Patriots know what's at stake amidst high playoff emotions

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Patriots know what's at stake amidst high playoff emotions

FOXBORO -- We're just days away from playoff football in New England. The game is different. The speed is different. It's a one-game season.

Prepare how you will. Even the Patriots know they'll have to make in-game adjustments. It doesn't matter how many times they've played the Houston Texans.

They realize the playoffs are a whole different beast.

"It's like when you talk to the Navy Seals and those guys about when they go on a mission, how they talk about, 'Alright, so we get there, and we practice going over a six-foot wall, and the wall's 30-feet high.' Well, that's the way it is in the NFL," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Friday. "You practice for whatever you think you're going to . . . you swim across a 200-yard lake, and the lake's 800 yards. Well, guy's have to cross it. You get into the NFL game, and you think you're going to get this, and you get that. You think they're going to play this guy, and they play some other guy. You face new challenges. That's part of the gamesmanship and part of the competition, to figure out which team can do it better than the other one.

"There's always that unknown in the game," added Belichick. "Things happen that you just can't predict or you can't prepare for. Because they're working on things. We don't know what they're doing. So they'll come up with something that will cause us to make an adjustment. And I'm sure we'll do the same thing to them somewhere along the line. Everybody's got to figure it out and make the best of it. That's what makes this great game."

Belichick described just how anxious his team was for Sunday's kickoff to what they hope will be a long and successful playoff run, saying the emotions are taken to a "higher step."

"This is a jump this week," said Belichick. "We all understand that.

"I think there's an anxiousness whenever you play," added Belichick. "You always have that unknown of going up against a new opponent. Who knows how the game will go, what they'll do, how things will match up, what adjustments you'll have to make, and how the game will unfold. There will be different breaks or situations in the game that will make each game unique. That makes it exciting. So, there's no way to predict how all that's going to happen. Just take it as it comes."

But those unknowns and the emotions that come with it disappear when the game begins, playoff game or not.

"When the ball's kicked off, then I think you're in game mode," said Belichick. "All the things you think about, what could happen, what might, what you want to call, what you want to do, what situations might come up. Once that opening kickoff happens, then you're playing the game or coaching the game, whatever you're doing, whatever your role is."

As the hours wind down and Sunday's rematch with the Texans gets closer, the Patriots' excitement comes with a special embrace for the spot that they're in: a home game and a chance to get to the AFC Championship.

They are well aware at what's at stake.

"This is what we work all year for," said Belichick. "We worked all year, since the end of last season to get back to this point. So, really, this is what it's all for. All the team planning, the OTA's, the mini-camps, the meetings, the walkthroughs, the preseason games, the practices, the regular season. It's all for this. So we put everything we have into this game, and try to have the result that we want. That's where our team is. That's where I am, personally. I think that's where everybody is. That's where we should be."

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)

Bradley still hurting, will miss Celtics game vs. Trail Blazers

Bradley still hurting, will miss Celtics game vs. Trail Blazers

WALTHAM, Mass. – The right Achilles’ strain that has kept Avery Bradley out of five of the Celtics’ past six games, will continue to keep the 6-foot-2 guard sidelined.
 
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Bradley will not play Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers.
 
Stevens added that no additional tests have been taken and the Achilles’ itself is structurally fine.
 
“He’s got a lot of soreness around it, and that’s one of those things you have to be ultra-careful with,” said Stevens, who later added that Bradley would not practice with the team today. “When he [Bradley] came back, he said he felt a lot better, and then he played and the next day he practiced. We didn’t do anything live but he did a lot of cutting and did not feel near as good. That’s why he didn’t play Wednesday.”
 
The absence of Bradley was clearly felt in a 117-106 loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday, a game in which Knicks guard Derrick Rose – the man Bradley would have likely spent defending most of the game – scored 30 points.
 
This season, all-NBA first team defender is  the Celtics’ No. 2 scorer at 17 points per game along with averaging a team-best 6.9 rebounds.
 
In addition, Bradley is shooting a career-best 40.9 percent from 3-point range, as well as dishing out 2.4 assists per game, which also represents a career-high for the 26-year-old.