Pro Bowl's nice, but Wilfork keeping eye on prize

191543.jpg

Pro Bowl's nice, but Wilfork keeping eye on prize

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- When Vince Wilfork met the media on Wednesday, he did so as a member of the 2011 Pro Bowl team. He immediately addressed the significance of his third career selection.

"To be nominated as one of the best in the National Football League, I'm very honored,'' Wilfork said. "I'm excited about it. I'm excited about my teammates who made it."

Five of Wilfork's teammates were also named to the roster. But the nose tackle didn't feel like the commendations for hard work should be limited to those invited to Hawaii.

"I'm proud of everyone,'' he said. "There're a bunch of guys in here that easily could have been a Pro Bowler, but there're only so many you can pick. But I'm definitely proud of the guys who made it: Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty and Brandon Meriweather, and Tom Brady and Logan Mankins on offense.

"I think I speak for everyone when I say that we're very proud of this team, not just those individuals who have been named Pro Bowlers. As a team, we're very, very honored to be in the position to do some good things."

Since the selections were just made Tuesday night, Wilfork's opening comments were predictable. His emphasis, however, was elsewhere.

The Patriots' focus-only-on-what's-in-front-of-you mantra was never more evident than in Wilfork's comments Wednesday. New England has a matchup with Miami to get through this week and, in Wilfork's mind, the importance of an AFC East showdown -- even one as meaningless as Sunday's between the Patriots, who've clinched everything there is to clinch heading into the playoffs, and the Dolphins, who've been eliminated from the postseason picture -- supersedes all awards and playoff talk.

"We take it one game at a time," Wilfork said. "From personal goals to individual to team goals, I think that's the best way to do it. Our goal is to just keep getting better as a team and put together a good football effort against the Miami Dolphins this week and leave this one with a 'W.'

"I know they want to end their season with a win and we want to win, so it doesnt get any better than this. We don't look at any records. It's all about one team and the Miami Dolphins playing the New England Patriots. Thats what it is going to boil down to."

Fans and analysts alike are wondering how much starters, like Wilfork, will play on Sunday. The Patriots already know they're going to the playoffs. Is this going to be a garbage game?

The defensive captain scoffed at the idea.

"I want to play football,'' he stated. "Especially this time of year, I think the more games you play . . . the more consistent you can be. That's where I stand. I want to play every game I can, crunch time. I think anybody who loves the game would want to be playing right now and I'm one of those guys. There are a bunch of guys in this locker room that want to play and want to win. "

He was unwavering in his stance. What about 2009's season-ending injury to Wes Welker in New England's Week 17 game? It's ancient history and Wilfork isn't even subscribing to the text.

"I don't think twice about going in the last game of preseason or the middle-of-the-season game. I couldn't care less when I play. When I play, I play. If it's meant for somebody to get injured, you get injured. You could easily get injured off the field. So that's something I don't worry about."

So for now, the Pro Bowl and the playoffs are merely distractions from the game plan. Is Vince Wilfork honored and excited? Absolutely. But the only thing on the big man's mind this week is beating Miami.

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

Gronk: 'Can't wait to compete again and play ball'

Gronk: 'Can't wait to compete again and play ball'

Rob Gronkowski's been having more than his share of fun this offseason, based off what we've seen on social media, but he sent out a Tweet Sunday night that makes it sound as if he can't wait for training camp to begin.

Gronkowski played in only eight games in 2016 because of back issues that eventually required surgery, and missed all of the Patriots' run to the Super Bowl championship.

Of course, if you check Gronk's timeline beneath his 'I-can't-wait-to-start-playing-again' Tweet, you'll find a) a couple of hypes for his new show MVP, b) a re-Tweet in which he's helping Mojo Rawley get ready for Wrestlemania, and c) quasi-ads for the various products he endorses.

Five things to look for from the NFL annual meetings this week

Five things to look for from the NFL annual meetings this week

PHOENIX -- Bill Belichick may not be speaking with the media here this week, but there will be plenty for us to examine at the annual league meetings. 

Reporters were informed via a team spokesperson that the Patriots coach would not be in attendance at the AFC coaches breakfast Tuesday morning -- where in the past orange juice has been sipped and tape recorders have been bulldozed -- due to a scouting conflict. 

The breakfast is not mandatory for coaches so for Belichick to use his time at a college pro day (Florida, Texas and Iowa State all have theirs scheduled for Tuesday) or a private workout comes as little surprise. He's been busy on the Trail of Due Diligence in recent weeks, making visits to Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Michigan in order to get a closer look at prospects.

Five weeks behind, remember? No days off. 

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is planning to meet with reporters on Monday so we'll have an opportunity to hear from him on a variety of topics when that comes to pass. 

Here are some of the other Patriots-related stories we'll be doing some digging on this week as we keep you updated with blog posts, occasional television hits, tweets (@PhilAPerry), Instagram shots (@PhilAPerry), and maybe even a podcast or two.

-- What does the rest of the league think when it sees the way the Patriots have attacked this offseason? How will the new pieces fit? Do other coaches and executives see it as Belichick going all in on 2017? Or is this just a case of a team adhering to its motto of doing "what's best for the football team" -- both in the short and long-term?

-- What's next for the Patriots? They're not done building the roster, so where might they turn next? Will they add other lower-level free agents? Will they be looking to trade back into the first and second rounds? Which positions seem to be of interest to them in the draft, and how might that signal the direction this roster is headed?

-- What is the feeling on the future at the quarterback position in New England? We know the Patriots aren't looking to give away Jimmy Garoppolo, but do people around the league really feel as though a haul of draft picks won't get the Patriots to think twice about trading him? Is it possible that in this rare scenario -- where the franchise quarterback is playing at an MVP-level but headed into his 40-year-old season -- people could see the Patriots paying two passers a starter's salary?

-- Will anything happen with Malcolm Butler before the meetings are out? Some have speculated that if his status as a restricted free agent (with an unsigned first-round tender) is to change anytime soon, it could happen here, where presumably his agent will be able to hear offers from one or more clubs in person. Will Butler find a team willing to give him an offer sheet and relinquish its first-round pick to the Patriots? Or will he sign his tender -- whether it's with the intent to play for the Patriots in 2017, or to be traded?

-- Rules changes are coming. We just don't know which ones. Will the linebacker leap (executed by Jamie Collins and Shea McClellin under Belichick) be eliminated? Will Stephen Gostkowski soon be looking to blast kickoffs through the uprights due to the passing of a rule that would place the ball at the 20 as opposed to the 25 for such a feat? Will real-time replay decisions suddenly shift from the officials on the field to the NFL offices at 345 Park Avenue? We'll let you know which proposals are held up, which fall flat, and how the Patriots might be impacted. Belichick and his staff did not submit any proposals for the second consecutive year.