Patriots ready for the same old Manning in Week 5

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Patriots ready for the same old Manning in Week 5

FOXBORO -- You know how it goes. Just a day after Sunday's win over the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots have already moved on to their next opponent, the Denver Broncos.

And of course, the Broncos are now led by old friend Peyton Manning, who makes his return to Gillette Stadium on Sunday, after missing the entire 2011 season.

Four weeks in, Manning has led the Broncos to a 2-2 record, while throwing for 1,162 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.

It looks as if Manning hasn't missed a beat.

"Well, I mean, I'm not that surprised," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Monday. "He's a pretty smart guy. He's got a lot of experience. He's got good skills. There are a number of other players that have missed a year with an injury and have come back the next year and are able to play at a high level. It's about what I would have expected him to be at.

"I'm not saying that I'm really excited about having to face him again," Belichick later added. "But, you've got to play somebody. Everybody's good in this league. Everybody has good skills. There's good players, good coaches, good teams. So, it's out of our control. Whoever our opponent is, it is.

"I can't say that this is the quarterback you really want to face."

The Patriots have had many battles with Manning in the past while he was the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback. And while the preparation for Sunday's game against Denver is in its early stages, New England sees some similarities with Manning's Broncos offense and his old Colts offense.

"It looks pretty much like the Colts' offense," said Belichick. "Two tight ends, three receivers. They're very similar to what they did in Indianapolis.

"He looks good," said Belichick. "It's him, it's everybody else, it's the entire offensive team. And he does a good job of managing that offense, getting the ball to everybody. Running it, throwing it inside, throwing it outside. All the things that they have, they have a lot of weapons, and you've got to be careful about giving him opportunities, because he'll find them. So you have to do a good job of disguising, keeping him off-balance, and try to make him figure it out after the snap, or as late as possible. You certainly don't want to just show it to him too many times and let him take a run at it."

Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty agrees that there are similarities between this year's Broncos team and Manning's Colts team. And he's also not surprised to see Manning back on top after last year's neck surgery.

"He's one of those guys that you have to put a little extra time in, to be able to just hold your own, let alone play well," said McCourty on Monday. "You've really got to put your time in.

"I don't think many guys are surprised about what he does. You know he's a great player, and you know he's a competitor. So, my short time time in the league, everything I've looked at from him has been great performances and great leadership. And I think it's incredible what he's been able to do to overcome that injury. I'm really not surprised by him being one of those guys that can do it."

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

It came against a rookie quarterback. It came against an offense that averages a league-worst 15.0 points per game. It came against an offense that has fewer yards than any other. 

Still there are signs that Bill Belichick is pretty pleased with where his defense is after beating the Rams 26-10 on Sunday. One came on Wednesday when Patriots.com published its "Belichick Breakdown" for a closer look at a handful of plays from the team's most recent win.

Belichick called his team's third-and-eight stop with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter "probably one of the best good, team defensive plays we've had all year."

The Patriots show a five-man front, but linebacker Kyle Van Noy feigns a rush only to drop into coverage.

"Van Noy in here does a good job on the rush," Belichick said, "and also on the coverage on the back. Just good team defense. Good pass coverage down the field. The quarterback really doesn't end up having a lot of time, but there's no one to throw it to right away."

Belichick noted that all four rushers -- Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Dont'a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich -- all are able to pressure Jared Goff on the play. Combined with strong coverage in the secondary, the Rams nver really had a chance.

Belichick said it looked like a "tidal wave" of defenders bearing down on the quarterback.

"Long wins here . . . on the inside spin," Belichick said, "and Trey Flowers and Hightower both win on the little twist game inside. Then that's Rob with good speed-to-power on [Rams tackle Rob] Havenstein on the outside. Four good rushers. Plus a fifth guy...Van Noy getting that two-for-one on the guard and the back.

"Good team defense. That's great to see. A lot of hard work an execution on the practice field to make that happen."

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

FOXBORO -- They sounded like a couple of old pals. 

First it was Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who spoke of Ravens coach John Harbaugh during a conference call like one of his favorite fellow lacrosse dads.

"John and I saw a game a couple of years ago, a [Johns] Hopkins vs. Maryland game," Belichick said, adding that Harbaugh's love for the sport is just starting to blossom. "Yeah, I think John is seeing the light."

Belichick added that the two might be closer if they weren't competing so often, both in-season on the field and for free agents in the offseason. 

"As you know, we get into a situation like we’re in now where they have a good team, we have a good team, we’re playing a big game on Monday night," Belichick said. "Both teams are going to do everything they can to compete as hard as they can on Monday night. That’s what it is and that’s what we all signed up for. We all know that’s a part of it.

"When we’re not going head-to-head, which isn’t very often because we compete against each other in the offseason, we compete against each other to build our team and so forth, it just puts things in a little bit of a different situation."

During his press conference with reporters on Wednesday, Harbaugh echoed Belichick's sentiments. Belichick was famously one of Harbaugh's biggest supporters earlier in his career, calling the Ravens on Harbaugh's behalf when the franchise was looking for a new head coach. And if only they weren't so frequently competing against each other, they might be even closer, Harbaugh indicated. 

"I feel like we have a good relationship," Harbaugh said. "Like you said, we're probably not socializing that much, but I don't know how many coaches really do. We're all so busy. I'll see him or any coach at the Combine or at the owner's meetings, and we have a chance to talk. It's always good. I have a ton of respect for him. I really like him as a person. I think he's a great coach -- greatest coach of this generation. He's earned that title.

"And I study him. I've always studied him. I've always studied coach Belichick from when I first met him when I was an assistant at the University of Cincinnati, and he came in and just was great to be around.  [We have a] similar background with the special teams and that sort of thing. All of that kind of goes out the window when you compete against one another. It's like anything else, you want to win. I'm sure he feels the same way."

The recent history between their respective franchises is rife with emotion: There was Baltimore's irate reaction to Belichick's unusual formations in the AFC Divisional Round two seasons ago; there was the Ravens' supposed involvement in sparking Deflategate; and there was Harbaugh's subsequent denial. But Belichick and Harbaugh made it sound on Wednesday as if all's good between them.