Patriots shrug off notion of rift with playoff game vs. Titans ahead


SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell breaks down all the story lines coming out of wild-card weekend in the NFL.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore stared at the huddle of media members – about 40 in total – wielding cameras and microphones. But he was the one to ask a question.

“What report?”

On Monday, the Patriot Way was in effect.

With the Patriots preparing for their divisional-round showdown Saturday against the Tennessee Titans, football took a backseat for some. The biggest story facing the franchise concerns the future. And after the team released a statement Friday following the posting of an ESPN article, it’s staying away from the depicted portrayal of dysfunction within the highest levels of the organization.

Amid the controversy, Patriots coach Bill Belichick tried to ease some doubts, saying it is “absolutely” his intention to return to the Patriots next season.

“I haven’t read the article. I’ve already commented at length since that situation,” Belichick said Monday morning in a conference call. “Nothing has happened since then. I don’t have anything to add to that.”

More: 20 things we learned during NFL wild-card weekend

More: Titans at Patriots AFC divisional playoff preview: Three things to know

Just a few hours later, New England’s locker room was quiet. A few players came and went as personnel meetings and film study kept most occupied.

The clear message from those who did speak, however, was that the team is blocking out any noise coming from outside the building.

“We just really focus on what you’ve got to do,” Gilmore said. “You’ve got to work hard and study film and get everybody out to try to win a game. We depend on each other and go from there.”

Added cornerback Malcolm Butler: “Can’t nobody help us but us. We all we got. That’s how you’ve got to look at it.”

The ESPN article said Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a mandate to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Ir also detailed alleged frustrations from Belichick over Kraft’s input and hinted that the tension could portend the end of the relationship between the three men, in some form.

“First of all, I don’t really know what you’re talking about since I haven’t read the article, so I don’t know what that refers to,” Belichick said when asked whether the story’s characterization of him as “furious and demoralized” by the reported mandate was accurate.

“Look, we’ve been through this before, and I know you want to report on things that are inaccurate and un-attributable, but I’m not really interested in responding to all those random, and I would say in a lot of cases, baseless comments.”

The New York Daily News also reported later in the weekend that Belichick was eyeing the New York Giants’ head-coaching vacancy. Belichick served as the Giants’ defensive coordinator for six seasons on Hall of Famer Bill Parcells’ staff.

When asked about that report, the notoriously tight-lipped Belichick didn’t divert from his establish pattern.

“Right now my interest is trying to do as best as I can for our football team to get ready for Saturday night against Tennessee,” he said. “That’s where my total focus is.”

Asked about the same report later in the afternoon, one player was a little more colorful.

“(Expletive), I’m juiced,” safety Patrick Chung said. “Keep coming back, man. When he’s done, I’ll be done, too.”

Monday is the first time the Patriots coaches and players were made available to media since the story was published.

Brady is expected to address reporters later this week in a news conference. But perhaps in response to the article, he posted a message to his official Instagram account Monday morning, citing a quote without citation.

“Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm,’ ” the post read. “The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’ ”

“He knows exactly how to handle outside noise,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said later in the conference call. “His job as the quarterback is always difficult in terms of the preparation for the opponent and he knows how much time and effort that takes to be ready to play against a really good team. I have no doubt his focus will be on what it needs to be on this week like it always is.”

Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.

PHOTOS: Best of NFL wild-card weekend


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