FOXBORO -- Logan Mankins wiped the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his gray hooded sweatshirt. He was fresh from practice and a little worn out, but not beaten down. The grind of the regular season this was not.
"This is what you play for," Mankins said. "These are the games we wanna be in. It's always easy to go to practice when you're preparing for a game like this. It makes it nice. You wanna get better. You wanna prepare and do your best to win these games."
What makes the preparation for Sunday's Divisional Round playoff game against the Texans extra special for Mankins is that he's relatively healthy. It's been a difficult season for the left guard because of time he has lost to injuries. He missed six games with ankle and calf injuries, and he reiterated on Thursday that he was not quite 100 percent to start the season after undergoing offseason knee surgery.
"I missed some games, of course it's been tough," Mankins said. "You'd like to be healthy for the whole season, but it doesn't always go that way."
He has overcome those lingering dings, though, and he says he is healthier now than he was at this time last year.
"I felt a lot better than last year at this time," he said. "I had a torn MCL, and a torn ACL, so I feel a lot better."
Though few knew it at the time, Mankins showed mind-boggling toughness when he played through torn knee ligaments last season, including New England's run to Super Bowl XLVI. That he won't have to deal with such a serious injury this year should make this year's playoffs -- his seventh postseason appearance in eight season with the Patriots -- significantly more comfortable.
The Patriots will need all of their offensive linemen at something close to full strength on Sunday in order to help keep a talented Texans defensive line, featuring star defensive lineman JJ Watt, at bay.