FOXBOROUGH - Some things seem never-ending: Rex Ryan’s Super Bowl promises, the Raiders’ run of futility, and Bill Belichick’s love of Ed Reed.
The Patriots coach always talks up opposing players, but when it comes to Reed and a few select others - such as Reed’s teammate Ray Lewis and Chad Ochocinco when he was with the Bengals - Belichick has a hard time disguising his admiration for their abilities.
He was at it again yesterday.
Asked about Reed, who is in his 10th season, and Lewis, in his 16th, and the smarts they have at this point in their careers, Belichick showed Lewis respect but his most glowing words were reserved for the Baltimore safety.
“I don’t know how much more savvy they could be,’’ said Belichick. “They’re two of the greatest players ever to play the game, on the same team, on the same defense for so many years. I don’t know where to start.
“The play Ed Reed’’ - Belichick almost always calls him by his full name - “makes at the end of the game against Houston last week, I think that says it all.
“He’s playing one side of the field, trying to stay over the top of [Andre] Johnson, when they single up on the back side. I’m sure they were looking for him. If he had single coverage, they’d want to throw it up to him. Reed is over the top of him but they throw the Hail Mary to the other side and he comes all the way across the field and makes the play, really kind of a game-saving play.
“I’m not sure that if he hadn’t made it, I don’t know what would have happened there. Those are the kinds of plays he makes. He probably covers more field back there as a single safety than most teams can cover with two. He’s got great instincts, he’s a tremendous player.
“Ray Lewis, everything he brings to the game, his playmaking ability, his leadership, his experience, his ability to get people around him to play better both by his communication and anticipation and leadership and football savvy on the field. Those two guys, it would be really hard, I think, to put anybody even in their class, let alone above them.
“They’re tremendous players with tremendous careers. Can’t say I’ve ever coached against anybody better than Ed Reed in the secondary.’’
Considering Belichick is wrapping up his 37th year as an NFL coach, that’s high praise.
His affection for Reed is well-known; in the buildup to the Patriots-Ravens regular-season showdown last year, Tom Brady joked that Belichick wanted to adopt Reed and change his name to “Ed Belichick.’’
Reed twisted his ankle against Houston but was on the practice field yesterday, listed as limited.
Day off for Brady
How about this for a contrast? When the first injury report of the week came out, the Patriots listed 18 players, while the Ravens listed just one (Reed).
Brady did not practice, the team listing his absence as being due to the left shoulder injury he suffered against the Dolphins in Game 15, though it was more of a precautionary/rest day.
He was the only player who didn’t take part in the shells-and-sweats practice.
Limited for New England were: Deion Branch (knee), Marcus Cannon (ankle), Patrick Chung (knee), Dane Fletcher (thumb), Aaron Hernandez (concussion), James Ihedigbo (shoulder), Kyle Love (ankle), Logan Mankins (knee), Rob Ninkovich (hip), Nate Solder (concussion), Brandon Spikes (knee), Sebastian Vollmer (back/foot), Wes Welker (knee), and Tracy White (abdomen).
Hernandez, who took a knock late in Saturday’s game against the Broncos, told reporters, “I feel great. I’m ready to play.’’
The Patriots listed Kyle Arrington (foot), Dan Connolly (groin), and Matthew Slater (shoulder) as having full participation.
Belichick was asked about Vince Wilfork’s importance to the defense this season, and in between lauding his ability to play all three downs and his capabilities as a captain, the coach said, “His interceptions are legendary, as well as his runbacks.’’
The gregarious defensive tackle pulled in the first two interceptions of his career this season, running back the first (against the Chargers) 28 yards, and the second (in Oakland) for 19 yards.
Wilfork called it “a lineman’s dream’’ to hear his coach say that.
“I think having the ball in your hands is a dream come true as a lineman,’’ said Wilfork. “It’s been a fun year. It’s been a real fun year. It’s been exciting just to come to work and have fun and watch this team grow.’’
Wilfork didn’t take either of his interceptions back for a touchdown, but he did get his first career score in Washington, when he pounced on a fumble in the end zone.
As much as Belichick likes Lewis, when fellow linebacker Spikes was asked if he admired Lewis growing up, he mentioned a different player. “I’m more of an old-time guy like LT [Lawrence Taylor],’’ Spikes said. “But he’s definitely a great player and he plays with a lot of emotion. He can absolutely get the guys around him to play at a high level, so that is key, too. He is someone I definitely notice on the field.’’ . . . It has become popular to come up with nicknames for the Patriots’ two gifted tight ends, Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Hernandez said with a laugh yesterday that he likes “Aaron and Rob,’’ while Gronkowski liked “The Boston TE Party,’’ which is one of the picks on a local website . . . The Patriots announced that Ty Law is the second of four members of the 1996 AFC champions who will serve as honorary captains for Sunday’s game. Troy Brown was announced as the first Monday.