It was back to work for the Patriots Wednesday as the team returned to Gillette Stadium to put the wraps on the first nine games of the season before a four-day break coming thanks to this week's scheduled bye. And while the coaches will use much of the time over the next four days working on some self scouting and to correct the potential pitfalls of the 7-2 team that sits atop the AFC East, the players look to use the time to relax, regroup and refocus both mentally and physically.
"I think the bye week is a time to get some rest, get your mind off of football for a while, go back and see your family and whatever it takes just to get your mind off it," Richard Seymour said. "Maybe watch a game, maybe not. Just chill out a little bit, come back and refocus and be ready for the last stretch of the season."
While some would expect the players to take advantage of the extended time off to go on some sort of exotic vacation or live it up a little, most of these Patriots are simply looking to use the time to prepare for the second half of the season, something not one player is taking for granted. Despite the 7-2 record and five-game winning streak, these Patriots are well aware that nothing has been won yet and that the final seven games of the season will decide where this team goes.
"The way we started off the season I think has been a humbling experience for us at this point because we started off with everybody telling us that we were the bottom of the league and we looked terrible," Seymour said of the team's opening day 31-0 loss at Buffalo. "We kind of turned that around a little bit. If we lose a game it will be the same way. So we are just trying to take it one game at a time. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it's true. We are just taking it one game at a time and looking at it that way."
"We still have seven more games to go and it doesn't get any easier," Troy Brown said. "The last part of the season is where champions are made. We have to come out and prove it the first game out of the bye. It's going to be tougher and tougher every week as the season gets shorter and shorter. Everybody is going to be fighting for a spot so that makes it even tougher. We have our work cut out for us as we come down the stretch."
With a week off, those in the New England locker room know that is key to stay humble and remain focused on the long-term goal that remains on the distant horizon.
"[We have to] continue to work hard and understand that we haven't done anything yet," Rodney Harrison said. "There are still seven games left. We are only as good as our last game. The first game of the season we got blown out in Buffalo and everyone wrote our season away. We understand that we are only one game away from being back as a terrible team so we just have to continue to stay focused and work hard."
And Harrison isn't worried about his teammates reading the positive press clippings that are starting to overflow from both the local and national media outlets. Just as the NFL is a league where the standings can change in the blink of an eye, so too can the media buzz surrounding a team.
"You are the same guys who pat us on our back but stab us in our back later if we go lose a couple of games," Harrison said about not letting the positive press go to the team's head. "That's how we don't get overconfident. We go out there and continue to play, stay humble and understand that we are only a game away from you guys turning the script on us and stabbing us in the back."
And when the Patriots return from this week's break the media buzz surrounding the team will be as big as ever thanks to a Sunday night game at Gillette Stadium against Bill Parcells and the Dallas Cowboys. The players will return to work on Monday to not only prepare to face a team that could enter the game with a matching 7-2 record, but also for a week of pregame drama and hype like many have not previously experienced. But that is still a week away, for now this team of Patriots is only worried about using its well-deserved break as best it can and preparing for the seven battles that remain on the schedule.
Tom Brady was named the Monday Night Football Snickers Hungriest Player for his performance against the Broncos. Brady completed 20-of-35 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots dramatic 30-26 comeback victory. … ESPN.com's James C. Black posted a midseason all-rookie team Wednesday that included four Patriots. Center Dan Koppen, defensive lineman Dan Klecko, free safety Eugene Wilson and cornerback Asante Samuel all drew praise for their contributions during the first half of the season. … Defensive lineman Richard Seymour was unaware of a report in Wednesday's Boston Globe stating that the NFL had contacted the Patriots asking for an explanation as to why the defensive co-captain remained listed as probable on the injury report late last week with a leg injury even though he didn't travel to Denver or play in Monday's game. "I mean I didn't know that that was the case," Seymour said. "I don't know why. I didn't play. I mean the bottom line is I got ready to play and it just didn't happen. That's new information to me." He went on to say that the injury didn't progress as hoped during the week and that it essentially came down to a Sunday morning decision before the team's flight to Denver. "I practiced limited all throughout the week and wasn't that effective in practice," Seymour said. "I couldn't really move like I would have liked and like the coaching staff would have liked. Like I said, injuries are a part of it and I think I was trying to go all week long and then on Sunday we had a little walk through practice and myself, Coach Belichick and his staff and also the trainers made a decision that it wouldn't be best for me to travel out there." … Defensive co-captain and leading tackler Rodney Harrison put the hype surrounding Monday night games in perspective Wednesday when asked about playing in front of a national audience. "Who cares about Monday Night and Sunday Night Football," Harrison responded? "A game is a game whether it is at 1:00, 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. It doesn't matter. We still have to go out there and play and win the ballgame. No one cares about national television and all that overrated crap. It's just football."