FOXBORO -- Brian Waters played football in the AFC West for 11 years. You've got to assume he has some hatred banked for the Broncos, right?
"Not as much as I used to," Waters said Wednesday. "Being where I was before, that just kind of came along with the job. You kind of got accustomed to the fact that there were going to be certain rivalry weeks that things were going to be more emphasized."
Though the rivalry aspect is lacking in New England, Waters is expecting a dogfight Saturday night. He refused to be surprised at Denver's regular season highs and recent Wild Card win over Pittsburgh. And all the pooh-poohing about the Broncos running a college-style option offense? Waters isn't listening. From what this Patriots O-lineman can see, Denver is getting by on something more tangible than Divine Intervention.
"If you watch them and really play close attention to them, they play the type of football that has always been very productive in the NFL," Waters said. "They run the ball well, they move the ball in the run game, they get after the quarterback and they also stop the run. Theyre a very fast defense. They have some really good specialists, with a kicker who is able to kick the ball far and make lots of long field goals. They have a really good returner back there in Eddie Royal. They play the football game the way a lot of teams have played historically that have been productive."
New home team, same old mission of beating the Broncos.
But there's one, big thing about this Denver matchup that escaped him in Kansas City: the chance at a conference championship. Waters has been to the Divisional playoffs before (the Chiefs lost to Indianapolis in 2003) and wants to step forward. He's excited, he's ready.
He hopes the rest of New England can feel it as the Broncos ride into town.
"I expect it to be electric. Its the playoffs. Its a great opportunity for everybody, whoever is touching that field from both sides. I think the energy will be high. I expect it to be as electric as its been. It was electric out there, so I expect it to be even better here."
BOSTON -- Compared to most high draft picks, Jaylen Brown doesn’t log a ton of minutes for the Boston Celtics.
Playing on an experienced team with legit hopes of making a deep playoff run, rookies seeing limited minutes is a given.
Knowing playing time will come in a limited supply, Brown understands all too well the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity he gets on the floor.
He did just that on Saturday in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia, and he hopes to do more of the same on Monday when the Celtics take on the Houston Rockets.
When you look at Brown’s stat line, nothing about it looks impressive. He played 15 minutes, scored two points with one rebound and one blocked shot.
But beyond the stats was the fact that he was on the floor for seven minutes in the fourth quarter in a close back-and-forth game on the road. Rookies on the floor in crunch time is not the norm in the NBA.
“It means a lot,” Brown told reporters after Saturday’s win. “I try to be as best I can be for my team; try to put my best foot forward every night out.”
And he did just that on Saturday.
In the fourth quarter with the Celtics leading 87-83, Brown blocked a Gerald Henderson shot that wound up in the hands of Jae Crowder. Moments later, Jonas Jerebko hit a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics their largest lead of the game, 90-83.
And just two minutes prior to the blocked shot, he was out in transition following an Isaiah Thomas steal and threw down a dunk that pushed Boston’s lead to 86-83 with 7:11 to play.
Brown acknowledged making the most of those opportunities bodes well for him and the franchise.
“It’s great for our team in general; not just for me,” Brown said. “Those plays helped us to pull the game out in the end. So I’m glad we got the win. I think we should have played a little better than we did.”
The continued pursuit of self-improvement is a hallmark of what Brown’s focus and desire are at this stage of his pro career. He has talked often about not wanting to be just one of the best in this draft class but also one of the best in the NBA overall.
But he’s also learned that to get there takes time and experience developing both physically and mentally. Part of that mental growth entails having the right approach to games.
“Usually you try to tell yourself not to mess up,” Brown said. “Now that I’m getting more comfortable, it’s just play basketball, bring energy, things like that; come out and do what you’re supposed to do. A lot of times you try to tell yourself to not mess up and it’s counteractive; just come out and play basketball and have fun.”
And by doing so the minutes will come.
“You can’t control that. I just have to control what I can control,” Brown said. “I trust coach (Brad Stevens); I trust my coaching staff. I have to come out and in the minutes I get, play my hand as best I can and take advantage of what I do get and impact this team as much as possible.”
This season, Brown is averaging 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.
Scott Zolak said on Pregame Live Sunday that the Patriots are better-suited to survive a season-ending injury to Rob Gronkowski than they were a season ago.
Zolak said that given the health of Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and the signing of Chris Hogan, the offense has more stability at other positions to make up for the loss of Gronkowski, whose season is over due to back surgery. As for the tight end position, Zolak said he feels the Patriots traded for Martellus Bennett to protect themselves against scenarios like the one they currently face.
“This offseason they [acquired] Martellus Bennett, I think for this very reason: to prepare for what really happens year after year, is some sort of issue comes up with Rob Gronkowski and you have to play without him,” Zolak said.
Bennett was questionable with an ankle injury for this week’s game, but is expected to play. Asked about the health of Bennett, Zolak said that he believes the tight end is good to play, but that his importance to the team with Gronkowski out means the Pats will need to be careful.
“I think he’s healthy enough to get through about 30-35 snaps,” Zolak said. “They’ve got to balance him now moving forward.”