What to look for in Patriots-Bucs

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What to look for in Patriots-Bucs

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Last week, I cautioned before the preseason opener against Jacksonville that "if Ryan Mallett goes 9 for 11 for 141 yards and a touchdown" you needed to keep it in check and not make early proclamations. Thenthe kid went 12 for 19 for 164 yards and a touchdown and everyone started bouncing up and down in their La-Z-Boy. Be that as it may (one of the all-time great transitional quotes that means nothing), we move on to preseason Game No. 2. Here are a few more things to keep your peepers peeled for when the Patriots take on Tampa. 1. The Brady FactorDo you agree with this observation? Rarely has so little been made of remarkable individual performance as was made of Tom Brady's 2010. I mean, the guy was the unanimous NFL MVP (first time . . . FIRST TIME), set the record for passes without a pick and threw 36 touchdowns and four picks. He may have been better last year than he was in 2007 when he went 50 and 8. He is getting Jordan-esque. Ruth-ian. Thursday night, he will play his first game of the 2011 season. He figures to be as he's been in camp. Absurdly accurate, and rapid-fire in his decision-making. These are the autumnal years of what may be the best quarterback ever. Watch every snap. 2. Safety DanceRegardless of how unhappy, disappointed, crestfallen or otherwise chagrined the Patriots are with Brandon Meriweather, they don't have a lot of recourse at this point. The safety is a necessary evil because the team did not replace departed free agent Jarrad Page. And James Sanders is damaged. So, despite the fact the team has shuttled in safeties for a look-see, Meriweather - unless something bizarre happens - will be going nowhere. It's just him, Sergio Brown and Patrick Chung. So happy, unhappy, no difference. How he plays and who he plays with is worth watching Thursday night. Is he getting the bulk of the reps or is he an afterthought?3. Looking for a StarThe Patriots have rotated Darius Butler, Leigh Bodden, Chung, Meriweather and Jonathan Wilhite through the position that guards the slot position. Which one emerges as the lead will be interesting and it will be a critical position in the AFC East with the talented slot and underneath receivers in the division. 4. Gronk PlayThe tight end didn't play last week against the Jaguars because of an injury. This week, he'll be ready to go. And there is no player that's been more impressive in training camp than Professor Gronkowski. How will he perform against unfamiliar competition? No doubt ridiculously effective. Don't tell anyone but he's the next great tight end in the NFL. 5. Love HurtsKyle Love has actually been pretty good in this camp. Playing next to Vince Wilfork on the defensive line in the 4-3, he's most likely just keeping the spot warm for Albert Haynesworth. But the second-year defensive tackle has been a gap-shooting beast in the 4-3 and has no doubt earned a spot for himself at this point.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran.

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)

Brady on Trump shout-out before inauguration: 'Let's talk about football'

Brady on Trump shout-out before inauguration: 'Let's talk about football'

FOXBORO -- It seems as though Tom Brady might wish Donald Trump would stop telling everyone that they're such good pals.

On Thursday night, the soon-to-be 45th president of the United States said that Brady was "feeling good" and that Brady called him to congratulate him on the eve of his inaguration. On Friday afternoon, Brady looked uncomfortable at the mention of Trump's name during a press conference at Gillette Stadium. 

When Brady was asked about Trump soon after the inauguration ceremony on Friday, he hesitated.

"I don't have much to say," said Brady.

Brady was then reminded that during a dinner for donors in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Trump mentioned a recent phone call between them, when Brady expressed his support for the new president. 

"Umm," Brady said. "Did I call him . . ."

"He said you did," a reporter replied. 

"Oh," Brady said. "Let's talk about football."

In other words, as his coach would say, "We've got a big game."