Pats: We won't be scoreboard-watching on Sunday


Pats: We won't be scoreboard-watching on Sunday

FOXBORO -- Take a stroll through the New England Patriots locker room and you'll find that nobody's very interested to the Houston Texans' 1 p.m. game against the Indianapolis Colts.

On one hand it makes sense. If Houston actually loses, the Patriots don't automatically receive a first-round bye. They still have to do their job at home against the Miami Dolphins. So there's no sense in wasting your time worrying about a game that's going on while you're preparing for an important game of your own.

And even if Houston wins, there's still the possibility -- though not a very realistic one -- of the Kansas City Chiefs catching the Denver Broncos off-guard in their final regular-season game before the playoffs. And that game, like the Patriots' is at 4 p.m. So the Pats will still have something to play for even if the Texans win.

On the other hand, it would be naive to think that the Patriots don't know -- or actually care -- about what's at stake in the game before theirs. So if they care, and they should, then it also makes sense to at least pay attention to the outcome of the Texans' visit to Indianapolis.

Still, when you take that stroll up and down their Gillette locker room, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone expressing the latter.

"Whatever happens in those games, happens, man," said cornerback Aqib Talib after Thursday's practice. "All we can do is control what we can control. So we're going to go out and handle our business, do our best to handle our business."

"I think the biggest thing is, we know we've got to go out and play well Sunday and we've got to win," said safety Devin McCourty. "No matter what happens in any situation, we've got to win. I think that's what we're focused on right now, going out there and playing well and trying to win."

The Patriots will need more than just a win over the Dolphins on Sunday to get a first-round bye. They'll also need either a Texans or Broncos loss.

But while they prepare for their 4:25 kickoff, one would think it would be easy for someone to get the urge to check out what's going on in the 1 p.m. game.

"Not at all," said Vince Wilfork. "Our goal is to win, plain and simple. We can't control anything else. We won't be watching other games because we have a game to play ourselves. So our main goal is to win, and everything will work itself out. However that may be, it's going to be. We're not going to dwell over it. At the same time, we can control what we can control. That's playing a good football game and winning. It's going to be tough. Division game. We're playing at home, but Miami is a team that knows us. This is a team that's going to come in here and play their tails off in their last regular-season game, so we have to be ready for anything."

First impressions: Mitchell sees season-high in targets with Gronkowski out


First impressions: Mitchell sees season-high in targets with Gronkowski out

FOXBORO -- Here are some quick-hit impressions from Sunday's matchup between the Patriots and Rams . . . 

* How will the Patriots offense look without Rob Gronkowski? With a week to prepare for life post-Gronk, the Patriots leaned heavily on their three-receiver sets. That meant plenty of work for rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who saw a season-high in targets with 10. Tom Brady seemed more than happy to throw to Mitchell at the line of scrimmage with the Rams playing off-coverage, leading to relatively short-but-productive gains. 

* Brady seemed to take exception with something he saw from Mitchell during a drive mid-way through the fourth quarter. On the sideline, Brady looked heated while looking over pictures of the drive with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Brady was later caught on the Fox broadcast speaking to Mitchell on the bench. As well as Brady's young lockermate has performed, it was a moment that indicated he isn't doing everything perfectly just yet. 

* McDaniels got creative early with Gronkowski gone. He used the two-back pony set to start the game and handed off to Dion Lewis for four yards. He also found success with LeGarrette Blount and the Patriots running game, using four running plays on the first five snaps of the game. McDaniels then had his offense go five-wide and he sent Julian Edelman in motion. On the subsequent drive, McDaniels turned to the screen game to try to catch Los Angeles' aggressive front off-guard. 

* The Patriots offense stalled at points thanks in part to the Rams' front: Aaron Donald blew up a run play in the second quarter and on the same drive Brady was pressured on back-to-back snaps, leading to a punt. It wasn't an immaculate day from the Patriots offense, but against a talented defensive line, and without their most dynamic offensive player, they'll take it. 

* The Patriots locked things down defensively in what was an all-around dominant performance. Malcolm Butler bounced back after a difficult game versus the Jets, allowing just two catches for 12 yards on five targets until allowing a 66-yarder to Kenny Britt. He broke up two passes and picked off a gift when tight end Lance Kendricks let a pass bounce off of his hands and into the air. Devin McCourty was sound in coverage, breaking up two passes to Britt, a fellow Rutgers product. Britt later got him back for a one-yard garbage-time touchdown. Eric Rowe appeared to play well until suffering a hamstring injury that knocked him from the game. 

* Up front, Alan Branch played with abandon fresh off of finding out that he will not be suspended four games this weekend. He had three hurries, a quarterback hit and a stuffed run to continue his strong season. Rob Ninkovich (two hurries, a hit and a sack), Trey Flowers (four hurries and a hit) and Chris Long (one hurry, three hits and a sack) were pains for rookie quarterback Jared Goff. 

* Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect four-for-four on his field goals, knocking down a 48-yarder and a 45-yarder from the right hash mark and a 45-yarder from the left hash on consecutive drives. He also made both of his extra-point attempts. 

* Some special teams notes . . . Cyrus Jones muffed a punt from "weapon," as Bill Belichick called him this week, Johnny Hekker. The punt-return job was Danny Amendola's until Amendola suffered an ankle injury that knocked him from the game. That could be a critical injury to the Patriots in the kicking game. Amendola has also been a key part of the offense on third downs and in red-zone situations. Jonathan Jones was flagged twice on special teams.