Patriots

Nate Solder says Super Bowl rematch talk nothing but a distraction

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Nate Solder says Super Bowl rematch talk nothing but a distraction

Remember how irate some of the Patriots veterans were after the first game of the season with where the team’s collective head was at? We heard it from Tom Brady. We heard it from Nate Solder. We heard it from Duron Harmon. 

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No one gave an example of the lack of preparation and intensity players supposedly engaged in. But the start-to-the-season mindset still rankles Solder to the point where he brought it up again this week.

When asked during Quick Slants about a Super Bowl rematch with the Falcons this Sunday, Solder visibly bristled and referred back to the start of the season.

“The first few games of the season, there was a lot of baggage drawn in from last season which really wasn’t helping anybody,” Solder said. “People are gonna bring all that stuff back up this week and it’s really just a distraction. They have different players, they have things going on that weren’t going on before, it’s a different part of the season. We really just have to work really hard to be prepared for a different team.”

We’ve beaten and re-beaten the dead horse pertaining to offseason expectations that turned into a millstone for this team.

Bu the unanswered question is why – for a team that’s had so many successful seasons and negotiated Super Bowl success prior to this year – did this year’s team fail to ignore the noise, as Solder indicates it did?

Was it the avalanche of positive pub? Other Patriots have been anointed but this year’s optimism outpaced any other defending champ’s propaganda because there wasn’t the same class of competition league-wide (it appeared) and the Patriots seemingly made moves to improve its roster. Did that get in their heads?

Was it the outflow of leadership caused by free agency, retirement and injuries? The loss of big personalities like Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Martellus Bennett and Julian Edelman and pro’s pros like Logan Ryan and Rob Ninkovich may have been underrated.

What is clear is that, while it still irks Solder, Bill Belichick has moved on verbally flogging the team for its entitled approach and has taken a different approach. He’s now directing his ire at the people that put that juju on the team. 

The process continues Sunday night as the Patriots (and Falcons, for that matter) attempt to bury the ghosts of 2016 by confronting each other.

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Belichick: Tuesday a 'major working day' as Patriots prep for Eagles

Belichick: Tuesday a 'major working day' as Patriots prep for Eagles

FOXBORO -- Tuesdays are generally very important days at Gillette Stadium. That's when the finishing touches are being put on the game plan for the coming weekend so it can later be disseminated to players who then go to work on it throughout the remainder of the week. 

This Tuesday, two Tuesdays before the Super Bowl, is a little different. The Patriots have plenty of time to game plan so there's not the time crunch of a normal week. 

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But because the Patriots aren't all that familiar with the Eagles, they're getting down to business anyway.

"Every year is not the same but in this particular case, today is very much of a major working day, and I would say kind of a catch-up day for us because we just don't know very much about Philadelphia," Bill Belichick said during a conference call.

"You know, other years when we had played a team more recently like Seattle, who we had played two years before but in a regular season game, but there was some carry over from that or in the [New York] Giant years where we had played those teams in the regular season, there was a little bit less of an acclimation to the opponent this week because we had some background with them. In this case, we really don't know very much about Philadelphia." 

The Patriots played the Eagles two seasons ago, but that was a very different team than the one they'll see in Super Bowl LII. Back then, Chip Kelly was Philly's head coach and Pat Shurmur its offensive coordinator. Sam Bradford was the quarterback. Billy Davis ran the defense. 

Now? Now it's Doug Pederson's show. Frank Reich is the offensive coordinator. Nick Foles is the quarterback. Jim Schwartz runs the defense. 

There's plenty the Patriots will be familiar with. Schwartz worked in Cleveland for Belichick in the mid-90s. LeGarrette Blount is one of Philadelphia's top two backs. Chris Long has helped provide the Eagles with depth on the edge. Kamu Grugier-Hill is one of their top special-teamers. Ronald Darby is a corner the Patriots saw twice last year when he was with the Bills. 

But with new schemes and new personnel to learn, Tuesday is being used as a key preparation day as the Patriots try to figure out how to handle their next opponent. 

"It's a lot to sort out and then pull together pretty concisely because, again, for all those games that we look at – let's call it 18 games, just to pick a number – I mean that's probably 2,500 plays in all three phases of the game and there's just going to be 160," Belichick said. "So they can't do everything that we've ever seen them do any more than we could run everything that we have experience running . . . 

"We have to be prepared for a lot of things but at the same time, we can't be overly distracted by things that either have a low percentage chance of coming up or probably wouldn't be the type of thing they would do against us. We try to eliminate some of those and make sure we work on the things that we feel are most problematic or may be most likely to occur."

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Stephon Gilmore impressed Patriots with resilient first season

Stephon Gilmore impressed Patriots with resilient first season

FOXBORO -- Stephon Gilmore understood the implications: Make the play, have a chance to do in his first year what he set out to do when he signed a lucrative long-term contract with the Patriots last offseason. 

"I came here to have an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl," he said, wearing his newly-issued AFC Championship Game hat. "When New England called, that was the reason I came here." 

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Gilmore's fourth-quarter pass-breakup of Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles gave the Patriots the ball back with just under two minutes remaining and effectively swatted away Jacksonville's last shred of hope of mounting a comeback.

For a player who was maligned early in the season when his performance didn't match his paycheck, it was as redemptive an individual moment any player on the team has had this season. In the biggest game of the year, in one of its most critical spots, Gilmore showed why the Patriots value him so highly.

"It ain't always going to go all gravy," Gilmore said when asked about his road this season. "You move to a different team, you gotta figure everything out. Meeting new people. Getting used to playing with these guys. Getting used to all new things. It's no excuse, but you've just gotta keep working and preparing and playing hard."

Gilmore is as quiet a player as there is in the Patriots locker room. Duron Harmon, the first player to celebrate with Gilmore following the Bortles breakup, called him a "silent assassin" after the game. But Gilmore's teammates noticed the work he put in after a rocky first month to the regular season. And to them, it spoke volumes. 

"Just seeing where he's grown through this defense over this past year, it's amazing, man," Harmon said. "You had a guy who had a lot of scrutiny at the beginning of the year. All he did was continue to get better, ignore the noise, put in the extra work, and it's no coincidence why he was able to make that play on that fourth down today."

Devin McCourty was one of the first players Gilmore texted after signing with New England, and he helped Gilmore figure out the logistics of living in the area when he arrived. The longtime captain said that the resiliency Gilmore showed over the course of this season came as no surprise to him.

"He's a corner. He's an NFL corner," McCourty said. "When the difference is when you play in Buffalo sometimes you have a bad game and it didn’t get talked about. You come here and I learned early in my career, you have one bad game, one bad play or one play that everyone has no idea what happened but they think you did badly, you get 10,000 stories about how you are not good. 

"Steph was good. You don’t play corner and bat 100 percent. Plays happen. [He's] a very talented guy. We knew that from training camp as soon as we got together. I am happy because you decide to come here and play in games like this. The guy played awesome. He stepped up."

The Patriots weren't able to force Bortles into any turnovers in the conference championship, but Gilmore's leaping deflection gave them the football and a chance to ice the game.

On fourth-and-15 with 1:47 left and the Patriots leading, 24-20, Bortles stepped up in the pocket and tried to hit Dede Westbrook on a deep over route. Just before the snap, Gilmore and McCourty locked eyes. They knew the route. They knew how to play it. McCourty crashed down to create some traffic, while Gilmore turned and ran to go stride-for-stride with his assignment. 

"We were in a man-to-man coverage," Bill Belichick said on Monday. "Those over routes can be tough routes against that type of coverage because the receiver has a lot of space and can kind of run away from the defender. The defender doesn’t really have any leverage. 

"About all the defender can do is keep up with the route, which a lot of times a good throw and a good catch can result in a completion there or undercut it and make it a tougher throw and a tougher play to execute for the quarterback. Stephon's got a good feel for that . . . I thought he made an outstanding play."

The Patriots have a few different ways of playing the football when it's in the air, depending on where you are in relation to your assignment. If you're step-for-step with a receiver, you're "in phase." If you're a step behind, you're "out of phase." For the former, you have the freedom to play as though the football is yours. For the latter, the technique is to go up and through the arms of your assignment and bat the ball before it settles. 

Kyle Van Noy made a sound "out of phase" pass breakup on TJ Yeldon after he was picked near the line of scrimmage and lost a step on his man in the first quarter Sunday. Gilmore's play was an example of an athletic, almost graceful, "in phase" disruption. 

"Just go get the football," said Gilmore. "Don't worry about him. Coach always tells us don't even worry about the receiver. Go get the ball. Be the receiver. So that's what I did."

Iin the process, in his second-career playoff game, Gilmore made the play of his life. Now he's headed to Minneapolis, where he'll live out the fantasy that kicked around in his head less than a year ago when the Patriots first came calling.

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