AFC Championship Rides into Foxboro
The Boston Globe's Playoff Extra warms up the Patriot fandom with top to bottom coverage of the American Football Conference Championship at Gillettte Field Sunday at 3 p.m. John Powers profiles Homeland Defense stopper Richard Seymour.
He stands soft-spoken sentinel at his dressing space just inside the entrance to the Patriots locker room. Big Sey -- Richard Vershaun Seymour to his parents and the IRS -- is wearing a Homeland Defense knitted cap. While it's officially disavowed by the Gillette Stadium pro shop, Tom Ridge's color-coded guardians don't seem to mind.
"Richard Seymour is playing a total game," attests Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, who's hoping his offensive line can keep Seymour from totaling golden-armed quarterback Peyton Manning. "He's playing against the run, rushing the passer, and playing with a lot of energy. As a coach that appreciates defensive line play, he's fun to watch."
Dan Shaughnessy dusts off his old sports comparison template to bring us Brady-Manning/Russell-Chamberlain.
Say hello to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, starting quarterbacks of Sunday's AFC Championship game. In case you haven't figured it out, Brady is Russell and Manning is Chamberlain. Oh, and Bill Belichick -- he's Red.
But our guy is better. He's not as much fun to watch, but he's more efficient. Brady couldn't beat Manning in a Punt, Pass & Kick Competition, QB compulsory figures, the long toss, or the indiscernible quarterback ratings, but he is the one you want on your side Sunday afternoon. And he's the biggest reason why the Patriots are going to the Super Bowl and the Colts are not.
Shaughnessy slips in some unconscious deep feelings for the Patriot signal-caller ("not that there's anything wrong with that.").
Oh, and he's also single, Damonesque-handsome, humble, rich, and charming. He's secure enough in his manhood to admit to ESPN Magazine that he has his hair professionally highlighted and he carries a "European handbag" a.k.a. a purse.
Michael Smith catches up with fleet rookie Bethel Johnson.
Johnson finished the regular season as the AFC's leading kickoff returner, averaging 28.2 yards per return (30 for 847). He had five runbacks of 50 or more yards, including a 71-yarder against Tennessee. His receiving numbers were rather modest, however: 16 catches, 209 yards, 2 touchdowns.
Frank Dell'Apa tackles the Matt Light matchup with the lightning quick Colt DE Dwight Freeney.
"Obviously, the guy knows how to make a lot of big plays," Light said yesterday. "He has had a lot of sacks in a short amount of time. He is the type of guy that can wreck a game for you. He is one of those guys that you can never let up on. He is always going to be giving you 100 percent, and it is going to take a lot to block him."
Another Colt to reign in takes Joe Burris over to Marvin Harrison.
..defenses constantly accounting for his whereabouts, as the Patriots will in Sunday's AFC Championship game. In 13 career meetings with the Patriots, Harrison has 78 catches for 1,141 yards and 9 touchdowns, making New England one of two teams (also Miami) against which he has more than 1,000 yards.
Two of Harrison's five 100-yard contests against the Patriots have come in Foxborough. Harrison caught seven passes for 88 yards, including a 26-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown pass in the Colts' 38-34 loss to the Patriots at the RCA Dome Nov. 30, but he anticipates a different game this time.
He is the leading receiver in club history with 759 catches, passing Raymond Berry (631) last season. In the last five seasons, he has produced the top five receiving and yardage totals in club history. He reached 600 career receptions in 102 games, making him the fastest in NFL history to reach the milestone.
Big Wood Out of AFC Championship
Michael Smith has the latest on the Big Wood injury.
Woody, according to team sources, will miss Sunday's AFC Championship game against the Colts and, should New England advance, likely the Super Bowl as well with a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee suffered on the first play of Saturday's divisional-round win over the Titans. The Patriots have listed Woody as doubtful on the injury report, meaning he has a 25 percent chance to play, but that's being optimistic. According to a team source with knowledge of Woody's condition, he would have a "10 percent chance, if that" of playing in the Super Bowl Feb. 1.
Michael Holley tells us the studious nature of the Indy golden arm QB does not allow for fun and games.
One of the first things you realize about Peyton Manning is that he knows a lot -- a lot more than he'll ever let on. He could easily play the role of the smart kid in class with the perpetually raised hand. He just doesn't want to.
Sometimes he's eager to let you know what he knows. Sometimes he'd rather sit back and act like a man playing poker.
This week, the biggest of his professional career, is a poker week.
Manning won't come out and say exactly how much time he has spent studying the Patriots, but a conservative guess is 20 hours per day. At this point, the Colts quarterback is probably reading back issues of Patriots Football Weekly and requesting old Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti tapes from WBCN.
Bob Ryan's final four breakdown has one standout team.
It would not be remotely parochial to suggest that the Patriots this season are the greatest team story in America's favorite sports league. Yeah, there was Dallas, but the Cowboys were properly exposed, and they're home now. And don't you think the Green Bay thing was getting a bit tedious? They should not have been in the playoffs to begin with. The next time you see that infamous last play of the Arizona-Minnesota game check out the actions of Minnesota's No. 26, cornerback Denard Walker. If he so much as raises his right arm, that pass could never have been completed. For whatever reason, he did nothing. Nothing. Forget about Nathan Poole. Walker is the guy the Green Bay people should have wined and dined.
People everywhere are intrigued by the New England Patriots and their impassive coach. Who are these guys? How do they win? Will anyone ever beat them in Foxborough? What makes Tom Brady so special? Is Bill Belichick just plain smarter than everyone else? Is it true that they really don't care who gets the headlines or who gets the all-expenses-paid trip to Honolulu, that all every one of those 53 guys wants to do is win?
Santa's Helper Always Has Paris
Colts QB Peyton Manning's playoff malaise has temporarily convalesced after a pre-playoff visit to Santa Claus. The Colt's signal caller is back in the media darling loveseat after tearing up two of the most pathetical playoff defenses in recent memory.
Jersey Bob Ryan kicks off with the week long love-in with Indy's Santa QB.
Right now Manning is not just a quarterback. He is a maestro, conducting a pigskin symphony, and doing so in an extraordinarily expressive manner. It's mostly no-huddle stuff, with Manning bouncing around, hand-signaling to the rest of his offensive unit, or bounding up to someone with verbal instructions. Before the first Indianapolis play from scrimmage against the Chiefs, Manning ran to the right side of his line, he ran to the left side of his line, and he skipped back to relay his thoughts to running back Edgerrin James. He covered more ground than the 1982 Ozzie Smith.
Ryan fails to note that Denver's Defense was an embarrassment while standing around and arguing with each other while Marvin Harrison got up and ran for a TD.
Or that Kansas City's Defense was easier to score against than Paris Hilton. Paris is seen on the right with former Tom Brady party favor Tara Reid.
Patriot Report caught up with Reid, who has also been fighting the double standards in Hollywood drunken circles since the Brady split according to starswelove.com
Party girl Tara Reid is sick of Hollywood's double standards, which have led to her being widely criticized for having fun, while Colin Farrell is celebrated for his reveling. The American Pie star is desperately trying to reform her image after years of partying, but she's annoyed to see hellraiser Farrell cheered on for his wild ways, while she's ridiculed. She says, "I didn't run over anyone. I didn't get a DUI (drunk driving ticket). I didn't go to rehab. Colin Farrell? You watch that guy smoking cigarettes, every other word is f**k, f**k, f**k, 'I'll screw any girl in the world.' If I did that I'd be blackballed out of the industry. He does it and he's a rock star."
Reid has also been spending some time on the other side of the bar according to brainyquote.com.
"I just started making Bloody Marys. I always thought they looked gross, then I tasted one. There's an art to it, from the Tabasco to the Worcestershire. "
AFC Championship Game Returns to Foxboro
Before we roll into coverage of the Colts of Indianapolis, a look back at the memorable
Patriots 17-14 Divisional Playoff victory over the Tennessee Titans. Michael Smith has the game story for The Boston Globe.
Playing in the coldest game in franchise history (4 degrees, minus-10 windchill at kickoff), the top-seeded Patriots held on for a 17-14 win over the wild-card Titans. Adam Vinatieri, who had missed a 44-yard field goal in the first quarter, gave New England the win with a 46-yarder with 4 minutes 6 seconds to play.
Titans guard Zach Piller left the field with tears streaming down his 320 pound frame.
"Everyone was talking about their defense," Piller said. "I thought it sucked. It'd be a shock to me if they were holding the trophy at the end of all of this. . . . I will not leave this stadium thinking we got beat by a better team. I think that that team is not a very good team and it sickens me that we lost to them. It just wasn't our day."
Jim Biddle of the Tennessean weighs in on the ill-considered comments of Piller.
Maybe Zach Pillar's eyeballs were iced over. Maybe the sour grapes rolling off the Titans offensive lineman's tongue were the product of a cryogenically frozen brain.
The former Florida Gator Piller has a history of uncontrollable sobbing. During his college days, Piller was a daily recipient of hate mail from his own fans. The Alligator Online has the story.
Zach Piller picked up the letter addressed to him, examining it before opening his mail. He had ideas about what it was more hate mail from angry Gator fans.
Still, curious at what was written to him, the UF starting left tackle looked inside and found an unusual message. There was a note from a well-wisher for the 6-foot-6, 320-pound junior. I hope the next game you go to, you don't get hurt getting off the bus.
Tears were flowing all over the Titan locker room according to Titan beat reporterJim Wyatt.
''If I wasn't a grown man I would probably cry,'' Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said.
Some Titans did cry.
''How many times have we seen it, that fairy-tale ending when we go down there and score with seconds left?'' teary-eyed tackle Brad Hopkins said in an emotional Titans locker room.
Michael Felger looks at the key play of the Patriots victory.
The win - which wasn't finalized until Titans receiver Drew Bennett failed to come up with a jump ball from Steve McNair at the Pats' 10-yard line with just 1:45 remaining - sent the Pats to the AFC title game for the second time in three years and fourth time in franchise history.
Just prior to the Titans' last-gasp effort, the players in the huddle got a speech from linebacker Willie McGinest.
"He said, `This is it. This is the AFC title game. Someone has to step up,' '' safety Rodney Harrison said. "And that's what we did.''
After McNair heaved the ball, Bennett out-leapt Tyrone Poole and had his hands on the ball but bobbled it. Rookie corner Asante Samuel came in to clean up the play and preserve the win.
"That was a tough way to end it,'' Bennett said. "I should have made that play, but I didn't. It hit both my hands. I outjumped the DB and I just didn't make the play.''
Ron Borges takes on the punting woes of someone not named Walter.
It came down to the punter, just like you suspected it might. You worried about the punter all season. You worried that the periodic shanks and occasional mishits would end up deciding a game. You feared that this was not a bullet that could be dodged for 17 straight weeks, and last night you were right.
The way things went in last night's 17-14 Patriots' victory over the Tennessee Titans, the punter decided the game, but it wasn't your punter. It was the other guys', the one who was first in the AFC and second in the NFL this season in gross punting, net punting, and every statistical breakdown of punting. Craig Hentrich, one of the highest-paid punters in football and this season's AFC invitee to the Pro Bowl, squibbed a punt 32 yards late in the fourth quarter of a tie game, and suddenly opportunity was upon the New England Patriots.
It was the kind of kick you worried all week might roll off the foot of Walter, who averaged only 37.7 yards a punt this season with a miserable net of 33.6, more than 4 yards fewer than Hentrich's season-long net of 37.8 yards.