The Patriots keep on T.C.O.B.

954505.jpg

The Patriots keep on T.C.O.B.

The Patriots took care of business yesterday.

Thats probably the best and most simple way to put it.

They didnt do anything especially well. They didnt do anything especially poorly. There were no game-breaking highlights that youre dying to re-watch this morning (although it was nice to see Aaron Hernandez in the open field, and WelkerRidley both go over 1000 yards for the season). There's no one player particularly deserving of week-long media stoning (although it would be cool if Stephen Gostkowski chilled out on the Scott Sisson impression).

Basically, all the Pats did this week was go down to Miami and earn a solid, division road win against a solid NFL team.

Like I said, they took care of business.

At this point, what more can you ask for?

Were long past the audition stage of this NFL season. Were long past obsessing over the aesthetics of any victory. From here on out, there are no ugly wins or uplifting losses. Youre either good enough or youre not, and thats all that people will remember. That is, if they remember at all. But on Sunday, the Pats certainly set a positive tone.

For the third straight week, they took the field as the more talented team and actually played like it for the better part of 60 minutes. For the third straight week, they had nothing to gain (in the eyes of the fansmedia) and everything to lose against an inferior opponent, but still maintained an adderall-like focus. And while, individually, those three victories did little to change our perception of the Patriots, as a collective, those wins made an important statement. Today, New England not only stands at 9-3, but it's a 9-3 that you can believe in. A 9-3 that you can celebrate without an assembly line of buts and ifs.

But naturally, no one's celebrating. Not an admirable win over Miami. Not the 9-3 start. Not even the team's 10th AFC East title in the last 12 years.

Instead, we're already looking ahead to one week from today: Monday Night Football. Houston at New England. The latest and greatest Most Important Game of the Patriots season.

With a win, despite their tumultuous and exhausting 3-3 start, the Pats will be back within a game of the AFCs No. 1 seed (and would obviously hold the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Texans). With a win, if were being honest, the Pats wont have too much more to prove this regular season. Sure, seeding is important, and there will still be plenty to play for, but really, if they beat Houston on Monday night, expectations will officially burst through the ceiling. With a win, regardless of what happens the following Sunday against the 49ers, or in either of the final two games against Jacksonville and Miami, the Pats' Super Bowl aspirations will be certified beyond a reasonable doubt.

For what its worth: Despite the Texans' 11-1 record, their fourth-ranked offense, sixth-ranked defense, the fact that theyre undefeated on the road and have already handedly beaten both the Ravens and Broncos, the Patriots opened as 4.5 point favorites.

For what it's worth (part II): This is only the second time all season that Houston will enter a game as the underdog. The other time was in Week 10 at Chicago, and the Texans won 13-7.

For what it's worth (part III): No one cares.

At this stage, it's not about favorites and underdogs. It's not about style points. It's not about blow out victories or escaping by the skin of Vince Wilfork's belly. It's only about doing enough to win. It's about doing what the Patriots have for six straight weeks and counting.

It's about taking care of business.

And they've got nine weeks to finish the job.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Patriots making contract statements with OTA absences?

patriots_belichick_052916.jpg

Patriots making contract statements with OTA absences?

Malcolm Butler was one of many not spotted during OTAs on Thursday when the media got a looksee at one of the practices.

Butler wasn’t the only one. But he did stand out as a missing player who hadn’t (to my knowledge) had a surgery but did have a contract that needs addressing. Another one? Rob Gronkowski. If we really want to extend it out, throw in Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan.

This is the point where it’s important to point out that these workouts are voluntary – VAW-LUN-TERR-EEEE! Players don’t have to be there. Additionally, I’m not even sure Butler or Gronkowski (or Ryan and Harmon) weren’t at the facility. All I know is they weren’t on the field. And, per usual, nobody’s tipping his hand as to why.

But we do have this, relative to Butler. ESPN’s Mike Reiss wrote Sunday that he “wouldn’t be surprised if it was related to his contract status.” Reiss said that Butler “told teammates and friends he plans to push for an adjustment to his contract before the 2016 season, and staying off the field in voluntary workouts would be a decision that limits injury risk and also could be viewed as a statement to the organization that he's unhappy with the status quo and/or the movement/specifics of contract talks.”

In the same vein, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gronkowski opted out as well for the same reason, especially since he threw out a tweet that signaled dissatisfaction with his pact in March.

But in terms of a statement, not going to OTAs is more of a throat-clearing than a noisy proclamation.

Not to minimize the move if Butler, Gronkowski or anybody else is actually staying away because of business. The Patriots usually enjoy almost perfect OTA attendance. Also, there hasn’t been much contract strife around here for the past five seasons.

Money matters were an annual issue for the Patriots from about 2003 through 2010. Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Ty Warren, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Randy Moss, Adam Vinatieri, Mike Vrabel and – quietly – Tom Brady all had their contract dances back then. But the only one that got hairy in the recent past was Wes Welker.

It’s still too soon to know if any of these will get contentious. When will we know? When either a player or his agent spouts off. Or, when someone’s a no-show at mandatory minicamp beginning June 7.

That would amount to a shot across the bow. Of all the players likely to take that shot, Butler seems a reasonable bet. His base pay this season is $600K after a Pro Bowl campaign in 2015 that saw him check the opposition’s best wideout on a weekly basis. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of the year. He deserves longer-term security than he currently has. Gronkowski has a lot less to kick about. He may make less than lesser players, but he also was the league’s highest paid tight end when he was missing scads of games due to injury.

After Butler, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower would figure to have the strongest cases to want new deals and want them snappy. Ryan and Harmon would be right behind those two. Then Jabaal Sheard.

Sheard, Hightower and Collins were all on the field Thursday. 

Can the Patriots get all these guys reupped? Will they even try? How do they have them prioritized? If the guy who howls loudest gets to the front of the line, the time to make some noise is close.

But we have yet to hear any of these players loud and clear. 

Giardi: It's only OTAs, pump the brakes on Martellus Bennett

snc_giardi_0527161464388473079_3450k_1280x720_694521411855.jpg

Giardi: It's only OTAs, pump the brakes on Martellus Bennett

Mike Giardi and Kyle Draper discuss the early impressions of Patriots OTAs and how fans shouldn't get carried away with the performance of new tight end Martellus Bennett so far.