Patriots hope to take game out of officials' hands

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Patriots hope to take game out of officials' hands

FOXBORO -- The Patriots weren't blaming anything on the replacement officials, Wednesday.

Prior to practice, they were unaware of any progress between the NFL and NFL Referees Association, amidst reports that an agreement on a new deal was at hand.

Their comments about replacement officials were made with the belief that they would once again be on the field for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills. The overall sentiment in New England's locker room was that, regardless of who is officiating on Sunday, the Patriots know they have to be better at controlling what they can control.

"We all know whats going on," said Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch before Wednesday's practice. "We've just got to go out and take the game out of the refs hands and just play our game. We'll be ok.

"My biggest thing is, I'm staying as far away from that situation as possible," added Branch. "Let those guys handle that . . . I think enough is enough, but like I said, we've just got to go out and play our game. We can't worry about the refs."

Taking the game out of the officials' hands has, at times, been more difficult through the first three weeks of this season. But replacement officials or not, the Patriots saw the same tape of Sunday nights game that everybody else saw.

And if the regular refs are on the field Sunday, the Patriots will still have to take the game out of their hands by, quite simply, playing better football.

"That's our job every week," said Branch. "I'm talking about, for years. You never want to leave the game in anyone else's hands. It's our job, as players, to go out and play our game. Leave no doubt, period, regardless of the situation that we have going on now, versus if the original refs were in here. We've got to go out and make sure we play our game."

Doing so is just part of the mental toughness that goes along with an NFL season.

"Thats what we have to do," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on Wednesday. "You cant really approach it any way else, other than to worry about what you can control. You cant worry about what call is made or not made, or who is out there, the wind, the weather, the crowd noise its just part of mental toughness that you have to persevere."

Most -- if not all -- of the Patriots seem to agree. Even those who have the most to improve upon from Sunday night's loss, like cornerback Devin McCourty.

Bad calls or not, replacement officials or regular officials, if McCourty and the rest of the Patriots defense can make the plays they failed to make against the Baltimore Ravens, they should be able to get back to .500 on Sunday.

"It's tough," said McCourty. "Each game has its own flow. I think the key for us is just working on what we can control. A lot of things we have no control over. But there are certain plays put there that we can control fully. And we've got to take advantage of them.

"Go out and play. What we do on the field is what really matters. That's how you play every game. You don't want to leave plays in someone else's hands."

Brady allows himself to enjoy win: '[Bleep], you've got to be happy now'

Brady allows himself to enjoy win: '[Bleep], you've got to be happy now'

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

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.