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

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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

Report: Rather than release Stork, Patriots trade him for draft pick

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Report: Rather than release Stork, Patriots trade him for draft pick

When word leaked this morning that the Patriots would release center Bryan Stork, the first question that popped to many people's minds was: "Couldn't they have traded him?"

Well, hours after the news broke, they apparently did:

And a few minutes later, Ian Rapoport came through with more information:

 

Curran: Does soon-to-be-sidelined Brady feel threatened?

Curran: Does soon-to-be-sidelined Brady feel threatened?

FOXBORO -- This sounds absurd, I understand. But Tom Brady isn’t taking for granted that teammates will regard him as the team’s unquestioned leader in this tumultuous 2016.

If he did, he wouldn’t have stated on FOUR different occasions Monday how crushing it was to miss last Thursday’s game because it prevented him from fulfilling what he sees as his duty.

His irritation wasn’t simply about missing out on reps and getting in rhythm. It circled back to leadership, responsibility, the sand draining from his NFL hourglasss and his teammates counting on him.

To wit:

I feel like that’s what my job is and responsibility is to go out there and be with my team, so it was tough not to be out there.”

I’ve always felt like the team is counting on me to be out there, and I’m going to do everything I can to be out there playing. I wanted to go the other night, but I think Coach [Bill Belichick] made a great decision.”

“I’d like to be out there every time I get a chance to play, so you only get so many opportunities a year. I’m getting so many opportunities left in my life, so I’d like to take advantage of any opportunity, any and all of them if possible. When you see your teammates out there in their uniforms and ready to go, you want to be out there with them.”

“I was just, like I said, bummed that I couldn’t be out there with my teammates and taking the practice field, I love practicing, so to have the chance to go out there, you like, as a guy who’s been here for a long time, to show your leadership through example and be out there whenever you can be out there because that’s what the team is counting on.”

Is he crazy? Is he being insecure? How could he be perceived as anything but the alpha dog for the Patriots? They don’t need to see him out there to feel led by him. His resume doesn’t just speak for itself, just run the film from the AFC Championship Game and see possibly the most courageous performance of Brady’s career in Denver.

Why the urgency to pee on his territory?

Maybe it’s because Brady got the quarterback job in the first place because his predecessor treated the position like his birthright.

Brady knows the threatening, would-be replacement won’t come right out and say, “I’m the captain now.”

No, the would-be replacement shows up early with sharpened pencils and open ears and does everything he’s asked until -- one day -- the guy who owns the job isn’t there. And then, slowly, life with would-be replacement gets to feeling . . . almost normal. Livable even.

Jimmy G. may not know “Art of War” from arts and crafts, but Brady will presume he does and that the passage “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy” is tattooed inside Jimmy’s lower lip.

And Brady, knowing another Sun Tzu trope states: “A leader leads by example, not force,” has immediate concerns about how he can lead by example when he’s down until October, for God’s sake.

I asked Garoppolo on Wednesday if he has to step gently in taking control of a team temporarily that is/has been and will be Brady’s.

"It’s a tough situation at times,” admitted Garoppolo, who doesn’t seem to have a mutinous cell in his body. “It’s one of those thing where, if you start worrying about that then you can’t worry about whatever it is you’re supposed to be focused on. Your reads, your checks, whatever it may be. You just have to go about your business the same way you always have. I’m not trying to do something crazy that I’ve never done before. I’m just trying to be myself and do what I do.”

I asked Garoppolo if Brady has flat-out said to him that Garoppolo should just do his thing and take control.

In replay, Garoppolo said, “We have a ton of conversations on a day-in, day-out basis. We’re together 24-7. But he’s been helpful this whole way. Whether it’s encouragement, helping me with little things, he’s been nothing but help and I thank him for that.”

Brady is 10 days away from being sent out into the NFL desert to wander for a month. This is uncharted territory for him. He’s 39 and has -- for 16 years -- seen older teammates taken out behind the stables and not come back.

Ludicrous as it is on the face of it -- especially since Brady is signed through 2019 and Jimmy is up in seven months -- adjusting to the reality of someone else squatting down in his huddle may be the hardest part of it all.

Bennett: 'Put my pants on the same way' for preseason or regular-season games

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Bennett: 'Put my pants on the same way' for preseason or regular-season games

FOXBORO -- There seem to be some differing opinions inside Gillette Stadium as to the feel of the third preseason game. Is it a good dress rehearsal for the regular season, or is it just as vanilla as any other preseason matchup?

Example No. 1 comes from coach Bill Belichick's WEEI interview earlier this week: 

"In terms of playing time it might be a little different, but in terms of game-planning and strategy, what we see in the regular season compared to what we see the in third preseason game, I don’t even think you’re in the same universe," he said. "We’re still running our basic plays and we’d expect our opponents would run their basic plays.

"You get to the opener and start to get to game-planning and scheme, I mean you’re in a totally different ballpark, in my opinion. I don’t see any comparison at all. It’s too far away, I don’t see how you could compare them, from that standpoint. One-on-one matchups, letting the players play, yeah, I would say you have a better matchup of guys like that, but it’s nothing compared to what we’re going to see in the regular season from a total scheme situation standpoint."

Example No. 2 comes from Martellus Bennett, who opted not to meet with reporters last week when the Bears, his former club, came to town for joint practices. 

"All my snaps are full speed," Bennett said when asked about this week's game with the Panthers. "I don't slow down. I just go full speed the whole time so it's just a regular game for me . . . It's always the same whether it's the regular season or preseason. Put my pants on the same way. Put my shoes on the same way. Tie them the same way. Same gloves, same face mask."

Truth is, both can be right.

For players who are given plays and asked to execute assignments, a preseason game played at full speed may very well feel like a regular-season game. For coaches who are coming up with the plays and assignments for said players to execute, the difference between the regular season and preseason is vast. 

The third preseason game might then be the closest thing teams experience to a regular-season game this month, but it's still not close.