Patriots know what's at stake amidst high playoff emotions

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Patriots know what's at stake amidst high playoff emotions

FOXBORO -- We're just days away from playoff football in New England. The game is different. The speed is different. It's a one-game season.

Prepare how you will. Even the Patriots know they'll have to make in-game adjustments. It doesn't matter how many times they've played the Houston Texans.

They realize the playoffs are a whole different beast.

"It's like when you talk to the Navy Seals and those guys about when they go on a mission, how they talk about, 'Alright, so we get there, and we practice going over a six-foot wall, and the wall's 30-feet high.' Well, that's the way it is in the NFL," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Friday. "You practice for whatever you think you're going to . . . you swim across a 200-yard lake, and the lake's 800 yards. Well, guy's have to cross it. You get into the NFL game, and you think you're going to get this, and you get that. You think they're going to play this guy, and they play some other guy. You face new challenges. That's part of the gamesmanship and part of the competition, to figure out which team can do it better than the other one.

"There's always that unknown in the game," added Belichick. "Things happen that you just can't predict or you can't prepare for. Because they're working on things. We don't know what they're doing. So they'll come up with something that will cause us to make an adjustment. And I'm sure we'll do the same thing to them somewhere along the line. Everybody's got to figure it out and make the best of it. That's what makes this great game."

Belichick described just how anxious his team was for Sunday's kickoff to what they hope will be a long and successful playoff run, saying the emotions are taken to a "higher step."

"This is a jump this week," said Belichick. "We all understand that.

"I think there's an anxiousness whenever you play," added Belichick. "You always have that unknown of going up against a new opponent. Who knows how the game will go, what they'll do, how things will match up, what adjustments you'll have to make, and how the game will unfold. There will be different breaks or situations in the game that will make each game unique. That makes it exciting. So, there's no way to predict how all that's going to happen. Just take it as it comes."

But those unknowns and the emotions that come with it disappear when the game begins, playoff game or not.

"When the ball's kicked off, then I think you're in game mode," said Belichick. "All the things you think about, what could happen, what might, what you want to call, what you want to do, what situations might come up. Once that opening kickoff happens, then you're playing the game or coaching the game, whatever you're doing, whatever your role is."

As the hours wind down and Sunday's rematch with the Texans gets closer, the Patriots' excitement comes with a special embrace for the spot that they're in: a home game and a chance to get to the AFC Championship.

They are well aware at what's at stake.

"This is what we work all year for," said Belichick. "We worked all year, since the end of last season to get back to this point. So, really, this is what it's all for. All the team planning, the OTA's, the mini-camps, the meetings, the walkthroughs, the preseason games, the practices, the regular season. It's all for this. So we put everything we have into this game, and try to have the result that we want. That's where our team is. That's where I am, personally. I think that's where everybody is. That's where we should be."

Giardi: Butler's offseason may cut deep, but it's time for him to battle back

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Giardi: Butler's offseason may cut deep, but it's time for him to battle back

This hasn’t been easy for Malcolm Butler. None of it. He’s never been given anything. Hell, at times he’s pissed his future away. But with a tenacity that reminds you of a certain 199th pick in the 2000 draft, Butler has fought his way back, into college, into the pros and, in 2015 and 2016, into the upper echelon of NFL cornerbacks. He’s a two-time Super Bowl champ, making arguably the most memorable play in the history of that game.

He should be drinking in the adulation, savoring an incredible start to his career and a very lucrative future. Instead, he’s in both professional and Patriots purgatory. Free agency beckons but there’s a season to play, and as this is the only professional team he’s known, a burning desire to be recognized as an important piece, not just in the present, but the future of this organization as well.
 
One of his closest friends on the team, Dion Lewis, calls Butler a warrior. “The game means so much to him.”

Another teammate, fellow defensive back Devin McCourty said of Butler, “This is what he does. He competes.”

Duron Harmon insists that the 27-year-old corner has been the same guy he’s always been. Actually, they all say that. But clearly, the coaching staff sees something different, leading to Butler’s demotion Sunday in New Orleans. 
 
Bill Belichick has been short when talking about Butler dating all the way back to the spring. That hasn’t changed now that the games count. He’s dismissed past performance. All that matters is how you’re playing now. Butler has not established that same level. Why? There is no easy answer.
 
The lack of a new contract cuts deeply. The unsettling offseason -- was he going to be a Saint? -- left quite a mark as well. But Butler came back to Foxboro with purpose, reporting for voluntary workouts. He was hell-bent on proving to all -- Belichick included -- that he was still the lead dog, not Stephon Gillmore, despite the $31 million dollars in guaranteed money the organization forked over to the former Buffalo Bill.
 
That strategy worked for a time. Butler was one of the Pats best players in training camp, right up until the joint practices with the Texans midway through August. What happened? Butler doesn’t know. But one mistake became two. His play in the preseason game with Houston was poor. His confidence suffered. He started pressing. That didn’t help. Butler was just as bad at Detroit. The kid that had always answered a knockdown with one of his own, instead wobbled to his feet. The inconsistencies were evident in practice but the "he's-Malcolm-he'll-fix-it" thought process that teammates echoed didn’t prove true, at least not entirely.
 
According to Eric Rowe, the cornerbacks were informed of the role change at the beginning of last week. But other teammates said they didn’t realize Butler wasn’t starting until the walkthrough Saturday. The ensuing fallout wasn’t surprising -- HE’S MALCOLM BUTLER, SUPER BOWL HERO, DAMMIT -- but the worry around the team has been justified because Butler takes things to heart. His swagger comes from the game. That was stripped away prior to the game against the Saints, and even at the beginning of this week, leading into the Texans game. Butler had to get his head right. If his meeting with the media Thursday is an indication, he has.

But the proof is in the play. Butler has always known that. And while his play didn’t warrant a role reduction, another message has been sent by the powers that be in Foxboro. What happens next is all on Butler. His future depends on it.

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Patriots place Vincent Valentine on IR, promote Geneo Grissom

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Patriots place Vincent Valentine on IR, promote Geneo Grissom

FOXBORO -- Anyone hoping to see Vincent Valentine make his season debut got some bad news Friday. 

Valentine, who has been inactive for both of the Patriots' first two games with a knee injury, was placed on injured reserve. ESPN's Field Yates was first to report the news.

With Valentine on IR, Geneo Grissom was added to the roster from the practice squad. ESPN's Mike Reiss had that one first:

Valentine, whom the Pats chose 96th overall in 2016, has not been practicing with the team as he's dealt with the knee injury.

A third-round pick of the Pats in 2015, Grissom was released by the team in September and signed to the practice squad a day later.