Postcard from Patriots Camp: Day 23

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Postcard from Patriots Camp: Day 23

FOXBORO -- A select group ran an interesting drill Friday.

Tom Brady, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, and Rob Gronkowski occupied an otherwise empty field three different times. With either Lloyd or Gaffney at center, Brady and Gronkowski practice some routes on air (if Gaffney was at center, Lloyd would receive).

Considering Lloyd and Gronkowski missed time at the beginning of the week, it's not surprising Brady might want to get in some extra time with each. But it looked like they might be simulating, conditioning for a two-minute drill. Interesting.

Two more notes out of that:

Gronkowski had at least two drops. Against no defense.

At one point Gaffney acted as running back in the drill. He moved with apparent ease, the right quadriceps he tweaked Wednesday not appearing to give him trouble.

WEATHER
Hot, but not unbearably so. There was a nice breeze whirling around all day.

WHAT THEY WORE
Full pads.

WHAT THEY DID
1:39-1:51: This was different: The team split, offense and defense on separate fields, and worked on some basics. Defense worked on its base formation -- kn'aw mean?

1:51-2:00: Running.

2:00-2:26: Drills.

2:26-2:44: 11-on-11.

2:44-2:49: Punt! Aaron Hernandez and Jeremy Ebert got more reps returning. Ebert is still inconsistent in receiving back there.

Speaking of, Edelman had a weird Ebert moment during punt return. A ball hit him in the chest right at his hands, bounced off his shoulder, and was gone. Muffed.

2:49-3:11: 7-on-7.

3:11-3:17: Punt!

3:17: 11-on-11. This round saw an interesting look from the defense. The line was made 1s, the backers were 2s, and the secondary 3s.

3:36: A big huddle and some self-congratulatory applause.

And later Rookie DE Chandler Jones got a chance to field a punt from Zoltan Mesko. If he made it the team would have the night off from meetings. Sho'nuff, Jones secured the ball. The team went absolutely bananas. "I'm taking him out to dinner!" crowed Kyle Arrington.

WHAT WE SAW
Literally the first thing I saw was DB Malcolm Williams on the field in uniform. RB Eric Kettani was the other notable return. Otherwise, Stevan Ridley was in shorts and Tavon Wilson was a no-show after both got dinged up Thursday. Also in shorts: Jabar Gaffney, Alfonzo Dennard, Spencer Larsen, James Ihedigbo, Tracy White, Kyle Hix, Markus Zusevics, Sebastian Vollmer, and Myron Pryor. Absent: Jake Ballard, Visanthe Shiancoe, Jonathan Fanene, Gerard Warren, and Matt Kopa.

Guys seemed loose from the get-go. Brandon Spikes was doing pushups, on his own urging, during the first 10 minutes of practice. He's got a lot of energy, that one.

Wes Welker left the session early, at around 2:59. Couldn't tell you why; I didn't see any injury.

During 11-on-11, Julian Edelman had a nice catch over Ross Ventrone for a touchdown. The receiver then tried to dunk the ball over the goal post. I'll let you guess whether the 5-9 Edelman was successful or not.

Here's one to keep an eye on The tight ends worked on coming out of chutes -- metal cage looking things -- to practice staying low and bending their knees coming out of blocks. On one rep, Aaron Hernandez turned, planted his foot, and slipped. He sat on the side for a few moments, testing the range of his left ankle. But he didn't appear bothered for the rest of the day.

While special teamers practiced punt and the lines did 1-on-1s, Brandon Spikes stepped off to the side with linebackers coach Pepper Johnson. The pair worked on pass rushing, Spikes practiced his punch and rip.

Former Patriots Ty Law visited camp today. He reconnected with Brady for a few moments when the quarterback had time before 7-on-7. Highlight of seeing Law? He had five kids in tow -- five kids who got very thirsty under the sun. Law trotted off at one point and came back with a green Gatorade water bottle. He went down the line and squirted water into each kid's mouth for him. You can take the man out of football.

Toward the end of practice, 11-on-11 was run using the scout team offense. The team was running Eagles plays in advance of Monday's preseason matchup.

Odd: When the lines went 1-on-1, Logan Mankins was jogging some pass patterns. He even made a one-handed grab. Why? I don't know.

WHO'S HOT
Nate Ebner had a nice little day for himself. The DB had two picks, and nearly two more, on tipped balls. I do believe this is his fourth practice in a row with at least one interception.

Ryan Mallett had a decent day for Ryan Mallett. During the day's final run of 11-on-11, he hit Aaron Hernandez with a very well-placed pass, over the outstretched fingers of Derek Martin, in the end zone.

WHO'S NOT
Danny Woodhead. In the day's first round of 11-on-11, the running back missed two straight passes from Tom Brady. Brady was visibly frustrated and had some words for Woodhead.

Brandon Bolden. He didn't look bad all day, but did fumble a ball which was recovered by the defense. You can bet he ran a lap for that one.

WHAT THEY SAID
"Last day of school -- I'm on the first thing smoking" (i.e. creating exhaust). -- Ty Law on what the end of camp feels like.

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

Raiders creep past Patriots in race for top seed in AFC

The Patriots and Raiders and neck-and-neck as the race for home field in the AFC turns for home. And, with four games left, the Raiders are ahead by a nose. The tiebreakers between the 10-2 teams in play currently? Common games followed by strength of victory. 

The first tiebreaker – conference record – is a deadlock as both teams are 7-1 in the AFC (the Brady-less Patriots lost to the Bills back in Week 4.

After conference record, it's the teams record in common games. 

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

So far in common games with the Texans and Bills, the Patriots have gone 2-1 and the Raiders have gone 2-0. The Patriots play the Ravens next week. Oakland beat them. The Patriots play Denver after that. Oakland beat them as well but have one more game against Denver in Week 17.

So if it comes down to common games the Patriots really need to win these next two games.

Or hope the Raiders stub their toe a time or two in their final four games which are at the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos with a home game against Indy in Week 16.

As for strength of victory, that too goes to Oakland at this point. The Raiders’ strength of victory is at .471. The Patriots’ is at .370.

But the tiebreaker that kicks in after conference record and before strength of victory – common games – is very much unresolved.The remaining picture as it stands right now? The Ravens are the No. 3 seed with a 7-5 record that leads the AFC North. The Texans’ 6-6 record is good enough to lead the AFC South. The 9-3 Chiefs are the top Wild Card. The 8-4 Broncos are the No. 6 seed.

The Patriots play the Ravens and Broncos over the next two weeks. Currently, the Dolphins (7-5) and Steelers (7-5) are on the outside looking in.

The Titans (6-6) will have a chance to get even with the Texans in Week 17 in head-to-head matchups but they host Denver and play at Kansas City the next two weeks so they have obstacles to clear before they get there.