Chung, Spikes 'all good' heading into playoffs

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Chung, Spikes 'all good' heading into playoffs

FOXBORO -- As the Patriots enter their much-deserved first-round bye this weekend, all eyes are on how the defense will use their time to improve for their Divisional round game against either the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, or Cincinnati Bengals.

"The bye week is great, we earned it," said Patriots safety James Ihedigbo on Thursday. "The first thing you want to do is rest up and do whatever extra stuff you need to do to get your body right and mentally focused. When we find out who were playing, study that much more and spend that extra time. Right now, there are a lot of very, very good teams in the playoffs, otherwise they wouldnt be here. It comes down to the little details and execution thats the difference between wins and losses.

"I dont want to set the bar for our defense at all, our performance will speak for ourselves," he added. "We all know and we put the pressure on ourselves to step our game up. Its playoff football so we know that we have to take our game to another level. You always believe that the preseason is there for guys to get back into the groove of things and then you have the regular season where guys are playing their hearts out but the postseason is a different level of football and you have to turn it up to that notch or otherwise youre going to be home."

If New England has a downfall, entering the playoffs, it's not their offense. But one thing that has been somewhat overlooked is the return of safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Brandon Spikes.

Chung missed seven games with a foot injury before returning to make seven tackles in Sunday's win over Buffalo. Spikes missed the same seven games before he also returned to make three tackles on Sunday.

Both are looking forward to using the bye week to their advantage, both physically, and mentally.

"I was fine after the game," said Chung. "Were all good, you know we got these couple days off to whatever pain we might have to take care of those and get rid of those little aches and pains and now its just go time. So, its just good to have that bye week."

"I feel great," said Spikes. "Its just good to be out there running around, make some plays with the guys, its been awhile. Im just focusing to be back on the field . . .There's still some things I've got to just keep on working on. All the smaller things, the fundamental things. I should be fine.

"Me, personally, the bye just gives me time to get in the books and go back and look at games I missed, and just try to critique my game, and make sure I'm on top of it, when it's time to play."

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test. 
 

Roethlisberger has Brady's jersey hung on the wall of his office

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Roethlisberger has Brady's jersey hung on the wall of his office

FOXBORO -- It was a rare moment between Super Bowl champion quarterbacks. Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger met on the Heinz Field turf before a game back in October, and Roethlisberger -- who wasn't playing that day due to injury -- brought to Brady a request

"Um, hey, listen," he said. "I've never done this before, but I would love to get a jersey at some point. It'd mean...There's not many I want to put in my office. You're the best, dude."

Brady was happy to oblige.

"Sure, I'd love to," Brady said. "I'll get you after the game."

During a conference call with Patriots reporters on Wednesday, Roethlisberger was asked about that interraction, and he sounded a little upset that Showtime's Inside the NFL cameras caught it. 

"I hate that those things get taped and [heard] because it wasn’t meant for that," he said. "I have it hanging in my office. I have a lot of respect for him. I think that’s very well known.

"I think he’s one of, if not the greatest, quarterbacks of all time. It’s been an honor to play against him, to call him a competitor, and so I put it up in my office with the likes of the Marinos and Elways and Kellys and things like that."

Brady was asked about Roethlisberger during a press conference a little later in the day, and it was mentioned to him that Roethlisberger gave his jersey some coveted wall space. 

"Ben is an incredible player, and he’s been that way since 2004 when he came into the league," Brady said. "I’ve always loved the way he plays, very tough, hard-nosed. He’s great for the city of Pittsburgh – a very tough, hard-nosed city. I have a lot of friends from there. He’s just been a great player. I think the respect is very mutual. To play at his level for as long as he has and with his style of play has been remarkable."