By Tom E. CurranFOXBORO - In the preseason, the Patriots completed one pass to Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker. Combined. Ten were completed to Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. On Sunday, you have to figure nearly three times that many passes will be targeted to those players. The Patriots showed the Tennessee Titans nothing during the fake games. Youhave to expect the Titans are planning the same thing for the New England offense. "You have to deal with what youve seen because thats what they're working on and you have to deal with things that could come up because you understand that theyre probably holding some things back," Tom Brady explained during his Wednesday press conference. "Ultimately its going to come down to who executes the best. Its not the scheme; its taking care of the football, who does better on third down and the red area, taking advantage of scoring and penalties, all the things that play into every game. "But yeah, its different than Week 15 when you have a whole seasons worth of film on a certain team," Brady added. "There are some things were preparing for that we probably wont see and certainly there are things that they're doing that we havent seen. Thats just part of playing really early in the season."Last year, the Patriots burst from a quiet preseason to pummel the Dolphins, 38-24 as Brady threw for 517 yards. The potential is there for something similar to unfold against Tennessee. The potential is also there for the Tennessee to gum up a New England offense which didn't look revved up for the regular season in the practice games. Brady, as he usally is, seems wary of that Titans defense."Its a very fast front thats very disruptive, so you dont have a lot of time to sit back there and evaluate whats going on," Brady explained. "I think they mix in enough zone coverage with man coverage where its really tough to anticipate. To try to get a good pre-snap read and a good post-snap read and not really make up your mind before the ball is snapped of where the ball should go because they and they make some things look very similar, some blitzes look like coverage, some coverages look like blitzes, so you have to do a good job post-snap of really figuring out what theyre doing and find the open guy."The protection will be a big key because, as Brady's figuring out who's going where and what the defense's weak spot is, the Titans will be bringing pressure on an offensive line that's struggled some. With Nate Solder out at left tackle and Sebatian Vollmer (presumably) on the right side, the Titans have two edge spots to target. Solder's young. Vollmer's just back from injury and his conditioning may not quite be there yet. There will be a feeling out process to contend with on Sunday. And don't forget, this Titans team was 9-7 last year. They aren't slouches. The Patriots know they're in for something Sunday. Exactly what, they won't know until after kickoff. Yeah, thats part of it.
FOXBORO -- Roger Goodell will reportedly be in Atlanta for the NFC Championship Game this weekend and therefore will miss the AFC title game between the Patriots and Steelers at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. His absence will mean he hasn't been to a Patriots game in more than two years, when he was present for the AFC title game in 2015 -- the birth of Deflategate.
It's news that broke on Tuesday and sent some Patriots fans into an uproar. Patriots players, though, sound like they're having a hard time caring one way or the other.
"He’s the commissioner, so obviously whatever he wants to do, he can do," Tom Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Monday. "If he wants to come, that would be -- yeah, he can come."
In the Patriots locker room on Tuesday, others struck a similar tone.
"I could care less," said Patriots receiver Chris Hogan. "I'm focused on Pittsburgh and their defense and studying them as much as I can this week, watching them as much as I can so that I can go out there on Sunday and be prepared."
Special teams captain Matthew Slater was similarly disinterested in the discussion.
"The game's going to be played," he said. "Whoever's in attendance is in attendance. We'll just worry about trying to play well."
FOXBORO -- Patriots wideout Chris Hogan indicated after Saturday's divisional round win over the Texans that he'd be OK, and he doubled down on that stance when meeting with reporters Tuesday.
The veteran receiver, whose first season with the Patriots has brought his first career postseason experience, injured his thigh against Houston. He left in the third quarter and did not return.
"Feeling good," Hogan said. "Just had a little minor setback in the game. I'm working back every single day and feeling better every day."
Hogan had an awkward collision with Texans defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney at the end of the first half on a play at the goal line. To that point, he had reeled in four passes for 95 yards as the team's primary deep threat. With Hogan out, Brady relied upon Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd as wideouts.
Hogan explained that he was expecting to practice this week.
"I'm just gonna go day by day," he said. "Come in here tomorrow. Everything's been feeling better day by day. I'm looking forward to getting out there and practicing this week."