Mike Reiss of The Boston Globe reports that Tom Brady has arrived at the point of the season he cherishes. "It's my favorite time of year," he said yesterday at Gillette Stadium, as the Patriots kicked off preparations to face the Jets Sunday in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs. "You look over the course of the 16-game season, and you come to this week and you are so fatigued from 16 games, but you definitely get a second wind. It's just a different feeling, different approach." Brady's bringing a 10-1 career playoff record into Sunday's game.
Also reporting on Brady, John Tomase of the Boston Herald explains that the Jets rattled the Patriots quarterback in their last meeting. "The Jets succeeded against the Pats where pretty much everyone else has failed, disguising their blitz packages and scheming their way to constant pressure. The game ended, fittingly, with Brady sitting in the mud. He had just been strip-sacked by Shaun Ellis as the final whistle signaled New York's fourth sack of the game. He was also hurried six times in 28 blitzes," writes Tomase.
The Boston Globe's Jackie MacMullan offers a feature on Rodney Harrison, who wasn't at Gillette Stadium yesterday. "This is his time of year," writes MacMullan. "I believe New England will beat the New York Jets Sunday, but I'm a lot less convinced about the Patriots long-term playoff future now that Harrison is out because of a right knee injury."
Albert Breer of The MetroWest Daily News explains that the Patriots will soldier on without Harrison. "Rodney's a guy I truly love," cornerback Asante Samuel said. "I love being out there with him, I'd go to war with him any day, and it's always a big blow (losing) a guy like that who brings that intensity to the team. But the coaches do a great job of preparing the backups to be ready, so it shouldn't be a problem." During Harrison's midseason absence, James Sanders worked his way back into the lineup and drew five starts. The improvement in the second-year pro, who was benched after Denver's Javon Walker torched him in Week 3, was steady and consistent.
Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald reports that the contempt Bill Belichick showed for Eric Mangini earlier this season seems to have ebbed some, at least, publicly. Belichick this season looked as if he overdosed on cough medicine anytime someone, anyone, mentioned Mangini's name, but the maniacal, driven and stone-faced coach of the Patriots yesterday actually showed a hint of respect for his former understudy.
Christopher Gasper of The Boston Globe explains that the playoffs have thawed the icy relationships between Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his former assistant, Jets coach Eric Mangini. Fearing their feud would become a distraction for both teams, the coaches played nice with the media yesterday, heaping praise upon each other and even using first names. Belichick, who wouldn't even mention Mangini's name the last time the teams played in November, referred to his former protégé by his first name at least four times in his conference call with the New York media. Also included are Jets notes.
Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant reports on the Belichick/Mangini situation as well, comparing Belichick's treatment of Mangini to his treatment of former Dolphins coach Nick Saban, also a Belichick protege. Belichick mentioned "Eric" four times Wednesday, saying "Eric and his staff have done a great job."
Kerry Rhodes laughs at the notion now, but instead of trying to sack Tom Brady or intercept his passes, he was nearly his teammate, writes Christopher Gasper of The Boston Globe. "The second-year safety knew Jets coach Eric Mangini before Mangini arrived in New York to resuscitate the Jets. As a member of the Patriots staff, Mangini had interviewed Rhodes prior to the 2005 draft. Mangini and his boss, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, showed a lot of interest in the converted quarterback out of Louisville. But the Jets snapped up Rhodes in the fourth round (pick No. 123 overall), 10 picks before New England, which selected another safety, James Sanders."
Pete Kendall always attracted the most media types when he was at Boston College, writes Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. "That hasn't changed in the NFL." Asked about the Mangini/Belichick situation, Kendall said, "I like to bust people's chops, but that seems a bit personal to interject even a little bit of humor into." Also included are Jets notes.
The Boston Globe's Patriots Notebook offers a feature on defensive lineman Ty Warren, who missed the Pats last meeting with the Jets, snapping his 64-game streak (including playoffs). He's since started a new streak (seven games), and his presence Sunday figures to aid the Patriots defense. Also included are notes on linebacker Mike Vrabel and rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
The Boston Herald's Patriots Notebook also discusses Warren. Warren finished the season third on the Pats in tackles (84) and tied for second in sacks (7). He's looking forward to the Jets. "It's always tough when any player's not out there. It was the same for me," Warren said yesterday. "I hadn't missed a game since I had been here. That made it tough. Now it's in the past and we get onto the business of Sunday." Also included are notes on Gostkowski and the Pats secondary.
The Providence Journal's Shalise Manza Young reports that coach Mangini has the Jets believing anything is possible. There were complaints from players that his training camp sessions were too hard, the New York media complained that he was too rigid and was creating a Fort Knox-type atmosphere when it came to knowledge about the team. And then there was the nickname: the Penguin, so dubbed by receiver Laveranues Coles. Somehow, though, it's all worked out. The players bought into Mangini's ideas, began playing the way he envisioned, and the coach even had a good sense of humor about his moniker, showing March of the Penguins in front of the team to let them know he was in on the joke.
Shalise Manza Young of The Providence Journal reports that former-Dolphins coach Nick Saban just took over as Alabama's head coach, which changed the nature of he and Belichick's relationship. Before the Patriots traveled to Miami last month, Belichick spoke of how Saban's role as coach of an AFC East rival had changed their friendship (they've been friends for around 20 years), saying they didn't talk football anymore since they were competitors.
Bill Reynolds of The Providence Journal takes a close look at Belichick and Mangini, comparing the two to find that they are remarkably similar. Neither was a player in his own right, the kind of cachet that carries weight in an NFL locker room. Neither came out of what, on the surface, anyway, would seem like some football environment, ultra-liberal Wesleyan never going to be confused with a place that breeds linebackers. In a profession where the stereotype is of a coach tough enough to chew glass, hard-nosed guys as tough as the game itself, Belichick and Mangini are known as cerebral, football coach as egghead.
Rich Garven of The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports on the Patriots red-zone defense, which held opponents to touchdowns on 34.3 percent (12 for 35) of their trips inside the 20-yard line. Only Baltimore was better at 33.3 percent. Also included are notes on defensive lineman Jarvis Green and former Dolphins coach Nick Saban.
Chris Kennedy of The Republican explains that this game should be different than the last meeting between the Jets and Pats. The Patriots fell 17-14 in that game. "How we played eight weeks ago has zero bearing on this game," Brady said. "I can't overstate that enough. We're a totally different team at this point. You just realize that if you don't play your best, you have a great chance of getting beat. Why? Because you are playing against the teams that are the best in the league, and your margin for error is much more slim."
Eric McHugh of The Patriot Ledger explains that the Patriots dial up their intensity in the playoffs, especially where it concerns the rookies. "The playoffs truly are another rite of passage for rookies, just when they probably were thinking that they had gotten a pretty good handle on this NFL stuff," writes McHugh.
In a related story, Eric McHugh of The Patriot Ledger offers a look at some rookies of note in the playoffs.
Glen Farley of The Enterprise compares the Jets defense to the Patriots, finding that Mangini has cast his defense in the Patriots mold. Granted, the Jets operate out of a 4-3 scheme while the Patriots employ a 3-4 base, but… "There are similarities, yes," Patriots inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi said during his weekly appearance on Boston radio station WEEI on Tuesday. "I mean, of course with Eric Mangini being our coordinator last year, he's going to do a lot of things that are similar to what we did last year, similar to what we're doing this year."
David Brown of The Standard-Times explains that coach Belichick deftly defused the Mangini issue. "In his best (press conference) performance of the year, the coach deflated a controversy that has burdened him since September, sort of letting Jets head coach (and former Pats assistant) Eric Mangini out of his doghouse — at least publicly," writes Brown.
Dan Pires of The Standard-Times explains that former Jets defensive back Ray Mickens swore his allegiance to his current employer even as the onslaught of local as well as numerous New York-based and national reporters converged on Gillette Stadium yesterday. "I had a good career (as a Jet). I had a good nine-year career there, and that's basically where it stops. I'm looking forward to playing this week," said Mickens, who was a member of the Jets from 1996 to 2004.