First impressions: Patriots smother Steelers offense, punch Super Bowl ticket

First impressions: Patriots smother Steelers offense, punch Super Bowl ticket

FOXBORO -- Here are a few quick-hitting impressions from Sunday's AFC title game, which resulted in the Patriots making their seventh Super Bowl under head coach Bill Belichick . . . 

PATRIOTS 36, STEELERS 17

​* The Patriots defense has heard "yeah, but" all season. They finished the season as the top scoring defense in the league, but because they've faced a spate of mediocre (or worse) quarterbacks since a Week 10 loss to the Seahawks, there have been some reservations about crowning them as a championship-caliber. Those reservations evaporated as Ben Roethlisberger was held to 239 yards on 24-of-38 passing (6.3 yards per attempt), no touchdowns and one interception before Roethlisberger picked up some easy yards late in the fourth quarter with the Patriots defense hanging back. Roethlisberger did hit Cobi Hamilton for a 30-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, adding a two-point conversion to make the score, 36-17.

* Matt Patricia's unit can hang its hat on one particularly impressive goal-line stand at the end of the second quarter, when the Steelers had a first-and-goal from the one-yard line. On that goal-line stand, the Patriots stuffed a DeAngelo Williams run with good penetration from Dont'a Hightower and Patrick Chung. On a second-down rush attempt, rookie defensive tackle Vincent Valentine powered through the line almost untouched and made a tackle for a three-yard loss. Roethlisberger took to the air on third down, missing Eli Rogers (with Eric Rowe in good position) to force a field goal. 

* The Patriots plan of attack seemed to be to rely on zone coverage for good chunks of the night, forcing Roethlisberger to string together a series of well-executed plays to drive the field. When the Steelers got deeper into Patriots territory, when the defense benefited from a more tightly-packed field -- situations where the Steelers offense has struggled this season, particularly on the road -- the Patriots were able to clamp down. Not only did they pick up their goal-line stop in the second quarter, they also forced a turnover on downs deep in their own territory in the fourth quarter when Logan Ryan broke up Roethlisberger's floater to the back corner of the end zone. 

* The Patriots wisely doubled Antonio Brown at different points, but particularly in the red zone. The goal seemed to be to very obviously take away the first-team All-Pro -- as they did in Week 7 when Landry Jones was at quarterback -- and force Roethlisberger to go elsewhere. Roethlisberger had some luck going to tight end Jesse James (five catches 48 yards) deep in Patriots territory, but not enough for the Patriots to change their plan. 

* Le'Veon Bell's groin injury in the first quarter took away what was arguably Pittsburgh's best weapon coming in. He was shaken up on the Steelers' third drive of the game, returned to take one hand-off, but looked slow to the line of scrimmage (which, granted, is kind of his running style even when he's healthy) and did not return. He finished with six carries for 20 yards (a 3.3 yards-per-carry average). Williams was Pittsburgh's leading rusher, taking 14 hand-offs for 34 yards (a 2.4 yards-per-carry average). Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch had yet another strong outing, chipping in on at least three run-stuffs. Trey Flowers and Malcom Brown were in on at least two of their own as well.

* A pair of first-year Patriots played big roles in the defensive performance put together against Roethlisberger and Co. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy, acquired mid-season in a trade with the Lions, forced a fumble in the third quarter that was recovered by Rob Ninkovich. In the fourth, Eric Rowe easily picked off a Roethlisberger overthrow to stop another Steelers drive before it could start.

Patriots release camp dates; open practices begin July 27

Patriots release camp dates; open practices begin July 27

Football is coming.

The Patriots announced on Thursday that veterans will report to training camp on Wednesday, July 26 and that the first public practice will take place the following day.

Each of the team's first four practices -- from July 27-30 -- are scheduled to take place on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium "in the nine o'clock hour," according to the Patriots. Updates to the training camp schedule, including more specific start times for practices, can be found at patriots.com/trainingcamp.

The Patriots Hall of Fame will hold its induction ceremony for former corner Raymond Clayborn on Saturday, July 29 around midday following that morning's training camp practice. Held on the plaza outside the Hall at Patriot Place, the ceremony will be free and open to the public.

The Patriots will host the Jaguars for two days of joint practices open to the public on Monday, Aug. 7 and Tuesday, Aug. 8. The preseason opener for both clubs will take place at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 10.

Tom Brady adds sumo wrestling to offseason training regimen

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Tom Brady adds sumo wrestling to offseason training regimen

Tom Brady's off-the-field workout habits are the subject of serious curiosity for those in New England and beyond. Thanks to Under Armour's Instagram account, followers got a brief glimpse of what Brady does to stay in shape. 

OK. It was more like a glimpse at what he did one day in Tokyo.

@tombrady always fighting for that extra yard. 😂😂 #TBAsiaTour #IWILL

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The video of Brady in the dohyo ring was shot at the Sakaigawa sumo stable in Tokyo on Thursday. According to Kyodo News, leading the training session was ozeki Goeido, who won last year's Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament.

"For them to welcome me means very much to me. It's hard to describe in words how special that was," Brady said.

Brady bounced around China before heading to Japan to continue to help promote Under Armour and in particular its "recovery sleepwear" line. He threw a pass on the Great Wall, and he explained that it was his "dream" to play a game on the continent. 

Arigatōgozaimashita 🇯🇵🙏

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Brady vs Brady #therecanonlybeone 🏆

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