Patriots

Vrabel remembers challenging Bill Belichick, Tom Brady during his days in Foxboro

Vrabel remembers challenging Bill Belichick, Tom Brady during his days in Foxboro

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick smirked a bit as he remembered old conversations with Mike Vrabel. Asked if Vrabel ever spoke about his desires to coach following his playing career, Belichick responded in such a way that made it seem as though Vrabel may have done more than ask about coaching down the line.

"Yeah, well, at that point, Mike was playing, I was coaching, we were trying to win games," Belichick said. "In passing, and in some of the banter back and forth – that there was always plenty from Mike – we talked about coaching and playing."

The banter. That's what elicited a smile from Vrabel's old head coach and opponent for Week 10. Vrabel was known as one of the sharpest, and funniest, players to reside in Belichick's locker room during the early portion of Belichick's tenure in New England.

Even Vrabel admits that he wasn't afraid to flex his football IQ from time to time.

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"One thing was that it was always respect," Vrabel said about his back-and-forths with Belichick. "Certainly I made suggestions, you know. Romeo Crennel used to call that 'professional initiative.' If you've proven you can do your job, then maybe you can make some suggestions. We always chuckled about that.

"He gave us great leadership there as a head coach. Always great ideas . . . Larry Izzo and Wes Welker and I, when we worked together, we would talk about ideas and things we'd learned in New England as players and so that carries on now to some of the stuff that we're trying to do to help our teams."

One of the things Vrabel tried to do to help the Patriots back when he was a player was never leave the practice field. Belichick has spoken multiple times about Vrabel's stamina during the week, and his willingness to jump in on scout team just in order to spend a little more time in the middle of things.

"Players like Pat [Chung], Mike, Rodney [Harrison] – they just never want to come off the field," Belichick said. "So, if they’re out there on defense, they’re out there for every play, and then when the scout team’s out there, they want to go out there and take scout team plays, too, and jump in there on special teams and be on the scout team, kickoff team or punt team or whatever it is. I mean, they just like to go out there and play football.

"They’re, all three of those players, in great condition – like never got tired. At least, they didn’t seem like they ever got tired. You know, go run 50 yards and cover a guy and they’re not tapping out, looking for somebody to come in for them. They run back to the huddle and they’re ready to go on the next play, whatever it is. So, that’s the way Mike was.

"He loved to play on the scout team defense. He’d be their best pass rusher, he’d play middle linebacker, he’d play free safety, strong safety, [Troy] Polamalu, Ed Reed, [Dwight] Freeney. Whoever we were playing, he would love to be those guys against our offense and then he’d take all the snaps on defense. So, all those guys are kind of like that. They bring a lot of good, positive energy to the team by just what they do and how they do it. So, I mean, you can’t put a price on guys like that. They’re great."

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Vrabel remembered those moments, impersonating free safeties like Polamalu and Reed, during Wednesday's conference call with Patriots reporters. And he remembered them going well for him.

"You'd have to ask Tom [Brady], but I think I did pretty well," Vrabel said. "There were interceptions back then in practice. Those guys didn't have any responsibilities so it was easy for me to do that. Tom would get mad. He'd know what the card said and he would tell me where I was supposed to be and I told him I was gonna be wherever I wanted to be no matter what the card said.

"There was certainly a bunch of back-and-forth. That's what made going to practice part of the reason you play the game. You play, you compete. You always love the games, but being in the locker room, being on the field, practicing, guys that love football, love to play and practice to play."

Vrabel won't have an opportunity to pick off his old quarterback or suggest coaching points to his old boss this week. But he'll try to be something more than an annoyance on Sunday afternoon when he's staring at both from the opposite sideline in Tennessee.

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Patriots on controversial calls in loss to Chiefs: 'A tough pill to swallow'

Patriots on controversial calls in loss to Chiefs: 'A tough pill to swallow'

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick wasn't thrilled. He stood at the podium in the belly of Gillette Stadium, his team coming off of its second consecutive loss, and he was peppered with questions about the officiating. This after he'd said in his opening remarks, "A lot of other circumstances in the game; no point in talking about those."

The officiating queries came anyway.

"You'd have to talk to them about that," he said. "I'm not going to speak for them."

Asked if calls made by Jerome Boger's crew impacted his team's ability to sustain any momentum: "I don't know," he said.

In all, there were 15 penalties called for 161 yards in the game, and penalties were among the calls garnering attention after the fact. But the calls that generated the most buzz in the Patriots locker room weren't penalties. The headliner was the call that took points off the board for Belichick's team early in the fourth quarter.

Tom Brady hit rookie N'Keal Harry with a short pass that he took down to the goal line. Diving into the end zone, it appeared as though Harry had scored a touchdown. He celebrated as though he had. Replays showed he remained in bounds. But one official marked him out of bounds at the three-yard line.

The Patriots weren't able to challenge the play — they were out of challenges after losing a pass-interference challenge earlier in the game — and they kicked a field goal three plays later to make the score 23-16.

"We still had a chance to win," Brady said. "Wish we could have scored there at the end."

A touchdown and an extra point would've made the score 23-20, meaning on the final Patriots drive of the game, where they entered deep into Chiefs territory, they would've been able to kick a chip-shot field goal to tie it.

"I thought it was a touchdown," said Harry, who left the game with a hip injury. "I'm pretty sure everybody else thought it was a touchdown. It's something that's out of our control, out of my control.

"It's definitely frustrating, but at the end of the day I was always told to control what I could control. I felt like I did that. I felt like my effort was good. That's all I can give."

ESPN's Mike Reiss, serving as the pool reporter, spoke to Boger after the game about the call.

"What led to it was the covering official on the wing was blocked out by defenders," Boger said. "The downfield official who was on the goal line and looking back toward the field of play had that he stepped out at the three-yard line. So, they got together and conferred on that. The final ruling was that he was out of bounds at the three-yard line."

Calling the play a touchdown and then using replay to the crew's advantage — since all scores are reviewed — was not discussed as an option, Boger explained.

"Not really. Those two officials who were covering it, they look at it in real time," he said. "This case was unique in that the guy who would have ruled touchdown had him short. So maybe if that ruling official on the goal line had a touchdown, we could have gotten into that, but he thought that that guy stepped out of bounds. The goal line wasn’t in the play."

The reason the Patriots couldn't challenge the Harry play was because they'd had a challenge fail earlier in the contest. Late in the third quarter, Belichick threw his red hanky when on a third-and-4 play Stephon Gilmore got picked by Travis Kelce, allowing a catch to Sammy Watkins. Watkins was tackled right near the line to gain,  and so Belichick was challenging both the pass interference and the spot of the ball.

The challenge failed, which meant they'd have just one more challenge for the game, even if that next challenge succeeded.

Later in the third quarter, on a third-down pass to Kelce, Devin McCourty punched out the football and Gilmore recovered it quickly with a good deal of open space in front of him. The play was whistled dead.

The Patriots challenged and won. It was a momentum-shifter, but the fact that they had to use their challenge at all — on a play that was clearly fumbled upon review, no guesswork there — bothered the Patriots after the fact.

"It sucks because at the end of the day, we felt like those were plays that were gonna help us change the momentum of the game and put us in a good spot to eventually win the football game," safety Duron Harmon said. "It was taken away from us. I know the refs, they have a hard job. I'm not going to sit here and say obviously  their job is easy. 'Just make a better call, and do this better.' At the end of the day, we all have a job. We all get paid money to do the job and do it well."

Harmon added: "I just feel empty. We played a good team and had a chance to win. We didn't win. Like I said, I'm not going to just sit here and blame the refs. The Chiefs probably feel some calls could've gone their way, didn't go their way, but at the end of the day when you got two touchdowns taken away from you, that's always a tough pill to swallow."

The Patriots finished the game going 1-for-3 in the red zone. They were 3-for-15 on third and fourth down. They averaged — including three sacks — just 4.6 yards per pass. They averaged 3.4 yards per carry in the first half against a defense that was allowing over 5.0 for the season.

There was plenty they could have done to help themselves. But it's not hyperbole to say that final drive — which resulted in a fourth-down pass breakup on a Brady attempt to Julian Edelman — should have been an opportunity for them to tie the game with an easy field goal.

"You don't wanna blame officiating," Harmon said, "because at the end of the day, we still had an opportunity to win."

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Chiefs' Chris Jones reveals his reason for trash talking with Tom Brady

Chiefs' Chris Jones reveals his reason for trash talking with Tom Brady

FOXBORO -- Trash talking New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady doesn't sound like a good idea, but Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones had a reason for getting into it with the six-time Super Bowl champion Sunday.

Jones and Brady came helmet-to-helmet with 2:59 left in the first half and Kansas City leading 17-7. The Chiefs defense had just forced an incompletion from Brady to bring up fourth down, and Jones tried his best to frustrate the 42-year-old quarterback as much as possible.

"Just crap-talking," Jones said of his exchange with Brady. "Tom is a heck of a quarterback, a Hall of Famer. Any time you're able to talk crap, you gotta affect him any type of way. I got much respect for Tom Brady, man. He's definitely a GOAT in my eyes, one of the greatest. Any time you're able to affect his game any type of way, whether it's talking, whether it's hitting him, whether it's getting him uncomfortable, you got to."

Does Jones think all of that had any effect?

"I mean, you see the score."

The Chiefs won 23-16 to secure the AFC West title and take another step closer toward earning a top-two seed in the AFC playoff race.

It's hard to imagine any kind of trash talk having a negative impact on Brady's performance. He's one of the most mentally tough players in league history. What we do know is this Chiefs defense is much better-equipped to slow down the Patriots' offense than last season's unit.

The Chiefs, from a physicality standpoint, made an effort to stand up to the Patriots, and that was quite apparent when Kansas City wide receiver Sammy Watkins got tangled up with New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore on the visitors' sideline in the second half.

"You got two good players going up against each other in heated moments," Watkins said. "I know him from (the Buffalo Bills), so I was like, this is my opportunity to take a shot, and I did, and he took his shots also."

The chippiness made for a playoff-like scene in Foxboro, and you can bet all of the trash talk and physical play won't be forgotten if these teams meet again in January.

"First play of the game I knew it was more of a playoff atmosphere, a playoff game," Watkins said. "It definitely was probably one of the hardest battles since last year, and that's what we look forward to. It's going to be the same way in the next six or seven weeks, so we just gotta continue to come out and play with each other and play hard, strong, and keep fighting."

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