Check out photos from access to players and coaches during Week 15 as the Patriots prepare to play the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium this Sunday.
Around here, contests like this Sunday's Dolphins rematch are considered "hat-and-tee-shirt" games because of what's at stake. A Patriots win would give New England yet another AFC East crown, an automatic berth in the playoffs, and a reason to pass out commemorative hats and tee shirts to celebrate reaching one of the team's primary goals.
After the game, if the Patriot win, that's what the post-game remarks from players will revolve around – accomplishing the first team goal while they don their title-clinching regalia.
But before the game kicks off, the Patriots are avoiding all such talk.
"We have no conversation about that," tight end Rob Gronkowski maintained. "We're just worried about the Dolphins and getting the victory.
"All games are important, but division games are definitely huge," he acknowledged. "You definitely want to get a win and get ahead of them. Miami's a good team. We have to be prepared."
"I'm taking it one day – it's Thursday right now – one day at a time," cornerback Darrelle Revis chuckled. "The game to focus on right now is Miami, and we'll continue to do that as a team, just work on a week-to-week basis."
"No, we're just focusing on this team because they're a good team," defensive end Rob Ninkovich stated. "We have to have a great week this week. They have a lot of weapons. We have to work hard and understand that there's a good team coming here."
Two aspects of the matchup they'll somewhat admit to are the facts that Miami is one of the few teams to have beaten New England this season and that both clubs are vastly different than they were in Week 1's 33-20 Dolphin win in Miami, when New England was ahead and lost the lead in the second half.
"Anytime another team beats you, you just want to play better than you did the first time," Ninkovich continued. "It's a different time now, different part of the year. Just moving on from anything in the past and focusing on this game and play better."
"We grew, not just as a defense, but as a team," remarked Revis. "When you look back, we didn't take advantage of the momentum – I mean, we had it at one point."
"They're a good team. Just have to look at the film of that game and improve on what we didn't do right," added Gronk. "It's great to be back at home, in front of our home crowd. Excited to come back out and play in Gillette, for sure."
Purrr-fectly reasonable responses
After several questions about the Dolphins, one intrepid member of the media finally addressed the elephant in the room with Gronkowski: his ESPN the Magazine photo shoot with several kittens for the latest issue. The images, which are readily available on the Internet, show the tight end in various poses with a number of baby cats, apparently to show off his softer side.
"Aw, man," Gronk grinned, "I'm just here to talk about the Dolphins. I'm just worried about the Miami Dolphins."
Ninkovich wouldn't bite, either… at least initially.
"I don't want to get into Gronk and what he's done. He's a great teammate. Happy to have him on my team."
But Ninko soon relented, admitting he's never thought about posing for pics with kittens.
"I love kittens, but… they have sharp nails," he explained. "I'm not messing with them. Digging in your chest. I'm more of a puppy guy. Yeah, puppies. Kittens… it shows [Gronk]'s lighter side."
Light snowfall made for a pleasant scene at Patriots practice Thursday, where rookie DL Dominique Easley was the only player not in uniform.
RB LeGarrette Blount was back on the field after missing Wednesday's session for non-injury reasons. Ninkovich, meantime, was added to the injury report this week with a heel injury, but has practiced on a limited basis.