Brady got a head start on Niners preparation

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Brady got a head start on Niners preparation

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have gone through a logistical grind this season.

Beginning August 22 when the team flew to Tampa, the Patriots were on the road for five out of six games before the end of September.

In October, they flew back and forth to Seattle. Then, after a week in Foxboro, they flew to London to play St. Louis before flying home through the winds of Hurricane Sandy.

They had their Thursday night game against the Jets in prime time on Thanksgiving.

That kicked off a stretch of three night games out of four which will conclude Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers.

High-class problems? No doubt. The Bills, for instance, don't get many prime-time gigs.

The excuse of tough scheduling and travel is there for the Patriots. Not only do they refuse to use it, they try to completely ignore it.

One of the reasons the Patriots are 10-3 (and the three losses are by a total of four points) is that they have the ultimate nerd at quarterback.

Tom Brady started preparing for the 49ers before he'd eaten his Thanksgiving turkey.

"After our Thursday night game against the Jets, I tried to do a bunch of work on the Niners," Brady said Wednesday morning. "So I put a couple of days in there and actually after the game on Monday night, I felt like I just had to watch their most recent game and I was caught up. So, you try to take advantage of a little extra time, a little planning. I probably wouldnt have done that 10 years ago."

There's a lot to get ready for with the Niners. They have a hard-hitting secondary with safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson and defensive linemen Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks) and Justin Smith. They have one of the league's best linebacking groups anchored by Patrick Willis.

Brady long ago realized that the burden of preparation that's on a quarterback is light years beyond what his teammates have to handle. Which, as they say, is why he gets paid the big bucks.

"Its probably most important for the quarterback position," Brady acknowledged. "I dont think the receivers are necessarily doing that. They study what they need to study. I kind of have my own routine and preparation. A lot of guys prepare differently. I know Matt Light, who we honored at halftime last week, didnt watch much film at all. He said it screwed him up. Hes one of the best players Ive ever played with, so theres something to be said about that too."

Among the myriad reasons it's hard to sustain success in the NFL is the simple fact that, the better your team is, the harder everything gets. The schedule. The media attention. The travel. The time constraints. The effort every opponent brings.

Asked about the difficulty of preparing for an unfamiliar opponent on a short week, Brady said, "Its all about mental toughness. I think thats what it comes down to. You have those situations where you might not feel great or youre flying a long way, but youve got to eliminate all of those distractions and everything. Youve got to put it behind you and youre competing against that team: that team is the opponent.

"This week its the 49ers," he added. "Its not the weather, its not the rest, its not the crowd its the 49ers. I think as long as you stay focused on them and you focus on what you need to do against them, then you let those other things really take care of themselves. The more you waste energy worrying about a plane flight or weather conditions, its really a waste of time. Youve got to focus on your opponent because whatever youre dealing with, theyre dealing with the same stuff."

Not exactly. But, as Brady points out, why bother with what's on the Niners plate. New England has enough stuff to get through itself.

Bennett not practicing, Foster spends some time with receivers

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Bennett not practicing, Foster spends some time with receivers

FOXBORO -- Martellus Bennett could use a rest, and the Patriots had him sit out for the start of Wednesday's practice.

The 6-foot-7 tight end is dealing with ankle and shoulder issues that have limited him in practice in recent weeks, and he missed an appearance at a preschool on Tuesday with what a representative called an illness. During Sunday's game against the Rams, Bennett's physical ailments clearly limited him as he had difficulty both as a blocker and as a receiver. 

The Patriots also went without safety Jordan Richards, receiver Danny Amendola and special teams captain Matthew Slater at the start of practice. Richards suffered a knee injury against the Jets in Week 12 and missed practice time last week. Amendola endured an ankle injury against the Rams and left the game iin the third quarter. Slater is dealing with a foot injury that has kept him out of the last two games. 

Patriots corner Eric Rowe was present for the start of Wednesday's practice, but he was not spotted with other corners after a couple of drills. Rowe injured his hamstring late in the third quarter against the Rams and did not return. 

Patriots running back DJ Foster was spotted with receivers near the end of the team's media-availability period Wednesday after working out with running backs to start the session. Foster played receiver for a year in college after beginning his collegiate career as a running back. If the Patriots want depth at wideout with Amendola injured, Foster could be an option.

Know Thine Enemy: A complete breakdown of the Ravens

Know Thine Enemy: A complete breakdown of the Ravens

After a 3-0 start, the Ravens dropped a 28-27 decision to the Raiders in Baltimore. That started a four-game skid for Baltimore which included back-to-back losses at the Jets and Giants. But they got back on track against the Steelers and have won four out of five with their only being to the Cowboys. It’s hard to get a clean read on who they really are. 

They had narrow, early-season wins over crap teams like Cleveland and Jacksonville. They had a narrow loss to an outstanding Raiders team and were close with the Cowboys but got run over late with Dallas scoring on its last five possessions. They are coming off their most impressive team win, a 38-6 triumph over the Dolphins. 

This game is a big one in the AFC race not just because it’s a divisional leader but also because it will be a common game between the Patriots and Raiders. The Raiders already beat Baltimore. 

The Pats need to keep pace in a tiebreaker they currently trail. Weird schedule quirk? The Ravens have had only one road game that required a long commute since September. That was the game at Dallas. They just played six of their last nine and four of their last five at home.

LAST 5

Ravens 21, Steelers 14
Ravens 28, Browns 7
At Cowboys 27, Ravens 17
Ravens 19, Bengals 14
Ravens 38, Dolphins 6

OFFENSIVE STATS TO CHEW ON

More than half of Joe Flacco’s 323 completions have gone to three players: tight end Dennis Pitta (61 catches), wide receiver Mike Wallace (57) and wide receiver Steve Smith (54). Those players are 31, 30 and 37 respectively so it’s a veteran group.
Flacco is 114 of 159 (72 percent) with nine touchdowns and three picks in Baltimore’s last four games. He has 15 TDs and 11 picks this season.

The Ravens don’t run it much: 502 pass attempts, 287 rushing attempts. Terrence West and Kenneth Dixon are the lead backs. West has carried more than 15 times in a game on three occasions this season.

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley has been playing very well as has the rest of the Ravens offensive line in recent weeks. Still, Baltimore is just at 34.1 on third down conversions.

DEFENSIVE STATS TO CHEW ON

The Ravens have allowed 207 points this season, tied with the Patriots for lowest in the AFC and just behind Seattle (194) overall.
Baltimore’s allowing just 33.3 percent conversions on third down and only 3.4 yards per carry.

Opposing quarterbacks are completing 64.1 percent of their passes and have 21 touchdown passes and 14 picks against the Ravens defense. Ten of the Ravens 14 picks came against the Browns, Jaguars and in last week’s rout of Miami.
 
WHERE ARE THEIR HEADS AT

"I just think they've got a great team. They've got Tom Brady. They've been the best team in the conference, and it's going to be our toughest challenge of the year." – John Harbaugh, Ravens coach, on Monday night’s matchup