Covering the Patriots requires a reporter to use his intuition. In the years I've covered the team, my intuition's been good (signing of Rosey Colvin, rise of Tom Brady, usefulness of Danny Woodhead, the resurrection of the tight end position) and askew (not sniffing out the Moss deal looming, the release of Brandon Meriweather). I bring this up on this Tuesday because Ian Rapoport at The Boston Heraldhas read the smoke signals around veteran left tackle Matt Light and mentioned that there is a chance Light may retire. This being the dead period before the Combine and the start of free agency, the speculation gained traction. So it now behooves me to speculate on Rap's speculation. And while Rap looks up at this cloud and sees a horse wearing a party hat, I'm looking at the same cloud and saying, "Rap, that's a flippin' unicorn, fer crissake!"Money aside, why would Light want to retire? He played tremendously in 2011 (2.5 sacks allowed) and was as engaged as I've ever seen him. It's out there somewhere, the video of Light on the bench, head bowed, fists clenched as Billy Cundiff lined up the would-be game-tying kick in the AFC Championship. That level of desperate hoping was something I never thought I'd see from Light, who always maintained a respectful detachment from getting too overwrought about his job. He and Brian Waters were the Patriots best two linemen. Speed rushers, power rushers, young, old, didn't matter. Light was on lockdown all season. What Rap wrote in a larger post about Marcus Cannonwas this: "While it hasnt been said officially, the expectation is that Matt Light will not be back next year (with retirement definitely possible)."The money Light's due in 2012 -- reportedly 3.4 million in salary and a 100,000 workout bonus-- seems daunting to Rap. Especially with 2011 first rounder Nate Solder and third-year man Sebastian Vollmer in the mix. Here's why I see it differently. Light was given a 6 million signing bonus. So the Patriots will take a cap hit in the neighborhood of 3 million to not have a capable, veteran left tackle who's still playing at a high level around? Beyond that, Vollmer's back issues in 2010 and '11 should make the Patriots reticent about lopping Light or asking him to take a penal pay cut. And I'm not sure Solder is quite ready to step in at Light's level. This isn't a rebuilding Patriots team. It's one that was within a couple of plays and minutes of a Super Bowl win. Will the Patriots maybe ask Light to take less than he's due to make? Maybe. But releasing him or forcing him into retirement doesn't seem likely to me.
What predictions did Tom E. Curran get right? Find out in the AFC Championship preview review
FOXBORO -- Tom Brady can be his own worst critic. That's why last week, after beating the Texans in the Divisional Round to move on to the AFC title game, he wasn't thrilled. He didn't play up to his standards. The offense struggled at points. He wore his frustration like a five o'clock shadow.
Winning is not everything for Brady, most weeks. He has an idea of how he should perform, how the Patriots offense should perform, and when those ideals aren't met, he's generally displeased.
PATRIOTS 36, STEELERS 17
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- TB Times features Brady 'torching' Steelers
- Roger Goodell taunted by Scott Zolak and Patriots fans
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On Sunday, after beating up on the Steelers, 36-17, that wasn't the case. It was a sound performance, but it wasn't perfect. It was explosive at times, but it shined a light on areas where the Patriots will need to continue to improve.
Despite its imperfections, Sunday was no time to brood about plays missed or lessons learned the hard way. Screw it, Brady seemed to say. They were going to the Super Bowl. It was OK to smile.
"It was a good day," Brady said. "I mean, we're going to the Super Bowl, man. [Expletive], you've got to be happy now."
The Super Bowl berth is the ninth in franchise history -- more than any other club -- and the seventh with Brady and coach Bill Belichick. By throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns on 32-of-42 passing, Brady tied Joe Montana for the most postseason games (nine) with three touchdown passes.
Brady will also claim the record for Super Bowls played when he and the Patriots head to Houston. And if they win, he'll tie Charles Haley for most Super Bowl wins for a player (five).
Those are lofty numbers made even more significant, perhaps, due to the fact that Brady wasn't allowed to start this season as his team's quarterback. He was asked during Sunday's postgame press conference if it was personally satisfying to get back to the Super Bowl despite having to serve a four-game suspension due to Deflategate.
"Well, that's because of the hard work of a lot of people from my coaches to my teammates to our families that support us," he said. "It takes a lot of people, a lot of hard work and a lot of effort over the course of many months. This didn't start at 6:40 tonight.
"This thing started in April. It really started before that in free-agency when we were picking up guys like [Chris] Hogan and drafting guys like Malcolm Mitchell and guy who were in rehab like [LeGarrette Blount] and [Dion Lewis] and [James Develin] and Nate [Solder]. It's a lot of hard work. There are only two teams left standing, and I'm happy we're one of them."
They're going to the Super Bowl. He has to be happy now.