Patriots

Paoletti: You can't play scared

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Paoletti: You can't play scared

INDIANAPOLIS -- "Messing up? You can't play this game scared to mess up."

Stephen Gostkowski drives the point home. After the AFC Championship he said didn't want to keep talking about Billy Cundiff. But later, safe at a Super Bowl media session, he acquiesced.

Thrill seekers wanted details.

Cundiff's moment was grotesque. The Patriots might have gone to the Super Bowl even if they'd had to play overtime against Baltimore, but they definitely went because the Ravens' kicker shanked the game-tying field goal.

32 Wide Left: A new spin on the Scott Norwood classic.

Super screw-ups. Game-changing failures that fans gnash their teeth over decades after the fact. Plays that, in the playoff clime of one-and-done, can turn an athlete's name into a curse word.

Understanding the fragility of circumstance is one of the ties that binds these athletes. It's about realizing how small the difference is between surrendering, or stopping, a game-winning touchdown; between kicking a routine chip shot or losing a playoff game with your foot.

As Gostkowski says, they can't play scared. They have to face their football mortality and move on.

"We're at the top of the professional level," he notes. "Everybody's had success before, everybody's dealt with failure before. It's the ones who get over the mistakes that play for a really long time."

The Patriots kicker didn't see Cundiff's miss. It was cold that night. When Gostkowski saw the Ravens' field-goal team trot out -- for a kickCundiff had practiced and executed so many times before --he busied himself warming up on New England's sideline for overtime.

"It's unfortunate. It's heartbreaking. This game is so publicized and so criticized . . . But that's just part of it," Gostkowski shrugs. "It humbles you to see that can happen to anybody; the guy was an All Pro last year. I'm 100 percent glad that we won, but I felt bad for him personally."

The reactions are not mutually exclusive; it's not simply, 'Better you than me.' Gostkowski started celebrating New England's Super Bowl berth as soon as he heard Patriots fans explode into cheers.

But Cundiff's condemnation as a goat brought Gostkowski no joy.

"It's one of the few things that I don't like about this job. We're so blessed, grateful for all the things that we've received, that we get to do, the job that we have. I feel bad, not only for the guys like Billy Cundiff and Kyle Williams that it happens to, but for the people that send those messages out.

"I know how hard the players work; they probably feel worse than any of those people who are saying stuff to them."

An estimated 173 million people will be watching the Super Bowl this Sunday.

"I'm trying to treat it just like any other game," says defensive back Sterling Moore, "not put too much pressure on myself, just trying to keep a level head. But of course, there's going to be a little bit more pressure when you look up in the stands and realize this is the last game of the season. Everybody's watching this game."

Patriots versus Giants: Gladiators in the ring. One false move and you could be over. And the fans always go nuts for a kill-strike.

So it goes in the entertainment industry.

The Patriots want to fight, want to win. But their perspective of the sport, watching from the windows of their NFL fraternity, is different. Special teams captain Matthew Slater says it must be.

"At the end of the day, football doesn't define who we are. The type of character that we live our lives with off the field is really all that matters. This is a game -- a game that we love and put a lot into -- but it doesn't define who you are as a man. It's important to remember that."

Never more important than on Super Bowl Sunday. And never more difficult to do so.

Vikings hold off Lions 30-23 to extend win streak to 7

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Vikings hold off Lions 30-23 to extend win streak to 7

DETROIT = Case Keenum threw for two touchdowns and ran for a score in the first half to give the Minnesota Vikings a double-digit lead and they went on to win a seventh straight game, 30-23 over the Lions in the traditional Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit. Click here to read more. 

Pats can find reasons for thanks everywhere

Pats can find reasons for thanks everywhere

The Patriots hit Thanksgiving with an 8-2 record, a stranglehold on first place in the AFC East, and a rest-of-the-season schedule -- save for the much-anticipated meeting with the Steelers on Dec. 17 -- almost bereft of quality opponents. So they have a lot to be thankful for.

But here are some things you may not be aware of . . . 

SURGICAL-GRADE DIPPED LATEX TUBING

Whoever came up with the stuff Tom Brady's resistance bands are made out of -- it's actually "surgical-grade dipped latex tubing sheathed in ballistic nylon," according to the TB12 website -- probably deserves a tip of the cap from the entire region. The 40-year-old uses the bands extensively as part of his training regimen, and he currently leads the league in passing yards, yards per attempt, quarterback rating, rating under pressure and touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

SUSAN SCARNECCHIA

Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was retired just a couple of years ago. He traveled. He spent time with his grandchildren. Then the Patriots called. After some time to think about it -- and after talking it over with his wife Susan -- Scarnecchia opted to come back after two years away from the game. At 69 years old, he's helped this year's unit overcome some early-season struggles, and he still seems to be on top of his game. Think the Patriots are happy he had his wife's blessing to jump back in? 

ELECTRONIC TABLETS

You weren't expecting this, were you? Bill Belichick has said he's not a fan . . . but that's on game days. "I’m done with the tablets," he said last year. "I’ve given them as much time as I can give them. They’re just too undependable for me." But when it comes to players using tablets on their own time? They're incredibly useful. Whereas years ago players would have to come into the facility early or stay late in order to watch extra film, now they can study from the comfort of their own homes, on a team flight, or while riding in a car (as long as they aren't driving). For teams that have players who want to be over-prepared, having access to all-22 video at any time can be an advantage. 

DR. ROBERT WATKINS

Who's this, you ask? He's the Los Angeles-based back specialist who operated on Rob Gronkowski's back last year. He operated on the big tight end in 2009 and 2013, and his latest procedure seems to be holding up as well as possible. Gronkowski quickly regained his strength and athleticism, and he continues to be his team's most dynamic offensive weapon. He has 41 catches for 619 yards and five scores this season, and he's been used extensively as a blocker in the running game and in pass protection. Gronkowski deserves credit -- as does the Patriots medical, training and nutrition staffs -- for being so effective in his return to the field, but the Patriots are probably thankful that last year's back surgery went as well as it did.  

FLOWERS CONSTRUCTION COMPANY

Trey Flowers has been arguably his team's most dependable defender this season. According to Pro Football Focus, he's been on the field for 606 snaps, which is fourth among edge defenders. His 338 pass-rush snaps are second among 4-3 defensive ends, per PFF. He's played through injury at times, and he's remained productive. Against the Raiders he had three quarterback hits and three hurries. So why would the Patriots be thankful for Flowers Construction Co.? That's the Huntsville, Alabama company run by Flowers' father, Robert, who put Trey to work when he was growing up. The work ethic he learned on-site has helped him go from a fourth-round pick who lost most of his rookie season to injury into a playing-time iron man and one of the team's most reliable defenders.

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