Praise for Bailey continues with Patriots players

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Praise for Bailey continues with Patriots players

FOXBORO -- When you think about how long Champ Bailey has been playing football, and how he's still playing at a high level, it makes you wonder how he was ever traded in 2004.
Just ask Bill Belichick, who had towering praise for the 34-year old cornerback Friday.
"He's, to me, one of the few corners in the league that really can match up against anybody," the coach said. "He matches up against the Andre Johnson's of the world, the big, strong, physical, fast guys. And then he'll match up against quick, real good route-running quick receivers. It doesn't really make any difference."
Patriots players, getting ready to ready to face the Broncos and Bailey this weekend, echoed the accolades let loose by their coach.
"He's just a great ballplayer. I think he just gets out of bed and he's just great," said receiver Wes Welker. "He's very patient and does a good job of getting his hands on you, and plays really well. He's a smart guy, good instincts, all those things It's why he's stayed around for a while."
Bailey is playing in his 14th NFL season this year. He's an 11-time Pro Bowler (including three consecutive from 2009-2011), a six-time All Pro, and sits on the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team.
Patriots wideout Brandon Lloyd played with Bailey in Denver from 2009 to 2011. Lloyd said he got to see the cornerback's dedication, both in film study and on the field, up close.
As in, duking-it-out-in-practice close.
"They were good battles," Lloyd smiled. "I learned a lot from him from a technique standpoint -- catching and finishing the play because Champ's one of the only cornerbacks I've gone against where the play is never over. You can even catch the ball, and if you're not bringing it in, if you're not protecting it, then he'll find a way to get it out."
Welker understands the challenge. The key, he said, is precision and variation. Patriots receivers will need to stay physical for 60 minutes to try to get open, and stay open.
There may be something else to getting the better of Bailey, but Lloyd joked that insider information was never swapped.
"I don't know. We've never really talked about the secrets," he smirked.

Patriots pregame rituals: Step-by-step with the players on game day

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Patriots pregame rituals: Step-by-step with the players on game day

What goes through Dont'a Hightower’s mind in the minutes before he takes the field and lowers himself into a cauldron of collisions, pain and exultation?

Not a thing.

“I rest. I literally rest,” said the Patriots Pro Bowl inside linebacker. “I don’t do anything else. I sit at my locker, I don’t listen to music. I don’t do anything out of the ordinary. I don’t look at film, I don’t look at notes. I’m just relaxed. Calm before the storm. I’ve done enough preparing, I’ve done enough notes, I’ve done enough of that stuff during the week. If I don’t know it by now, I don’t know it. It’s not gonna help me last minute. It’s only gonna make me play slower.”

By the time an NFL team hits the field – in the Patriots case, runs out of a giant, inflatable helmet while Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” blares – they are primped, polished, taped and glistening.

But what is their day like leading up to that? I asked a few Patriots to take me through their game-day prep from wakeup to anthem to give me insight into what we don’t see.  

You can hear Hightower, Nate Solder, Alan Branch, Devin McCourty and Rob Ninkovich detail the steps they take to get game-ready. French toast is involved. So are naps. And sock preparation.

It all builds to that moment of theater that Ninkovich says is what players truly miss when they leave the game – that feeling of euphoria.

“When we finally get to run out, that’s the most exciting time in the world,” says Solder. “The crowd wasn’t there earlier when we went out there and all of a sudden, the crowd is there. Very exciting, very fun, especially with the guys you work so hard with.”

Says McCourty, “I always think when I run out of the tunnel to look up and say, ‘Thank you’ just to be able to play.”

Listen to them tell their stories here:

Just Belichick being Belichick at Friday presser

Just Belichick being Belichick at Friday presser

On Wednesday, the Patriots media room was festooned with AFC Championship Game adornments. A big red backdrop behind the podium, Patriots and Steelers helmets arranged on a table facing each other with the Lamar Hunt AFC Champion Trophy in the middle. 

Bill Belichick, who's not big on festoons, noted the helmets during his press conference and deadpanned, "So exciting...". That clip got some run. 

On Friday, when asked to recall his first Conference Championship as a coach, he mentioned the 2001 AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh and the fact that Belichick, Lawyer Milloy and Tom Brady were all required to fly to Pittsburgh on the Friday before the game to do media duties. 

"That was awesome," Belichick snarked. Then, looking to the area where the display was on Wednesday, Belichick smiled and said, "Where's all the stuff from Wednesday? Did it get thrown out?"

He is the turd in the NFL's punch bowl and it's endlessly amusing.