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Originally published January 7, 2014 at 8:07 PM | Page modified January 7, 2014 at 8:29 PM

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Brady remains fiery competitor for Patriots


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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady head-butted teammates before his first Super Bowl.

Twelve years and four more NFL championship games later, the quarterback hasn’t lost his fire.

He still shows it before games and after big plays by banging helmets with other New England Patriots.

“I’m pretty emotional,” Brady said Tuesday.

That should be obvious when the Patriots come back from a first-round bye to face the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC divisional-round playoff game Saturday night. Especially if he has plenty of scoring plays to celebrate.

His mood would be quite different if NFL sacks leader Robert Mathis keeps getting close enough to tackle him or hurry his passes.

“He’s a great player and been a great player for a long time,” Brady said. “He’s having one of the best years of his career.”

So what can Brady do if he sees the 11-year veteran bearing down on him?

Step up in the pocket? Throw quickly? Duck?

“I can’t really run away from him,” Brady said with his usual jab at his lack of speed, “so that option’s out the door.”

There’s no doubt he’ll have his eyes trained on the linebacker who lines up in different places on different plays.

“You have to understand where he’s at. He really has a sense of urgency,” Brady said.

And a knack for stripping the ball while sacking the quarterback.

“That’s why he’s one of the best players in the league, because he makes those types of plays happen,” Brady said. “He makes them on a regular basis. It’s not a fluke when he does it.”

Notes

• The first airborne banner calling for Jeff Ireland to be fired flew over the Miami Dolphins’ stadium in 2011. Other similar signs followed, most recently in November, and on Tuesday those wanting him out finally got their wish.

Ireland’s six-year stint as general manager ended with a brief announcement that he and owner Stephen Ross mutually agreed to part ways. The Dolphins said they would conduct an immediate search for a replacement to lead football operations.

A late-season flop kept Miami out of the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year, and Ireland has long been considered the main culprit for the franchise’s failures. More than two dozen frustrated fans gathered outside the Dolphins’ complex one spring day in 2012 to protest the way the team was being run, with some holding signs that read “FIRELAND.”

He wasn’t fired, but in the wake of last month’s meltdown, Ross considered hiring a football czar over Ireland and coach Joe Philbin. Ireland was opposed to such an arrangement.

• A person familiar with Rob Gronkowski’s knee injury tells The Associated Press the New England Patriots’ tight end will have surgery Thursday.

The Patriots have not made an announcement.

Gronkowski missed the first six games of the season after offseason operations on his back and left forearm. In his seventh game back, he tore the ACL and MCL on his right knee on Dec. 8 in a 27-26 win over the Cleveland Browns.

• The Tennessee Titans have kicked off their search for a new head coach by interviewing Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator J ay Gruden, brother of former coach and analyst Jon Gruden.

• A person familiar with the matter says Cleveland will interview Green Bay quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo about its coaching job. McAdoo, who spent the past two seasons working with star QB Aaron Rodgers, will meet with Banner and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam this week, said the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team is not publicizing information about the search.

• Former NFL and Florida State offensive tackle Todd Williams, 35, has been found dead in a Tampa Bay area hotel. He had reportedly complained to his mother of feeling sick on Friday. She found his body Monday. Sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow says they haven’t found anything suspicious, but an autopsy will be performed.



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