FOXBORO -- New coaching assistant Josh McDaniels attended his first practice on Tuesday and Sebastian Vollmer and Logan Mankins returned from injury as the Patriots held their first padded practice in over a month on the lower grass fields outside Gillette Stadium. 

The Patriots are going to the Super Bowl.



KIRK MINIHANE

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Patriots coach Bill Belichick, in his weekly appearance on The Big Show, said that the Broncos team that he will face in the AFC divisional playoff game on Saturday night is particularly challenging to defend given the versatility of quarterback Tim Tebow. Belichick suggested that Tebow's ability to both run and throw the football from the same offensive formations allows Denver to disguise its plays in a fashion that makes it hard to get the right personnel groupings and play calls onto the field.

For the Patriots, it’ll be all about taking advantage of positive man-to-man matchups, while the Broncos must focus on playing good complementary football and staying as physical as possible on defense.



Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio spoke briefly Monday about a weekend report that the Colts had requested to talk with him about their vacant general manager job.

"I have a great job here in New England, I work with a great staff, privileged to work for the head coach that I do," Caserio said in a conference call with reporters. "Today is no different than it was any other day. I enjoy being here, and right now the focus is on getting ready for the Denver Broncos. That's where we're at.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick addressed the return of Josh McDaniels on Monday afternoon, saying, "It's good to have Josh on the staff," but would not comment on the report that McDaniels would return to the position of offensive coordinator next season.

"He's a person I've spent a lot of different time with, in a lot of different situations, and I have a lot of confidence in him," Belichick said on a conference call with reporters. "He's smart, has great experience and background, and he knows our system.

CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason checked in with Dennis & Callahan Monday morning for his weekly conversation, one week after predicting the Steelers would eliminate the Broncos and roll into Foxboro.

"I said that I thought it was going to be a layup for the Pittsburgh Steelers," Esiason admitted, "and here we are Monday morning trying to explain how Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos won that game.

It's tough to win 13 games in an NFL season. 

How tough, exactly? Well, the other three teams in the AFC East - Bills, Dolphins, Jets, in case you needed a refresher - have won 13 or more games a total of four times in a combined 150 seasons of professional football.

The Patriots have won 13 or more games five times in the last nine seasons.  



KIRK MINIHANE

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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady joined the Dennis & Callahan show early Monday morning to talk about the Patriots' matchup against the Broncos, following Denver's overtime victory over the Steelers in the opening round of the playoffs Sunday.

As was the case when the Patriots played the Broncos last month, Tim Tebow is grabbing most of the early headlines.

Moments after Denver defeated Pittsburgh on Sunday, setting up a Patriots-Broncos meeting in Saturday’s divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium, New England officially announced that Josh McDaniels has joined the team as an offensive assistant for the remainder of the 2011 season.