Patriots

Patriots impressed by Flacco's poise

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Patriots impressed by Flacco's poise

FOXBORO -- Which quarterback has the postseason's best passer rating?
Joe Flacco. 
Baltimore's signal caller tops the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning with his 102.5 playoff rating. He has the highest yards per attempt average (10.75), most touchdowns (5), fewest interceptions (0), and second-most yards per game (307). 
The numbers from two performances alone don't answer the question of whether or not Flacco is an elite quarterback, but they do mean something. A win over the Patriots in this weekend's AFC Championship would mean something more. 
A fact New England is acutely aware of. 
"He's a great quarterback, I don't care what nobody says about him," Vince Wilfork said Wednesday. "One thing he does is stay poised. No matter how bad things get or how good things are. He is a tough quarterback. He is a competitor and it shows. He is putting his team in good situations. He doesnt turn the ball over much. When they ask him to make plays he has made them. He seems to always have a good game against us. He is a very, very physically and mentally tough football player."
Flacco's Ravens are 1-2 against the Patriots in playoff games. Personally, the quarterback has thrown seven touchdowns to just two interceptions. He bested Tom Brady when their teams met in September, completing 28 of 39 passes for 382 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in Baltimore's 31-30 win. 
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said there are a few fundamental reasons why Flacco presents such a challenge.
"Id say his ability to number one, not turn the ball over and number two, to make big plays, and number three, to score points, which theyve scored a lot of points this year which is really what the name of the game is. Its about points, not all the other stats that we sometimes like to throw out there. Those are the areas that he's excelled in. And I think if you're scoring points, youre not turning the ball over, then probably playing pretty well."
Wilfork circled back to Flacco's composure, which was exemplified in the quarterback's work last weekend. The Divisional Playoff between the Ravens and Broncos featured four ties. Every time a lead was grasped it was done by the Broncos. But whenever Flacco looked undone, he managed to reign it in. 
There was that three play, 36-second stunner of a scoring drive before halftime that featured passes of 11, 15, and 32 yards. 
Decision making? Check. 
There was that 70-yard touchdown bomb fired to Jacoby Jones that forced overtime. 
Accuracy? Check. Arm strength? Check. 
"No matter how bad it gets, he seems to block everything out and play football and it showed again last week against Denver," said Wilfork. "Throughout the course of the game it wasnt perfect, but he made the throw and they made the catch for him. It said a lot about that football team. 
"He is definitely one of the tougher quarterbacks in this league. He has a big heart and he plays to win."
Winning Sunday? That would be the most convincing vote of confidence Flacco could get. 

Patriots hit heights in altitude of Mexico City against Raiders

Patriots hit heights in altitude of Mexico City against Raiders

In a conference call last week, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio wondered if Sunday's game in Mexico City with the Patriots might show how two contrasting approaches to handling the altitude could impact the outcome. 

Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady made sure of it. 

The Patriots utilized a hurry-up attack during their first drive -- a 16-play sequence -- that tested Oakland's conditioning early. Who would handle it better? The team that spent the week training at altitude in Colorado Springs? Or the team that wanted to beat the effects of the altitude by training at sea level and traveling to Mexico City the day before the game?

PATRIOTS 33, RAIDERS 8

Judging by how Raiders rookie defensive back Obi Melifonwu asked to come out of the game, and seeing linebacker Nicholas Morrow doubled over on the sidelines during the series, the Patriots initially looked like the more well-conditioned club. 

Stephon Gilmore and Danny Amendola had to leave the game briefly because they were dehydrated, but the final score, 33-8, suggested that the Patriots were better prepared.

Brady certainly had no issues playing at Estadio Azteca. He finished the game having gone 30-for-37 for 339 yards and three touchdowns. He had a quarterback rating of 131.9. 

At various points, Brady's name was chanted at the stadium, which he said caught him by surprise. He recently watched the television copy of last year's Texans-Raiders game just to get a sense for what the crowd would be like, and he remembered hearing Raiders fans dominating the crowd.

"That was very much a surprise," Brady said of the cheers. "Especially since seeing some of last year's game; they were very pro-Raider. But it seemed like we had a lot of Patriots fans here too, so that was great to see."

Rob Gronkowski said that the interaction with the fans in Mexico -- which included walking from the locker room through the stands to the sidelines -- was one of the things that made the trip a memorable one. 

"We really didn't get to do that much, explore around or anything, but we got to interact with the fans and everything coming out of the tunnel," he said. "That was a cool experience, seeing all the fans go wild and everything, giving them high-fives, so that was super neat.

"I wasn't sure what to expect, never played down here. It was a great experience, though. The way the fans were interacting was actually unbelievable. They were super loud. They sounded proud, and it was just a great experience overall coming here. Having that type of experience definitely makes it worthwhile and awesome."

Stephen Gostkowski, who turned in one of the plays of the day with a 62-yard field goal at the end of the first half, was similarly grateful to play in such a unique environment. 

"It was just an unbelievable atmosphere," Gostkowski said. "The stadium was great. The fans were unreal. Just a fun experience. To have a hand in a win, see the excitement from all the guys, it was really cool."

"That was pretty cool," Brady added. "I've been around a long time so if you're a fan of the NFL, you've probably seen me at some point, but it's still an incredible experience to come here and play football and see the reception and hopefully there's more games here, and the game continues to grow, and other people get to see it in person and experience it because it's a game that I love and so do a lot of other people around the world."

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