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Patriots.com News Blitz - 1/12/2007

The Providence Journal's Jim Donaldson explains why Tom Brady is the best Boston sports athlete in three decades.

Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant explains that Brady has stayed focused and worked through team issues as a leader this season.

Mike Reiss of The Boston Globe features linebacker Mike Vrabel, who's switched from outside to inside linebacker for the second consecutive year while playing through injuries. "Mike is a pretty tough kid, physically and mentally," coach Bill Belichick said. "He's a hard-nosed football player. He's always been like that. College. Pittsburgh. Here. He's an old-school type of kid."

Christopher Gasper of The Boston Globe reports on the Patriots defensive line, which features three first-round draft picks in Ty Warren, Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork. "If you want to play good defense, as I've said a million times, it all starts up front," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Mark Farinella of The Sun Chronicle reports that wideout Jabar Gaffney is making a name for himself as a Patriot. Gaffney etched his image into the consciousness of fans in both New England and New York last week when he caught eight passes for 104 yards in the 37-16 wild-card victory over the Jets - totals that were just three catches and 38 yards below his totals over 11 regular season games.

Michael Parente of The Woonsocket Call also reports on Gaffney. "It's about getting on the same page and going out there waiting for my number to be called. It got called a couple of times and I was able to make a couple of plays," Gaffney said. "It turned out to be a good day. I've got confidence that he'll come to me to make plays for him and, for me, it helps knowing I can still do it."

Shalise Manza Young of The Providence Journal reports that the Patriots should be well prepared for this game, considering Belichick and his staff have been studying and deconstructing the Chargers full-tilt since early Monday morning. He counts on the captains and veterans to lead the way in preparation, and indeed, younger players have noted how guys such as Rodney Harrison have told them to look at something one more time -- whether it's for the fifth time or the 12th.

Mike Reiss of The Boston Globe explains that a report released yesterday saying safety Rodney Harrison had a torn ACL in his right knee was erroneous. "It's not true," said Harrison's agent Steve Feldman. Also included are notes on wideout Jabar Gaffney and fullback Heath Evans.

Tony Massarotti of the* Boston Herald* explains why he thinks the Patriots are going to lose this weekend. Massarotti lauds coach Belichick and Tom Brady, but argues that winning in the playoffs is about a team, not a coach-quarterback combo.

Michael Felger of the Boston Herald offers breakdowns of a positions heading into the Chargers game, including Quarterback, Defensive line, Receivers and Coaching.

Albert Breer of the* Boston Herald* explains that there may be some carry-over this week from last weekend's game against the Jets. That's because Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer's son Brian is the offensive coordinator for the Jets. "There are some similarities, but I think there's a lot of differences too," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "There's certainly a lot of differences in personnel and a lot of differences in the type of game I think San Diego wants to play. That's not taking anything away from anybody. They might come from the same tree, but I think the specifics are significantly different." Also included are notes on wideout Jabar Gaffney and cornerback Ellis Hobbs.

Susan Bickelhaupt of The Boston Globe reports that not every analyst thinks the Patriots should be considered underdogs in this contest."I keep hearing all this gloom and doom about the Patriots defense, then I look down at the numbers, and they are Super Bowl numbers," CBS analyst Phil Simms said in a conference call this week. "The matchup is so exciting because of all the elements, and how it plays out."

Mark Blaudschun of The Boston Globe reports from San Diego on Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson. "Defenses are taught, 'Don't let 21 beat you,'" said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. "Watch where he is. If he's catching swings and stuff wide open, then they're getting ripped. I think he has a great effect, even when he doesn't touch the ball. Obviously, when he does, he has an even bigger one."

Hartford Courant writer Shawn Courchesne reports that Tomlinson is surely one of the best running backs of all time. I believe he is the finest running back that I have seen in the National Football League," Schottenheimer said this week. "My frame of reference generally goes back to Jim Brown. With all due respect to all those others, I just happen to believe that he is the best."

Karen Guregian of the* Boston Herald* reports from San Diego, explaining that little has fazed Rivers in his first season as a starter. "I haven't seen it as an opportunity to prove people wrong all year. I've just played and tried to do my job every week," Rivers said.

John Tomase of the* Boston Herald* speaks with a few backup quarterbacks from around the league about the challenges Chargers QB Philip Rivers will face against the Patriots defense this week.

Eric McHugh of The Patriot Ledger reports on Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman. Merriman's bravado, production (27 sacks in his first two seasons) and - let's face it - pharmaceutical follies have drawn comparisons to that "other" LT - New York Giants Hall of Famer linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Belichick, who coached Taylor from his rookie season of 1981 to 1990, came close to scoffing at that suggestion. Asked what similarities he saw between the two, Belichick deadpanned, "They wear the same number" (56) before adding, "I would say (that in terms of) their overall skills, I see them a little bit differently."

Jennifer Toland of The Worcester Telegram & Gazette features Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman. "He is relentless," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said of Merriman. "I don't know another word that better describes his approaches. He is relentless when it comes to getting after the quarterback."

Dan Pires of the Standard-Times reports on Merriman and Pats tight end Daniel Graham, who's looking forward to going up against Merriman in this game. Also included are notes on former Pats linebacker Andre Tippett and quotes that Pires feels indicate Rodney Harrison may play this weekend.

Karen Guregian of the* Boston Herald* features Chargers linebacker Shaun "The other guy" Phillips, who often takes a back seat to linebacker Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman, though he tied for the ninth-most sacks in the NFL this season.

Mark Blaudschun of The Boston Globe explains that one challenge facing the Chargers in Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game is how quickly their defense can get to Patriots QB Tom Brady. "He's going to get rid of the ball quick," said Shawne Merriman, who led the NFL with 17 sacks. "For a player like me who likes to make things happen in the backfield and get to the QB, it's going to be frustrating because I can't hit him as often as I want."

Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe offers a look at coach Marty Schottenheimer's postseason record. The record says he is a good coach. With 200 regular-season victories, Schottenheimer is fifth on the all-time list. But the regular season is one thing, and the postseason is another. "Does it bother me when people bring the record up?" he inquired. "No, it doesn't. It is what it is. You can analyze it and research it, but really what it comes down to is that in 12 of those games we had the opportunity to make plays and we didn't, and in five of them we made those plays and we wound up winning the game. It is what it is. I've had people apologize to me for asking, and that's not necessary."

Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reports that coach Marty Schottenheimer was once a linebacker for the Patriots. Thirty-eight years ago, the San Diego Chargers coach played linebacker and wore the No. 54 currently owned by Tedy Bruschi.

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