The Boston Globe's Mike Reiss features the Patriots receiving corps. As a group, they've shown steady improvement all year, but they still don't get any respect. "We don't really listen to it, but it's there, you hear it," Patriots leading receiver Reche Caldwell said in the days before the Patriots wrapped up their regular season. "We look at it as a challenge. With such a high-profile quarterback, people are looking for who is going to step up and make plays for him."
Shalise Manza Young of The Providence Journal reports that Tom Brady's word means even more to the Pats receivers than coach Bill Belichick's. "I'll tell you what -- they listen a lot more to what he says than what I say," Belichick said yesterday when asked about Brady's relationship with Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, Troy Brown and Chad Jackson. "If I tell them to run a route at (the) 14 (-yard line), that's good. If he tells them to run it at 14, they're going to run it at 14 because he's the guy that's throwing them the ball. I don't throw them the ball."
Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald reports on Pats tight end Benjamin Watson, who discusses the receiving squad, among other topics. "I know (our receivers) are guys that nobody's ever heard of, but Tom (Brady) is still ranked up there high in passing and completion percentage," he said. "We have a group I'm impressed with. They've come in and they've learned the system quickly. It's not easy to come in and learn a whole new system and have a whole new group of receivers and be able to produce."
Albert Breer of The MetroWest Daily News reports on the Pats receivers as well, noting that "there hasn't been any seismic shift in speed or skill. The key is in the determination of Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson, Kelvin Kight, Bam Childress and the lone holdover from last year, Troy Brown. "It's been steady," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the wide receivers' improvement. "They work hard. They study a lot of film. They help each other out. They watch film together as a group and try to watch it with the quarterbacks. I'm impressed with the way they work."
Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald reports on Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. "The man is in his fourth season with the Patriots. He is the proud owner of two Super Bowl rings, but he has always been the guy in the back row of the team photo, the kind of guy most fans would have a hard time recognizing at first glance," writes Buckley. "But several factors - such as injuries to other players (hello there, Junior Seau) and his own slow, steady improvement - have guided Banta-Cain into the spotlight. And talk about timing: He's going to be an honest-to-goodness factor when the Patriots meet the Chargers in Sunday's NFL divisional playoff game." Banta-Cain will be a free agent at the end of the season.
David Brown of The Standard-Times also features Banta-Cain. "I never wanted cameras in my face or microphones in my face for no reason," Banta-Cain said yesterday with a face full of cameras and microphones. "It would have to be something that I did on the field to (get) that. I've never been a guy who's tried to grab the attention for no reason," he said. "I feel like I'm going to get what I put in. I made some plays now in the postseason and people are noticing, but I want that to be the main reasons I get the attention."
Jackie MacMullan of* The Boston Globe* reports that there are 10 Patriots players on the active roster who were there for all three Super Bowls. Their average age is 30.6 years. MacMullan talks about each of these guys specifically. "The younger teammates recognize the toughness of the veterans. In fact, they've come to expect it," writes MacMullan.
Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reports on Chargers QB Philip Rivers, explaining that the bye week apparently alleviated whatever problem (a so-called "mid-foot sprain," according to Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer) there was with the quarterback. "I feel good," Rivers said following yesterday's practice. "Thirty minutes after the (Arizona) game, I said it wouldn't be an issue. "It won't be. I did everything (in practice) today." Also included are LaDainian Tomlinson's thoughts on Pats linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
Eric McHugh of* The Patriot Ledger* reports that Rivers has made an impression on expert analysts like CBS's Phil Simms. McHugh draws comparisons between Rivers and Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, but Simms sees them as dissimilar.
Mark Blaudschun of The Boston Globe reports Rivers, who he predicts will be successful for years to come. "I think if he's not the best, he's in the top two or whatever," said Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, noting the 3,388 passing yards, 22 touchdown passes, and only nine interceptions Rivers compiled in helping San Diego cruise to the AFC West title with a 14-2 record. "I have no reservations [about Rivers's lack of playoff experience] at all."
Mark Blaundschun of The Boston Globe offers Chargers notes from San Diego.
Blaundschun of The Boston Globe also reports that Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo, who spent a month on the inactive list recovering from an injured ankle, will be playing against the Patriots this weekend. "I can't wait," said Castillo.
Michael Parente of The Woonsocket Call reports on Pats defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who has gotten little attention this season despite producing one of the league's top defenses. The 34-year coaching veteran, who recently completed his first season as Eric Mangini's replacement, has flown under the radar despite the fact the Patriots broke the 2003 team's record for fewest points allowed in a single season."That's kind of how he wants it to be," safety Artrell Hawkins said. "He's done for this defense what no one else has done as far giving up the fewest amount of points. We made improvement in a lot of areas and I think Dean has had a lot to do with it. He's a good teacher."
John Tomase of the Boston Herald reports that former Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett, the all-time Patriots sacks leader with 100, was named one of 17 finalists for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday. The five-time Pro Bowler and member of the all-decade team for the 1980s is a first-time finalist. "Deep down, I truly believe that some day it's going to happen," Tippett said earlier this year.
Mike Reiss of The Boston Globe reports that safety Rodney Harrison will be sidelined again this week. He injured the medial collateral ligament in his right knee during the season finale at Tennessee on Dec. 31. Also included is a short piece on former Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett. "The Hall of Fame is holy ground," said Tippett, who works as the Patriots football development and promotions director. "I'm very, very excited and honored to make it this far. To get there, and be a part of that, would be something truly special."
John Tomase of the Boston Herald also reports that Harrison will not play in this game. James Sanders should start once again in Harrison's place. The second-year man out of Fresno State has made strides since being benched following a poor performance against the Denver Broncos in September. Also included are Patriots notes.
Karen Guregian of the* Boston Herald* reports on Chargers All-pro linebacker Shawne Merriman. Merriman gets by blockers as well as he brushes off criticism, and there really hasn't been much with the exception of the reaction of Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor, who beat out Merriman for NFL Defensive Player of the Year and received a Lights Out T-shirt, hat and box of popcorn for game-viewing courtesy of Merriman, "so he could watch us in the playoffs." Merriman can dominate and disrupt an offense the same way Taylor does, and that's not even counting how terrific the Chargers front seven is as a whole. "There's a lot of guys in this league with talent, guys who are big, strong and fast," Merriman said yesterday. "But a guy with a relentless attitude that won't be denied are the guys who make the plays. And that's me."
John Tomase of the Boston Herald reports that Tom Brady and the Patriots are looking forward to seeing blitzes from the Chargers defense. Sunday's divisional playoff looms as a battle of strength vs. strength. The Chargers get after the quarterback better than anyone, having recorded an NFL-best 61 sacks. Merriman, who sat out four games for testing positive for violating the NFL's banned substances policy, had 17 sacks himself in just 12 games. "When you're in the NFL straight from college, you don't expect to see the talent and some of the things [Brady] did (last year)," Merriman said yesterday. "Even when we beat them, the whole time we got pressure on him he never got rattled."
Mark Farinella of The Sun Chronicle reports that Brady is ready for the challenge of the Chargers. He takes a look back at statements made in the wake of last season's 41-17 ousting of the Patriots, and offers Brady's recent words concerning former Charger receiver Reche Caldwell, who was the Pats No. 1 pass catcher this season. "I know he (Caldwell) is friendly with a lot of those guys," Brady said. "They don't think too highly of us, from what Reche says."
Joe McDonald of The Providence Journal reports that in San Diego, it's all about lauding the Patriots right now. "They are as well-coached fundamentally and technique-wise as anybody I've seen," said coach Schottenheimer, who was a linebacker with the old Boston Patriots in 1969 and '70. "They know what they're doing. You really admire players who have the ability to understand what it is they are being asked to do, and then go out and do it. They play hard all the time. I really admire what Bill and his staff have done up there with that football team. They do a terrific job preparing them to play."
Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant features on Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, also discussing Patriots defensive back Artrell Hawkins in depth. Gates is such a threat that when the Chargers played the Broncos, he was sometimes covered by Champ Bailey, the NFL's best cornerback and one of several corners who has guarded Gates. "Teams try to give me a multitude of looks," Gates said. "Sometimes it might be a safety, it might be a corner, but for the most part on third down I usually see a corner because I usually play the slot."
Rich Garven of The Worcester Telegram & Gazette offers a feature on cornerback Asante Samuel. He's nearing the end of a four-year rookie deal he signed after being drafted in the fourth round by the Patriots in 2003. He tied Denver's Champ Bailey for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions and added another pick last Sunday to seal a 37-16, wild-card victory over the Jets. "Opportunities presented themselves, and I've been taking advantage of them and staying focused," Samuel said.
Eric McHugh of The Patriot Ledger takes a look back at the Pats last meeting with the Chargers, a 41-17 routing of the Patriots in Week 4 of the 2005 season. LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Drew Brees completed 19 of 24 passes for 248 yards and two TDs, and tight end Antonio Gates caught six balls for 108 yards.