Patriots able to attack bye-week practices with injury numbers down

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Patriots able to attack bye-week practices with injury numbers down

FOXBORO -- When Bill Belichick was asked on Thursday about the quality of his team's practices at this stage of the season, since its overall health is so much better than it was last year, the Patriots coach wasn't interested in getting into the discussion. 

"I don’t really care about last year," he said. "I don’t really care about the year before that. I don’t really care about the decade before that. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. So where are we now? What’s the best thing we can do to help our team? How can we get better yesterday, today, to play our best football a week from Saturday night? That’s really what it’s all about, so where we were or weren’t some other year, I mean who cares?"

He made it clear that nothing matters as much as his team's Jan. 14 Divisional Round game

Yet the point remains: The Patriots are in a much better position to prepare for the Divisional Round than they were a year ago because of their overall physical well-being. 

Last season around this time, they had 18 players on injured reserve, including key cogs like left tackle Nate Solder, and running backs LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis. There were 17 additional names listed on the injury report leading up to Kansas City's visit to Gillette Stadium for the right to play in the conference chamionship, including Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Dont'a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Sebastian Vollmer, Brandon LaFell and Devin McCourty.

The sheer number of injuries impacted their ability to practice.

Contrast that with the shape the Patriots are in this season: They have just three players on injured reserve (Jonathan Freeny, Rob Gronkowski and Greg Scruggs) -- nine fewer than the average NFL team, according to ESPN -- and two who never came off of the physically unable to perform list (Tre' Jackson, Vollmer).

According to the research done by ManGamesLost.com, the Patriots have been the sixth-healthiest team in football this season, with 122 games missed because of injury. 

Belichick's club is in good enough shape that he held a fully-padded practice on Wednesday, and everyone on the roster but Brady, Malcolm Mitchell and Cyrus Jones were present during the media-availability portion. Even those absences weren't indicative of any serious injury concern because Brady and Mitchell were back on the field for the next day's work in shells and sweats. 

What was once a time to manage the well-being of his players has now become a time for Belichick to push his club in order to "get better yesterday, today, to play our best football a week from Saturday night."

"That was tougher," McCourty said this week when reminded of last year's injury situation. "I think, overall, you just look at the list of guys on IR who are in better health. It’ll be a little different I think than last year just for the health of the team seems to be better.

"Hopefully we can take advantage. I thought last year was different but we try to take advantage in the way we could last year. That was a little different than this year. But that’s the thing in this league, year by year you hope you get the bye week. How it will play out and how it will work might be a little different, but I think the mentality stays the same."

Having the right mentality during the bye week is one thing, and it helped get them through last year's Divisional Round game against the Chiefs. 

But having enough healthy bodies to practice competitively for two weeks leading up to their first playoff game is one advantage that may make this year's Patriots team better suited to take on the postseason road ahead.

Five takeaways from Patriots-Texans: Brady does Brady things in last-minute comeback

Five takeaways from Patriots-Texans: Brady does Brady things in last-minute comeback

FOXBORO -- Here are five quick-hitting takeaways from what transpired in the Patriots' last-second 36-33 victory over the Texans:

1) Tom Brady doing Tom Brady things . . . again. After the two-minute warning, Brady marched the Patriots 85 yards for the go-ahead score -- a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks in the front corner of the end zone. A two-point conversion to Cooks made the score 36-33 with just 23 seconds remaining. On the drive, Brady was surgical, finding Rob Gronkowski for 15 yards, Cooks for 18, and Danny Amendola for 27. He was also strip-sacked on the drive, but David Andrews corraled it and Brady found Cooks for the score three plays later. 

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2) Brady says he doesn't often feel sore anymore, but Monday might be a different story. The Patriots quarterback was knocked around early and often by the Texans front, including on his first pass of the game. Despite a jarring hit from linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, Brady hit Cooks for a long gain down the right sideline. Brady was sacked five times (including three strip sacks) and hit on multiple other occasions. JJ Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney and Christian Covington all got a piece of Brady at one point or another. The Texans pass-rush came in as advertised. When Brady did get some time, he found receivers down the field. Brady had six completions of 20 yards or more, including long touchdowns of 47 and 42 yards to Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks, respectively. He threw for four touchdowns in all, giving him 27 regular-season games with at least four touchdowns, third-most all-time behind Peyton Manning (35) and Drew Brees (31).

3) Rob Gronkowski looked just fine after last week's scare in New Orleans. One of the bright spots for New England's offense was that their All-Pro tight end had yet another strong performance despite dealing with a groin injury. He caught 8 passes for 89 yards, and several of those yards came after contact thanks to broken tackles. Gronkowski also boxed out safety Corey Moore for a touchdown at the goal line.

4) Deshaun Watson put his toughness on display throughout the course of the game. The rookie quarterback hit on throws despite taking hits from the Patriots on a consistent basis. He hit tight end Ryan Griffin on three passes -- two for key first downs and one for a touchdown in the third quarter -- despite absorbing contact as he threw or immediately after. He also pulled a Houdini act late in the fourth quarter to allude multiple Patriots defenders and hit running back D'Onta Foreman for a 34-yard gain. Watson's  accuracy is still an issue at times; he had Braxton Miller open on third down and plenty of time to throw with a little over seven minutes left in the game, but he missed him badly. Still, what Watson showed in terms of his toughness and athleticism was impressive.

5) Gilmore gets his first pick as a member of the Patriots, but it was an up-and-down day for the corner who's one of the 10 most highly-paid corners in the league. Gilmore gave away 34 yards on a pass-interference penalty in the first quarter that got the Texans into Patriots territory and helped lead to a field goal. Midway through the second quarter, Gilmore picked up another costly flag as he hit DeAndre Hopkins near the sideline and was hit with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call that helped lead to another Texans field goal. In the third quarter, Gilmore left the game briefly as he was dehydrated. 

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