Patriots

Talib, Lloyd gearing up for first career playoff game

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Talib, Lloyd gearing up for first career playoff game

FOXBORO -- If they were on different teams, cornerback Aqib Talib would most likely have the duties of covering wide receiver Brandon Lloyd.
Instead, both players are Patriots. And both will be participating in their first career playoff game on Sunday.
Both Talib and Lloyd knew what they were getting into when they came to New England. They knew that they'd be getting a chance to make the playoffs.
Before then?
"I'd be at a Sundance Film Festival, on my way to the Bahamas, you know, all kind of different stuff," said Lloyd with a smile on Thursday, when asked what he usually does during the NFL playoffs.
Lloyd didn't go out of his way to watch the games he would rather be playing in.
"Unless it was on the television in the hotel lobby or something," he said.
Now, Lloyd's right where he wants to be, in position to get to a Super Bowl. Which is why he signed with New England in the first place.
"It was part of the decision," said Lloyd. "Ever since you're a kid, the ultimate goal is to play in the Super Bowl. And the only way to get to the Super Bowl is to make it to the playoffs."
Talib was traded to the Patriots during the season, so it wasn't necessarily his choice. But now that he's here and it's finally time to make his playoff debut, he believes he's ready.
"You see that intensity turned up in practice some," said Talib on Thursday. "Meetings turn up. So it definitely feels like a playoff week.
"Just prepare, man," he added. "As much as you prepared for the regular season, just prepare a little bit more for the playoffs. The game's going to speed up a little bit.
Talib said he expects the action to speed up, but that doesn't mean he's going to change what he does.
"I don't play scared," said Talib. "So I'm going to play my game. I'm going to read and react. Read my keys, and I'm going to react. I don't play scared though."
Just because Talib and Lloyd are big names, that doesn't mean their first seasons in New England were going to work out. Just ask, oh I don't know, Chad Ochocinco.
Talib and Lloyd had to fit in. The Patriots organization is run differently than any organization in the league. Players realize that the second they enter the building.
For Talib, he walked onto a Patriots defense that needed a shutdown corner. He didn't need to do too much to fit in with the team on the field. But previous off-the-field issues may have been a cause for concern for some.
Not for the Patriots.
"It's funny, as soon as he got here he was kind of just like one of the guys," said cornerback Devin McCourty. "I don't know if it's just with athletes in general, but it seems like anytime we get a new guy on this team -- even a guy like Marquis Cole that came in the offseason -- it seems like he's been here for years. There's always a lot of transition in the NFL. I think guys know each other from playing against each other, some guys know each other from college, guys come in and it seems like they just fall right into the group. And I don't think there's a group that has more fun than us, in the secondary, just being around each other in the locker room, cracking jokes and doing things like that. He's fit in well."
Lloyd has had to prove himself in an offense that has plenty of weapons, or at least, a lot more than other teams.
On Thursday, Lloyd said his on-field success with Tom Brady is still a "work in progress," as he's said all season long. But he also filled everyone in on just how different it is playing with someone like Brady, during a game, as opposed to some of the other quarterbacks he's played and prepared with.
"It's been different than the past, just because of the organization," said Lloyd. "It's been different than the past because of Tom Brady and his style of preparation. But it's been similar in the sense that, you have to put the work in during the week, in all the weeks, and during the camps. And then we go into the game, and that's when we really find out about one another. That's what makes it similar.
"In playing with the less experienced quarterbacks, like in St. Louis I was playing with Kellen Clemons, it would be different. When he was thrown into the starting lineup, it was more of a situation where I was like, 'Where do you want me to be? I'm not going to tell you where I'm going to be. You tell me where you want me to be, and then I'll do my best to get there.'
"And with Tom, we have a little bit of give and take," added Lloyd. "Some plays I have that freedom, and then there are some plays where I can say, 'Hey, I'm going to be here.' And then he'll work it out. And then other plays he'll say, 'You need to be here.' And then that's the way the plays go. So it's similar and it's different. But it's equally rewarding."
Lloyd believes the presence of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has certainly helped the process move forward.
"I think the bridge with Tom is Josh, because Josh gives me credibility," said Lloyd. "Being with Josh the last three seasons, that's what gave me the credibility to come here and be accepted as a productive member of this team."
Both Lloyd and Talib have been productive in their own separate ways at different times of the season. Now, they'll both need to be productive at the same time. Because both share the same goal.
Get to New Orleans.

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

“We’re a blue-collar team…”

Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers

“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”

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After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”

“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”

The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.

“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”

“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.

Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.

“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”

The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro. 

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