Patriots focused, but not on the playoffs


Patriots focused, but not on the playoffs

By Mary Paoletti

FOXBORO -- The Patriots are so close to the playoffs.

A Monday night trouncing of the New York Jets put New England one win away from the postseason and one step closer to a shot at the Super Bowl. But don't bother talking about that in the locker room. It'd be a lonely conversation.

"Trust me, we're on day-to-day,'' Fred Taylor said on Wednesday. "You can't help that. Around here we're definitely on day-to-day. Playoffs aren't really in our head. We understand what the bigger picture is and the fact that there's a lot of games left, but more importantly, Chicago is the next team that's on the schedule. We're 100 PERCENT focused on them."

The Bears? Oh, yeah. A team off the map for many Patriots fans for a couple of reasons. "Out of sight, out of mind" is one of them. Sunday's game in Chicago will be the first time these two teams have met since 2006. And they've clashed just 11 times over 37 years. Series record? 7-4 in New England's favor, at least in regular-season games. Chicago does have that 1985 Super Bowl to brag about, but that was before Belichick became HC of the NEP, and most in the Northeast prefer life in the Hoodie Era.

Besides, a 9-3 record and Number Two seat in the NFC still can't seem to earn the Bears respect. Nobody's been afraid of the Big Bad Bears for a few years now, not since a non-competitive 2006 Super Bowl rollover and the middling 7-9 9-7 7-9 seasons that have followed.

That's all peripheral to the Patriots, though. All the bells and whistles attached to meeting the Jets as Monday Night Football's headliner only announced more loudly that New England is working a short week right now. The fact that Chicago is a relative stranger, well, it certainly doesn't make things easier.

"We're not too familiar with them and we're kind of behind the ball with the Monday night game,'' corner Kyle Arrington said. "So we really have to kind of scramble around, cram a lot in. We're getting prepared though."

Arrington went on to call Chicago a "tough, physical team." He's not kidding. The Bears are backed by a wicked defense. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England's top rusher by a mile (163 carries, 699 yards, 11 touchdowns), has been doing his homework, too.

"They'll create a lot of problems for us,'' said Green-Ellis. "Their defense is at the top of the league in almost every statistical category. We've got to come out on Sunday do the things that we need to do to win. Execute."

Best of luck, BenJarvus. To put numbers to his estimations: Chicago is second in the NFL in rush 'D' (84.9 yards allowed), and third in both total defense (300.3 yards allowed) and points allowed per game (16.0).

"You can't slip up against these guys,'' Taylor said. "They're a physical team, they're fast, they disrupt. Put them in the mold of the Indianapolis defense but with bigger players. They're big guys but they're just as quick, just as fast and they love flying around.''

Sounds like the Patriots have certainly sat up and taken notice of their non-neighbor in the North. And on a quick turnaround, too. The Jets game had larger-than-life billing. It was The Battle of 9-2s, The Fight for AFC Supremacy. Rex Ryan called it "the marquee game of the year." And, of course, there were those all-important playoff implications.

All of New England was in a tailspin long before the coin toss and the Patriots delivered with a 45-3 walloping. Think anybody around here has noticed that the Bears recently blanked Miami 16-0 on the road and beat Michael Vick's Eagles? Probably not. There's no question the fans won't be as geared up for an opponent that has an impressive record but evokes no rivalrous passion. The players, however have to be. And on just five days prep.

"The Bears are a very good team or else they wouldn't be 9-3 at this point,'' Taylor stressed. "They've played well and they've played some close games. Even in the games they've lost, I think they were all by a total of nine points over those three games. (Ed: The total is actually 20 points.) They're a team that you respect.''

The key is focus.

"Every day we come in here and focus on what we have to do for that day and what the plan is for that team that week and keep taking it one day at a time," Green-Ellis said.

So the goal is just a win and not the playoffs -- yes, even though a win would punch New England's ticket to the playoffs. It's simple, really: Don't try and work a step ahead or you'll fall on your face. It's no coincidence that on Wednesday Belichick called a player's footing his "lifeline." And it's a sure bet that the Bears believe an upset over the Patriots is their direct path to the legitimation.

"No. Not yet,'' Arrington stated firmly. "I think if we continue to put preparation, effort and focus and intensity into last week's practice and from here on out, I think we'll be in pretty good shape.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

LeGarrette Blount knows where he wants to be for 2017. Ever since he re-joined the Patriots in 2014 following a short stay in Pittsburgh, the 250-pound back has been very open about how he wants to play out the rest of his career in New England. 

Those feelings haven't changed, even as he faces free-agency after having recorded the best season of his seven-year career.

"I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind, knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England," he told NFL Total Access on Monday. "I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players. I've become close with a lot of the guys. Obviously you know how my running back group is.

"We'll cross that bridge whenever we cross it. On that point, I feel great. I'm in amazing shape. I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to."

Blount finished 2016 with career-highs in attempts (299) yards (1,161) and touchowns (18). His ability to help the Patriots close games in the fourth quarter was notable throughout the course of the season, and he was among the most effective goal-line backs in the league. His 18 rushing scores are a franchise record.

Toward the end of the season, as Dion Lewis worked his way back into the Patriots offense, Blount had his workload cut into, and his fumble in the Super Bowl was a near-catastrophic moment -- his devastated reaction to which was caught expertly by NFL Films. But a big-picture view of Blount's year would reveal that he  posted the most prodictive "big back" season the Patriots have had in more than a decade.

Blount signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason after seeing his 2015 prematurely ended by way of a hip injury. He turned 30 in December.

Garoppolo's mom keeps him apprised of trade rumors: 'She's all over that stuff'

Garoppolo's mom keeps him apprised of trade rumors: 'She's all over that stuff'

Jimmy Garoppolo can't help but hear trade rumors that involve his name. He heard all about them during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Now his mom's keeping him up to date. 

"My mom loves telling me the news updates," Garoppolo told ESPN's Adam Schefter, "so she’s all over that stuff, but it’s been working really well . . . 

"I’m telling you, she could be your assistant. She’s all over the place. Her and my dad on Twitter and stuff like that. I don’t even think they know how to tweet, but they always have something going on . . .

"They know what to hit me with and what to keep quiet. They know me so well that they know what I’d like to hear and what I don’t need to hear. There’s a couple slip-ups here and there, I’m not going to lie to you, but they’re just so excited about it. It’s an exciting time, and they’re loving it."

Garoppolo tried his best to deflect questions about his future as he prepared for Super Bowl LI, but he could only insulate himself so much from those conversations. After six quarters of well-played football, he's chummed the waters for quarterback-starved franchises. As the draft nears, offers are expected to hit the Gillette Stadium offices, and it will be up to Bill Belichick and his staff to determine whether they should part ways with Tom Brady's backup. 

Schefter asked Garoppolo about one team in particular that could be interested: the Chicago Bears. Their general manager Ryan Pace is an Eastern Illinois alum, like Garoppolo, and Garoppolo is a Chicago-area kid. 

"I get asked about [that possibility] all the time from my friends and family back in Chicago," Garoppolo said. "They’re good reporters, my family. But I keep telling them I really don’t know how it would feel until . . . if it was to happen, I wouldn’t know how I’d feel until it did, you know? So it’s kind of one of those things, it’s hard to say right now."

Garoppolo added: "For the most part I am just trying to stay level-headed, trying not to think about it, over think it too much because at the end of the day I am still under contract. It is not my decision if I get traded or if I don’t, so I am just trying to take it all in stride. At the end of the day, you just have to enjoy it. The NFL, it is a hard place to be, hard place to succeed and when you get an opportunity you have to go and take advantage of it."

The idea of getting an opportunity, though, is an enticing one. Before the 2016 season, Garoppolo was very open about how he looked forward to his opportunity to start with Brady suspended for the first four weeks of the season. And with Schefter, he acknowledged that there are times when it's hard not to be impatient when you're the guy behind the guy.

"There’s times," Garoppolo said. "Obviously the kickoff happens and you are ready to roll. The juices get flowing again. You get the adrenaline, the butterflies. It’s football, you have to love the atmosphere . . . 

"We all play the game. We all want to be out there on the field and get an opportunity to play. I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there is probably the best way to put it. We’re competitors at the end of the day. We want to be out there, I want to be out there competing and playing with my teammates.”