Gronk: Belichick knows to how help Pats avoid distractions

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Rob Gronkowski says coach Bill Belichick makes it easy for the New England Patriots to ignore distractions such as the one created by last week’s ESPN report.

“Throughout my years here I’ve seen a lot of negative, a lot of positive,” Gronkowski said Tuesday as the Patriots prepared for Saturday night’s divisional playoff game against the Tennessee Titans.

“The reputation that Coach tries to get us to have is just ignore the noise – ignore the noise from the outside and I feel like that’s what myself and a lot of other players have been doing.

“You just gotta ignore the noise and just focus on what we’ve been doing all year and that’s preparing hard, studying our opponent, getting ready, mentally and physically for the big game, so what’s going on on the outside, as a team, as an organization, just gotta keep grinding, keep going, keep doing our job.”

Gronkowski, healthy this season after missing last year’s Super Bowl-winning run, said such “noise” will “if anything it’s just going to bring us closer and it’s going to bond us together.”

The report concerned the relationship among team owner Robert Kraft, Belichick and Tom Brady, focusing on Brady’s role in the trading of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round draft pick.

Earlier Tuesday, Brady reacted strongly to the claim he was involved in moving Garoppolo, who won five straight games for his new team down the stretch of the season.

“I think that’s just such a poor characterization of anything. In 18 years, I’ve never celebrated when someone has been traded, been cut,” Brady said on his weekly appearance on Boston radio station WEEI.

“I would say that’s disappointing to hear that someone would express that, or a writer would express that, because it’s so far from what my beliefs are about my teammates.”

He continued, saying, “I would never, ever feel that way about when Jimmy got traded, when Jacoby (Brissett) got traded. I’ve kept in touch with all those guys. When Matt Cassel was gone. All these guys I’ve worked with, I felt like I had such a great relationship with all the quarterbacks I’ve worked with. I kept in touch with basically everybody. So to characterize that as a certain way is just completely, completely wrong.”

Gronkowski was asked if Brady is amped up even more than usual.

“I’ve gotten that question many times throughout my career and I’ve said this many times – it’s hard to see him go to another level of intensity because he’s always intense, he’s always preparing hard,” Gronkowski said.

“I’ve just seen him do the same old that he does every week, prepare hard, practice hard and get ready for the game.”

Defensive captain Devin McCourty was asked about the ESPN article.

“I don’t care about it and I think a lot of guys don’t really care about what goes on outside and who writes what and if we stink, if we’re great – it doesn’t matter.

“So, I just think guys are motivated by playing for each other, their families more than an ESPN article.

“I think it’s a great thing for our fans and people outside. I think they enjoy all of that, but I think for us, it’s just going out there and playing for each other.

“An ESPN article doesn’t help us when we go out there and it’s negative-9 degrees. Like you’re not going to be motivated to prove an article wrong. You’re just having fun playing with the guys.”

Wide receiver Brandin Cooks, in his first year with the team, was asked how they keep distractions out of their locker room.

“I think because the guys listen. Coach has been doing this for a while and he knows what the potential distractions can be,” Cooks said.

“I think he does a great job on letting us know what they are and as players we listen to him and being coachable and tune out the noise.”

NOTES: Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey, talking with New England reporters via a conference call, was asked what affect the ESPN story might have on the Patriots, said, “You know what, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know anything about it. I’m not a social media guy. I don’t know enough, I really don’t, to make any comment about something like that.” … Gronkowski, talking about making AP All-Pro for the fourth time, said, “It’s definitely an honor, a humbling honor, but it means nothing now to tell you the truth, it means nothing. It’s the playoffs now, it’s one-and-done if you lose, so you just keep on preparing, looking forward. … “I’m just looking forward to this game, man – super excited to be back out there with the team.”

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Jags ‘threw a tantrum’ when Marrone started making changes

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Jacksonville’s locker room was abuzz late last season. Four guys played table tennis while others crowded around a small table for dominoes. Two 80-inch televisions were tuned to a sports highlight show, and music blared from one corner of the room.

Doug Marrone, the team’s offensive line coach at the time, walked through and shook his head.

“Can you believe this?” Marrone whispered.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

The Jaguars were in the middle of a nine-game losing streak that would ultimately cost coach Gus Bradley his job. Marrone had watched from afar for two years, witnessing an atmosphere he felt was too loose, too laid-back and too lenient amid losing.

So when Marrone was hired to replace Bradley last January, high on his to-do list was to change the culture in Jacksonville. His success is one reason the Jaguars (12-6) are in the AFC championship game against New England (14-3).

The ping pong table was the first to go. Dominoes followed. The locker room stalls were overhauled, too, with Marrone mixing and matching position groups and putting certain players next to veteran leaders and/or NFL role models.

“We definitely threw a tantrum,” Pro Bowl defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “Went in there and talked to him about it. Definitely wasn’t happy. I learned just to be quiet, you know, and go with the flow. He’s been at it longer than I have, and I’m just the football player. He says do this and I go do it. Just learn to follow him, and I’m glad I did.”

Marrone saved the most significant changes for the practice fields.

Marrone, top executive Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell wanted a much tougher and more physical team. They drafted bruising running back Leonard Fournette and fiery left tackle Cam Robinson to complement a defense that was significantly beefed up in free agency with the addition of All-Pro pass-rusher Calais Campbell, Pro Bowl cornerback A.J. Bouye and veteran safety Barry Church.

They also designed an offseason program that was more grueling than most players had experienced. Marrone’s message was clear: Go hard or go home.

“You remember guys in camp talking about this took a few years off their lives,” Jackson said. “It’s pretty funny just to see us now. I guess he does know what he’s doing.”

The Jaguars were in full pads nearly every day during training camp, a tortuous stretch in draining heat and humidity that left rookies and veterans questioning the process and wondering if it would pay off. It was the NFL’s version of boot camp. Break them down, then build them up.

It ultimately brought players closer, making them accountable to each other and causing them to care more for each other. Winning was the final piece, and thumping Houston 29-7 in the season opener was all the proof players needed.

“It was the toughest training camp I’ve ever been a part of,” said linebacker Paul Posluszny, in his 11th season. “Coach Marrone would talk to us and say, `Listen, I have a plan and you have to trust me.’ With that, guys were able to say, `OK, we haven’t gotten what we wanted in years past doing things a certain way, so we have to buy in, trust the head man and know that that’ll bring us success when it’s time.’

“It was difficult just because of so many changes from what we were used to. I think the most important thing is we always said, `Well, if it helps us win, then it’s all good.'”

Jacksonville had lost 63 of 80 games over the previous five seasons – the worst record in the NFL during that span – and had been through two coaching changes.

Coughlin’s return was a key part of the team’s revival, and although the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach with the New York Giants gets much of the outside credit for the team’s turnaround, the reality is Marrone was the one pushing all the right buttons.

Marrone has been other places where players resisted, prompting personnel moves that would slow progress. That wasn’t the case in Jacksonville, and he credited his players for being open to change.

“They gave our staff the opportunity to say, `This is what we want to do. This is what we believe in as coaches or as an organization. This is how we want to handle ourselves,”‘ Marrone said. “We are still working toward that. It is not perfect by any means.”

It’s clearly working, though. The Jaguars are in the title game for the third time in franchise history, one victory away from their first Super Bowl appearance.

“They say (stuff) rolls downhill,” Jackson said. “Well, the good stuff rolls downhill, too. … It’s all worth it when you win.”

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Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey tells fans ‘we’re going to Super Bowl’

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey did pretty much the same thing that upset his Jacksonville Jaguars teammates last week.

He started looking ahead.

Ramsey told thousands of fans awaiting the team’s return from Pittsburgh late Sunday that the Jaguars “are going to the Super Bowl and we are going to win that (expletive).”

Jacksonville (12-6), of course, has the AFC championship game at New England remaining before even getting to the Super Bowl. The small-market franchise is winless in seven games in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and 1-10 all-time against the Patriots (14-3).

Ramsey’s comments surely will find their way north.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

“You come back and you’ve got all the fans here and things of that nature,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said.

“Obviously that’s something that everybody, they want to do when you get close. Whether you have to say it or not? The one thing I do know is the road to it always leads through New England.

“Our focus isn’t on anything else but the New England Patriots. It will be a great challenge for us obviously.”

The Jags took exception to the Steelers talking about facing the Patriots instead of them, and used it as motivation in a 45-42 victory Sunday.

Nonetheless, they stood behind their outspoken and ultra-talented defender.

“To me, it’s just a man that has confidence in his team,” defensive tackle Abry Jones said. “What’s he going to say? He knows what we’re going up there to do. It’s not like he ain’t saying nothing that’s not true.”

Fellow defensive tackle Malik Jackson said the difference between Ramsey’s remarks and comments from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, running back Le'Veon Bell and safety Mike Mitchell is the timing.

“We’re so close that I think it’s OK to say, `Hey, we’re going to do this,”‘ Jackson said. “It’s one of those things that I think he believes in himself after the game he just had, locking down one of the best receivers in the game.

“He’s pretty hyped and he wants to let everybody know he’s hyped, so I think he’s just happy and he understands that we have a giant in front of us and we’ve just got to pay all the attention to this team.

“We don’t even know who’s going to play in the Super Bowl because we’re not looking ahead to that.”

Ramsey was unavailable during the team’s open locker room session Monday.

“He’s going to talk, but we’re going to show up,” defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said. “I just don’t like when people talk all week. You talk reckless and you lose.”

The Jaguars voiced their displeasure with being overlooked by the Steelers last week and were really vocal after the victory at Heinz Field. Players yelled, “Where’s Mike Mitchell at now” as they came off the field.

“I feel like they took us lightly. I don’t know why because we whooped them the first time,” Ngakoue said. “You’ve got to respect all your opponents. That’s why we’re not big in trash-talking. We’re big in playing on Sunday.

“Real guys, real people don’t talk. We throw the first punch. We threw the first punch and we got the victory.”

And now they have a matchup against the NFL’s most successful franchise over the past two decades.

The Jaguars are 1-3 against New England in the postseason, with the lone victory coming after the 1998 season – before coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady teamed up to take five Super Bowl titles.

Jacksonville’s win came against coach Pete Carroll and backup quarterback Scott Zolak.

The Jags are 0-7 against the Brady-Belichick combination.

“We’re not going to go out there like the Steelers the week before and talk about people in a bad way and give them bulletin board news,” Jackson said.

“We just continue to work and earn respect. … We just keep proving people wrong. (Blake Bortles) keeps proving people wrong, and we just keep going on it and pounding people. It’s just awesome to see and awesome to be a part of.

“We understand we have to do what we have to do or we’ll be watching the Super Bowl at home like everybody else.”

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