Curran: Pats ignore the noise, and make some of their own

Curran: Pats ignore the noise, and make some of their own

FOXBORO -- Well, that was a thoroughly unsatisfying evening for America.

Aging, new-age health nut Tom Brady didn’t break his hip. He didn’t curl up like an armadillo at the first sign of danger or drop into the Lotus position on the sidelines and seek his bliss on the sidelines.


He threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns. Among his 53 attempts were two feathered fallaways (one complete, the other should have been) a 65-yard heave and two or three that were chased by a vapor trail.

The glimmer of hope the country was offered in the form of a 7-0 Titans lead at the end of the first quarter was chased by a merciless 35-0 run by New England. When the Titans -- trailing by 28 -- were driving with less than four minutes left, Bill Belichick tried to curb the threat by challenging a reception.

A New England false start penalty morphed into a Tennessee infraction instead and the Patriots suddenly had a drive-continuing first down that -- after two more Titans penalties -- they capped with a touchdown.

CBS’ cameras showed no cloaks and no daggers. Just the same, old maddening shots of muskets firing after touchdowns and a whole lot of fun being had by the most reviled fanbase in American sports.
The reported tension and dysfunction the country hoped would manifest itself in a humiliating face-plant against the absolutely not-ready-for-prime-time Titans was instead a loud announcement that, whatever issues the Patriots principals may be having after 18 years working together, it isn’t harming the on-field product.

Vital signs? Strong.  

“This time of year, there’s no such thing to me as distractions,” said Patriots safety and captain Devin McCourty. “Unless you have some issue going on with your family or something like that, there is nothing else that can distract you.

“I don’t care what comes out, what’s said, our goal from the beginning of the season was to be able to play in the playoffs and try to go out there and win games in the playoffs,” he said. “There’s nothing right now that can deter us from that. We’re going to stay focused on that, try to play our best game each week that we earn the right to go back out there and I think we know that. We know once you get in the playoffs, it’s not given to you. You’ve got to go earn it. We did that tonight. Now it’s all about getting ready to go for next week.”

Brady built a wall between himself between himself and anonymous allegations of him coercing teammates to go to TB12 Performance, celebrating the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, agitating for a contract extension and throwing teammates into trouble because he was skittish and fragile. But enough of that slipped through over the past week for him to be more than aware what the swirl has been.

And he was happy to offer his rebuttal on the field.

“[The field] always feels [like a sanctuary] and I think being on the field is a great place to . . . go prove it,” he said. “You can talk all day about what you’re going to do or what you can do. Ultimately, you’ve got to go out there and do it. I think just having the opportunity to go play . . .  I’ve had so many great teammates over the years and this team has done such a great job this year focusing on what we need to. When you get out there, that’s the best part of the week. To be in the playoffs and to play well and to advance is just really great for this team. Like I said, we've just got to do it again next week.”
The Patriots are in the AFC Championship for the 12th time since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady arrived in New England. A chance to go to their eighth Super Bowl in 18 seasons looms. The chance to win three in four seasons for a second time is that much closer this morning.

That, in the end, is what they are all there for.

“I thought about it today,” said left tackle Nate Solder. “I was sitting at home, getting jittery and nervous. But when I get here it was like, ‘Boom, this is what we do, this is part of the program, this is what we know.’

“And I do think that the outside world wants to make it about something it’s not,” he acknowledged. “And it’s constantly our job to make it about football. That’s what it is. It’s not about all these other things that get thrown in there. And we don’t let them become distractions. The purity of the game is what we’re here for. I think even in our own heads sometimes it can get mixed up, too. But when you have games like this, the playoffs, and you’re around your teammates playing football then it’s pure and it’s fun and it’s genuine.”

A player like Ricky Jean-Francois -- a seventh-round pick in 2009 who played in San Francisco, Washington, Indianapolis and Green Bay before becoming a Patriot -- is 31. What gets written and said about the level of tension and uncertainty goes in one ear and out the other. He’s closer to the end than the beginning. He doesn’t have time for that stuff.

“What’s fun is the journey and the process and being able to go and perform on a stage this big,” he said.  “I tell these young guys, ‘I know some cats who’ve been in the league a long time and have not seen the postseason. So when you’re out there and making a sack, believe me, feel blessed and be happy. You could be home watching on TV, but you’re here putting on a performance. We’re out here to play together and when things go right, look at each other and celebrate. Smile.’

“I’m an older guy so when I see a young guy celebrate, I embrace that, I put that in my memory bank,” Jean-Francois added. “When I have to hang up my cleats, that’s what I want to look back on.”

Saturday night was one of those satisfying nights players like Jean-Francois will revisit. And the kind of night America’s come to revile.

Same as it ever was. 

Brady no-shows for presser, Patriots announce he has an injury


Brady no-shows for presser, Patriots announce he has an injury

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady was scheduled to meet with the assembled media today. But he did not.

When his turn came up -- after Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater and Bill Belichick had already spoken -- Patriots media relations chief Stacey James went to the front of the room and announced that Brady was meeting with team medical personnel and will not be able to conduct his press conference. Brady will show up on the team's injury report Wednesday, James noted. 

Brady was last on the Patriots injury report before his team's Week 17 game against the Jets. He did not participate in Wednesday's practice that week -- he was listed with an Achilles and left shoulder injury -- and he was a limited participant on Thursday. He was removed from the injury report on Friday of that week.

Brady was originally scheduled to speak with reporters twice this week, Wednesday and Thursday. It's unclear if Wednesday's absence will impact the overall number of occasions he's made available this week. 

UPDATE: Brady was listed with a right hand injury on the team's practice participation/injury report, and was said to be limited at practice:


Limited participation
QB Tom Brady (right hand)
DL Alan Branch (knee)
RB Rex Burkhead (knee)
RB Mike Gillislee (knee)


Did not participate
FS Tashaun Gipson (foot)
OL Patrick Omameh (illness)

Limited participation
SS Barry Church (shoulder)
RB Leonard Fournette (ankle)
DT Malik Jackson (ankle)

Full participation
QB Blake Bortles (right wrist)
LB Paul Posluszny (abdomen)

Marrone says camp practices highlighted the gap between Patriots, Jaguars


Marrone says camp practices highlighted the gap between Patriots, Jaguars

FOXBORO -- They just weren't at the same level.

After a series of training camp practices between the Jaguars and Patriots, that was the takeaway new Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone underscored. The Patriots were the Patriots. And the Jaguars . . . well, they had work to do. 

"I viewed that as we really had a lot of work ahead of us," Marrone said on a conference call Wednesday, just days before the teams met at Gillette Stadium once again for the AFC title game.

"I think that's the one thing that I learned from practicing up there for those three days. How much stuff that we were behind on, and how much ground we needed to make up in a short period of time. Obviously we were all new, and I just thought that they were much further ahead than we were. I think it was good for me to point out to our players how much further we had to go. How long we had to go. And how much work we had to put in."

Since then, with some help from Marrone's hard coaching, the Jaguars went 10-6 to win the AFC South, and they recorded one of the best defensive seasons for any team in recent memory. They finished the year as the league's top passing defense and its second-ranked defense in terms of points allowed, yards allowed and sacks. 

The defensive talent in Jacksonville is top-tier, no doubt. And president Tom Coughlin seems to have made a sizable impact on the identity of the club. But Marrone, an old-school coach by all accounts, deserves some credit for helping his team embrace its punch-you-in-the-mouth mentality.

The question is, is it possible that Jaguars fans may have Bill Belichick to thank, in part, for the Jaguars landing Marrone in the first place? Earlier on Wednesday, The MMQB's Albert Breer tweeted that Marrone received a "glowing recommendation" from Belichick when Marrone was being considered for his current gig. 

Asked about his relationship with Belichick on Wednesday, and what a recommendation like that meant to him, Marrone was eager to throw praise Belichick's way. 

"I think if you're a coach, I don't care what level you're at -- you're at high school, college, NFL -- you look at the success of Coach Belichick, and I was always the type of guy that would try to learn as much as I can from people that've been successful, so that maybe I wouldn't make a mistake, or maybe that person made a mistake while they were coming up.

"Obviously, Coach is an outstanding person. And we all know what kind of coach he is, but he's an outstanding person. It's just been difficult obviously to draw that information out of him so I try to get around him as much as I can to try to learn. That's the truth.

"I have an unbelievable amountt of respect for what he's done. It's really . . . You look back and just being able to compete against him, with the challenges it presents, is what you thrive on from a competitive standpoint. I can't say enough good things about him, really."