McCourty: Patriots focused on taking away deep ball

962893.jpg

McCourty: Patriots focused on taking away deep ball

FOXBORO -- Priority No. 1 for the Patriots secondary this week? Get back.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco burned the Broncos in their AFC Divisional Round win with a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones to tie the score in the game's final moments. He also connected with receiver Torrey Smith on touchdown passes of 59 and 32 yards.

Patriots safety Devin McCourty said on Thursday that guarding against those big plays is a big concern for New England's secondary as they prepare to host Flacco and the Ravens in the AFC Championship game on Sunday.

"As all of us as a secondary, we have to realize it's our job to take away those deep passes," McCourty said. "We can't allow them to just throw the ball over our heads so I think all of us have to have that mentality and understand what we're trying to do.

"And I think the biggest thing is that we understand how strong Flacco's arm is because we already know how fast some of their receivers are over there."

Smith is the team's top deep threat. He had six catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 3 win over the Patriots, and last week torched one of the NFL's best cornerbacks in Denver's Champ Bailey for 98 yards on three catches.

"He's a fast guy," McCourty said of Smith. "That's not to say he's not physical at all, but I think one of his biggest strengths is his speed. If you give him a step or two, it can turn into three or four. You just have to be aware of how fast he is."

Flacco's other go-to wideout is Anquan Boldin. At 32 years old, and standing at 6-foot-1, 218 pounds, he doesn't have the speed of Jones or Smith, but he is a physical presence in intermediate routes and in the running game.

Back in Week 3, McCourty was dealing with Baltimore's receivers as a cornerback. Since cornerback Aqib Talib was acquired in a trade, McCourty has moved to safety and the Patriots defense has cut down on the number of big plays it has allowed.

According to ESPN, in nine games before Talib's arrival, the Patriots allowed 62 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Since then, in eight games, the team has allowed 40 such plays.

"Playing safety, I think you kind of have to be accountable for the whole defense and the coverage as a whole because so much of the communication will be between those two safeties," McCourty said. "Letting the corners know, letting the linebackers know what we're doing, what coverages we're playing and different things like that. Being a captain and a safety, I think a lot of the communication falls on me, and whoever else is playing that other safety."

One of the biggest messages they'll be communicating throughout this week and into Sunday's game: Don't get beat deep.

Kraft on possible Patriots reunion with Revis: 'I would love it'

Kraft on possible Patriots reunion with Revis: 'I would love it'

It was reported last week that multiple NFL executives are convinced that Darrelle Revis will return to the New England Patriots next season.

Talking with the New York Daily News, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he’d be open to a reunion with the 31-year-old cornerback.

“I would love it,” Kraft said. “Speaking for myself, if he wanted to come back, he’s a great competitor, I’d welcome him if he wanted to come.”

Asked if the team has had discussions with Revis, Kraft said “ask my boy,” in reference to coach Bill Belichick.

Revis spent the 2014 season with the Patriots, helping them win Super Bowl XLIX. He bolted back to the New York Jets the next season, signing a five-year, $70 million contract ($39 million guaranteed).

The Jets released Revis earlier this month after the incident in Pittsburgh. A judge dismissed the charges.

Kraft says intention is not to trade Butler: 'We hope he's with us'

Kraft says intention is not to trade Butler: 'We hope he's with us'

PHOENIX -- The idea that Malcolm Butler could be traded by the Patriots before the start of the 2017 season has been floated for weeks. But if Robert Kraft had his way, he'd like for the hero of Super Bowl XLIX to stick around. 

At the Biltmore hotel on Day 2 of the league's annual meetings, Kraft was asked if he anticipated having Butler back in New England for next season.

"I sure hope so," he said. "We have [a first-round tender] out to him, and I know he has the ability to go out in the market and get someone to sign him, and then we either match it or get the first-round draft pick.

"I'm rooting, I hope, he's with us and signs his offer sheet and plays for us. I have a great affection for him. He was part of probably the greatest play in the history of our team, but there are a lot of people involved in that."

The Patriots can't trade any player who isn't under contract, and they can't talk about a trade for a player not on their roster. Therefore, even if the Patriots hoped to deal Butler and get something in return for the Pro Bowl-caliber corner before he hits unrestricted free agency in 2018, it's not something that the owner of the team would be at liberty to discuss with dozens of microphones in front of his face. 

The tender offer of $3.91 million for one season is still out there for Butler. He could sign it and play in New England. He could sign it and be traded. For now, Kraft says he's hoping for the former -- and insists that the Patriots didn't have designs on the latter all along.

"I don't want to, in any way, take away from his rights [as a restricted free agent]," he said, adding, "I want to be clear. I hope he's with us."