Patriots observations: More running; Lloyd's potential

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Patriots observations: More running; Lloyd's potential

Let's make this clear. The Patriots have played one game. And by one game, it's more accurate to say that the players who will actually make the team played less than a quarter of one game.

But there are definitely some observations to be made in that small sample size.

The Patriots will run more.

Gone are the days when the Patriots will try to out-pass everyone and let their fate rest solely on the golden arm of Tom Brady. Instead, it appears the Patriots will try to embrace a more complementary brand of football this year. A solid running game will allow them to run out the clock late in the games, give their defense a rest and control the tempo - all good things.

Brandon Lloyd has the potential to have a special season.

Based on what we've seen in practice, Lloyd and Tom Brady aren't going to have an issue. It's been one connection after the other, and Lloyd has only been working with the Patriot's playbook for a matter of weeks.

Lloyd was only targeted three times in the last night's game against the Saints and his only catch was wiped out by a penalty, but his performance in practice offers reason for optimism.

The 2012 draft class will make plays.

Chandler Jones looked good. Really good. But how about we hold off on his statue in Canton until he's actually played a game that counts? People want that defensive playmaker so badly that they've convinced themselves that they see it already in Jones. Let's pump the brakes. There is no doubt that Jones has tremendous talent but he's still very raw and this was one game. The same goes for Dont'a Hightower, who had a monstrous hit, but still allowed the runner to gain another 4-5 yards after the hit. There's a great foundation and definite potential.

Patriots have perfect attendance at final practice of AFC Championship week

Patriots have perfect attendance at final practice of AFC Championship week

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had perfect attendance at Friday's practice, meaning they had all 53 players on their active roster present and accounted for at all three practices this week. 

Contrast that with how things have gone for the Steelers this week, and there is a stark difference. Star running back Le'Veon Bell missed each of his team's first two on-the-field workouts this week, and several Steelers players are dealing with a bug that seems to have circulated the locker room. 

The Patriots could have an interesting game-day roster decision to make should Chris Hogan (thigh), Malcolm Mitchell (knee) and Danny Amendola (ankle) both be healthy enough to play on Sunday. They have not entered a game with five receivers in uniform this season but could potentially dress Mitchell, Amendola, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Michael Floyd.

Other players listed as limited participants in practice this week are Brandon Bolden (knee), Martellus Bennett (knee), Dont'a Hightower (shoulder) and Jabaal Sheard (knee).

Patriots pregame rituals: Step-by-step with the players on game day

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Patriots pregame rituals: Step-by-step with the players on game day

What goes through Dont'a Hightower’s mind in the minutes before he takes the field and lowers himself into a cauldron of collisions, pain and exultation?

Not a thing.

“I rest. I literally rest,” said the Patriots Pro Bowl inside linebacker. “I don’t do anything else. I sit at my locker, I don’t listen to music. I don’t do anything out of the ordinary. I don’t look at film, I don’t look at notes. I’m just relaxed. Calm before the storm. I’ve done enough preparing, I’ve done enough notes, I’ve done enough of that stuff during the week. If I don’t know it by now, I don’t know it. It’s not gonna help me last minute. It’s only gonna make me play slower.”

By the time an NFL team hits the field – in the Patriots case, runs out of a giant, inflatable helmet while Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” blares – they are primped, polished, taped and glistening.

But what is their day like leading up to that? I asked a few Patriots to take me through their game-day prep from wakeup to anthem to give me insight into what we don’t see.  

You can hear Hightower, Nate Solder, Alan Branch, Devin McCourty and Rob Ninkovich detail the steps they take to get game-ready. French toast is involved. So are naps. And sock preparation.

It all builds to that moment of theater that Ninkovich says is what players truly miss when they leave the game – that feeling of euphoria.

“When we finally get to run out, that’s the most exciting time in the world,” says Solder. “The crowd wasn’t there earlier when we went out there and all of a sudden, the crowd is there. Very exciting, very fun, especially with the guys you work so hard with.”

Says McCourty, “I always think when I run out of the tunnel to look up and say, ‘Thank you’ just to be able to play.”

Listen to them tell their stories here: