Love growing out of 'underrated' tag

583572.jpg

Love growing out of 'underrated' tag

FOXBORO -- Kyle Love is used to flying under the radar. There's even something about it he likes: When somebody finds you to give a pat on the back, it's because you've really earned it.

Rex Ryan did that very thing in his Wednesday conference call. Ryan was prompted about the release of n'er-do-well defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Was he surprised at the move? No, Ryan said, New England has plenty of other weapons on the d-line for the Jets to worry about, one being the "underrated" Love.

"It's pretty good to hear that from an opposing coach," Love said when told in the locker room. "What can I say? I really appreciate it. That's a big compliment coming from him. I just have to take it in stride and keep on doing what I'm doing, playing harder from week-to-week."

The grind has always been important to Love.

While at Mississippi State, he once told coach David Turner in practice to take snaps away from him. He felt he was off his game and getting playing time he didn't deserve. Reflecting last season on the college request, Love sees the situation simply.

He wanted motivation.

It was just something I did mentally to make me play with an edge."

His tenure with the Bulldogs was impressive, yet he came to the Patriots as a rookie free agent. If you think being passed over by 31 NFL teams is just another thing to inspire him, you'd be right. Still, Love isn't trying to work toward recognition. He says the "underrated" tag is "getting overplayed" and keeps his focus on being a better player, a better man, for himself.

That means practicing technique, watching more film, and falling under the guidance of veterans Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren. Already, in just his second year, Love's added an improved pass-rush to his run-stopping abilities for a more complete skillset. He'll need it. Love says the ousting of Haynesworth is two-fold in its fallout.

First the good: "I just know I have to step up even more now. Probably get a little more playing time, so just have to step up a little more.

The bad: "Guys coming in and out, that could happen to anybody. It just means I have to play harder."

He should take comfort in this season's early success. Love didn't start the first three games but got his first opportunity against the Raiders when Haynesworth was unavailable. He's kept a starting spot in the rotation since. Love has 14 tackles -- twice what he had in nine games last year -- and one sack in eight games.

Beyond Haynesworth's exit, his effort and energy have earned him added snaps. The popular NFL Films feature, "Bill Belichick: A Football Life," showed the Patriots coach criticizing his team for its lack of post-play celebration. That's not a worry with Love; he's usually one of the most dynamic guys on the field and can be counted on for a chest-bump.

"I guess you could say I've always been like that," he smiled. "Since middle school my coaches used to always tell us, 'Get excited after the play.' So it just keeps me going and to get other guys going. I get excited when I see other guys get excited."

New England will need plenty of fire this weekend. The Patriots meet the red-hot Jets Sunday in East Rutherford. Though it's not Love's first game against the AFC East rival, it should be his first start and Rex Ryan doesn't plan to be surprised. It's a new challenge in a way: live up to the growing hype.

But Love is ready. He doesn't need tricks for motivation anymore.

"I look forward to every game, so it's nothing different to me. I don't look at it as being special; every game is special to me."

Strahan picks Steelers to upset Patriots in AFC Championship

Strahan picks Steelers to upset Patriots in AFC Championship

Michael Strahan saw the Patriots lose a Super Bowl first-hand, but he doesn’t think they’ll lose Super Bowl LI. That’s because he doesn’t think they’ll be participants. 

Appearing on The Tonight Show, the former Giants defensive end and current Person Who is Frequently on Television said that he expects the Steelers to upset the Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship.

“I think in the AFC, I think Pittsburgh might pull the upset this year,” Strahan said. 

When Jimmy Fallon objected, Strahan said Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ pass rush would be enough to beat the Pats if New England plays the way it did in the divisional round. 
 
“If you watched the Houston Texans, they had a shot; they just turned the ball over,” he said. “And the Houston Texans offense is in no way, shape or form near what Pittsburgh has. They don’t have the quarterback that [Pittsburgh has]. Defensively, Houston had the really good defense, but Pittsburgh [puts] the good pressure on the quarterback. And from my Super Bowl experience, Tom Brady does not like pressure. I’m just saying I feel like if there’s anybody who’s going to pull an upset, it will be them.” 

As for any rooting interest, Strahan said that he hopes the Falcons win the Super Bowl, citing Matt Ryan being overdue for a title and Julio Jones having a Brady-like quality of putting team goals before his own legacy. 

Solder, Patriots training staff earn Ed Block Courage Awards

solder-gallery.jpg

Solder, Patriots training staff earn Ed Block Courage Awards

FOXBORO -- Patriots left tackle Nate Solder has been through a lot over the last few years. 

He battled and beat testicular cancer before the 2014 offseason and then went on to help the Patriots to their fourth Super Bowl title. In 2015, he tore his biceps in Week 5 and spent the rest of the year on injured reserve. Just weeks later after suffering that season-ending injury, Solder's son, Hudson, was diagnosed with a Wilms' tumor in his kidneys. 

A quiet leader in the Patriots locker room, Solder has used his platform with the team to spread awareness stemming from personal hardships in addition to serving as a prominent supporter of the Hockomock Area YMCA. For his devotion to helping those in need, and for the example he sets at his job and in the community, he has been named the team's Ed Block Courage Award winner for 2016. 

Solder also participated in the NFL's My Cause My Cleats initiative wearing cleats to raise awareness for the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which gives financial aid to cancer patients and their families. He also supports The Fresh Truck, which describes itself as a mobile food market on a mission to radically improve community health.

Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Jerod Mayo, Logan Mankins, Wes Welker and Tedy Bruschi have also recently been named Ed Block Courage Awards-winners for the Patriots. 

The team's training staff, led by head trainer Jim Whalen and assistant trainer and director of rehabilitation Joe Van Allen, was also honored on Tuesday as it was named the 2016 Ed Block Courage Award NFL Athletic Training Staff of the Year.

"The annual award, named for the longtime head athletic trainer for the Baltimore Colts who demonstrated an untiring dedication to helping others, recognizes an NFL staff for their distinguished service to their club, community and athletic training profession," the Patriots announced in a statement. 

In the release, trainer Daryl Nelson and physical therapist Michael Akinbola are also credited with helping keep the Patriots healthy. 

Others, including head strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera and team nutritionist Ted Harper, have a hand in keeping players at their physical peak. Combined, given the overall health of the roster this season, they've all had a hand in keep the team humming as it heads into its sixth consecutive AFC title game.