Patriots calm before the playoff storm

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Patriots calm before the playoff storm

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Don't show up late to Gillette on this Tuesday. This Tuesday is different.

It's Jets week -- again -- for the Patriots, so the amount of reporters in the locker room is increased by default. But this one, the rubber match, is also a divisional playoff game. So the media mob, as you might expect, has grown exponentially. Latecomers are stuck in SRO (standing room only), peppered in along the wall of videographers and photographers recording and clicking away.

NFL road warriors like Rachel Nichols arrive early to grab a front-row seat. There's a lot going on today. The dry-erase board in the workroom that outlines the week's schedule is crammed with names, dates, times and locations.

Up first to the podium is Jerod Mayo.

This is something special.

See, there's a certain routine that happens at Gillette during the work room, certain things that can be expected.

1) Tom Brady will meet the media. Always. The location of the scrum can change -- podium (rare), Bret Lockett's locker (pre-Moss) or his own locker (post-Moss) -- but you can depend on it happening.

2) Bill Belichick will speak at the podium. Whether in grunts, cryptic riddles, or half-sentences.

But the NFL's leading tackler and Patriots defensive captain standing in front of a room full of reporters? No; this is different.

Mayo discusses the surprising strength of the 'D' cautiously: "That Cleveland game is still in my head." He laughs off engaging in Jets mind games: "Im hoping no one asks me those types of questions." And he describes the tone: "This feels like the playoffs." Mayo's answers are like his hits: quick, efficient.

Two other teammates will take the stage: Deion Branch, then Alge Crumpler. Their styles are night and day. Branch, the undersized wideout, grins a wide smile and puts reporters in stitches with his velvety voice. Few other Patriots could so smoothly call MVP-caliber quarterback Tom Brady a "dork."

Crumpler exudes calm.

He's not interested in the peripheral drama of Rex Ryan calling out Brady for not being a studious dork, the psychology of Brady and Branch's on-field chemistry, or any opportunities to pat himself on the back. For Crumpler, it's about focus, preparation and accountability. The rest? "I don't care."

Now enter the locker room.

If it's playoff buzz you want, you're in the wrong place. The only change this week is the steady din emanating from the media milling around the room. But Patriots players are scarce, per usual.

Practice squaders Ross Ventrone and Carson Butler, and the little-used Tony Carter, catch some 'Z''s by their lockers. The three lay on their backs, feet propped up on folding chairs, earbuds in, hats or hoods pulled down over their eyes.

The few others who dare the area littered by reporters try to get ready for practice as discretely as possible. They tote red (Jarrad Page) or blue (Danny Woodhead) binders as they flit from locker to weight room and back to their lockers again. Don't even try the rookies because they're on lock-down. "Not talking today," Aaron Hernandez shrugs.

The guys who take too long to get dressed get pounced on by the press. Today, Page turns to find himself surrounded by a half-circle of cameras, bright lights, and microphones. He insists that preparation for the playoffs is business as usual. A sympathetic Kevin Faulk walks by the trapped Page, but keeps moving.

"You guys don't want to hear this," Faulk quips to the herd over his shoulder, "but it's just another game. If you treat it like anything else, that's when things get out of hand."

It appears Faulk is right. If the energy of this team is amped up this week -- and it is -- the Patriots are saving the show for themselves. For Sunday. For the Jets.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Belichick headlines big-name crowd in attendance at Ohio State pro day

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Belichick headlines big-name crowd in attendance at Ohio State pro day

Bill Belichick has counted both Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano among the list of coaches he trusts. On Thursday, the Patriots coach was in attendance at Ohio State's pro day to watch players who've been coached by both. 

Belichick has been closely tied to both Meyer and Schiano over the years, drafting multiple players from their programs when Meyer was at the University of Florida and Schiano was at Rutgers University. The Schiano connection has been particularly strong in recent years as Belichick's son, Steve, played for Schiano, and the Patriots had three key players in their secondary -- Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan -- for the last four seasons who studied under Schiano. 

Now the head coach and associate head coach/defensive coordinator, respectively, Meyer and Schiano have tutored some of this year's top draft prospects. Here's a quick breakdown of some of the top-tier talent hailing from Columbus this year . . . 

Malik Hooker, safety: The 6-foot-1, 206-pounder is expected to be the first true free safety off the board. His impressive ball skills made him a turnover waiting to happen in the Big Ten. 

Marshon Lattimore, corner: With a 38.5-inch vertical and a 4.36-second 40-yard dash time, Lattimore is one of the best draft-eligible athletes this year. He was hampered by hamstring injuries in college, but he's still projected to be one of the first defensive backs taken. 

Gareon Conley, corner: Among the draft's fastest risers after putting together a strong combine (4.44 40-yard dash, 6.68-second three-cone), Conley will give his next team good size (6-feet, 195 pounds) and length (33-inch arms). He may not be as polished as Lattimore, but still could very well be a first-round pick.

Pat Elflein, center: This smart, hard-working pivot may not have the world's best footwork, but he should be among the first players taken at his position. Elflein (6-foot-3, 300 pounds) is a former wrestler who has experience at both center and guard. 

Curtis Samuel, receiver: A true all-purpose threat in college (AP All-American, first-team All-Big Ten), he could have trouble adapting to life as a full-time receiver in the NFL. At 5-11, 196 pounds that's probably where he'll end up.

Raekwon McMillan, linebacker: At 6-2, 240 pounds McMillan was a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Big Ten choice. He's instinctive, but there's some concern as to whether or not he has the strength to hold up inside at the next level. The Patriots, as we've noted, have been looking at the linebacker position throughout the pre-draft process.

FBI returns Brady Super Bowl jerseys to Gillette

FBI returns Brady Super Bowl jerseys to Gillette

The FBI returned Tom Brady’s Super Bowl XLIX and Super Bowl LI jerseys to Gillete Stadium Thursday, days after recovering the stolen items. 

After the FBI’s visit, Robert Kraft issued the following statement:  

"We want to thank the FBI, the Mexican authorities and the many different local agencies that were involved in the investigation and ultimate recovery of Tom Brady's Super Bowl LI jersey. Working along with the Patriots and NFL security, those agencies collectively coordinated an investigation that also led to the recovery of Tom’s missing Super Bowl XLIX jersey. It was great to have both jerseys returned to Gillette Stadium today. I don’t know that any agency could have accomplished this independently, but collectively multiple agencies -- both in the U.S. and in Mexico -- worked together to achieve the goal of retrieving the stolen property. It is another example of the importance of teamwork and what can be accomplished when everyone works together. We appreciate the effort of everyone involved and look forward to returning these jerseys to Tom when he gets back to New England."

Brady’s jersey was reported missing shortly after the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI victory over the Falcons, with it being learned in recent days that Martin Mauricio Ortega Camberos of Mexican newspaper La Prensa was the culprit. Video emerged Tuesday of Ortega illegally entering the Patriots’ locker room and leaving with the jersey.