New­bies ready to party

With the Brady and Belichick show, Pa­tri­ots are al­ways in the post­sea­son

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - SPORTS - By KYLE HIGHTOWER AP Sports Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Be­ing a mem­ber of the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots dur­ing the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era has gen­er­ally meant a guar­an­teed place in the play­offs.

Still, for 20 play­ers on the Pa­tri­ots’ ac­tive ros­ter Satur­day will mark the first taste of the post­sea­son of their NFL ca­reers.

That group in­cludes a pair of starters who have filled sig­nif­i­cant roles for New Eng­land this sea­son in de­fen­sive end Chris Long and re­ceiver Chris Ho­gan.

Long hadn’t won more than seven games in any of his eight years with the Rams from 2008 to 2015 prior to sign­ing with New Eng­land this off­sea­son.

Ho­gan, in his fourth sea­son, spent the pre­vi­ous three sea­sons play­ing for AFC East ri­val Buf­falo. The clos­est he came to the play­offs with the Bills was a 9-7 fin­ish in 2014.

“I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced it be­fore so this is all new to me,” Ho­gan said. “Just talk­ing to some of the guys, the play­offs, you talk about pre­sea­son go­ing into the reg­u­lar sea­son, the speed kind of picks up, and I’ve heard that from a num­ber of guys that the play­off speed picks up a lit­tle bit more.”

Long’s play­off drought is the long­est of any of the Pa­tri­ots.

“I think ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son. Some­times you might not like it, but lis­ten, it is what it is,” he said.

“I’ve been very lucky through­out my ca­reer in a lot of ways, so what­ever brought

me to this point… I’m just go­ing to be ex­cited to be in the mo­ment. Ev­ery­body earns it.”

Ho­gan has fit right into the Pa­tri­ots re­ceiv­ing group, mak­ing 14 starts. He’s fourth on the team with 38 catches for 680 yards and four touch­downs.

Long has ap­peared in 16 games this sea­son with 35 tack­les and four sacks. He’s helped for­tify New Eng­land’s pass rush fol­low­ing the trades of Chan­dler Jones and Jamie Collins.

De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Matt Pa­tri­cia said Long’s ef­forts haven’t gone un­no­ticed by the coach­ing staff.

“I think he has en­joyed the process and just re­ally as far as that is con­cerned has been a guy that’s out there work­ing re­ally hard ev­ery day to get bet­ter and play hard for his team­mates,” Pa­tri­cia said. “That’s all you can re­ally ask for.”

An­other Pa­tri­ots off­sea­son ad­di­tion is be­ing reac­quainted with play­off foot­ball.

Tight end Martel­lus Ben­nett spent his first four NFL sea­sons with the Dal­las Cow­boys, and had a for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence of the post­sea­son in 2009 in which he was tar­geted just four times in two games.

He’s back seven sea­sons later, and is try­ing not to take any­thing for granted this time with a fran­chise used to mak­ing deep post­sea­son runs.

Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Josh McDaniels pointed to Ben­nett’s un­selfish­ness as be­ing the thing that’s helped him in­te­grate so well into New Eng­land’s sys­tem.

He leads the team with seven re­ceiv­ing touch­downs and is sec­ond in yards (701) be­hind only Ju­lian Edel­man (1,106).

Ben­nett said he thinks the 2012 sea­son he spent with the New York Giants was ben­e­fi­cial to his growth as a player. It’s also helped him to ap­pre­ci­ate the op­por­tu­nity he has now.

“(The Pa­tri­ots) win a lot of games. I hadn’t re­ally won that many games in my ca­reer,” he said.

“I’ve been able to do a lot of in­di­vid­ual things as far as num­bers go, but in­di­vid­ual goals aren’t re­ally im­por­tant. This is a lot more fun than catch­ing 90 balls and los­ing 10 games.”

Does that mean he sees this as an op­por­tu­nity to win an elu­sive Su­per Bowl?

“I just crave the big-game mo­ments and play­ing in games that mat­ter,” he said. “A lot of times, you don’t re­ally get to do things that mat­ter and I have a chance to do that right now.”

It’s a men­tal­ity shared by the Pa­tri­ots’ play­off new­bies.

“These guys that have been here and have been in the play­offs be­fore have earned it, and guys like Marty and my­self and other guys, we just came in and tried to earn it with them,” Long said. “And here we are.”

• Raiders re­place OC Bill Mus­grave

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Oak­land Raiders are mak­ing changes on their coach­ing staff af­ter their first play­off berth in 14 years.

A per­son fa­mil­iar with the plans said Tues­day that quar­ter­backs coach Todd Down­ing will re­place of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bill Mus­grave next sea­son on coach Jack Del Rio’s staff. The per­son spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the changes have not been an­nounced by the team.

Mus­grave’s con­tract was up and will not be re­newed by the Raiders in the first changes to Del Rio’s staff since he was hired in 2015.

Oak­land (12-5) made the play­offs and posted a win­ning record for the first time since 2002 be­fore quar­ter­back Derek Carr broke his leg in the sec­ond-to­last game of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Mus­grave helped de­velop one of the NFL’s top of­fenses in his two sea­sons in Oak­land as Carr grew from an up-and-down rookie sea­son be­fore Mus­grave ar­rived into a pos­si­ble MVP can­di­date this sea­son.

As­so­ci­ated Press

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots wide re­ceiver Chris Ho­gan (15) will be in his first play­off ap­pear­ance.

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