January 2

NFL: Patriots relish opportunities playoffs bring

New England doesn’t take playoff berth forgranted.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Devin McCourty knows the 14 rookies on the New England roster will be facing a different game when the Patriots return from their first-round bye to play in the divisional playoff Jan. 11.

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AP photo TAKE A BREAK: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots finished the regular season 12-4 and earned the No. 2 seed in the AFC, giving them a bye and the chance to rest up before their first playoff game.

It’s the sense of urgency that comes with the win-or-go-home aspect of each game.

“I think that’s really it — urgency,” McCourty said. “You talk about each week could be your last week of playing for the season. I think it’s just urgency, but (I would) just tell those guys it’s football, though.

“Just keep doing what you’re doing, keep preparing and get ready to go,” the safety said.

Having clinched their fifth straight AFC East title and the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs, the Patriots are attempting to reach the sixth Super Bowl of the Bill Belichick era.

Asked Thursday what advice he might give a rookie, defensive end Rob Ninkovich said: “It’s just a one-game season and you gotta lay it all out there because obviously you don’t win the game, you go home, you clean out your lockers — you just put it all into the week, the week of preparation, and be as prepared as possible.”

McCourty, who missed the regular season finale with a concussion, is thrilled to be back — both on the field and in the postseason.

“Oh, it’s huge,” McCourty, in his fourth NFL season and fourth straight postseason, said of being in the playoffs. “Just to be able to be in this position, it’s big for us; we’ve got to take advantage of it.

“You see a bunch of teams throughout the league (that aren’t in). I’m really close to my brother (Jason, with Tennessee), and talking to him five years in and not making the playoffs, I really understand how fortunate we are to be in this position.

“It’s all about now taking advantage, seeing what we can do, and now nothing else matter from the regular season. It’s all about what you can do, and nothing else matters from the regular season. It’s all about what you can do in the playoffs and how can you find a way to win.”

In addition to the 14 rookies (a 15th, wide receiver Josh Boyce, was placed on injured reserve Thursday, the Patriots have three other players — wide receiver Danny Amendola, running back LeGarrette Blount and special teamer Chris White — who haven’t appeared in a playoff game.

“Football’s, football,” rookie cornerback Logan Ryan said. “Everything is more important in the postseason so you want to make sure that you have your best game but at the end of the day, it’s still football.”

Quarterback Tom Brady said Belichick does a great job of preparing new playoff players for the postseason.

“Coach handles the team pretty well, so he’s got a great handle on what he thinks the team needs to hear,” Brady said. “I think the most important thing is to go out and play well, to be at your best.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve played or haven’t played or how many games you’ve played, you’ve got to be at your best, and I think we’re all counting on each other to be that way.”

Notes: With Boyce gone with an ankle injury, the Patriots re-signed veteran WR Austin Collie, last released two days before the regular season finale, for the third time this season. He practiced Thursday. ... Players indicated they will do some scouting during this weekend’s wild-card games, special teams Pro Bowler Matthew Slater said, “I’ll definitely be looking at them with a close eye. It’s an exciting time for everybody, including us.” Added cornerback Aqib Talib: “Sure, I’m a fan. I’m a football fan, I’m tuned in.” ... The Patriots practiced in the snow Thursday. “It was a fun practice – I had a lot of fun running around in the snow,” Ninkovich said. “It was a good productive practice in that we were able to run around and make some plays ... in the snow.” He added, “I’d rather be in the snow than the rain.” The Patriots played their final regular season game in a downpour, Ninkovich saying, “When you’re in the rain you’re like 10 pounds heavier when your shoes are full of water. The snow obviously has some challenges in itself because of the footing and being on the field and stuff like that but when it’s wet, you’re wet from head to toe.”

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