Patriots

Belichick says it with feeling

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Belichick says it with feeling

After Sunday's Patriots game, I tuned in to Bill Belichick's press conference, hoping for a good laugh. I envisioned question after question from reporters trying to bait the coach into waxing on the AFC Championship Game followed Belichick stonewalling them in the most awkward way possible.

"I'm not really worried about which game it is," he'd mumble. "Just focused on the Ravens. They're a good team. Great competitors."

But in real life, Belichick took the stage and something was different. He was still far from cheerful, but unlike a typical Belichick presser, the coach was actually engaged. He was present. And while there was still a heavy helping of deflective cliches, many of his answers were filled with actual substance, perspective, and believe it or not, emotion.

"Of course were excited to be heading into the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens," he said. "Its a great honor, really, to participate in the game; to be playing for the right to represent the AFC the following week."

Excuse me. Did he just say excited?

"Tom has meant a lot to us since hes been here," Belichick said about Brady's setting the record for postseason wins. "He started winning playoff games the first year he really got a chance to participate in them. Tom is a great competitor. He had a great week of preparation as he always does for every game but especially the playoff games. Hes our leader and we all follow him, we all respect him and he led the team today, along with a lot of other guys but he certainly did his job, as hes done many times before. Theres no quarterback Id rather have than Tom Brady."

OK, maybe it's not out of the ordinary for the coach to throw praise on Brady, but this answer was heartfelt. It came from a deeper side of Belichick that's very rarely on display when he's standing at the podium.

And then this morning, during a conference call with the media, Belichick was asked about Sunday's struggles in kick off coverage.

"Overall our kickoff coverage has been one of the best things weve done all year," he said. "Were right at the top of the league in kickoff coverage. We didnt have a good play in the San Francisco game and then we had three bad plays yesterday, but overall thats been probably as consistent as anything weve done as a football team for the entire season."
Honestly, if I had shown you the above quote out of context and asked: "Which NFL coach said this?"

Would you have ever guessed Bill Belichick?

I wouldn't have, but after watching yesterday's press conference, it all makes sense. Belichick's honesty was reminder of something that I had very clearly forgot, even though it comes up every time the Pats are fortunate enough to make it this far.

That is: When it comes to the AFC Championship Game, not even Bill Belichick's immune to getting caught up in the excitement. After all, this is what it's all about. The act, the games, the secrecy, the cliches. It's all in the name of the opportunity that stands before the Patriots this Sunday. One win for a trip back to the Super Bowl. Even the coach has to smile.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

With Andrews out, who's next man up for the Patriots at center?

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With Andrews out, who's next man up for the Patriots at center?

Continuity along the offensive line was one of the reasons the Patriots were able to have the season they had in 2016. They tossed aside the early-season experiementation that Bill Belichick favored at times in order to establish a starting five that could be relied upon, if healthy, start to finish. 

They attacked 2017 with the same approach, but because of injury the consistency simply has not been the same. Both starting tackles, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon, have missed time injured this season, and Cannon will sit out again on Sunday as he continues to deal with an ankle injury. 

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The interior of the line has remained largely in place until this week when center David Andrews came down with an illness, missed two practices, and was ruled out. 

On a line where familiarity is key, where the center is the one making the calls, the one in constant communication with Tom Brady, what now?

The Patriots will likely turn to second-year man Ted Karras, who has the ability to play both guard spots and also backed up Andrews for the vast majority of training camp. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder was released at the end of camp, quickly signed to the Patriots practice squad, and then he re-signed to the active roster in Week 1 when Malcolm Mitchell was placed on injured reserve.

Karras, drafted in the sixth round in 2016 out of Illinois, was named a practice player of the week earlier this year and he earned some praise from Belichick before the Patriots took off for Mexico City.

"Ted works hard," Belichick said. "He loves football. He gets there early, stays late."

Belichick noted that Karras (nine snaps, all against the Broncos) hasn't played much this season, but he did see plenty of work early last season when he filled in for an injured Shaq Mason. He was the Week 1 starter at right guard in a win ver the Cardinals and he played 41 snaps in Week 2 against the Dolphins. 

The Patriots offensive line could also potentially turn to Joe Thuney at center. He's practiced there before and got some experience at the position during his time at NC State. This seems like the less likely move since the Patriots would then have to deal with two new players at different spots -- center and left guard (whether the player replacing Thuney would be Karras or rookie Cole Croston) -- which could have a domino effect on the rest of the line. 

However the Patriots choose to handle it, they'll face an interesting test south of the border. The Raiders feature a pair of talented pass-rushers in Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack, who Belichick says play all over the offensive line, yet Oakland is tied for last in the league in sacks. 

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Bill Belichick takes time to admire yet another opposing punter

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Bill Belichick takes time to admire yet another opposing punter

If the Patriots are about to go up against one of the more talented punters in the league, one way or another, you're bound to hear about it from Bill Belichick.

Sometimes Belichick will go into great detail on opposing punters in one of his weekly press conferences. Sometimes he'll go out of his way to highlight a punter during one of his "breakdowns" on Patriots.com. 

He went the latter route this week, gushing over Raiders punter Marquette King.

"We usually don't have the punters on the highlights here, but King's a very athletic punter," Belichick said. "He runs a lot of fakes, a guy you have to really be conscious of as a both holder on field goals and punts on fakes."

King is the No. 2 punter in the league when it comes to net punting (45.5 yards), and he's tenth in the league in terms of the number of punts dropped inside the 20-yard line. 

"King is an athletic guy," Belichick reiterated, "and he can change field-position big time."

Add him to the list of big-legged punters -- "weapons," if you will -- Belichick has praised in the past.

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