 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20.

Vereen tallied 124 total yards, including 83 receiving yards on five catches while filling in for the injured Danny Woodhead. Woodhead got hurt in the first quarter on the Patriots' first offensive series. He went on to catch two touchdowns and run for another as the team's no-huddle running back.

Tom Brady was solid, earning his 17th playoff victory. He now has the most wins ever for a quarterback in the postseason, breaking a tie with Joe Montana. He finished 25 of 40 for 344 yards and three touchdowns.

Brady's favorite target was Wes Welker, who finished with eight catches for 131 yards. Welker now has the most postseason receptions (61) in Patriots franchise history.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was back for his second game after missing six weeks with a broken forearm, suffered the same injury in the first quarter of Sunday's game trying to haul in a deep pass from Brady. He's out for the rest of the playoffs.

Texans quarterback Matt Schaub finished with 343 yards on 34 of 51 passing. He had two touchdowns and an interception.

The Texans were 4 of 15 on third down.

Texans running back Arian Foster had 90 yards rushing on 22 carries and a touchdown.

1:14 4th quarter: Patriots 41, Texans 28 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 38-yard field goal as the Patriots took up a sufficient amount of time to hold off a Texans rally.

5:11 4th quarter: Patriots 38, Texans 28 -- Matt Schaub threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Arian Foster and then a 2-point conversion pass to Andre Johnson as the Texans closed the gap to 10 points.

9:58 4th quarter: Patriots 38, Texans 20 -- Aaron Hernandez was flagged for offensive pass interference and the Patriots' series subsequently went nowhere.

11:35 4th quarter: Patriots 38, Texans 20 -- It turns out Houston receiver DeVier Posey did come down with an amazing catch. Matt Schaub hit Posey for a 25-yard touchdown pass that he bobbled near the sideline of the end zone, but after review the incomplete call on the field was overturned.

It was a fast drive for the Texans, going 1:32 in five plays and 37 yards.

Posey beat Alfonzo Dennard in coverage.

13:07 4th quarter: Patriots 38, Texans 13 -- On the Patriots very first play after getting the ball back at the Texans' 33-yard line, Tom Brady threw a deep touchdown pass to Shane Vereen down the sideline. Vereen made a great catch.

The backup running back now has three touchdowns on the day.

13:13 4th quarter: Patriots 31, Texans 13 -- Matt Schaub was looking for receiver DeVier Posey on fourth and 1 down the field, but he missed him by a mile. The Texans turned it over on downs at their own 33-yard line.

1:21 3d quarter: Patriots 31, Texans 13 -- Stevan Ridley busted off a 23-yard run down the Texans' 5-yard line. The Patriots moved fast, lining up before the Texans were ready as Tom Brady hit Brandon Lloyd for a quick 5-yard touchdown pass in a one-on-one situation. It was a 6-play, 63-yard drive.

4:14 3d quarter: Patriots 24, Texans 13 -- Rob Ninkovich intercepted a Matt Schaub pass. Ninkovich had dropped back from the line into a zone, catching Schaub off guard.

It was Ninkovich's first postseason interception.

8:57 3d quarter: Patriots 24, Texans 13 -- Two straight incomplete passes and the Patriots were forced to punt after going three-and-out.

9:47 3d quarter: Patriots 24, Texans 13 -- The Texans got away with one. What appeared to be a fumble by Owen Daniels was overturned after referee Terry Corrente ruled that Daniels was down on forward progress before the ball came out. On the next play, a third down, Matt Schaub threw it away as the Texans were forced to punt.

11:30 3d quarter: Patriots 24, Texans 13 -- Texans safety Glover Quinn fell down trying to cover Aaron Hernandez, allowing for the speedy tight end to get loose in the open field for a 40-yard reception.

Two plays later, Stevan Ridley ran in an 8-yard touchdown as the Patriots pushed their lead to 11 points. It was a 7-play, 69-yard drive in 3:30.

15:00 3d quarter: Patriots 17, Texans 13 -- The second half is about to get underway. Here's some stats from the first half:

Tom Brady - 14-24, 210 yards, 1 TD, 101.0 QB rating
Shane Vereen - 6 carries, 40 yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions, 45 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
Stevan Ridley - 5 carries, 19 yards
Wes Welker - 6 receptions, 120 yards
Aaron Hernandez - 3 receptions, 25 yards

Matt Schaub - 14-23, 146 yards, 79.3 QB rating
Arian Foster - 11 carries, 57 yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions, 25 receiving yards
Andre Johnson - 4 receptions, 54 yards
Owen Daniels - 4 receptions, 31 yards

The Texans were 1 for 6 on third down in the first half, continuing a trend from the first game.

End of first half: Patriots 17, Texans 13 -- Texans kicker Shayne Graham nailed a 55-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.

Matt Schaub connected with tight end Owen Daniels on three passes for 25 yards in just 24 seconds to get Graham into field goal range.

The Texans are keeping the game close.

0:31 2d quarter: Patriots 17, Texans 10 -- The Patriots went three-and-out after Tom Brady's arm was hit during his throwing motion by Texans LB Connor Barwin.

1:15 2d quarter: Patriots 17, Texans 10 -- Texans running back Arian Foster broke off two runs of 21 and 19 yards before punching in a 1-yard touchdown up the gut of the Patriots' defense. The play went under review and was upheld.

Foster now has 57 yards on 11 carries.

3:38 2d quarter: Patriots 17, Texans 3 -- Tom Brady threw a 47-yard bomb to Wes Welker down the sideline -- marking a postseason record for Welker with the Patriots for receptions. One play later, Brady hit an open Shane Vereen in the flat for an 8-yard touchdown.

It was a 7-play, 80-yard drive in only 2:56. Welker now has 59 career postseason receptions for a franchise record and has six catches for 120 yards, a personal best in the playoffs.

6:42 2d quarter: Patriots 10, Texans 3 -- We saw a couple of good plays from Steve Gregory in the open field. He broke up a pass to Texans tight end Owen Daniels and he wrapped up backup tight end Garrett Graham on a third down throw from Matt Schaub well before the first down marker.

The Texans were forced to punt again.

10:16 2d quarter: Patriots 10, Texans 3 -- We're getting a strong dose of Shane Vereen. He's now rushed for 36 yards and caught two passes for 37 more. But a questionable call on Brandon Lloyd for unsportsmanlike conduct (throwing the ball at an official) ruined the rythym of the Patriots' drive. They settled for a 37-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. The drive was 11 plays, 65 yards in 3:51.

14:14 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Texans 3 -- The Patriots forced another Texans punt, helped in part by great coverage in the secondary. Vince Wilfork is again dominating up front and Chandler Jones has been able to get pressure, flushing Matt Schaub from the pocket on third down. It's definitely not Schaub's preference to throw on the run. He's just not that good at it.

End of 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Texans 3 -- First quarter comes to a close and the Patriots have suffered a couple of injuries, including tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Danny Woodhead.

Gronkowski appeared to favor his arm and returned to the locker room with the medical staff. Woodhead suffered a thumb injury. Both of them are questionable to return.

1:28 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Texans 3 -- Shane Vereen caught a pass from Tom Brady and raced down the sideline for a 25-yard reception. He followed up two plays later with a 1-yard touchdown as the Patriots took the lead.

It was a 6-play, 65-yard drive that spanned 3:01.

Stevan Ridley broke off a 14-yard run on the drive.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski officially has an arm injury and his return is questionable.

4:29 1st quarter: Texans 3, Patriots 0 -- Patriots defensive backs are making some plays now. Aqib Talib broke up a pass to Texans WR Andre Johnson and Devin McCourty tracked down Arian Foster before he found some open field on a cutback run.

The Patriots forced another punt.

4:52 1st quarter: Texans 3, Patriots 0 -- Rob Gronkowski has gone to the locker room with the medical staff. It appears his left arm was injured.

6:01 1st quarter: Texans 3, Patriots 0 -- Wes Welker dropped a third down pass as the Texans forced another Patriots punt to start the game.

Welker took a big hit after catching an 11-yard pass on third down earlier in the seven-play series. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt shared a sack with teammate Brooks Reed on Tom Brady.

Danny Woodhead has a thumb injury, which is why Shane Vereen has been in the game. Woodhead's return is questionable.

9:43 1st quarter: Texans 3, Patriots 0 -- Texans quarterback Matt Schaub went 4 of 5 on the last drive, but his third down pass to tight end Owen Daniels was well short of a first down.

Vince Wilfork is already making impact plays. He stuffed Arian Foster for a 1-yard loss on the series. Patriots take over at their 12 after a good punt by the Texans' Donnie Jones.

12:48 1st quarter: Texans 3, Patriots 0 -- The Texans held the Patriots to a three-and-out on their first defensive series. They stuffed Danny Woodhead, who left the game with what looked like a left hand injury, and then cornerback Johnathan Joseph was able to blanket Brandon Lloyd on a 3d-and-2 pass from Tom Brady.

13:57 1st quarter: Texans 3, Patriots 0 -- Danieal Manning returned the opening kickoff 94 yards but the Patriots held the Texans to a 27-yard field goal by Shayne Graham.

Fullback James Casey dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone from Matt Schaub and and Schaub threw over Andre Johnson's head.

15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Texans 0 -- The Texans won the coin toss and elected to receive. We'll see if this strategy pays off in their favor.

Obviously if they don't score right away, it could hurt them going up against the league's No. 1 offense.

Pregame: It's 51 degrees in Foxborough as the Patriots get ready to take on the Houston Texans in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs.

We've got two relatively healthy squads -- all starters are active -- and a lot of hype that is finally coming to a close.

We'll have the coin toss shortly and then kickoff. Stay right here for series-by-series updates throughout the game and for postgame notes and analysis afterward. I hope this one is as enjoyable to watch as the past three games we've seen this weekend.

@zuriberry

Divisional playoff game: 5 keys, prediction

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 13, 2013 03:31 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Soon enough, the Patriots will be 60 minutes away from hosting the AFC Championship Game. As if New England needed the extra motivation, the Ravens put a Vince Wilfork-sized carrot out there by knocking off Brett Favre, I mean Peyton Manning, and the Broncos.

The Texans’ chore just got that much harder, but they can still pull off the big upset. Here are the five keys for the Patriots avoiding a stunning loss:

Stay within yourself: The Patriots are a more talented football team than the Texans. As long as they take care of the ball, don’t try to do too much, and do their job, the players will get it done. This also goes for the coaches. The Patriots have had a very long layoff and are playing a team they ripped through. There is a potential for the Patriots’ coaches, namely offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, to think outside the box to deliver a different type of victory. Don’t. The box is just fine the way it is, especially against a less talented team.
Deliver the first punch: The Texans are going to come in dead set on avenging their embarrassing loss from December, and they’ll try to do that by asserting themselves early both physically and in attitude. Don’t let them. The Patriots should land the first blow, come out with their best stuff, and show the Texans they still aren’t good enough.
Stay on your feet: The Texans aren’t going to morph into a passing offense overnight, so they are still going to have to win through Arian Foster and the running game. Houston didn’t execute well the first time around. If they can get Wilfork, Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love on the ground with more regularity, the Texans will be able to run the ball. The Patriots have to thwart the backside cut and roll blocks by staying agile and on their feet. If they do that, Houston will again have trouble running the ball.
Hit short: If the Texans have any advantage offensively, it’s matching up their tight ends and running backs in coverage against the Patriots’ linebackers. It was a mismatch the first time around, it’s just that Matt Schaub was too busy playing scared. The Patriots need to hit Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham, James Casey, Foster and Ben Tate whenever they get a chance. Reroute those guys, or you’re going to be staring at the back of a lot of jerseys.
Limit Watt early: Texans DE J.J. Watt had some good production against the Patriots the first time around, but it happened after the Patriots were already up 21-0. The Texans will scheme up some stuff to get Watt more involved early, and the Patriots need to react well to any curveballs. An early big shot on Tom Brady can change the entire game because it will speed him up in the pocket. Expect a lot of quick throws away from Watt, and inside zone runs at him (double team at the point) to limit Watt early.

Prediction

Unless there’s a fluky turnover early, this game should be close for the first half. The third quarter is crucial. That’s when the Patriots need to do their best work, because I’m still not sure they’re a good fourth-quarter team in a tight game against a physical opponent. I think the Patriots find breathing room in the fourth quarter, with Danny Woodhead being a big key out of the backfield.

Patriots 32, Texans 20

Daniel Fells among inactives for Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 03:03 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots tight end Daniel Fells was among the inactive players for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans. He's a healthy scratch.

Also inactive is DL Jake Bequette, OL Nick McDonald, OL Markus Zusevics, WR Kamar Aiken, DB Malcolm WIlliams, and S Derrick Martin.

Inactive for the Texans are CB Rashad Carmichael, CB Stanford Routt, LB Cameron Collins, OL Antoine Caldwell, OL Andrew Gardner, OL Cody White, and DT Terrell McClian.

On the Beat: 5 questions about the Texans, II

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 13, 2013 09:45 AM

We checked in again this week with Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle to get the inside scoop on the Texans.

1. Let's just cut to the chase: why should I believe Matt Schaub has it in him to play the game of his life on Sunday?

TG: "You don't have to believe that, but the Texans don't need that in order to win. That's not how their offense is designed. It's not about outscoring the Patriots, they won't win if they try to do that. What they need to rely on is limiting the Patriots offense, which can be done, and not letting Vince Wilfork shut down their running game."

2. Who is the one Texans player most Patriots fans don’t know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?

TG: "Last month I said James Casey, their fullback who is really a tight end. This month I'll go with Earl Mitchell. Mitchell is the Texans' backup nose tackle, but plays significant snaps despite not starting and is critical for the Texans against the run. Though he only had one tackle for loss last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, he was very active in affecting plays."

3. What’s the biggest weakness on the Texans’ offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

TG: "If the Texans can't make opponents fear, or at least respect, their running game, their offense struggles."

4. What’s the biggest weakness on the Texans’ defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

TG: "The Texans' defensive backs did a commendable job on A.J. Green last weekend, but late in the game Green got open in the end zone. He might have scored a game-winning touchdown had his quarterback been more accurate. The Patriots were terrific on play action against the Texans last month. Brady's precision could hurt the back end."

5. Finally, Texans win on Sunday if …

TG: "...if their defense plays its best game of the season."

Game preview: Texans at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 07:22 AM

The Patriots are 9-2 at Gillette Stadium in the playoffs, a mark of both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady's excellence the past 12 years. They'll each get an opportunity to put another notch on their belts with a win in their AFC divisional playoff matchup with the Houston Texans.

With a win, Belichick would move out of a tie for third place all-time in postseason victories as a coach with 18. Brady would break a tie with his boyhood hero, Joe Montana, for the most playoff victories by a quarterback. He has 16. But they'll have to do so against a Houston team that is hell-bent on upsetting New England after an embarrassing 42-14 loss a month ago in the regular season.

Texans quarterback Matt Schaub played poorly in his first game against the Patriots. He had a 68.8 quarterback rating after finishing 19 of 32 for 232 yards and an interception. But most troubling for the Texans, they were 4 of 14 on third down and 0 for 2 on fourth down. The Patriots' defense was able to get stops when it mattered most, and Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass defensed, 1 tackle for loss) dominated the line of scrimmage.

It didn't help Houston in that first meeting that they went down 21-0 in the first half and 28-0 at the top of the third quarter. The Texans are looking to change all of that by working through some of the defensive miscues they brought upon themselves, but also by feeding running back Arian Foster. Foster had 140 yards rushing last week against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Texans' 19-13 wild-card win. The Texans are 8-0 this season when Foster eclipses the 100-yard mark.

This time around, the Patriots are much healthier. Fifteen players were removed from the team's injury report this week, leaving five who were listed as probable for today's game. That includes tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed the first game and is likely to cause matchup problems for the Texans on defense.

The Texans will have backup tight end Garrett Graham and linebacker Brooks Reed available after missing the first game last month. Graham is a key player in the Texans' passing game.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 4:30 p.m.

Records: Patriots 12-4; Texans 12-4, 1-0 postseason.

TV/Radio info: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos, Scott Zolak); Dial Global Sports radio (Ian Eagle, Trent Green, Lewis Johnson).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.

Patriots offense: WR Wes Welker, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Aaron Hernandez.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork, DT Kyle Love, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Texans offense: WR Andre Johnson, LT Duane Brown, LG Wade Smith, C Chris Myers, RG Ben Jones, RT Derek Newton, TE Owen Daniels, WR Kevin Walter, QB Matt Schaub, FB James Casey, RB Arian Foster.

Texans defense: DE J.J. Watt, NT Shaun Cody, DE Antonio Smith, SLB Brooks Reed, MLB Bradie James, MLB Barrett Ruud, WLB Connor Barwin, LCB Kareem Jackson, RCB Johnathan Joseph, SS Danieal Manning, FS Glover Quinn.

@zuriberry

Inside the matchup: Texans at Patriots, II

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 13, 2013 07:19 AM

Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, continues to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.

INSIDE THE TEXANS OFFENSE

It has been only five weeks since the Patriots last saw the Houston Texans and not much has changed for the Texans’ offense. They’re still relying on their inside and outside zone stretch concepts in the running game, mixing in other base NFL concepts such as Power and Toss to complement their running game. All of this has continued with 11, 12 and 21 personnel, as expected. The last time the two teams met, the Patriots did a solid job slowing down the running game, holding running back Arian Foster to 3.1 yards per carry.

It helped that the Patriots were able to get an early lead on the Texans, forcing them to throw more than they prefer, but the front seven also did their job. They were disciplined (for the most part) and aggressive in slicing through the gaps of the zone blocking scheme.

The Patriots mixed in Under and Over fronts, along with an Even front that saw both Houston guards covered up by the interior defensive linemen. This was a big help to the linebackers because they had more time to get downhill opposed to immediately being washed out by the Texans’ combination blocks. It also helped that nose tackle Vince Wilfork was able to collapse the protection by manhandling the guards. Wilfork and his teammates will once again have to do this to quiet Foster, who had 140-yards rushing in their wild card win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

In the game against the Bengals, Matt Schaub registered his first career playoff victory but it wasn’t without mistakes. He threw a pick-six interception and overall didn’t make enough big throws when they were needed. Against the Patriots in Week 14, Schaub and the offense’s West Coast Offensive passing game was neutralized by a variety of coverages, most notably Cover 1 (Man-Free) and its variations and Cover 4 (Quarters).

INSIDE THE TEXANS DEFENSE

The Texans’ defense has continued to be one of the most impressive this season, led by defensive lineman J.J. Watt.

Watt was a handful last week for the Bengals and will be one to watch in this game as well. He will line up at the three and five-techniques on separate downs and has exceptional hand quickness. He’s a part of the Texans’ 1-gap, 3-4 defense that also utilizes various other alignments, including the four man front.

As I noted in the Week 14 preview, “Phillips uses Over and Under fronts (along with double 3-techniques) that are popular in 4-3 defenses, which is basically what Phillips’ defense is. The 3-4 pre-snap alignment is a mask for the 4-3 rush concepts, which is done to present multiple looks for quarterbacks.” Moreover, it’s very difficult to run at the defensive line because they’re incredibly stout, thus the big runs will have to come off the edge where the ball-carrier can work in space.

When it comes to the passing defense, the Texans play a variety of coverages and are a very aggressive secondary. They will sit on routes in order jump them and create turnovers. They will mix in Cover 1, Cover 2 Man (Man Under), Cover 2 (zone), Cover 3 and many others.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • Texans' running game vs. Patriots' front seven – As noted, the Patriots did a good job of penetrating into the backfield the last time the two teams met and they will have to do it again. This is the biggest concern when going up against the Texans, who heavily relies on their run concepts to set up the passing game, particularly play action.
  • Patriots' tight ends and Welker vs. Houston linebackers and safeties – This was the big matchup in the last game and will be in this one as well. The Patriots get back star Rob Gronkowski from injury, which presents a matchup problem that the Texans have yet to deal with. Safety Glover Quin played some tight man-to-man coverage last week against the Bengals’ towering tight end Jermaine Gresham and did well, but Gresham is unlike Gronkowski. The latter is simply more talented and could take advantage of indiscipline or poor technique that Quin sometimes plays with.
  • Furthermore, the linebackers will also have to deal with tight end Aaron Hernandez again as well as slot receiver Wes Welker. This is a concern for the Texans because their linebackers are very slow and have only gotten slower since the initial meeting because they lost inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton to injury. Keep an eye on how the linebackers cover Hernandez if or when he lines up in the backfield, which we should see more of with Gronkowski back in the mix.
  • Patriots' play-action passing – Play action passing is always a factor in every game, especially against the Texans because of their aggressiveness. The cornerbacks and safeties attack downhill every chance they get and as a result, leave vacant spaces down the field for receivers to run through.
  • Tight end Owen Daniels – Owen Daniels is arguably the most important pass catcher for the Texans, as they like to throw to him quite a bit when Schaub’s rolling out on play action. Daniels is quick and a very good route runner. He is particularly dangerous on shallow crossing routes, as he does an exceptional job of working behind linebackers and finding the soft spot in zone coverage.
  • Matt Schaub – If Schaub has to throw the ball often, the Texans will be in trouble because he has not played well. He doesn’t throw outside breaking routes very well, as he tends to leave them to the inside of the receiver, and he struggles throwing against the blitz. Against six or more rushers this season, Schaub has a quarterback efficiency rating of 76.3, which is worst of the remaining playoff passers (h/t John Pollard). He will give the Patriots’ defenders chances to make plays.

Watch: 49ers-Packers highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 13, 2013 02:00 AM
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Watch the highlights from the NFC Divisional playoff game between the 49ers and Packers. The 49ers won, 45-31.

Watch: Ravens-Broncos highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 12, 2013 11:16 PM
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Here's the video recap of Saturday's thrilling AFC Divisional playoff game between the Ravens and Broncos. The Ravens won, 38-35, in overtime.

After Ravens win, Patriots now hope to host AFC championship

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 12, 2013 08:49 PM

The Baltimore Ravens stunned the Denver Broncos on their home field in a 38-35 win Saturday afternoon, advancing to the AFC championship game for the second straight year.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation and Justin Tucker nailed a 47-yard field goal in the game's second overtime to clinch the win.

The Ravens, who are the AFC's No. 4 seed, will now either travel to Gillette Stadium or Houston's Reliant Stadium, where they'll face the No. 2 Patriots or No. 3 Texans. The Patriots and Texans square off on Sunday.

The Patriots beat the Ravens in the AFC championship last year, 23-20, in Foxborough.

@zuriberry

Bedard's divisional round playoff picks

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 12, 2013 02:32 PM

Just a couple of hours until the best weekend of the NFL season kicks off. Here is how I see things playing out:

Saturday's games

Broncos 35, Ravens 17: I have to admit I'm scared to death that Peyton Manning has to wear gloves in cold weather because of his previous neck injuries -- reminds me of how Brett Favre couldn't function as well in the cold later in the his career because of his own nerve issues -- but I just can't see how the Ravens' old and slow defense (at sea level) is going to last into the fourth quarter. Broncos pull away at some point.

49ers 27, Packers 20: Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers do their best work when they are underdogs, but this isn't 2010 all over again because the line isn't as good at every position but right guard. I don't see the Packers protecting Rodgers well enough for him to do his thing, though I think the Packers would be best served by going no huddle at the start of the game. If they do that, they could pull it off. At the end of the day, the 49ers are better up front on both sides of the ball.

Sunday's games

Seahawks 20, Falcons 17 (OT): Marshawn Lynch's foot injury bothers me a lot, but I just like the confidence and swagger that the Seahawks are playing with. They aren't afraid of anything, and have the look of the some of the recent teams that went on the road to land in the Super Bowl (Packers, Giants, Steelers). I'm not believing in Matt Ryan until he proves it.

Patriots 32, Texans 20: This feels like a close game for the first half, and then the Patriots get one of their double scores to create needed distance in the third quarter. New England needs to win this in the third quarter because I'm still not sure if they are a top finishing team. Though they should be against Matt Schaub.

Wilfork named to first-team AP All-Pro; Mankins on second team

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 12, 2013 12:42 PM

Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork was named to the Associated Press All-Pro first team, a first for the nine-year veteran, and teammate Logan Mankins was named to the second team.

Wilfork had been named to the Pro Football Weekly and Pro Football Writers of America All-Pro team as well. He finished the regular season with 48 solo tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. He had earned second-team All-Pro nods in 2011, 2010, and 2007.

Despite missing six games this season, Mankins was selected to the second team. San Francisco's Mike Iupati and New Orleans' Jahri Evans were the first-team honorees, with Baltimore's Marshal Yanda and Mankins on the second team.

This is the fifth time in the last six years that Mankins is a first- or second-team All-Pro; he was first-team in 2010.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady got three votes for All-Pro status, finishing third behind Denver's Peyton Manning (43) and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (4).

Tight end Rob Gronkowski (4 votes) came in third for his position, trailing Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez (24) and Dallas's Jason Witten (19).

Jerod Mayo received four votes at inside linebacker; Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer and Devin McCourty each received one vote at their respective positions.

Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and Houston defensive end J.J. Watt were unanimous selections at their positions.

The AP All-Pro team is voted on by 50 NFL media members nationally and is far more respected than a Pro Bowl nod.

The full list of first- and second-team All-Pro teams:

QUARTERBACK
First-team: Peyton Manning, DEN
Second-team: Aaron Rodgers, GB

RUNNING BACK
First: Adrian Peterson, MIN (unanimous pick)
Second: Marshawn Lynch, SEA

FULL ENTRY

Greg Bedard on NFL Divisional Round

Posted by Robert Burgess January 11, 2013 05:54 PM





The Patriots look ready for the Texans and the Broncos should beat the Ravens. Can the Seahawks and Packers win in the NFC? CineSport's Noah Coslov and The Boston Globe’s Greg Bedard discuss.

Championship Today: Bedard's keys to the game

Posted by Robert Burgess January 11, 2013 04:27 PM

In this episode of Championship Today, Greg Bedard gives his keys to the game.

Friday injury report: Patriots remove 15 of 20 players

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 11, 2013 04:25 PM

Guess that week off really did do the Patriots some good.

The team has just released its final injury report of the week and completely removed 15 of the 20 players it had listed on Wednesday and Thursday. Pretty safe to assume that means they're all full go for Sunday.

Of the five players remaining - Rob Gronkowski (forearm/hip), Marquice Cole (finger), Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring/knee), Nick McDonald (shoulder) and Trevor Scott (knee) - all were reported as full participants in today's practice and listed as probable for Sunday's game.

The 15 players lifted from the list were all reported as limited participants on Wednesday and Thursday: Patrick Chung (shoulder), Dan Connolly (back), Nate Ebner (hamstring), Aaron Hernandez (ankle), Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), Chandler Jones (ankle), Brandon Lloyd (knee), Logan Mankins (ankle/calf), Jerod Mayo (elbow), Rob Ninkovich (hip), Mike Rivera (ankle), Brandon Spikes (knee/ankle), Aqib Talib (hip), Wes Welker (ankle), Tracy White (elbow).

The Texans listed all 15 players on their injury report as probable:

Alan Ball (foot), Antoine Caldwell (back), Shaun Cody (back), Owen Daniels (shoulder), Justin Forsett (knee), Garrett Graham (concussion), Jonathan Joseph (illness), Shiloh Keo (ankle), Derek Newton (knee), Glover Quin (shoulder), Brooks Reed (groin), Antonio Smith (ankle), Wade Smith (knee), Ben Tate (foot), T.J. Yates (right elbow).

Bill Belichick in good mood at final press conference before Texans game

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 11, 2013 02:52 PM
Get Adobe Flash player Patriots coach Bill Belichick was in quite a good mood during his press conference Friday, his last before Sunday's playoff game vs. the Texans. In seven years of covering this team, when Belichick is happy on a Friday, it usually means he's very happy with the team's preparation and work during the week.

That idea was bolstered in the locker room, where players were in a light mood and there was an air of confidence as they wound down after practice.

"I think the team is excited, ready to get into the NFL playoffs this year," Belichick said. "Hopefully we'll have a good day of preparation today and use the next little over 48 hours to really get focused on the task at hand and go out there and be ready to play well on Sunday.

"We're all excited to get going. It's a great opportunity, good football team coming in here. We know we're going to have to play well, play our best game to win. That's the way it should be this time of year. Hopefully we can do it."

Sunday is the 45th playoff game Belichick has been on the sidelines for in his 38-year NFL career, but he is just as excited for Sunday's as he was for his first, when he was a special assistant with the Baltimore Colts in 1975.

"This is what we work all year for," he said. "We worked all year, since the end of last season, to get to back to this point. This is really what it's all for - all the team planning, the OTAs, the mini-camps, the meetings, the walkthroughs, the preseason games, the practices, the regular season - it's all for this."

But for as much as he's watched film, as much time as he and the assistant coaches have spent preparing the players, Belichick still gets nervous because he can't predict exactly what's going to happen during those four quarters.

"I think there's an anxiousness whenever you play. You always have that unknown of going up against the new opponent," he said. "Who knows how the game will go - what they'll do, how things will match up, what adjustments you'll have to make and how the game will unfold.

"There will be different situations in the game that will make each game unique; that makes it exciting. There's no way to predict how all that's going to happen, you just take it as it comes. There's always certain elements that are a guessing game or playing percentages ... As a coach, you want to try to put your team in the best position you can so they can be competitive."

Belichick essentially grew up at the Naval Academy in Maryland, where his father was a longtime assistant coach, and he used a military analogy about dealing with unpredictability.

"It's like when you talk to the Navy SEALs and those guys about when they go on a mission, they talk about, 'alright, so we get there and we practiced going over a six-foot wall and the wall is 30 feet high.' Well, that's the way it is in the NFL.

"You practice for whatever: you think you're going to swim across a 200-yard lake and the lake is 800 yards across. You have to get across it. You get in an NFL game and think you're going to get this and then you get that. Or you think they're going to play this guy and they play some other guy. You face new challenges. That's part of the gamesmanship and part of the competition: you figure out which team can do it better than the other one.

"There's always that unknown in the game, but things happen that you just can't predict or prepare for because they're working on things. We don't know what they're doing. They'll come up with something that will cause us to make an adjustment. I'm sure we'll do the same thing to them somewhere along the line. Everybody has to figure it out and make the best of it. That's what makes this a great game."

Friday roll call: Perfect again

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 11, 2013 02:23 PM

Apologies for not posting this earlier, but the Patriots practiced inside Gillette Stadium today in sweats and shells.

For the third consecutive day, all 53 players on the active roster were present and accounted for.

The final injury report of the week will come out around 5:30 p.m.

Texans' Antonio Smith: 'It's like déjà vu'

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff January 11, 2013 12:04 PM

Antonio Smith

HOUSTON -- As much as it seems like the Texans have been written off coming into their divisional round matchup with a Patriots team that hung a 42-14 loss on them a month ago, defensive lineman Antonio Smith has heard worse.

Back in 2008-09 when he was with an Arizona Cardinals team that squeezed into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, legendary cornerback and smack-talker Deion Sanders said on the NFL Network that he would sell his tickets to the Super Bowl if the Cardinals somehow found a way to make it there.

So being overwhelming underdogs against the Patriots, Smith said, feels familiar.

"I'm telling you it's like déjà vu," said Smith. "The same thing I went through last time I was in this situation."

The Cardinals beat the Falcons, Panthers, and Eagles to reach Super Bowl XLIII, and even though there are some similarities, Smith said he tries not to preach to the Texans about that experience.

"I would if it's needed, but I think that we're past that," Smith said. "I've used that card early on when I got here and I guess my feelings were just a couple years off so now we're in the prime opportunity to be able to grab a hold of our destiny. I started saying that when I first came because it was the same feeling I felt when I was there and I knew this team could be what it is now."

There's no special recipe for an upset. Smith said the defense's job is still to put hits on Tom Brady and not allow him to get as comfortable as he did when he threw four touchdowns in the first meeting.

"You've got a better chance to win if you put more heat on Brady," Smith said. "I think the more hats you can get on him -- which they don't ever let you put too many hard hats on him -- but whenever you can, it gets all quarterbacks a little bit rattled.

"Some falter and some stand tall and I've seen him stand tall in the past so he's a great quarterback in that aspect, but still when you hit a quarterback he's going to know you?re coming. He's going to look for you the next time."

"Underdogs" become the buzzword in the Texans locker room. By and large, they've accepted the label.

"That's the secret weapon of the underdog," Smith said. "Yeah, it bothers us and you just sit there and you take it and you let it harbor and you let it fester and grow into what you need it to grow into."

It worked when he was in Arizona, and in the end Sanders's boycott threats rang hollow.

"He was at the game," Smith said.

Gronkowski, Wilfork earn All-Pro nods

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 11, 2013 10:48 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Two Patriots were recognized by the Pro Football Writers of America and Pro Football Weekly as All-Pros this season.

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork were named to the All-Pro team, while defensive end Chandler Jones was named to the All-Rookie team.

Gronkowski played in only 11 games this season because of a broken forearm, but finished with 55 receptions for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns.

"They don’t make receiving tight ends any better than Gronkowski, whose red-zone chemistry with Patriots QB Tom Brady is a key element in the league’s most productive offense," wrote Pro Football Weekly.

Wilfork had another stellar year for the Patriots up front, and was as disruptive as ever with 41 solo tackles, six passes defensed, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

Jones, in his first year out of Syracuse, had six sacks in 14 games. Said Pro Football Weekly: "Patriots DE Chandler Jones was an early favorite for defensive rookie honors before an ankle injury slowed him and he finished with six sacks."

The writers' association tabbed Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt as its defensive player of the year and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson as its offensive player of the year and MVP. Denver's Peyton Manning was named the association's All-Pro quarterback.

See the PFW/PFWA All-Pro team here.

@zuriberry

Wade Phillips comments about Wes Welker cause stir

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff January 10, 2013 06:33 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips might have put his big ol' boot right in his mouth on Thursday, with comments about Patriots receiver Wes Welker sure to reach the diminutive, but frequently dominant, slot receiver.

Phillips was asked by ESPN.com if Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who covered Cincinnati's A.J. Green in Houston's wild-card win, would get the assignment on Welker.

"Ah, Welker’s not Green,” Phillips said. “He’s a good player, but he’s not that big or a real athletic guy. He’s a quick guy that gets open on option routes. [Brandon] Harris actually played him pretty good.”

In the first meeting between the teams, a 42-14 Patriots home win on Dec. 10, the Texans held Welker to three catches (matching his season low) for 52 yards. Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns, but none went to Welker.

Later Thursday, Phillips’s Twitter account (@sonofbum) posted the following message: “Wes Welker is a great athlete and one of the best receivers of all time. #twistthataround”

Championship Today: Is Brandon Lloyd poised to have a big game Sunday?

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 10, 2013 06:16 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- If Tom Brady has ample time to throw against J.J. Watt and the Texans defense Sunday, the understated Brandon Lloyd could be a dangerous weapon in the Patriots receiving arsenal.

With the Houston defense expected to be preoccupied with the Big Three of Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski, Lloyd might have the opportunity to break free for some big plays in his first NFL playoff game.

In this episode of Championship Today, the Globe's Greg Bedard and Shalise Manza Young discuss how much impact Brandon Lloyd might have Sunday and how stopping J.J. Watt and protecting Brady will be key to New England's offensive success.

We also hear from Lloyd, who's never played a down in the playoffs over his 10 year NFL career and had seven catches for 89 yards and scored two touchdowns -- one on an end zone fumble recovery -- in the Patriots 41-14win over the Texans on Monday Night Football in December.

"I’d be at the Sundance Film Festival [laughs], I'd be on my way to the Bahamas," Lloyd said when asked what he would be doing during the playoffs in years past. "All kind of different stuff. …ever since [I was] a kid, the ultimate goal is to play in the Super Bowl and the only way to get to the Super Bowl is to make it to the playoffs. This is a step along the way to the ultimate goal for all of us, for all the teams that have entered the playoffs, this is just the beginning. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to get there."

Hard-nosed offensive lineman Logan Mankins also talks about the tall task of going up against Watt and the Texans defensive line.

"Well it’s going to be really tough," Mankins said Thursday. "You have probably the best D-lineman in the league in J.J. Watt and then you’ve got Antonio Smith, another very good defensive lineman. So those two together are very tough and then you put all four of them out there at one time and they’re a tough matchup for anyone. You see the problems they give teams every week. Cincinnati scored six points on offense, so that says a lot right there, to hold a team to six points in the playoffs."

Nate Silver predicts Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl matchup

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 10, 2013 04:58 PM
Nate Silver, the New York Times' stats blogger who gained national acclaim for his political forecasts, has made a prediction for this year's Super Bowl matchup: Patriots vs. Seahawks.

Silver appeared on ESPN's First Take to explain how he arrived at his prediction. Most of the segment was devoted to the choice of Seattle as the NFC representative.

"The point differential is often a better predictor than just the wins and losses," Silver said.

Seattle won all five of its December games, and three of the last four were blowouts.

"I'd say that New England and Denver are the two best teams," Silver added. "I think if you have a Denver-New England AFC Championship game, it'll be one of those cases where it really is the de facto Super Bowl."

Silver also said the coach/quarterback combination is essential, and compared Bill Belichick's approach to the use of sabermetrics in baseball.

"The Patriots are very aggressive on going for it on fourth down. If you run the numbers on that, teams punt way more than they should," Silver said. "Actually guys should go for it more and take more risk in a football game, and Bill Belichick will do those things, and he reads the papers and so forth -- not the newspapers, the academic papers that say you want to actually keep your offense on the field on fourth down a lot, and those little marginal things when you have to win now three more games against really good teams begin to add up."

Patriots WR Lloyd looking forward to first playoff game

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 10, 2013 03:30 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, a 10-year veteran who finished second on the team in both receptions (74) and receiving yards (911) in his first season in New England, didn't need to do any calculating when asked how many times he had been in the playoffs.

"Zero,'' was Lloyd's quick reply.

Asked what he did during playoff time in previous seasons, Lloyd said, "I'd be out at the Sundance Film Festival ... on my way to the Bahamas, all kinds of different stuff.''

How did it feel then to finally make it to the playoffs?

"It was part of the decision for me [to sign with the Patriots],'' said Lloyd, who agreed to a three-year, $12 million contract last March. "Ever since I was a kid, the ultimate goal was to play in the Super Bowl. And the only way to get to the Super Bowl is to get to the playoffs. This is a step along the way to the ultimate goal -- for all of us, for all the teams that get to the playoffs.

"This is still the beginning, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done to get there.''

Asked about his comfort level with quarterback Tom Brady, Lloyd said it was "a work in progress.''

"It's been different than in the past, just because of the organization,'' Lloyd said of his process of preparation. "It's been different than in the past because of Tom and his style of preparation. It's been similar in that you still have to put the work in during the week and during all the camps. When you go into the game, that's when you find out about one another.

"In playing with less-experienced quarterbacks, like in St. Louis and playing with [Kellen] Clemens ... when he was thrown into the starting lineup, it was more of a situation where I was like, 'Where do you want me to be?' It was a situation where 'I'm going to tell you where I'm going to be and I'm going to do my best to get there.' And with Tom, we have a little bit of give and take.

"There are some plays I have that freedom and some plays where I can say, 'Hey, I'm going to be here,' and then he'll work it out. Then there are other plays he'll say, 'You need to be here,' and that's the way the plays go.

"It's similar and it's different, but it's been equally rewarding.''

How much has offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, for coached Lloyd in St. Louis, helped his working relationship with Brady?

"I think the bridge to Tom is Josh, because Josh gives me credibility,'' Lloyd said. "Being the last three seasons with Josh, that's what gave me the credibility to come here and to be accepted as a productive member of this team.''

Patriots running backs simulate Foster in practice

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 10, 2013 03:28 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots are getting ready to go up against one of the best running teams in the NFL and one of the league's best running backs in the Texans' Arian Foster.

So preparing for that type of talent, even the second time around, requires simulation in practice so the defense is adequately prepared. The Texans are 8-0 this season when Foster rushes for 100 yards or more, and Foster gained 140 in last weekend's wild-card win over the Bengals.

The Patriots have relied on the running backs, including Shane Vereen, to emulate Foster during practice.

"I know what type of style, what type of runner he is," Vereen said. "As another running back, you pay attention to the other running backs in the league. It's not easy trying to mimic somebody else. But you do the best you can for the team."

Vereen was the first player mentioned by coach Bill Belichick when talking about preparing for the deceptive Foster. Belichick said his backs have handled the job.

"Shane, Woody [Danny Woodhead], Stevan [Ridley], Brandon Bolden, all of them, those guys have good vision, they can run," Belichick said on Wednesday. "They’re different than Foster but it's close enough, certainly good enough, for our defense to work against. Those guys make good cuts, they see holes well. I think our backs do a good job giving us the look on the scout team in the running game.

"I think it’s harder actually to simulate, to get all the offensive linemen – it doesn’t matter who you play – it’s usually harder to get them too, to get the blocking schemes kind of exactly the way the other team does it.

"It’s probably easier for the runner than the overall blocking patterns, depending on how each team does it during the week. You have to try to get all those guys coordinated."

For Vereen, simulating Foster is about showing off the patience and the initial burst that has made the Texan such a prominent player.

"Open-field wise, we're two completely different players," Vereen said. "So when it gets to the open field, my kind of running style takes over. But as far as run reads and stuff, I try to do him."

Vereen is still working his way back up the snap-count ladder after a fumble against the 49ers in Week 15 that got him benched. In the playoffs, his playing time will surely be determined by the amount of trust he's built with the coaching staff.

"It comes with it," Vereen said. "You gotta be able to build the trust. They gotta be able to trust you to put you out there. I mean, I understand it. If I was the coach, I'd do the same thing."

@zuriberry

Matt Schaub learning postseason on the fly

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff January 10, 2013 03:26 PM

schaubbrady10.jpg

HOUSTON -- When the Patriots host the Texans this weekend, it will be the 23d time Tom Brady's walked on the field for a playoff game. It will be Matt Schaub's second (unless you count some pinch hitting he did back in his Falcons days).

Experience matters. That's something Texans coach Gary Kubiak will freely admit. The Texans have never been farther than the divisional round and they've never won at Gillette. Last week's wild card win in Cincinnati was Schaub's playoff debut. This week he'll get his first taste of playoff football on the road.

P2X00221_9.jpgCompared to Brady, he's at an obvious disadvantage.

“I think [experience is] extremely important or you wouldn’t see guys like Tom and Peyton (Manning), these guys going there so much," Kubiak said. "It’s obviously something that you got to have a great football team, but guys that do play in those games a bunch that stage does get bigger, the level of play, everything just picks up.

"This is his opportunity to start to get those chances as a player. He’s been working really hard for nine years to get this opportunity. Unfortunately, last year he was hurt. I think he’s got a lot of football left in him. Hopefully he’s going to play in a lot of those big games. Obviously, that’s what you’re trying to do, trying to lead a team to play in those types of games.”

Although he's played 118 games in his career, Schaub made his postseason debut last week in a wildcard win against Cincinnati, which means that at the most important position on the field the Texans are the least experience of any of the AFC playoff teams except the Colts.

Last season, when the Texans won their first playoff game in franchise history, Schaub was sideline with a Lisfranc injury, missing out on a milestone.

“It was great to be out there with my guys, especially with how last season went for me, being injured and not being able to be out there," Schaub said. "To go out and win the football game in front of our home crowd, it was a good day.”

Though he didn't throw a touchdown pass, Schaub set most of the franchise's meaningful single-game postseason passing marks (29 completions, 38 attempts, 262 yards) but the biggest takeaway was winning his first playoff start.

“I think him just getting his first win probably got a monkey off his back because that’s something a lot of people talked about or whatever," said wide receiver Andre Johnson. "I think with him getting that out of the way, it probably would make him feel more comfortable going into the game.”

The Patriots postseason experience is incomparable. Aside from being the all-time leader in playoff completions (499), third in touchdowns, and fourth in passing yards, Brady will surpass Joe Montana for most playoff wins as a starting quarterback with his next victory (they're currently knotted at 16 apiece).

Inexperience, however, won't shake Schaub's confidence.

"We know what type of team we can be when we’re playing up to our expectations and our standard and what we demand out of ourselves," Schaub said. "So we go up there with a lot of confidence to go win a road football game.”

Patriots try to block out NIH report on Junior Seau's death

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 10, 2013 02:44 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- As the Patriots were in the midst of preparations to host the Houston Texans Sunday in an AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium, cornerback Devin McCourty expressed sadness over a report by the National Institute of Health that cited a degenerative brain condition as the reason behind the suicide of former Patriots linebacker Junior Seau.

"I think just hearing that is definitely saddening,'' McCourty said. "But I think right now, you really don't think about that going into a playoff game. I think, for me, that's where all my focus is, but it's definitely sad to hear about that.''

According to an exclusive report from ABC News/ESPN, Seau, who shot himself in the chest in May 2012, was found to have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative condition that can lead to memory loss, dementia, and depression.

Seau's family had his brain donated to the NIH, which found Seau was among those former NFL players who had suffered from CTE.

Patriots veteran guard Logan Mankins, who has been subjected to numerous head-on collisions in the trenches, was asked by a TV reporter Thursday at Gillette if the NIH's report was cause for concern for athletes at all levels of the game.

"I'd say so, probably, if you sit down and really think about it,'' Mankins said. "But it's the playoffs right now so that's the least of our concerns right now. You could probably say that we're meat-headed and ignorant not to think about it, but maybe in February after the season we can think about it.''

Thursday practice report: All present

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 10, 2013 12:11 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- The Patriots, who seemed to benefit from a three-day hiatus during the bye week, had perfect attendance at Thursday's practice for the second day in a row.

Globe colleague Shalise Manza Young reported all players were present and accounted for in a workout in sweats and shells on the lower practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.

Patriots-Texans playoff preview: What more can Houston do in Round 2?

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 10, 2013 11:28 AM
It was one month ago today the Houston Texans strutted into town with their letterman jackets looking to lock up the AFC's No. 1 seed.

But it was a dominant Patriots team that destroyed the Texans in a 42-14 romp that began a sea of change in the pecking order in the conference.

On Sunday, the AFC South champion Texans, coming off a 19-13 wild card win over the Bengals last Saturday, will be looking to avenge the embarrassing December defeat to the AFC East champion and No. 2 seeded Patriots.

In this week's Patriots preview video above, the Globe's Shalise Manza Young gives us her keys to the AFC Divisional playoff showdown and looks into what's different between the Patriots match up with the Texans the second time around.

We also hear from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on being one win away from going home, Bill Belichick on taking the game to the Texans, and Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, and Steve Gregory chime in on what they expect to see in Sunday's showdown.

Patriots list 20 players on injury report

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 9, 2013 06:02 PM

The Patriots and Texans have released their first injury reports of the week.

New England has 20 players listed, all of them limited in practice on Wednesday. Justin Francis, who was not present for the media access portion of practice on Tuesday, was not listed on the report.

The Patriots had 21 players listed on their final injury report before their Week 17 game against Miami. The changes are the addition of Rob Ninkovich (hip) and Trevor Scott (knee) and the removal of Kyle Love (knee), Nate Solder (abdomen), and Sebastian Vollmer (back).

Houston CB Alan Ball (foot), who missed the last five games of the regular season but played on special teams last week against Cincinnati, did not practice on Wednesday.

For the Patriots
Limited participation
S Patrick Chung - shoulder
CB Marquice Cole - finger
G Dan Connolly - back
CB Alfonzo Dennard - hamstring/knee
DB Nate Ebner - hamstring
TE Rob Gronkowski - forearm/hip
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle
LB Dont'a Hightower - hamstring
DE Chandler Jones - ankle
WR Brandon Lloyd - knee
G Logan Mankins - ankle/calf
LB Jerod Mayo - elbow
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
DE Rob Ninkovich - hip
LB Mike Rivera - ankle
DE Trevor Scott - knee
LB Brandon Spikes - knee/ankle
CB Aqib Talib - hip
WR Wes Welker - ankle
LB Tracy White - elbow

For the Texans
Did not participate
CB Alan Ball - foot

Limited participation
G Antoine Caldwell - back
NT Shaun Cody - back
TE Owen Daniels - shoulder
TE Garrett Graham - concussion
T Derek Newton - knee
DE Antonio Smith - ankle
G Wade Smith - knee

Full participation
RB Justin Forsett - knee
CB Jonathan Joseph - illness
S Shiloh Keo - ankle
S Glover Quin - shoulder
OLB Brooks Reed - groin
RB Ben Tate - foot
QB T.J. Yates - right elbow

Championship Today: Fighting from the foxhole

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff January 9, 2013 05:34 PM

Wednesday's installment of Championship Today features the Globe's Shalise Manza Young and Greg A. Bedard. They discuss the matchups in the Patriots' AFC divisional game against the Houston Texans. You'll also hear from Bill Belichick and Jerod Mayo.

A new edition of Championship Today will appear each weekday throughout the Patriots' playoff run.

Bill Belichick not likely to take conservative approach vs. Texans

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 9, 2013 01:08 PM

By Michael Vega, Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH --- Don't assume that what once worked for the Patriots in a 42-14 romp over the Texans Dec. 10 is likely to work again when the teams square off in the AFC divisional playoffs Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters Wednesday he is certainly making no such assumptions in the rematch with the AFC South champions.

"It's about creating a game plan you feel like will be successful against the team you're playing,'' Belichick said. "The way certain players matched up in the first game ... you don't know if they're going to run the same plays or if we're going to run the same plays.

"Game plan-wise, you can fundamentally take a similar approach if a certain type of player or a certain scheme or a certain style is successful. But if you can't continue to do that, maybe if it's formatted a little bit differently or if there's some modificiations, whatever it is. But as far as specific plays ... I think that's ridiculous.''

Given all that is at stake, and the heightened sense of urgency to advance now that the team has entered the playoffs, Belichick was not likely to take a conservative approach against the Texans.

"Of course, you don't win a war by digging a foxhole and sitting in it,'' he said. "You have to go out there and attack. You have to make plays you need to make to win.''

One of the keys in the Patriots' regular-season romp over the Texans was New England's ability to stymie Houston's pass rush. However, Belichick suggested it was more a function of the wide receivers' ability to defeat Houston's man-to-man coverage.

"Any time you can't get away from man-to-man coverage, it puts a lot of pressure on your pass protection and you can't get the ball off,'' Belichick said. "Houston is a man-to-man team and they play man-to-man coverage. If that's what they play against us, we'll have to beat it.

"If they don't [play man-to-man], we'll have to beat zone coverage and we'll have to have good spacing with our receivers and find the open areas. But they're a good man-to-man team and they play quite a bit of it and they've won 13 games with it and I'm sure we'll see it.

"But, of course, catching the ball is also important. We dropped five passes in the first game. It doesn't matter if you're open or not if you don't catch the ball."

Wednesday practice peek: Perfect attendance

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 9, 2013 01:05 PM

The Patriots are back on the practice field, and have perfect attendance Wednesday. Rookie Justin Francis was not present during the media-access window Tuesda, but has returned.

Owner Robert Kraft was also present.

Players were in shells and sweats.

Jerod Mayo heaps praise on former college teammate Arian Foster

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 9, 2013 12:31 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- When the Patriots routed the Texans 42-14 in Foxborough in December, star running back Arian Foster gained just 46 yards on 15 carries. But Patriots defensive captain Jerod Mayo knows better than to expect the New England defensive to contain the slippery-when-wet Foster so completely the second time around.

“Arian’s great, he makes a lot of cuts,” Mayo said at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday. “He makes the offensive line look good, but they’re also a good offensive line as well. He’s such a patient runner. I like to liken his running style to water. He’s not that guy who’s going to stick real hard. He’s just going to patient until the hole develops, then he makes the whole team better.”

Mayo and Foster played together for three seasons in college at Tennessee.

“I went against him one-on-one, so I think he’s always been a good player,” Mayo said. “He’s probably more patient now, he’s lost a couple of pounds, he might have been a little heavier in college. He faster now as well, he’s doing a lot of different things, catching the ball well out of the backfield, he’s just an overall good running back.”

Their friendship took time to develop at Tennessee, but it grew as the two Volunteers were both among the last to be working out in the gym at night on campus.

"He was always at the facility late, and I was always at the facility late," Mayo said. "So it was kind of like, 'Well, we're both here at 8 o'clock at night, so we might as well work together.'"

Mayo was asked if the Patriots can have a chip on their shoulder after beating the Texans in a convincing fashion on their last trip to Foxborough. The veteran linebacker said he believes the fact that the Texans had to play catch-up during the last game made them one dimensional on offense and he’s expecting a tougher battle this time around.

“Those guys have won a playoff game, we’re 0-0, so I guess that’s our chip,” Mayo said. “We know a hungry Texans team is going to come in here ready to play. I’m sure those guys have been talking all week about how they’re going to play this game.

“And we know the last game could have been a lot closer than what it was. There were plays in the game that just kind of bounced our way so we know this is a good team coming in and we have to be prepared and ready to go.”

The Patriots defense has been playing better of late, but Mayo believes it’s still a work in progress even at this stage in the season.

“When you get a group of guys together for an extended period of time you’re going to get better,” Mayo said. “But there are also things that you have to improve at, especially communication, getting on the same page and doing things like that, but overall that’s probably a question you have to ask coach Belichick, I’m not really sure.”

Even though the Patriots have been resting since the last game of the season against the Dolphins, Mayo said they were ready to get back into it after the bye week.

“I think the sense of urgency is there,” Mayo said. “We have a young team, but guys have been playing a lot of games, the coaches are doing an excellent job of making sure everyone knows that you’re one play away from being at home.”

Mayo also spoke about the challenges of going against an offense they faced just a few weeks ago.

“Well obviously they know what we’re going to do, but we also know them as well,” Mayo said. “I’m sure there will be a couple of different wrinkles, but personnel’s pretty much the same since the last time we played them, a couple of guys coming back, but we know each other. It’s kind of like a division game.”

J.J. Watt: 'We don't need to keep rehashing' Patriots' win over Texans

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff January 9, 2013 11:53 AM
FOXBOROUGH -- Texans defensive end J.J. Watt admits he didn't play well the first time his team faced the Patriots this season, a 42-14 loss on Dec. 10 during a "Monday Night Football" broadcast. He wasn't in much of a mood on Wednesday to revisit the details.

"I mean, we know how to win football games. Obviously we didn’t play good last time up there, I think we can all agree on that. I don’t think we need to keep rehashing it," Watt said Wednesday in a conference call with New England media. "I think we just need to play our style of football. We’re the Houston Texans, we’ll do what we do, and we’re going to go up there and give it everything we’ve got. We’re really excited about the challenge."

Watt had four tackles in the first game against the Patriots, but none for losses. He hit quarterback Tom Brady three times, but had no sacks, nor was he able to knock down any of Brady's passes at the line of scrimmage, a play he's perfected. He did force a fumble.

The loss to the Patriots began a negative spiral for the Texans. They arrived in Foxborough at 11-1, which was tied for the best record in the NFL at the time. They lost three of their last four games, including the lopsided defeat to the Patriots, a spin that cost them a first-round playoff bye.

"Obviously we had a rough stretch that last month of the regular season, there’s no two ways to put it. We have no excuses, we have nothing to say about it," Watt said. "It’s the playoffs now, and that’s all that matters. We’re focused on winning this game."

Watt and his teammates now have the chance for payback. He's already looking forward to it.

"Of course, nobody likes playing like that on national television in front of the whole country. You don’t like to put on a showing like we put on last time, and we’re really excited about another opportunity to go up there, very tough place to play, obviously a great football team," Watt said. "If you want to win a Super Bowl in this league, you have to go through some very, very good football teams, and the Patriots are a very, very good football team."

Tom Brady on rematch with Texans: 'There's a lot to be concerned about'

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 9, 2013 10:51 AM

FOXBOROUGH --- While he was quick to point out the final score of their 42-14 regular-season romp over the Texans ``was good,'' New England quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday there was still plenty to be concerned about when the second-seeded Patriots host No. 3 seed Houston Sunday in the AFC Divisional Playoffs at Gillette Stadium.

Defensively, Brady said the Texans still posed a threat, despite losing three of their last four regular-season games and squandering a chance to clinch the top seed and homefield advantage.

"I think there's a lot to be concerned about,'' Brady said. "They've got a great front, some very experienced players at linebacker, an athletic secondary, and you saw what they did last week playing at home against Cincinnati [in a Wild Card Weekend matchup] there in the first half was pretty impressive.

"So there's still a lot of challenges for us and, certainly, from my standpoint,'' Brady said. "We just tried to have a good day of practice yesterday and get off to a good start and try to string a bunch of those together.''

The last time the Patriots prepared for their Dec. 10 regular-season home game against the Texans, coach Bill Belichick broke out some unusual props -- brooms and racquets -- to help Brady prepare for J.J. Watt, Houston's long-armed swatmeister who has recorded 16 pass deflections this season.

"More of the same,'' Brady said, when asked what he saw in the first practice Tuesday in preparation for the Texans. "It gets frustrating at times, but I think it's a very good thing that coach does to subliminally get it in my head of [Watt's] ability and their ability as a defense to defend passes at the line of scrimmage, which I'm sure teams try to do every week but they get 'em every week.

"So that's a big difference.''

Asked how the team benefitted, mentally and physically speaking, from the bye week, Brady said, "I think it was a week for us to really identify the things we need to do better and put a lot of work in on those things. I think we put in an extensive amount of time on situational football and try to understand why we did things over the course of the year and why we need to do better.

"I think it was more about improvement, more than anything else.''

Did Brady feel like a new man following the team's three-day hiatus last weekend?

"I mean, I always feel pretty good. You play football for a living,'' Brady said. "There's a lot to feel good about doing that. To have a chance to play in this game, there's a lot of excitment. Not a lot of teams have this opportunity.

"It's the second round of the playoffs,'' Brady said, ``and to be here and to have this chance, I think we all look forward to it and have worked hard to be in this situation.''

If he were to guide the defending AFC champions back to the conference championship game, Brady would break a tie with Joe Montana (16) for most playoff wins by a starting quarterback in league history.

"I've been fortunate to be able to play with so many great players and teams,'' Brady said. "Football is a team game and I've been fortunate to play here and have the opportunity there's no place I'd rather be.''

Gary Kubiak on first Texans-Patriots game: 'We got our tails kicked'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff January 9, 2013 10:42 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Texans coach Gary Kubiak didn't sugarcoat things when he was asked about his team's 42-14 loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 10.

"You’re making a huge mistake if you start saying, 'If we’d had done this or if we’d had done that we would have been fine.' We weren’t fine, we got our tails kicked," Kubiak said in a Wednesday morning conference call with New England media. "They were very, very explosive."

Kubiak also seems to be taking the Patriots' approach (at least publicly) and downplaying the teams' first meeting, saying the initial game -- or the result -- doesn't mean much now. What he's concerned with is playing a team in a stadium where they've put up some impressive numbers against AFC opponents.

"When you look at what they’ve done to some teams in their building this year, they got us down 28-7 in the third, they had Denver down 31-7 late in the third, they had Indy down, golly, I think it was 49-17 (actually 45-17)," Kubiak said. "They’ve really gotten after some teams, and games can really get away from you there if you miss opportunities or make mistakes."

The Texans had running back Arian Foster gain 140 yards in Saturday's 19-13 wild-card victory over the Bengals, quarterback Matt Schaub made his playoff debut a winning one, and J.J. Watt leads a defense that kept Cincinnati's offense out of the end zone. But Kubiak said it's probably not the stars that will decide Sunday's divisional matchup.

"One of the things that stands out to me, in all my years in this league and being a part of some great football games and a lot of playoff games, I think when teams are successful this time of year, plays kind of come from everywhere," Kubiak said. "You can’t go into a game thinking this guy’s got to carry the load or that guy’s got make every play. I think everybody’s got to step up and be accountable.

"Usually when a lot of new faces are making plays you continue to move on. I think it has to be spread around. As far as the chances for our success, we’re going to have to have some young guys make some plays."

Chat with Shalise Manza Young at noon

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 9, 2013 07:37 AM

Globe Patriots reporter Shalise Manza Young will stop by for her weekly football chat Wednesday at noon.

Set a reminder in the chat window below.

Chat with Shalise Manza Young

Kubiak: Texans must win turnover battle

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 9, 2013 07:00 AM

Texans head coach Gary Kubiak didn't mince words when speaking with Houston media Tuesday, telling the Houston Chronicle that the No. 1 key for Sunday's game was turnovers.

"The most important thing," Kubiak said, "is to win the turnover battle."

The Texans and Patriots last played Dec. 10, a 42-14 win for the Patriots in which both teams turned the ball over once. The Texans finished the regular season with a +12 turnover differential, trailing only the Patriots (+25) in the AFC. But Houston's defense has failed to come up with any significant takeaways since a Week 13 meeting against the Tennessee Titans, when they forced six. Since then, the Texans have forced four turnovers in their five games through the wild card playoffs.

"It’s amazing," Kubiak told the Chronicle. "We emphasize it in practice and do everything we can [to set up turnovers]. But it’s too late in the year to have guys beat on each other in practice like they do [in training camp]. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes these things go in cycles."

Of course, Kubiak's main concern is how quickly Patriots quarterback Tom Brady lets go of the ball.

"[Brady] gets rid of the ball extremely quick, which can frustrate a defense from that standpoint," Kubiak said. "They’ll just sit there and nitpick you and make you pay for every little mistake you make. He’s exceptional."

Divisional playoff picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 9, 2013 06:45 AM

010913schaub.jpg

Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has to step up his game for Houston to keep it close against the Patriots. (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

I went a perfect 4-0 over the wild card weekend picking straight-up winners, and 3-1 against the spread. Someone in Las Vegas apparently knew that Joe Webb was a poor quarterback and was likely to tank the game for Minnesota, hence my bungling of the initial 9-point spread (updated to 7 later in the week) favoring the Green Bay Packers. Who would've thunk it that the Packers would cover after losing in a shootout to the Vikings a week prior?

The funny thing is we've got two more ridiculous spreads for the divisional matchups, but I actually think at least one of the teams should cover. The Patriots are 10-point favorites over the Houston Texans. No one seems to have forgotten the Patriots' 42-14 drubbing over the Texans on Monday Night Football in Week 14. The Texans certainly haven't forgotten. And then the Broncos are 10-point favorites over the Ravens. Which brings me to my first upset pick.

Saturday

Ravens (+10) at Broncos (-10) -- The Ravens' ground game is special because Ray Rice is phenomenal between the tackles. But now add Bernard Pierce (103 yards last Sunday) to the mix and you've got two talented runners who are good inside and outside that the Broncos have to be wary of Saturday. The Broncos are on an 11-game winning streak thanks to the mastery of Peyton Manning and one of the league's best defenses (No. 2 overall). But I'm hardly impressed with their body of work. Since they lost to the Patriots, the Broncos have beaten up on some poor teams. But one of their quality wins did come against the Ravens in Week 15. It was one of those typical bad Joe Flacco games (20 of 40 passing overall and an interception returned for a touchdown along with a fumble in the first half). I know this may seem like a stretch of the imagination, but I think Flacco will have a much better game this week and that will go a long way for a Ravens team that will have to emphasize the run. I'm taking the upset and I'm definitely taking the Ravens with the spread. The Ravens just seem more equipped to handle Manning and the threat that the Broncos provide.
Straight up winner: Ravens
By the line: Ravens

Packers (+3) at 49ers (-3) -- These two teams played so long ago and have changed so much, I think it's safe to say they'll each throw out that Week 1 game film in which the 49ers pulled out a 30-22 win. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, on the bench in that Week 1 win, brings an entirely different dynamic to the 49ers offense. The second-year quarterback out of the University of Nevada is much more confident throwing the ball downfield than Alex Smith, the veteran backup, and he complements the team's No. 4 rushing offense well with his ability to run the option and scramble when plays break down. The Packers haven't seen a quarterback like that -- matched with a defense of the 49ers' caliber -- since the team's infamous Week 3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the "Fail Mary." But the 49ers have been shaky in the past month, rising to the occasion against the Patriots and then falling hard the next week against the Seahawks. They're lucky to be the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The Packers will certainly put the game on Aaron Rodgers' shoulders. If 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith (triceps) is even at 75 percent capacity for the game, Rodgers is certain to have a much tougher night. And as of this writing, Smith looks like he's going to play. This will be the game of the week.
Straight up winner: 49ers
By the line: 49ers

Sunday

Seahawks (+3) at Falcons (-3) -- If Seattle's defense has a better start than it did against the Washington Redskins in the wild card, this could be a cake walk. I'm definitely high on the Seahawks right now and looking at the matchup with the Falcons makes me even more confident in the pick. The Falcons are the No. 24 defense in the league, going up against a team that has consistently been able to run the ball well with Marshawn Lynch (132 yards, 1 TD against the Redskins) and has able to shut down the best receivers in the game. Seattle cornerbacks Richard Sherman (8 interceptions, 24 passes defensed) and Brandon Browner will have to put their best effort forward against receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. And it'll take a team effort to account for tight end Tony Gonzalez. Each are among the best in the business at their respective positions. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns, 99.1 quarterback rating) is playing out of this world right now. But the last time he saw a top-5 defense like the Seahawks' (No. 4 overall) was in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos. I don't think Atlanta is ready.
Straight up winner: Seahawks
By the line: Seahawks

Texans (+10) at Patriots (-10) -- It's not hard to be so down on the Houston Texans after watching their 19-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild card. One might argue that the Bengals lost, rather than the Texans won in an ugly, ugly game. Matt Schaub, who had his best outing in a month against Cincy, comes back to Gillette Stadium, where he was basically rendered useless. The Patriots took away the dump-off passes over the middle of the field that he likes to tight ends Owen Daniels and James Casey. The Texans ended up 4 of 14 on third down and fell into an early hole before losing all fight in them. The Patriots won 42-14. Schaub will have tight end Garrett Graham back to target this time around. But if Houston focuses on running the ball with Arian Foster (they're 8-0 when he has 100 or more yards) they have a shot to keep it close. But they have to keep up with Tom Brady and the No. 1 offense in the NFL. A hot start by the Patriots will all but doom the Texans. And after watching the film of the Texans defense -- the number of miscues against the Patriots was plentiful -- they'll need to play much better to keep this close. It doesn't help Houston's cause that Rob Gronkowski is back, Rob Ninkovich appears to have benefited from the bye week as he nurses an injury, and Aqib Talib has been able to rest for at least three weeks. Houston may be seeking revenge, but the stars are aligned for the Patriots.
Straight up winner: Patriots
By the line: Patriots

Last week: 4-0 (3-1 by the line)
Postseason: 4-0 (3-1 by the line)

@zuriberry

Rob Ninkovich took time to heal during Patriots' bye week

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 8, 2013 04:42 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who injured his left hip in the season finale against Miami Dec. 30, left no doubt how important it was to him when the Patriots' clinched a first-round bye with their 28-0 shutout of the Dolphins.

Ninkovich, who was spotted during Tuesday's practice moving around without any impediment, responded when approached in the locker room by throwing his hands up in the air and gushing, "Thank God!''

The bye week enabled Ninkovich, along with the rest of his teammates, to rest and recuperate before resuming preparations to host the Houston Texans in an AFC divisional playoff matchup Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

"I think the bye week, obviously, gives you a chance to get some guys back who were banged up a little bit,'' said Ninkovich. "But you also realize that, come game time, we're playing a three-game season and you've got to really come back focused and know that now it's time to work.

"Everything that we've put in, up until now, is what you're working for. I think it was great to not only get the couple days to get healthy, but also to watch those games and see who we were going to play.

"Now it's time to turn the juice on.''

Championship Today: Getting ready for the Texans

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 8, 2013 03:33 PM

Today's installment of Championship Today features Shalise Manza Young and Michael Whitmer reviewing the top story lines from Gillette Stadium as the Patriots prepare to face the Texans in the AFC Divisional playoffs on Sunday.

Hear from Patriots players Vince Wilfork and Matthew Slater as well in the video.

A new edition of Championship Today will appear each weekday throughout the Patriots' playoff run.

Vince Wilfork says Ray Lewis's last home game 'sent chills up your body'

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 8, 2013 02:11 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- Vince Wilfork said he was emotionally charged watching the final home game of his fellow University of Miami alumnus, Ray Lewis, who last week announced that this season would be his last with the Baltimore Ravens.

Lewis, who was placed on injured reserve with a torn triceps following a Week 6 triumph over the Dallas Cowboys, returned to the field for the first time since his injury and helped the Ravens to a 24-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC wild-card contest, recording a game-high 13 tackles.

Wilfork, who enjoyed a three-day hiatus as part of the Patriots' reward for clinching a first-round bye, watched the game on television and was pleased that it wasn't the last of Lewis's career.

"You know what, that guy means so much to the NFL,'' Wilfork said. "When I’m old and retired, this game is going to go on. People are always going to remember Ray Lewis. Always. He’s going to be remembered because the love that he has and the passion he has – I mean, the way he can get guys to rally around him, it’s unbelievable. He’s a special guy. He’s a special, special guy, especially [as a] football player

"He has every tool to be a great player. When you talk about being great and you talk about defense, the first person that comes to your mind is Ray Lewis. What he’s done over the years is ridiculous. He’s just a hell of a player, he’s a hell of a person. He’s just a great, great icon.''

Wilfork said the most stirring moment of the game for him was when Lewis made his entrance in his own inimitable style, with his trademark war dance.

"When he did that, it sent chills up your body,'' Wilfork said. "He’s been doing this for so long. It’s hard to see a guy that’s been doing it for so long and at the level that he’s been doing it – it’s unheard of. That’s class. When you talk about greatness, you’re talking about greatness right there.

"He’s one of the best that has ever done it. His name can be with some of the greatest of all-time at the position and he shows it. For 17 years, he’s shown it."

Rob Ninkovich back at practice for Patriots

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 8, 2013 01:04 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- Defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who was last seen limping off the field at Gillette Stadium after injuring his left hip in the season finale against the Dolphins, was spotted at practice Tuesday.

It was Ninkovich's second time back on the practice field after being spotted last Thursday before the Patriots went on a three-day hiatus during the bye week.

According to a tweet posted by Globe colleague Michael Whitmer (@GlobeWhitmer), who attended the media-access portion of practice at the lower fields, Ninkovich looked good and was "running and jumping during agility drills."

Rookie defensive lineman Justin Francis, who recorded a career-high three sacks vs. the Dolphins, was not spotted during the workout, conducted in sweats and shells.

Inside the Playbook: Stopping the Texans' running game

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff January 8, 2013 12:50 PM

In this edition of Inside the Playbook, Greg Bedard and Jermaine Wiggins take a look at how the Patriots stopped the Texans running game the first time these two teams played.

Vince Wilfork expecting 'best' from Texans second time around

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 8, 2013 12:21 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- Mindful of how the Patriots completely dominated the Texans during their regular-season meeting in Week 14, nose tackle Vince Wilfork said he fully expected to see a much more improved effort from the opposition when the Patriots host the Texans in an AFC Divisional Playoff game Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

The game will be a rematch of a regular-season meeting Dec. 10 at Gillette, where the Patriots, looking to earn a first-round bye, romped to a 42-14 victory over the Texans, who projected to be the AFC's top-seeded team at the time. The loss sent the Texans on an end-of-season skid that saw them slip to the No. 3 seed and squander a chance for a first-round bye and home-field advantage.

"I mean, we know that we didn’t see their best the last time. They know that, and we know that,'' Wilfork said Tuesday, speaking to reporters from a podium in the visitors' locker room. "Come Sunday, we’re expecting their best. It’s all or nothing now from here on out.

"For us, we have to be able to execute and it starts with their running game,'' Wilfork said. "If we don’t do that, we’re going to have troubles.''

In the first game, the Texans had 323 yards total offense, including 100 rushing. Arian Foster, the Texans' featured back, was limited to 46 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries, including a long gain of 15 yards.

"It starts with Foster,'' Wilfork said. "The more touches he gets, in the passing game or on the ground, the better their team is. I’m pretty sure they’re sitting down there [in Houston] going, 'You know what? We’re a better football team.' During the regular season, things didn’t go well and we basically outplayed them.

"They feel they’re a better football team and they are a better football team,'' Wilfork said. "There’s a reason they’re in the postseason, there’s a reason we’re in the postseason. So I don’t think anything from that game is going to play a huge factor. I think it’s going to give them more of an edge to want to come back up here and try to play better."

Patriots sign WR Andre Holmes to practice squad

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 8, 2013 12:04 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- The Patriots announced Tuesday the signing of wide receiver Andre Holmes to the practice squad.

Holmes, 24, was originally drafted out of HIllsdale in 2011 as a rookie free agent with the Minnesota Vikings. The 6-foot-4-inch, 223-pounder was released by the Vikings after training camp and signed by the Cowboys to their practice squad.

Holmes was signed to the 53-man roster late in 2011 but inactive for the final four games of the season. He made the 53-man roster out of training camp this season and played in seven games and made two receptions for 11 yards. He was released by the Cowboys on Nov. 25 and re-signed to the practice squad Nov. 27.

With the the Patriots preparing to host the No. 3-seeded Houston Texans Sunday in an AFC Divisional Playoff game Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, Holmes was ostensibly brought aboard to help give New England's defense a good look by simulating the physical size of Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson.

Championship Today: Texans return to Gillette Stadium

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 7, 2013 04:15 PM
In our kickoff episode of Championship Today, Shalise Manza Young previews the Patriots rematch with the Houston Texans in the AFC divisional playoff game Sunday in Foxborough.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick also talks about facing the Texans for the second time this season.

And Texans running back Arian Foster has posted some bulletin board material to try to motivate Houston after his team was beaten badly in their last trip to New England, 41-14.

Belichick: Can't 'overanalyze' first meeting vs. Texans

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 7, 2013 01:29 PM

Bill Belichick and coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia took part in a lunchtime conference call with reporters on Monday. Here are some highlights from that chat.

Bill Belichick
On what the Patriots did well in their Week 14 game against Houston:
"There were several things in that game that went our way but I don’t think that’s really that significant at this point. We just have to go back and make sure that we’re well prepared for the things that they do. The plays will match up differently and I’m sure there will be new plays that weren’t in that game. I don’t think you can overanalyze that game.

"We’re playing a team – we have our team, they have their team and it’s a big picture thing. Every game comes down to some specific plays and matchups but you know never know that’s how it’s going to go at the beginning. You just have to wait and see how it unfolds. We’re just going to focus on our preparation and what we do and what they’ve shown that they’ve done and try to be ready for it all."

On making in-game adjustments and how quickly they begin
"Definitely, the first drive; as soon as we come off and we have a lot more information than we had going into the game even if some of it is just a confirmation of their personnel, their groupings, their matchups. [We] try to take a look at what they’re trying to do, why they selected the type of plays that they’ve selected in the first series and what does it look like they’re trying to attack or how they’re trying to play us.

"With a team like Houston that has some West Coast elements to it, you know that early in the game, there is a script portion or potential in the game and so that’s also another thing you have to factor in. Teams that are script-type teams, how you want to treat that because script isn’t always necessarily the way the whole game goes. Sometimes a script is just a script. But yeah definitely, it starts as soon as the game starts. You get halftime, fourth quarter, a lot of times is just situational football based on the score, whatever the conditions happen to be.

"A lot of times, the game plan really only goes two, two and a half, three quarters depending on the way the game unfolds and then a lot of times in the fourth quarter you’re just playing situational football or you’ve seen so much of the game that you’re no longer in a game plan mode, you’re [in] ‘Play the game the way this particular game is being played,’ mentality."

Josh McDaniels
On whether Tom Brady's demeanor changes in the postseason
"Tom has a great approach and demeanor about his work every day. I think that’s really a great thing to have as a quarterback. If you can be consistent with the way you approach your job – how hard you work and the intensity with which you prepare for each opponent – I think that generally that sets a great example for your teammates and for anybody who is looking at you for leadership, in terms of how you would expect them to do their job too. We all get excited when you’re in the postseason, I mean this is really what we play and coach for, is to try to have an opportunity to play in these types of games and to coach in these types of games. I’m sure Tom is no different than any player who is really excited for our opportunity this week. But I think that Tom is a pretty consistent guy who has a great approach to doing his job every day as well as he can do it."

Matt Patricia
On playing defense against a well-rounded offense like the Texans'
"It’s every week that if we can just get our guys to focus hard and prepare for exactly what we’re going to see and then obviously adapt to the way the game goes, the better of we’re going to be in those instances. Obviously it’s just a great challenge for us again because they are such a good offense.

"They are a balanced offense, one that can run the ball. When that running game gets going, it obviously sets up a lot of other things that they can do. It really falls in the line of the same things of kind of what I said last time. Obviously a great wide receiver in Andre Johnson and [Kevin] Walter’s certainly very good. Their tight ends are phenomenal, between [Owen] Daniels and [Garrett] Graham and [James] Casey, who was in there also. I think they just really provide a lot of different weapons that they can use offensively that you have to be prepared to stop. It’s going to be another big challenge for us and they proved again last week that they can control the game and run the ball and really just do a good job of handling game from that standpoint."

Arian Foster uses Dan Shaughnessy column for Twitter avatar

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 7, 2013 01:18 PM
Looks like we can't count Houston Texans running back Arian Foster among those athletes who claim they don't read what's written about them.

Foster has changed his Twitter avatar to the first three paragraphs of Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy's Sunday column about the Patriots-Texans rematch.

Here's how Shaughnessy began his piece:

The 2012-13 New England Patriots just became the first team in NFL history to get back-to-back byes before advancing to the conference championship game.

Could this get any easier?

I mean, seriously? The planets are aligned and the tomato cans are in place. The fraudulent Houston Texans are the only team standing between the New England Patriots and a trip to the AFC Championship game. All the Patriots have to do is beat the terrible Texans. One week from today. At Gillette Stadium.'

The Patriots defeated the Texans on Monday Night Football in early December. Their rematch in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs is Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

Update, 3:28 p.m.: Shaughnessy acknowledged the stir as follows, also on Twitter:

hey @arianfoster -- Loving the avatar. Bring your A game to Foxboro on Sunday.

Tom Brady says Patriots need their best vs. Texans

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 7, 2013 11:13 AM
With their bye week over and the Houston Texans on their way to New England, quarterback Tom Brady knows the Patriots have their work cut out for them this week.

“It’s a great time of the year for football players to watch the best teams in the league compete and we’re going to be out there next weekend,” Brady said during his weekly appearance on WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan program. “I watched the Houston game … Once they won on Saturday, all the focus was on them.”

Brady said that although the Patriots beat the Texans 42-14 in December, this weekend will be a completely different game.

“I don’t think that game is going to have any bearing on what happens next week,” Brady said. “That was a big win for our season, it was a big win at that time, but this game is going to be entirely different and I think we need to put just as much preparation into the game as we did before … We know these guys. I think that’s the part that I enjoy, that I’ve already spent a lot of time preparing for them, so to have another week to do it, you feel like you’re going to know them that much better, so we still have to go out and execute against it. I know they felt like they didn’t play their best game against us, which they didn’t, and in a lot of ways, I think we can play better too and we need to play better, it needs to be our best week.”

The last time the Patriots played the Texans, tight end Rob Gronkowski was out because of a broken forearm. Brady said the team hopes Gronkowski is able to play.

“He’s working hard,” Brady said. “Nobody wants to be out there more than him on a full-time basis. He’s never really missed any games for us, so it’s been really hard for him to sit on the sideline. He’s working hard to do his rehab and get back out there. That’s what we’re all hoping. Whether that’s the case, who knows? Regardless, we still have to go out there and play great. We’ve won a lot of game with him not out there too, so we have to be prepared to do whatever it is we need to do.”

Brady said that with all the intensity that comes with the playoffs, the postseason is the most fun.

“This is what we play for,” Brady said. “This is what its all about. This is why you work hard. It’s more fun when you’re challenged more and when there’s more at stake and there’s definitely more at stake than there was two weeks ago.”

The Patriots will take on the Texans at Gillette Stadium on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. for a chance to advance to the AFC Championship game on Jan. 20.

Texans trying to find inspiration from dismal play against Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 6, 2013 05:35 PM

Last month's 42-14 shellacking at the hands of the Patriots was such an ugly defeat for the Houston Texans that the team can hardly stomach looking back upon the game.

Texans running back Arian Foster told the Houston Chronicle after Saturday's wild card win against the Cincinnati Bengals that he'll only glance at the film.

"I don’t know how much I'm going to look at that, man, honestly," Foster said. "[The Patriots] are a good team. We're a good team. I'll glance at it. But I'm not going to sit there and burn a candle and watch it."

The sentiment was similar across the Texans' locker room, where players were asked about the Week 14 loss as coverage of the AFC divisional matchup got a jumpstart.

"New England's intensity was higher than ours," Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith told the Chronicle. "You feel, like, ashamed to say it. But in that game, you could tell they were putting forth that extra effort. They were making those plays that I'm talking about to win."

But Smith and the Texans want to use those feelings of disgust and abhorrence over their play as motivation for next week's game.

“I’m pregnant with it and I told them that on the sideline," Smith said. "Can’t forget it. You gotta take it with you. You gotta feel it in you. Every bit of despair you felt going off that field, you gotta feel it. That’s the level you gotta go to when you’re playing a team like that. It can’t just be work as usual, it’s gotta be personal.”

Said Texans coach Gary Kubiak: "We understand the challenge that we have. That is what is awesome about this league: it’s the ultimate challenge. We’ve earned our right to go back. We want to go back and play a heck of a lot better than we did.

"We will enjoy this victory (Saturday) and we’ll get back to work. It's a challenge that we all work for. That's why we're here."

@zuriberry

Bill Belichick talks Texans

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff January 6, 2013 03:24 PM

Houston's 19-13 win over Cincinnati on Saturday in the wild-card round of the playoffs can be seen as a positive for the Patriots on two fronts: It gives them an extra day to prepare for the Texans because they now know their opponent, and it brings a team that New England has already dominated this season back to Gillette Stadium.

In a conference call Sunday afternoon, Patriots coach Bill Belichick spoke highly of Houston's win against the Bengals, and dismissed any notion that the 42-14 win over the Texans on Dec. 10 will mean anything the second time around.

In fact, Belichick was asked if the situation two years ago can be applied. In 2010, the Patriots thrashed the Jets late in the regular season, 45-3. Then in the playoffs, the Jets turned the tables and eliminated the Patriots, winning 28-21 at Gillette.

"I think there’s certainly a lesson there about the game that we play now doesn’t have much to do with the game we played before," Belichick said. "We’ve talked about that many, many times here, before and after the 2010 season."

Belichick was also asked -- and spoke highly of -- Houston's two biggest stars, defensive end J.J. Watt and running back Arian Foster. Watt and the Texans' defense held the Bengals without a touchdown, while Foster ran for 140 yards, the third time in three playoff games he's gone over 100, the only time in NFL history that has happened.

On Watt: "Watt's a big focal point on that defense, but you can't ignore the other guys. He's made more big plays than probably anybody has defensively this year in the league."

On Foster: "The running game controls the game for them, it sets up their play-action passes, puts them in a lot of third-and-medium, third-and-short situations. There's no question he's a key guy for Houston and their offense, but his production also complements the other players, as well. We'll definitely have to do a good job on him."

Taking a look at Patriots-Texans the second time around

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 6, 2013 02:43 PM

BALTIMORE – There will be plenty of time to go over the Patriots-Texans matchup more in depth as the week goes along, but here’s my take on why the matchup could be or won't be different than the 42-14 pasting New England put on the Texans in Week 14:

Why it could be different

  1. Texans saw the Patriots’ best shot: Defensively, New England brought extra pressure against Texans quarterback Matt Schaub on 52.5 percent of his throws. That’s the most since at least the start of the 2010 season. Cornerback Aqib Talib’s presence didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the pressure. The Patriots blitzed on 38 percent of the throws before he left with a hip injury; 68 percent after he departed – despite a 21-0 advantage. Offensively, the Patriots used the full arsenal against the Texans (sans Rob Gronkowski) with quick passes, a taste of the running game, and even a few shot plays to Brandon Lloyd and Donte Stallworth. It’s pretty much all on film for the Texans, so it will be up to them to find an answer on both sides of the ball.
  2. Return of Reed and Graham: The Texans were without two important injured players, outside linebacker Brooks Reed (groin) and second tight end Garrett Graham (concussion), in the first matchup. When healthy, Reed gives the Texans more oomph in their pass rush, but he hasn’t looked 100 percent the past two games since returning. Graham is an athletic tight end who Schaub likes to go to in the red zone. He’s not a dynamic playmaker in the pass game, but he certainly helps when teams concentrate on Owen Daniels.
  3. Confidence: Schaub had never played in, let alone won, a playoff game before Saturday’s victory over the Bengals, so perhaps he and the team have gained a little confidence. They were sorely lacking any down the stretch after blowing the top seed in the AFC. Maybe Schaub can now exploit some of the coverage deficiencies the Patriots had at linebacker and in the secondary that he flat missed the first time around.

Why it won’t be different

  1. Schaub is still Schaub: The Texans’ quarterback looked like he didn’t want to be at Gillette Stadium the first time around, as he looked scared against the Patriots’ pressure and tentative to make a mistake. You’re not winning many big games that way. Further going against the Texans is they are not a gameplan offense like the Patriots. Houston does what it does – inside and outside zone runs and playaction passes – against every opponent. If the Texans sense any weakness in the Patriots, it’s not like they can design an attack to take advantage. Against the Texans, if you can disrupt what they like to do, they can’t alter and move the ball.
  2. The Patriots stop the run: The Bengals were pushed around at defensive tackle (opposite Geno Atkins) and on the edges at defensive and linebacker against the Texans’ zone running game. And Arian Foster ran 32 times for 140 yards. He was 15 for 46 against the Patriots because Vince Wilfork, Brandon Deaderick, Kyle Love, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes owned the interior, and Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich owned the edges. Take away the threat of playaction, and Schaub is below average and he’s line isn’t as elite as it normally is.
  3. Patriots are rested: New England had a ton of players who were either injured or beatup the first time around, but have gotten some rest down the stretch and with the bye week. Chief among them is Gronkowski, who didn’t play the first time around. He was playing with one arm the last time we saw him, but 50 percent of Gronk is better than no Gronk.

Patriots open as huge favorites over Texans

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 6, 2013 01:12 PM

Only diehard Texans fans still believe in Houston. When the Texans come to Gillette Stadium Sunday Jan. 13, they'll be 9.5-point underdogs in the AFC divisional playoff matchup.

The Patriots beat the Texans almost a month ago, 42-14, and that huge win has bettors convinced the Patriots can replicate the effort. After the line opened, originally at -10, 63 percent of all bettors took the Patriots in the spread, according to P.J. Walsh, director of sports information at SportsInsights.com, a Beverly, Mass. based company.

SportsInsights.com receives betting percentages from seven offshore sports books, allowing for the company to gain rare insight into the behavior of bettors.

According to Walsh, when the line dropped, that indicated the "early sharp money grabbed the Texans at +10."

"However, it'll be interesting to see if the public continues to bet the Patriots this week and what effect that has on the line," Walsh said via e-mail. "My guess is that the Patriots' 42-14 win over the Texans is still fresh enough that bettors will continue to lay the points with New England all week, but the big question is how high the sharp bettors will let the line get before buying back Houston."

@zuriberry

Quick thoughts on Texans after beating the Bengals

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 5, 2013 07:43 PM

The Patriots will be hosting Houston next week in the AFC Division playoff round after the Texans beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 19-13, on Saturday.

Here are some quick thoughts on how the Texans fared against the Bengals:

- Matt Schaub, who finished 29 of 38 for 261 yards and an interception, was at his best when he was targeting tight end Owen Daniels over the middle of the field. He was at his shakiest when he was throwing the ball toward the sideline. If you recall, when the Texans were in New England, the Patriots took away those throws to Daniels and forced Schaub to dink and dunk or attempt to go down field. He's simply not a good quarterback outside of his comfort area and that's why he needs the play-action.

- Schaub threw an interception returned for a touchdown in the second quarter. It was a throw to the sideline that was undercut by Bengals corner Leon Hall. It was exactly the kind of throw he needed to avoid after another disastrous interception against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 17.

- The Texans defense was able to shut the Bengals down on third down, thanks in large part to a porous outing by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton. The Bengals were 0 for 9 on third down and 1 for 2 on fourth down. Dalton was 14 of 30 for 144 yards and an interception. He finished with a 44.7 quarterback rating. The Texans won't be lucky enough to see that kind of effort from Tom Brady and the league's No. 1 offense.

- Arian Foster, behind his stud offensive line, was on top of his game. He rushed for 140 yards on 32 carries with a touchdown. Not to compare apples to oranges here, but he had only 15 carries against the Patriots. Everyone knows the Texans need their running game going for their offense to work in general.

- The Texans appeared to do their best to put defensive lineman J.J. Watt in one-on-one situations. What was the result? Five tackles, a sack, and a pass defensed. Expect the Texans to do their best to free up Watt next week.

@zuriberry

Wild Card weekend picks

Posted by Greg A. Bedard January 5, 2013 01:38 PM

Heading to Baltimore for Sunday’s Colts-Ravens game, but wanted to give my picks for this weekend before I get on a plane:

Saturday

Bengals 20, Texans 16: This is a matchup of decidedly mediocre quarterbacks. Surprisingly, second-year Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has the playoff experience advantage over Matt Schaub (first playoff game in nine seasons). Dalton will be up and down, that’s who he is. Schaub has shown that the bigger the stakes, the worse a quarterback he is. He plays scared when the play-action game isn’t giving him a ton of open space to operate, and he won’t have that with DT Geno Atkins killing the right side of the Texans’ line. The Bengals’ secondary is really good and matchups up well with Andre Johnson and company, never mind the fact that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is a terrific strategist.

Packers 30, Vikings 23: This one will come down to whether the Vikings’ front four, specifically a beat-up Jared Allen, can get enough pressure against Aaron Rodgers behind a mediocre Green Bay offensive line. Because with Greg Jennings at full strength, Jermichael Finley with his head in the game, and Randall Cobb back in the lineup, the Packers are going to put up a lot of points unless Rodgers is on his back more often than not. This could easily be a blowout.

Sunday

Ravens 27, Colts 20: The Ravens have not being playing good football, but they are decidedly more talented than the Colts – as is just about every team – and at some point that’s going to catch up to Indianapolis. Ray Lewis’ return should give Baltimore enough of a lift to get by this one.

Seahawks 23, Redskins 20: The best game of the weekend should be the final one. The way these teams rely on physical defenses and the running game, it almost feels like an old NFC East clash – with two young, very athletic quarterbacks taking the place of the dinosaur dropback quarterback. The Seahawks have exactly what it takes on defense to stop the Redskins’ pistol offense, and Robert Griffin III not being at full strength tips it to Seattle.

Greg Bedard on NFL Wild Card Weekend

Posted by Robert Burgess January 4, 2013 02:10 PM





Which road team has the best shot of winning? Who do the Patriots want to see in the Divisional round? CineSport's Brian Clark turns to The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard for his insight.

Scott Pioli and Kansas City Chiefs part ways

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff January 4, 2013 10:12 AM
The Kansas City Chiefs announced on Friday that they and general manager Scott Pioli have mutually agreed to part ways.

“After several productive conversations, we made the difficult decision to part ways with Scott Pioli and allow him to pursue other opportunities,” Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said in a statement released on the team's website. “Scott has been an invaluable member of the Chiefs family since joining us in 2009, and we sincerely appreciate his tremendous contributions over the last four years.

“I know that this was a difficult decision for Scott as well. He has a great deal of appreciation for the history of this franchise, for our players, coaches and employees, and especially our great fans.

“There is no way to overstate the level of respect and admiration I have for Scott on a personal level. His character, loyalty, integrity and commitment to a team are extraordinary, and throughout the last four years, he has consistently put the best interests of the Chiefs ahead of his own. I know he will go on to enjoy further success in the National Football League, and I certainly wish him the best in the future.”

The 47-year-old Pioli, who earned three Super Bowl rings during his time as Bill Belichick's second-in-command with the Patriots before leaving after the 2008 season, joined the Chiefs as GM in Jan. 2009 and spent four seasons in Kansas City. During his time with the Chiefs, the team won its first division title since 2003 and Pioli earned NFL Executive of the Year honors from national media outlets in 2010.

Pioli released the below statement on parting ways with the club:

“I would like to thank Norma, Clark and the Hunt Family for the opportunity that they gave me four years ago. I’d also like to thank the players, coaches, scouts and countless other employees, throughout the organization and at Arrowhead Stadium that have worked so hard during my time here. I would also like to genuinely thank Chiefs fans.

“The bottom line is that I did not accomplish all of what I set out to do. To the Hunt family – to the great fans of the Kansas City Chiefs – to the players, all employees and alumni, I truly apologize for not getting the job done.”

Q&A with Shalise Manza Young

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 4, 2013 08:24 AM

The football playoffs kick off this weekend, and Globe Patriots reporter Shalise Manza Young stopped by to chat about the Patriots and the playoffs on Friday.

Review the discussion below.

NFL chat with Shalise Manza Young

Patriots' Wendell is NFL's Iron Man

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 3, 2013 05:23 PM

The good people at FootballOutsiders.com went through the gamebooks from all 256 of this year's regular-season games and tabulated the total number of snaps played by every player in the NFL.

Thanks to playing center on an offense that likes to play at a rapid-fire pace and getting through the year fairly healthy, the Patriots' Ryan Wendell was the 2012 leader in total snaps played.

Wendell played 1,231 offensive snaps (out of a possible 1,237) and 148 special teams snaps for a total of 1,379. The NFL runner-up was Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, who was on the field for 1,234 offensive snaps and 105 special teams snaps, for a total of 1,339.

"I was happy to find that out," Wendell said. "I think it says a lot about the organization as a whole, the guys around us -- our athletic trainers, Jim Whalen and Joe Van Allen, along with the strength and conditioning coaches, Harold Nash and Moses Cabrera, who spend a lot of time and effort trying to make sure that we're healthy and out on the field as much as we can."

Wendell, a first-year starter, played at a high level, earning the respect of quarterback Tom Brady.

"He's done a great job," Brady said. "He's really done a great job since he got here. He fought for his opportunity and once he got it this year, he really took advantage. He's been healthy and durable, consistent. Playing center on our team is not easy -- there are a lot of adjustments and calls that we have, both the communication I have with him and what he relays to the rest of the offensive linemen.

"He's done a great job. He's a tough, hard-nosed football player that loves the game and loves to compete."

Patriots defensive back/safety Devin McCourty ranked third in total snaps with 1,329, with 1,073 on defense and 256 on special teams.

Devin's twin brother Jason, a Titans cornerback, was fifth on the list with 1,282 total snaps (1,125 on defense, 157 on special teams).


Bye week practice report: Brady back at practice

Posted by Michael Vega, Globe Staff January 3, 2013 12:56 PM

FOXBOROUGH --- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady returned to practice Thursday and was joined by defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who injured his left hip in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins, according to Globe colleague Michael Whitmer.

Rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who has been battling hamstring and shoulder injuries, also returned.

Despite frigid conditions, the Patriots conducted their final practice of their bye week outdoors on the lower grass field behind Gillette Stadium in sweats and shells. The team, which had perfect attendance for practice, will take the next three days off.

Patriots playoff tickets on sale Monday

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 3, 2013 09:23 AM

Tickets for the Patriots' Jan. 13 playoff game at Gillette Stadium will go on sale Monday at 10 a.m., the team announced.

Ticket sales will be conducted only by phone (800-745-3000) or online (ticketmaster.com). Tickets are limited, with mostly single seats available, the team said in a press release, and there is a four-ticket limit per person. Visa is the only form of payment accepted.

Prices range from $100 to $220. No tickets will be sold at the Gillette Stadium ticket office.

The Patriots will face the Ravens, Texans or Colts on Jan. 13 at 4:30 p.m.

Inside the Playbook: Improving the defense

Posted by Robert Burgess January 2, 2013 03:45 PM

In this edition of Inside the Playbook, Globe writer Greg Bedard analyzes how the Patriots have improved their defense.

Belichick remembers equipment manager Brocher

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 2, 2013 02:25 PM

Longtime Patriots equipment manager Don Brocher died early Tuesday morning after a six-month battle with leukemia.

Bill Belichick opened his press conference Wednesday by sharing his thoughts on the passing of Brocher, who was the franchise's longest-tenured employee (hired in 1972):

"First of all, I’d just say that as a football team, organization, we’re saddened by the loss of Donny this weekend," said the coach. "In a game where – we all saw what changes were made on Monday throughout the league – for somebody to be here for 40 years, doing the job that he did for so many owners, coaches, general managers, you name it, players, is really a tribute to his dedication, consistency, dependability, and the quality of the work that he did.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Laurie and his family. He’s a guy that six months ago when [former assistant equipment manager] John Hillebrand went to Jacksonville, [Brocher] sat in my office and he talked about how good he was feeling, how much he was looking forward to a few more years on the job and doing some other things that he was looking forward to. Six months later, we are where we are today.

"Don was here for the San Francisco game. I don’t think anybody really had a sense of the physical and mental toughness that he displayed that night just by being here and doing his job and being here for us in that type of situation. But that was kind of Donny. He was never one to complain, never one to talk about how he was doing, he was just there to help the rest of us. We’ll miss him."

Brocher did not make the trip with the Patriots to Tampa Bay for a preseason game in August; it was the first game he had missed in 40 years, snapping a streak of 834 consecutive games he worked.

Wild card weekend picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff January 2, 2013 02:14 PM

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Robert Griffin III has had a terrific season, but he'll meet his match this weekend against the Seattle Seahawks. (Jonathan Ernst / REUTERS)

We have the matchups, we have the lines, but not all of it fits neatly into who wins and who loses. Let's break it down. Here are my picks for the NFL's wild card weekend.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Saturday

Bengals (+4 1/2) at Texans (-4 1/2) -- This is the Texans' final chance to bounce back. They're lucky because the Bengals are the worst team in the playoffs, having won six of their last 10 games against non-playoff opponents and only three times against teams in the playoff hunt. But that doesn't mean a team that's dead set on imploding can't finish the job. The Texans lost three of their last four, including once to the Indianapolis Colts -- a truly retched defense, No. 26 overall -- and have only themselves to blame for being in the wild card. But they have more than enough talent on defense to deal with the Bengals' flimsy offense (No. 22 overall) in a rematch from the 2011 playoffs.
Straight up winner: Texans
By the line: Texans

Vikings (+9) at Packers (-9) -- Forget about Week 17. It's in the past and nothing can change it. The Packers dropped the regular season finale to the Vikings, 37-34, because Green Bay got off to a slow start. Don't expect that to happen again. Adrian Peterson will surely help the Vikings keep it close. Any reasonable person should balk at the 9-point spread.
Straight up winner: Packers
By the line: Vikings

Sunday

Colts (+6 1/2) at Ravens (-6 1/2) -- How much can Ray Lewis help the Ravens defense? If he is to return, as is expected, that could emotionally change the makeup of this game in the Ravens' favor. But I think everyone is more interested in which Joe Flacco will show up on Sunday. He's been wildly inconsistent, which is his trademark. If Flacco can put together anything similar to his Week 16 performance against the New York Giants, the Ravens will cruise. But if we're talking Week 15 Flacco against the Denver Broncos, the Ravens are in a world of hurt. No worries, they're playing one of the league's bottom tier defense and we're not that impressed with Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck either. Luck finished the season with 23 turnovers, including 18 interceptions.
Straight up winner: Ravens
By the line: Ravens

Seahawks (-3) at Redskins (+3) -- This rookie quarterback matchup will be the highlight of the weekend. The Seahawks are arguably the hottest team in the NFL right now, going a perfect 5-0 in December and winning seven of their last eight games. Seattle's Russell Wilson (3,118 yards, 26 touchdowns, 100.0 quarterback rating) has helped compose an explosive offense, putting up a whopping 38.6 points per game in December. He's helped in large part by the No. 4 overall defense in the league and a bruising running game thanks to Marshawn Lynch (1,590 yards, 11 touchdowns). The Redskins' Robert Griffin III (3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns, 102.4 quarterback rating) has been the talk of the league since day 1. But he's somewhat taken the shine away from rookie running back Alfred Morris (1,613 yards, 13 touchdowns), who has helped Washington become the No. 1 rushing team in the league. That makes sense when you consider Griffin III ran for 815 yards and seven touchdowns in 15 games. But he's been hampered with a knee injury the past few weeks and the Seahawks defense has done a great job at controlling the pocket. And there's nothing worse than the Redskins' passing defense (No. 30 overall) which will have to deal with receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, both of whom are averaging more than 15 yards per catch.
Straight up winner: Seahawks
By the line: Seahawks

Bye week practice peek: Three not spotted, including Brady

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff January 2, 2013 01:07 PM

The Patriots are currently holding their first of two practices this week on the lower field behind Gillette Stadium.

There were three players not spotted during the media-access window: Tom Brady, Rob Ninkovich, and Dont'a Hightower.

Since this is their bye week the Patriots are not required to submit an injury report, but it is likely safe to assume that Brady is simply getting a veteran's day off - when he does get a day of rest, it is always on a Wednesday.

Ninkovich left Sunday's game with Miami with a hip injury; Hightower has been on the injury report with hamstring and shoulder injuries, which could be the reason for his absence.

Players were in shells and sweats.

Share your Patriots pride photos

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 2, 2013 08:28 AM

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With the NFL postseason about to begin, Patriots fans have the highest hopes for this season's team, and they are showing their allegiance in a variety of ways just about everywhere you look.

A perfect example is the awesome home display pictured in the above photograph reader Tim Lund sent us. He said his father, Paul, created this display at their home in Billerica, and it spans the entire bay window and shutters.

We've seen other home and business displays, clothing, car and pet decorations, and many other signs of loyalty and pride, so it's time to offer Boston.com readers the chance to submit their photos.

Our Share your Patriots pride photo gallery for this year is up and running, and will be on the site throughout the playoffs. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year.

Patriots sign Robertson to practice squad

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 1, 2013 04:45 PM

The Patriots announced Tuesday defensive lineman Tracy Robertson was signed to the practice squad.

Robertson, an undrafted free agent from Baylor, was released by the Lions at the end of training camp in August and has not played in the NFL this season.

Patriots equipment manager dies; was team's longest-tenured staffer

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 1, 2013 02:17 PM

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Equipment manager Don Brocher, the Patriots' longest-tenured employee, died on Tuesday of complications from leukemia, the team announced.

Brocher, 60, was in his 41st season with the team. He began as a ballboy in 1972 and became an equipment assistant that season, then became equipment manager in 1994. He was born in Boston and lived in Norton with his wife, Laurie.

Brocher had worked at 834 consecutive Patriots games over a 40-year span before he missed a preseason game at Tampa Bay in August.

“The Kraft family and the entire Patriots organization awoke with very heavy hearts this morning,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a team press release. “That is when most of us learned of Don’s passing. He had fought this deadly disease so valiantly all season long. We were all optimistic that he would defeat it and fully recover. He was back on our sidelines just two weeks ago for our game against the 49ers and I can’t remember ever seeing him happier. I am glad I had that opportunity to thank him once again for his loyalty and countless contributions to the team. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Laurie, and all who knew Don and are mourning his loss today.”

NFL playoffs facts and figures: Players can cash in on postseason bonuses

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff January 1, 2013 12:47 PM

Happy New Year.

A slow day on the Boston sports scene offers the chance to peruse the NFL's postseason guide, a fascinating read that the NFL has made available to fans as well as media. The guide includes postseason records and recaps of every game.

Here are some of the more interesting details:

  • Players on teams in the wild-card round of the playoffs receive a $20,000 postseason share. It's $22,000 for wild-card round teams that are division winners (Texans and Ravens in the AFC, Redskins and Packers in NFC).

  • Players on divisional round playoff teams receive $22,000 and players in the conference championships receive $40,000.

  • Super Bowl shares are $88,000 for the winning team, $44,000 for the losing team.

  • Who says there's nothing to play for in the Pro Bowl? Players on the winning team get $50,000, while losing team members get $25,000.

  • The Patriots have the second-highest winning percentage in AFC Championship Games at .778 (7-2). They trail only the Bengals, who are 2-0 for a 1.000 percentage. The Denver Broncos are tied for third with the Bills (both 6-2, .750).

  • The NFC champion will be the home team in the Super Bowl and can choose which uniform it wears.

  • What time is the Super Bowl? Broadcast starts at 6 p.m. on Feb. 3. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m.

  • Quarterback has naturally been the position for the majority of the Super Bowl MVPs (24). Running back is second with 7, receiver third with 6.

  • Tickets for the Super Bowl are distributed as follows: AFC/NFC champions get 17.5 percent each; host city team(s) get 5 percent; Other 29 teams get 34.8 percent (1.2 percent each); NFL distributes remaining 25.2 percent through fan lottery, NFLPA, media and NFL associates.

  • Eight of the top 15 highest-rated television shows all-time were Super Bowls.

  • The Cincinnati Bengals have the worst all-time playoff winning percentage (5-10, .333).

Related: NFL playoffs schedule

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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