FOXBORO - By halftime last January 16th, Tom Brady had been sacked three times by the New York Jets, he'd thrown an inexplicable pick, Patrick Chung had called for a fake punt that failed and that gaffe led to a Jets touchdown with 33 seconds left in the first half. The 14-3 deficit at the break? Too much to overcome. The year before, the Baltimore Ravens allowed late-arriving traffic on Route 1 to U-turn and head home as they built a 24-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. In neither of those games could the Patriots' starts be called "poised."So with the feature game of this weekend's playoff slate Saturday night, the Patriots are in a position once again where they must bring composure. Can they? Will they be able to the poise missing the last two playoff games? "Once that ball's kicked off, it's a game," said Tom Brady. "And it's the same game we've been playing all season. There's definitely a heightened sense of intensity because it's one game. There's no next week. It's a one-game season. Trying to control your emotions to a point where it doesn't interfere with your level of execution is important. But sometimes you can't control that. We'll see."That Brady candidly revealed his emotions are beyond control in big games is noteworthy. The fact they have gotten that way later in his career when, for the first 10 playoff games of his career (all wins), he was as cool as any quarterback had ever been in the cauldron of pressure. Urgency is important. But there's a line between urgency and desperation and for Brady, the desire to return to the summit - especially after doing the Icarus thing back in 2007 - seems almost desperate. "Every play is so important this time of year that you feel like you need to execute the best," said Brady. "When you play the best teams, the margin for error is less. They're gonna be playing well, they're gonna be ready to go. We have to match that. ...We got to go out there and try to play a good. Emotions will be running high, I'm sure the stadium will be very loud, playing on a Saturday night. It's special, man, it's the playoffs. That's why we work so hard to get to this point." Working somewhat in the Patriots' favor is the fact that a deficit is a common occurrence in 2011. Not just in the past two games where the Patriots were down 17-0 and 21-0 and still won, for a slew of games prior to that New England overcame opponents' leads. "Over the course of this whole year, this team has done a great job of keeping its poise," explained Vince Wilfork. "Through good times and bad times. I think we all kept a level head and it starts with the top first. It starts with Bill (Belichick). And Bill's probably one of the best at it. Don't get too high, don't get too low."We've seen the video of Bill O'Brien's meltdown at Washington when he butted into a Tom Brady-Tiquan Underwood discussion. But, Wilfork says, that's been an exception."Even when things went wrong and we lost, you never hear no fuss," Wilfork began. "Well, every now and then," he added. "But we coulda been arguing on the sideline and fussin' all the time a bunch but we didn't. Poise is everything and I think this team has a lot of it and that's what it's gonna take. We're going to have to be able to fight through some tough situtations, some tough calls some tough things you might not agree with or statements made at the time of the battle. Your job is to fight through those and perform well and I think for the most part we've done that."Playoff experience, Brady was asked. What's it mean?"It's a different team than played in '01, '03," Brady corrected. "How these teams are gonna attack us, we'll see. We'll see on Saturday night. ...I think that's why we're gonna show up and play. Nobody knows the answer to do those things. Experience is great when you win, then when you lose it means nothing.
FOXBORO – Four quarters left in Tom Brady’s suspension, an undetermined (but also dwindling) number of days remaining in Rex Ryan’s tenure as a head coach, this game is intriguing for a lot of reasons. The Patriots can close out a remarkable quarter-season performance without Brady and put him back in the driver’s seat with a three-game edge over the Bills simply by taking out Rex. How they manage that – and which quarterback manages that – is the question that’s swirled all week.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Traditionally, the Patriots have thrown over and around the Bills’ front-seven with great success. Tom Brady’s good at that. Jimmy Garoppolo, with a bad shoulder, or Jacoby Brissett, with limited experience, may not be able to pull off the same act. Which means this could be a day for LeGarrette Blount who so far is leading the league in rushing. Many of those yards have come at the closeout juncture of games. This week, he may asked to do the damage early. The Bills have allowed five touchdowns on the grounds this season but only 3.4 yards per carry.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Without Sammy Watkins and dealing with issues at left tackle, the Bills are going to have to get a productive, 25-to-30-touch game out of running back LeSean McCoy. He’s handled the ball 59 times so far in three games (11 catches) and has been by far the focal point of the Bills offense. But with the Patriots having the chance to fixate on McCoy, Buffalo and newly-minted offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn better have a backup plan if and when the Patriots send multiple players to dog him. The Bills’ will be in a position where it’s on Tyrod Taylor to figure something out. The Patriots aren’t going to aggressively rush him. If the rush gets past him, it was done by mistake. Force Taylor to be a passer, find Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and ailing tight end Charles Clay. Meanwhile, the Patriots figure to have Donta Hightower back to help with quarterbacking the defense. The Patriots are in a position defensively to really put the screws to a Bills team that doesn’t seem to have a lot of options.
THE KICKING GAME
Old friend Brandon Tate is the Bills’ return guy on both punts and kickoffs. He’ll get a good test from the Patriots special teams corps which has been a major story this season. Ryan Allen had a career game last week against Houston with six punts inside the 20 and one sitting on the 20. There were no return yards. The Patriots kick coverage created two turnovers last game against Houston and hasn’t allowed a return past the 25.
PATRIOTS MEDICAL REPORT
QUESTIONABLE: QB Jacoby Brissett (thumb), QB Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder), T Marcus Cannon (calf), G Jonathan Cooper (foot), LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder), TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring), LB Dont’a Hightower (knee), CB Eric Rowe
BILLS MEDICAL REPORT
OUT: WR Sammy Watkins (foot), T Cyrus Kouandjio (ankle), C Patrick Lewis (knee) and WR Greg Salas (groin) QUESTIONABLE: S Colt Anderson (foot), TE Charles Clay (knee), CB Ronald Darby (hamstring), T Cordy Glenn (ankle), QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder), S Jonathan Meeks(foot) and S Aaron Williams (ankle)
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
The speed with which Buffalo adjusts to the Patriots offensive game plan and whether or not the Patriots have an adjustment to the adjustment. The uncertainty of the Patriots quarterback situation has been a distraction for the Bills and Rex Ryan this week and – given the Bills leaky pass defense – how Buffalo decides to deploy will matter a lot depending on who’s at quarterback.
BILLS GOTTA STOP
Jannyris Edeldolagan. That’s just an amalgamation of the three wideouts of similar talent, pallor and quickness that kill defenses in the receiver shell game the Patriots play every week. Just when a defense thinks it’s got it figured out on a key third down and has set itself to take away Edelman, for instance, the dagger gets inserted by Amendola or Hogan. It’s like a shell game.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP
LeSean McCoy. That’s the whole damn game. Cuz you. Don’t wanna mess with Shady. Cuz Shady. Will … cause big problems.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“I fly around every day. You can’t land this jet, you know what I’m saying? It’s like having a private plane, wherever I want to go, I just go. I don’t have to worry about no jet fuel. I would say Gatorade but they don’t sponsor me so I’ll just go get me some good ole’ something to drink, and Gatorade can have the plug.” – Martellus Bennett, Patriots tight end, on the team flying around in September.
THAT SUMS IT UP BILLS STYLE
“It’s more of a ‘this is still a game.’ It’s a billion dollar industry and things but it’s still a game and you’ve got to be true to yourself and I’m true to myself. To me it’s just a thing where, you know, I enjoy Belichick’s press conferences and everything else because he’s true to himself and he does a great job. It’s pretty funny to me because you guys can never get anything out of him and I just think it’s great. It’s kind of funny that way. I pulled it knowing that every question is going to be about who’s the quarterback and all that. One thing I know for sure is that Tom Brady is not the quarterback and I feel good about that.” – Simple Rex, after being asked why he mimicked Bill Belichick during his week-opening press conference
THE WINNER IS...
Patriots 23, Bills 13
Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while gearing up for Big Papi weekend.
*A “behind-the-scenes” look as Jimmy Vesey was sold on the New York Rangers, but there’s not too much detail about the pitches from the other teams. Feels pretty apparent at this point that Vesey wanted to live, and work, in New York City.
*Damien Cox says that the World Cup of Hockey better get it right the next time, or else…or else what, Damien? You’re going to block them on Twitter?
*PHT writer Joey Alfieri has Patrick Kane, Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban making their preseason debuts on Saturday. David Backes and David Pastrnak will play their first preseason games for the Bruins as well.
*It’s a complicated, strange story with Vladimir Sobotka, the KHL and the contract he seemingly can’t get out of to again play for the St. Louis Blues.
*Oliver Ekman-Larsson is ready to get back to work with the Arizona Coyotes after his World Cup experience.
*San Jose Sharks prospect Timo Meier is out for the next month with mono, which is definitely worse timing than Zach Senyshyn getting hit with the mononucleosis bomb over the summer.
*A quick look at the Philadelphia Flyers in advance of their preseason meeting with the Black and Gold tonight, which won’t be televised.
*For something completely different: there will be some pretty funky stuff happening on The Walking Dead this season.