It's been a relatively quiet day around Gillette Stadium this Monday. Players and coaches have been huddled up in meetings as they put the Divisional Weekend behind them and look forward to the AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday in Foxborough.
A few players stopped to talk with the media in the locker room, while others went to the press conference podium. One common theme in the various discussions was the crowd noise at Gillette this past Saturday night. The consensus was that it was the loudest they'd ever heard their home crowd.
"Oh, definitely, by far," safety James Ihedigbo asserted. "You could see how loud the fans were Saturday night. They were rocking. The building was great, and we thrived off that energy. Playing here at home [this week], it's going to be unbelievable, a great atmosphere. I'm already excited about it."
"Our fans really got loud. It's the loudest I've heard them since I've been here," echoed special teams co-captain Matthew Slater. "They really rallied behind us. It enables us to do some things that we normally wouldn't be able to do on the road, with the cadence and things like that. Just having the twelfth man is huge."
As the Patriots begin turning the page to Baltimore, it's inevitable that the loss to the Ravens two years ago on Wild Card Weekend is still fresh in the minds of the remaining players, like Slater, who suffered that humiliation. The game was essentially over after Ravens running back Ray Rice took the opening handoff 83 yards for a touchdown.
"You do remember the sting of getting embarrassed at home," Slater acknowledged. "Those guys beat us from the opening snap all the way through, so, we have to try to avoid that."
The focus, of course, will not be on that game, but on the upcoming one against the Ravens. Last week, several players indicated that they were approaching Broncos Week just like they would any other game, because the intensity throughout the season is consistently high.
"During the season," rookie o-lineman Nate Solder explained today, "I think the way that they do it here is, you're getting into a system, a routine all season, so, you just continue … it's a routine machine almost. I like going about it that way."
However, the Patriots clearly came out Saturday night with more intensity than they had in the club's previous three playoff games, all deflating losses.
Former Patriots great Troy Brown was not on that team that lost to Baltimore in '09. However, he watched the disaster from a luxury box high above the field alongside injured former teammate Wes Welker. Brown will be an honorary captain for New England this Sunday, one of four members of the Patriots' 1996 AFC Championship squad who will serve in that capacity.
He spoke candidly today about the need for a heightened sense of urgency in the playoffs.
"I was talking to Deion Branch just now about the way players should feel this time of year," Brown began, "and I was explaining to him that I didn't get that feeling from this football team a couple of years ago. That they hadn't really pushed that button to go to that next level. They should all be feeling differently right now. There should be a sense of urgency, a different type of feel in the locker room.
"This year," he added, "I really think they're different this year. I've got that feel that some guys, like [Jerod] Mayo, who've been around three or four years, I think they've matured some, and they understand."
Ihedigbo is relatively new to the Patriots, but he has played in the last two AFC title games as a member of the New York Jets. His comments about playoff energy and motivation seemed to mirror those of Brown.
"Your preparation has to increase, your level of intensity has to increase. You're playing for something huge here – an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl and be Super Bowl champs. Nothing else matters at this point. Put everything else aside. That's where your focus is. It shouldn't be hard for any of us to dedicate everything you've got for this time period. That's not hard at all. That's what we want."
"It's got to be even higher than it was last week, and it was high last week," added Slater, "but it's got to be high, and it's got to be a one-day-at-a-time thing. You don't win the game on Sunday; you win it throughout the course of the week. It starts today by how you prepare."
"I still get those feelings today," Brown admitted. "When the playoffs start, for whatever reason, I feel different. You know, I feel like I've pushed a button myself.
"This is the time of year when I really feel like, if I had one more game," he paused with a nostalgic laugh, "this would be the time of year I'd want to play it."