Saints be praised: Gregory, Pats defense embrace new challenge

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Saints be praised: Gregory, Pats defense embrace new challenge

FOXBORO -- Steve Gregory rushed in off the edge of the Patriots defensive line and made a beeline toward Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Coming in on a safety blitz, Gregory wasn't allowed to finish off the play full speed; Brees, along with every other quarterback on the field, was wearing a "no contact" red jersey. Still, the Patriots safety explained that Tuesday's joint practice with New Orleans was an effective simulation of what Patriots players might see once games begin.

"It simulated a game a little bit more than going against your own guys for so long," Gregory said. "It kind of gave that game atmosphere a little bit. You kind of had to be on top of your stuff, play your schemes, against something where you don't really know what's coming at you so. It was a good test for us."

Gregory signed a three-year deal with the Patriots this offseason after six seasons in San Diego. He said his new team's first practice with the Saints helped him and the rest of the Patriots secondary get better at their on-field communication as they saw formations and plays they haven't seen for the last two weeks. He admitted that as the Patriots defense went against the Patriots offense so frequently during camp, players began to pick up on each other's tendencies, making it easier to be in the right place at the right time to make a play. Tuesday was different.

And going against the Saints -- one of the best offensive teams in football in recent years -- made it an especially challenging day.

"To get out there and communicate with each other, against another team, in a situation that would be game-like, that was great," said Gregory, who picked off a Brees pass in 11-on-11 work. "It was great for us to grow today and get better back there.

"The Saints have a lot of talented guys out there, especially Drew, their running backs, receivers and tight ends. It poses challenges for defenses so it's good for us to go against an offense like that."

Gregory will be back at it again later this morning, trying to get a handle on Patriots coverages at something close to full speed. And even though he's not allowed to sack Brees, Gregory hoped he'd be at the line again, rushing in hard, not letting up until the last second.

"It's awesome man," Gregory said of the two opportunities he had to rush the quarterback on Tuesday. "DBs, we always think we're the best blitzers on the field. Any time we get a chance to go, we love it."

Quick Slants Podcast: Antonio Brown’s betrayal; Matt Light; eyeing up Pittsburgh

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Quick Slants Podcast: Antonio Brown’s betrayal; Matt Light; eyeing up Pittsburgh

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discuss the aftermath of Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live video. Curran interview Matt Light ahead of the AFC Championship. They dissect the press conferences of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and look at how to beat the Steelers.

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2:29 Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live aftermath

13:14 Stopping Le’Veon Bell

27:16 heywassyonumba? with Patrick Chung and Kyle Van Noy

32:30 Injury report updates for AFC Championship

36:51 Brady and Belichick’s press conferences

44:50 Matt Light interview

Belichick asked if playing at home helps: 'Go ask Dallas and Kansas City'

Belichick asked if playing at home helps: 'Go ask Dallas and Kansas City'

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick knows that how you play, not where, is what matters most. 

That's why when he was asked on Wednesday about the advantage the Patriots will have by playing at Gillette Stadium in the AFC title game, he wasn't willing to go all-in on how a comfortable environment will positively impact his team.

"I don’t know," he said. "Go ask Dallas and Kansas City."

The Patriots apparently thought enough of home-field advantage that they played their starters throughout their regular-season finale win in Miami, exposing their best players to potential injury in order to maintain their positive momentum while simultaneously ensuring a better road to the Super Bowl. 

The Patriots fans in attendance on Sunday will help when the Patriots take on the Steelers, Belichick acknowledged. But there's much more to it than that. 

"Yeah, of course," he said, "but the game is won by the players on the field. That’s who wins football games – the players. And they’ll decide it Sunday night."

And if you needed any further proof, just ask the Cowboys and Chiefs how helpful their home crowds were in the Divisional Round.