FOXBORO -- Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich returned to practice on Thursday after suffering what appeared to be a significant hip injury in New England's win over the Dolphins on Sunday.
Tom Brady and Dont'a Hightower also were present at the media availability portion of practice after missing Wednesday's session for reasons undisclosed by the team.
The Patriots had perfect attendance during their second and final practice this week out behind Gillette Stadium in temperatures that hovered just below freezing. Players wore shells and sweats.
As was the case Wednesday, the Patriots are not required to release a practice participation report Thursday.
Insider Tom E. Curran reported earlier this week that the Patriots were cautiously optimistic Ninkovich would be able to return for the playoffs. Though Ninkovich missed Wednesday's practice, his presence on Thursday, more than a full week before the Divisional Round playoff game the Patriots will host on Jan. 13, is a good sign for New England's defense.
How do the Patriots handle Sundays after Thursday night games? Bill Belichick says he won't be glued to the television as New England's next opponent, Buffalo, takes on Arizona. But he will be watching and thinking through situations as they play out live.
"I think for today, we've done preparation work on the Bills in their first two games, so this is one of those rare opportunities where you can kind of watch the game with a little bit of an idea of how you would want to play it or what you would want to do in certain situations," Belichick said in a conference call on Sunday. "Then, obviously not knowing what they'll do, kind of see how that goes, see what they'll do in those situations compared to what you think they're going to do. Or have they come up with something else, or is this situation a little bit different and has that changed their strategy or play-calling or whatever that happens to be?"
One of the elements of the game that Belichick may give a little extra thought to is how the Bills run their offense under new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, who replaced Greg Roman after Roman was fired following Buffalo's Week 2 loss to the Jets.
"Obviously, with a new coordinator, defensively we'll have to pay attention and see what changes or modifications they will make this week," Belichick said. "That may be an ongoing process. I don't know if they do decide to change things whether they could get it all done this week or maybe it would take a period of time, but we'll kind of keep our eye on that.
"In the end, we'll have the film by the end of the day today so that'll answer a lot more questions than the live part of it will. But the live part of it, I'd say as we're working on the scouting report for Buffalo, you can kind of have that game on in the background, sort of keep your eye on it, and see how it goes. But I wouldn't say we're just glued to the TV because we'll see everything that we need to see in a matter of hours anyway."
Jackie Bradley Jr. gets the day off and Christian Vazquez get the start at catcher as the Red Sox look to extend their winning streak to 11 games today against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg.
Andrew Benintendi replaces Bradley in center, Chris Young is in left and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (3-7, 4.84 ERA) is on the mound as the Red Sox close in on the A.L. East title. Their magic number to clinch the division is three with seven games left.
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi (9-6, 3.73) is on the mound for the Rays.
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Mookie Betts RF
Hanley Ramirez LF
Travis Shaw 3B
Chris Young LF
Andrew Benintendi CF
Christian Vazquez C
Eduardo Rodriguez LHP
Logan Forsythe 2B
Kevin Kiermaier CF
Evan Longoria 3B
Brad Miller SS
Mikey Mahtook RF
Corey Dickerson LF
Curt Casali DH
Luke Maile C
Richie Shaffer 1B
Jake Odorizzi RHP