Patriots treating Sunday as 'big game, not playoff game'

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Patriots treating Sunday as 'big game, not playoff game'

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick said on Friday that Sunday's game in Jacksonville isn't a "playoff" game. Not even he -- the man who says all the right things and praises every single team he faces -- can lie about this one.

Because quite frankly, it's not a playoff game. It's a Week 16 regular-season game. And that wasn't Belichick's attempt to give the Jaguars any type of bulletin-board material. That was just him being honest.

"If you have to win a game to get into the playoffs, then you're really playing a playoff game," said Belichick before Friday's practice. "I think it would be a stretch to call this a playoff game. I mean, it's a big game for us, but I couldn't call it . . . it's not a playoff game."

It's been reported that tight end Rob Gronkowski -- who returned to practice late last week after recovering from a broken forearm -- will not play against the Jaguars.

Given Belichick's track record of playing guys in questionable spots, with regards to the score of a game and records in the standings, it would seem that the team still has some concerns about Gronkowski's forearm.

Once those concerns are gone though, expect Gronkowski to play. Not because the next two games will be "playoff" games, but because that's just the way the Patriots do business. If you're healthy, you'll play. In any situation, at any time, in any game. Just ask Gronkowski, who was injured on a seemingly meaningless point-after-attempt in a blowout.

Sure the Patriots are still in the mix for a potential first-round bye. But they'll need help from the teams playing against Houston and Denver.

With the topic of "playoff" games on the table for discussion on Friday, Belichick didn't really want to go there. But he did want to point out that it doesn't mean his Patriots will lie down to the Jaguars and Miami Dolphins the next two weekends.

"I think the most important thing for a team is to be playing well for the most important games of the season," said Belichick. "I think each game, from the first game of the year to the 16th game of the year, those are our opportunities as a team and individually to get better, to improve, to build our chemistry, our timing, our situational awareness, our execution, all those things."

When asked if he'd manage his roster differently in the case of a potential blowout on Sunday in Jacksonville, Belichick re-iterated his belief of doing "what's best for the team."

"I would do the same thing that I always do in every game," said Belichick. "And that's to try do what's best for the football team. And there's a lot of things that go into that. So, whatever I feel like is best for the football team, that's what I'm going to try to do.

"Every game, every week, in every situation, I'm going to try to do what I think is best for the team. And there's a lot of things to take into consideration. Whatever it is, and I'm not saying it's all right. I've made more mistakes than anybody around here. But, the intent is to do what's best for the team."

Some call Gronkowski's injury -- or at least, the situation he was injured in -- one of those mistakes. But what it really shows, is that, while Belichick isn't looking at Sunday's game as a "playoff" game, he is looking at it as an important spot for his team to improve in a real-time NFL environment.

So not much will change around Foxboro the next couple of weeks. Not even the way they handle injuries.

"The emphasis is to get everybody as healthy as possible every week," said Belichick. "I mean, I don't know what we do differently now. Our treatment schedule is the same. Guys are getting rest. Guys are getting treatment. Guys are doing what they can do on a progressive basis, a little bit more than the day before, a little bit more, a little bit more, until they get all the way back up there, with whatever injury they're dealing with."

And as Belichick pointed out, at this time of the year, it's more than injuries that they're worried about, which may be the only thing that's different with the team's "injury" awareness strategy at this point of the season. That also includes getting some extra rest.

"We're trying to stay healthy from the colds and the flu, those kind of setbacks which come sometimes at this time of year too," said Belichick. "And they can run through your team. It could be a dozen guys getting that, or it could be one. But if it's one, you hope you can just keep it at one, and not lose one-third of your roster to a bug or something like that. All those things are important. We try to stay on top of them, in terms of disinfecting everything. We're just constantly staying on top of it.

"I know players, now, really think about getting more rest. Sometimes our schedule shortens a little bit to try and lengthen the rest time. So, all those things are part of it, but I wouldn't say that we sit there in October and don't care about it. We try to get them back then too. But I think as the season goes on, there is a little bit of a different dynamic that comes into play, just because of the length of the season. I think the urgency to get people healthy and to get them back into play is there like it is all year long."