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Searching for normalcy - The Sun Chronicle : Patriots

Searching for normalcy

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Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2014 12:31 am

FOXBORO - Aqib Talib channeled his best Gene Hackman on Wednesday.

The Patriots' cornerback probably didn't realize that, but his chat with reporters about the setting for Sunday's AFC Championship Game sounded a lot like a memorable moment in the movie "Hoosiers," where Hackman (as basketball coach Norman Dale) brings his Hickory High team into the Butler University field house and convinces the awe-struck lads that the distance from the floor to the basket is exactly the same as it is in their own gym.

"There's still going to be 22 players on the field at the same time," Talib said of Sunday's game in Denver, which has been assigned larger-than-life status by the national media. "Still going to be three or four refs I don't know how many refs are out there. I think the field will still be 100 yards, you know? Still will be football, man. We'll just have on our white jerseys."

The national media outlets descended upon Foxboro in force Wednesday, looking for storylines and breaking news about the second-biggest game of the year for the Patriots (presuming that Super Bowl XLVIII would be the biggest). They were treated to one buzz-worthy story, the news that Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady had been on-site early in the morning and went home, apparently suffering from an undisclosed illness.

Needless to say, Patriots' coach Bill Belichick did not address Brady's absence beyond the usual dismissive reference to the daily participation report. Brady was listed on that as not having practiced because of illness and his ongoing right shoulder issues.

But clearly, the word went out to the players to not make a big deal out of the fact that their Hall of Fame-bound quarterback was absent on the practice day generally regarded as the most important one of the week leading to a game.

Even Talib, who peered over the practice line of scrimmage Wednesday at Ryan Mallett instead of Brady, called Wednesday "the most important day."

Asked how much a player would miss by missing a Wednesday, he said, "I never missed a Wednesday, so I wouldn't know."

But Talib didn't seem too worried. After all, he's not on the offensive side of the ball.

"I didn't really have to be concerned with it, man," he said. "Mal (Mallett) was our Peyton Manning, so that's all we were worried about."

"I'm a defensive player," noted rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, "I'm looking for Peyton Manning and not Tom Brady."

Veteran guard Logan Mankins is someone that might be legitimately concerned about whether his quarterback was hale and hearty, but he didn't offer any specific thoughts about Brady's absence. He did echo Talib's opinion about the middle-of-the-week workout.

"Wednesday is very important," he said. "It sets the tone for the week. If you have a crappy Wednesday, you have to make some things up on Thursday."

With the Brady topic addressed - or sort-of addressed - players were more forthcoming about some of the actual responsibilities they'll face against the Broncos.

"They've just got a lot of talent on the field," Talib said, "a lot of receivers, from (Eric) Decker to Wes (Welker) to Julius (Thomas) and Demaryius (Thomas). They've got a bunch of guys that can win one-on-one matchups, so it gives Peyton (Manning) a lot of options around the field."

Talib probably won't draw the coverage duties for Welker, the former Patriot -- it's more likely to be a showdown against Julius Thomas, who didn't play in the first game against the Patriots on Nov. 24 -- but that didn't lessen his admiration for what the former teammate accomplished this year in Denver.

"He's Wes Welker," the Pro Bowl cornerback said. "He's definitely Wes Welker. He's quick, shifty in the slot. He and Manning make quick decisions to get him the ball, and get him a bunch of third-down action. He's still Wes Welker."

Talib agreed with a media questioner that asked if Welker was still as reliable a third-down weapon as he was in six years with the Patriots.

"If not the toughest, he's one of them. He's still the same Wes Welker that you know," Talib said.

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