|Rob Gronkowski (left ankle) was the lone Patriot not to practice yesterday. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)|
Manning earns praise
Count Brady, Belichick as fans
FOXBOROUGH – Patriots defensive players know they’re going to have their hands full with Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the Super Bowl, but even his counterpart, Tom Brady, heaped on the praise yesterday.
Manning, who has started every game for New York since Week 11 of his rookie season in 2004, nearly became the fourth quarterback to cross the 5,000-yard mark this season, falling 67 yards shy.
He threw 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes, an NFL season record (surpassing big brother Peyton Manning’s mark), and has been stellar in this postseason, with eight touchdown passes against just one interception in three games.
“I’ve always watched him. He does everything you’re looking for as a quarterback,’’ Brady said. “I’ve seen it firsthand what he can do in the fourth quarter of these games.
“He’s done a great job bringing his team back. He’s a great leader. You always hear that coming out of New York. The guys really have a lot of respect for him and so do I.’’
Brady was impressed with Manning’s performance in the NFC Championship game against San Francisco. Manning was sacked six times and hit at least a dozen times, but he completed enough passes and threw for two touchdowns as New York won in overtime.
“He was getting drilled and just stood in there and kept making the throws, trusting his protection, and came through when they needed him,’’ Brady said. “He’s certainly a great leader for that team and plays at an extremely high level. You don’t get to this game without playing at a high level.
“He seems to always do it down the stretch. I have a ton of respect for him. He’s a great competitor. He’s a great quarterback for that team.’’
Bill Belichick noted the end-of-season run that Manning has enjoyed, as the Giants have won five straight elimination games, dating to the 15th game of the regular season.
“Eli has done a good job not turning the ball over, hitting big plays, converting on third down,’’ said Belichick. “Their third-down conversion numbers are significantly up from the regular season, playing against better teams, better defenses.
“He’s doing a great job. He’s an outstanding quarterback. He can hurt you with his legs - not that he’s looking to run for 100 yards or anything - but converting on third down, scrambling out of the pocket, keeping plays alive. We’ve seen that before. He does a good job.
“He has a lot of skill and he uses all his weapons, spreads the ball around, and makes you defend everybody. And he wins - that’s really what a quarterback’s job is, is to manage the game so his team can win. That’s what he’s done.’’
A promising end
As the Patriots celebrated their win in the AFC title game on the Gillette Stadium field Sunday night, microphones caught Brady telling team owner Robert Kraft that he promises to play a better game in the Super Bowl.
Brady seemed surprised yesterday that what he thought was a private exchange had become public, but affirmed that he will have to play one of the best games of his career to beat the Giants.
“I hope I do,’’ Brady said. “You try to be at your very best in the biggest game. My teammates really count on that, certainly I count on that. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into that.
“Playing with confidence and anticipation and understanding the game plan and going out and executing it when it matters the most. That’s what it’s going to take.’’
Gronkowski sits out
The Patriots were back on the practice field for the first time in nearly a week yesterday, holding a shells-and-sweats session inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse.
As expected, Rob Gronkowski (left ankle) did not practice; he was the only player not to take part. Belichick described Gronkowski’s progress as “good’’ and said his situation will be taken day by day. He didn’t want to forecast how the tight end will be feeling in 10 days.
The Patriots listed Deion Branch (knee), Marcus Cannon (ankle), Patrick Chung (foot), James Ihedigbo (shoulder), Kyle Love (ankle), Logan Mankins (knee), Rob Ninkovich (hip), Brandon Spikes (knee), Sebastian Vollmer (back/foot), Wes Welker (knee), and Tracy White (abdomen) as limited in yesterday’s practice; Dan Connolly (groin) and Matthew Slater (shoulder) practiced fully.
Nate Solder (concussion), Aaron Hernandez (concussion), Dane Fletcher (thumb), and Kyle Arrington (foot), who were on the final injury report before the AFC Championship, have been removed from the list.
Party before parting
The Patriots announced details for a “Super Send-Off’’ event at Gillette Stadium on Sunday for fans to wish the team well before it leaves for Indianapolis. The Patriot Place Gate (by the lighthouse) will open at 10:15 a.m., and 15 minutes later a replay of the AFC Championship game will begin showing on the video boards. At noon, team president Jonathan Kraft, Belichick, and players will be on field for the send-off. The event and parking are free, but tailgating will not be allowed.
A Butler is hired
Talk about great timing. The Patriots re-signed tight end Carson Butler to the practice squad yesterday, just in time for him to be part of the team’s Super Bowl preparations. Butler fills the spot that opened on the eight-man team when Dorin Dickerson was placed on practice squad injured reserve . . . Matt Light and Gronkowski have posted Super Bowl “ticket experiences’’ on netraffle.org; tickets are $2 each, with a minimum of five to be purchased. Light’s raffle, which closes Thursday, will benefit his Light Foundation, while Gronkowski’s, which closes Wednesday, will benefit former Patriot Heath Evans’s foundation.