Can you say championship?

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Can you say championship?

By Michael Felger

No longer are they just an overachieving collection of youngsters and spare parts.

No longer have they simply put the lie to the embarrassing conventional wisdom that said Randy Moss was the key to their offense.

No longer would making another Super Bowl be considered a big surprise.

It's now expected.

We'll now be disappointed if they don't make it.

Maybe that's unfair, but that's what happens when you beat all comers in the regular season -- Baltimore, Indianapolis, the Jets and Pittsburgh -- and then sit at home on wild-card weekend. That's what happens when you play near-perfect football games, like the one the Pats played on Monday night.

I don't know if you can call this a great Patriots team yet. That distinction should really be reserved for champions -- and even then it might be hard to call a team with this much youth, inexperience and holes on defense as truly great.

But do you know how much more interesting I find these Patriots than their last supposedly "great" squad, their 2007 edition? That team was just a collection of talent. And their run through a 16-0 regular season was joyless by comparison to this. That team was typified by Moss, the ultimate front-runner. That team sold it's soul for the record book and paid the price when it mattered the most. In the end, they became the exact kind of team we used to hate around here -- soft, finesse, choke artists. They became the Colts.

This team is also very much dependant on its offense, and maybe because of that they'll meet the same fate at some point in the postseason. But that doesn't take away the fact that they are much easier to root for.

I don't know about you, but former first-round pick Laurence Maroney never did anything for me. But I respect the hell out of undrafted backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. I simply love the fact that Wes Welker is embarrassing all those who said his production was merely a result of the room Moss created. (And remember, Welker is still doing this on a bad knee.) Watching Tom Brady and Deion Branch work together is pure joy. I like the fact the Pats actually have young tight ends who can catch and young defensive players who can take the ball away and are improving. I no longer have to root for turds like Adalius Thomas, Derrick Burgess, Maroney and Moss.

And, last but not least, Brady has always been more interesting to me when he uses his head more than his arm. That's when he's at his best, anyway. That's what he did when he was winning championships.

That's right. We're talking championships again. The Pats have left us with no other choice.

Read Felger's report card on Wednesday. E-Mail him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Belichick: Brady-less Patriots ‘just really focused on Buffalo’

Belichick: Brady-less Patriots ‘just really focused on Buffalo’

FOXBORO -  A verrrrrryyyy long time ago, the Patriots targeted September. There were t-shirts and everything printed back in 2002 as the Patriots came off of their first Super Bowl title.

The names of that season’s first four opponents – Steelers, Jets, Chiefs and Chargers – were all listed on a bullseye.

How’d that work out? Well, they hit the bullseye for most of September, winning the first three. Then they lost four in a row and the notion of “targeting” a segment of the schedule around these parts went the way of the Dodo bird.

Which may be why, as truly remarkable as this September’s been, Bill Belichick isn’t taking any bows after three damn wins.

“We’re just really focused on Buffalo,” Belichick told me Friday morning when I asked about whether winning the first three in the face of some adversity was a point of pride. “I don’t really care about last week. I don’t really care about two weeks ago. I don’t really care about last year. I don’t really care about four years ago. I don’t really care. I think we’re just trying to get ready and compete against Buffalo. That’s our challenge this week.

“The rest of it – it’s in the books. It is what it is,” he said. “So write whatever you want to write about it. It’s good, it’s bad, I mean I don’t really care. It’s done. We’ve got to do a good job of what we have here with Buffalo. We can’t live in the past. And I respect where you’re coming from, I really do. It’s not like I’m trying to be dismissive of it, but I really don’t care. It doesn’t really matter. Nothing that happened last year, last week, last month really has anything to do with this week.”

Things change after Sunday. The best player the franchise has ever had rejoins a team that – in spite of the adversity – flourished without him. Even though the competition wasn’t what one would call “stiff” compared to challenges Brady faced as recently as last January, it’s still remarkable.

Asked about Brady’s looming return, wide receiver Julian Edelman also redirected.

“We got a game before that,” he pointed out. “When he comes back we'll obviously be happy but we got a job ahead of us with the Buffalo Bills.” 

Asked if there’s some pride taken in the beginning, Edelman replied, “It’s just having pride in your job in general. Really just focusing every week and trying to improve. I say it every week on these cameras, if you try to get better and you get better every week, you're gonna do these things. 

“It tells you that you have a mentally tough team that goes out there and works hard and prepares hard and does the extra things,” Edelman added. “I've been around here a little while and that's just the mentality we've always had and continue to have. We have a tough one against the Bills and we'll see how it tests out against these guys.”

 

 

Patriots-Bills injury report: Garoppolo, Brissett listed as questionable

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Patriots-Bills injury report: Garoppolo, Brissett listed as questionable

The inury report for Sunday's Patriots-Bills game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
QB Jacoby Brissett (right thumb)
OT Marcus Cannon (calf)
G Jonathan Cooper (foot)
LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
CB Eric Rowe (ankle)

BUFFALO BILLS

OUT
OL Cyrus Kouandjio (ankle)
OL Patrick Lewis (knee)
WR Greg Salas (groin)
WR Sammy Watkins (foot)

QUESTIONABLE
DB Colt Anderson (foot)
TE Charles Clay (knee)
DB Ronald Darby (hamstring)
OL Cordy Glenn (ankle)
QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder)
DB Jonathan Meeks (foot)
DB Aaron Williams (ankle)