FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Wide receiver Brandon LaFell was well-conditioned for the challenge of joining the Patriots last offseason.

The trials have been well-documented, both locally and throughout the league, that Tom Brady is as demanding as any quarterback in the NFL, the playbook might look like it’s in hieroglyphics upon first glance and veteran receivers with storied pasts have struggled to catch up to speed.

First and foremost, LaFell was motivated.

“Playing with Tom and winning,” LaFell said of the enticement to sign a three-year, $9 million contract in March. “Look at all the franchises out there. The New England Patriots, since the early 2000s, they’ve been one of the most winning franchises. And to also get a chance to come play with Tom, why would you pass that up?”

But LaFell had the background to deal with any potential adversity. Brady has a reputation for being hard on receivers who can’t get onboard with the rigorous system, but LaFell said receiver Steve Smith Sr. was also extremely demanding during their four years together with the Panthers.

LaFell knew he could handle it, and those types of veterans can also bring the best out of their teammates if they respond well to the style.


“That guy right there was an animal, blocking, running over people,” LaFell said of Smith, now a member of the Baltimore Ravens. “Playing with Steve, if you didn’t make plays, he didn’t talk to you. In order to have conversations with Steve about anything, or to ask him about any (defensive back), how does this defense play, how does this defensive coordinator call stuff, you had to go out there and make plays.”

LaFell knew what he was getting himself into better than most, and the results were career highs with 74 receptions, 953 yards and seven touchdowns. He added five catches for 62 yards and the game-winning score while playing through shoulder and toe injuries last week against the Ravens.

Julian Edelman shared an interesting story that uncovered his competitive spirit in relation to his strenuous offseason workouts. He remains motivated by some advice he received from his father.

“There’s something that my dad always used to say,” Edelman said. “This is while I was training for the combine (in 2009). I’d come in and I’d be done training, and he’d be like, ‘Did you outwork those guys?’ And I was like, ‘Dad, I was running by myself.’ He goes, ‘I’m not talking about those guys. I’m talking about the three kids that are still in high school that are going to be trying to take your job in three, four years, five years.’ I always to try to think about (that) kind of stuff.”

Running back Jonas Gray had his long-awaited breakout performance in Week 11 by rushing 37 times for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts, but life hasn’t been so easy since then.

The Sports Illustrated cover boy was sent home for being late to the facility the following Friday and was essentially benched as a result, which was even poorer timing after LeGarrette Blount’s arrival.

But now that Gray’s injured ankle has healed in time for the AFC championship game against a Colts defense that remains marginal at best against the run, this would be as good of a time as any for Bill Belichick to unleash him again.

“Honestly, it would mean a lot,” Gray said. “I’m excited. Hopefully, I’ll have an opportunity. I’m just waiting.”

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