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Gaffney remembers

The Patriots will play their regular season home finale on Sunday afternoon when the Houston Texans come to town. These two teams have only played each other once since the Texans joined the league in 2002.

When asked about coach Bill Belichick's reaction to the team's 21-0 loss to the Dolphins, wide receiver Jabar Gaffney lowered his usually bright voice and took on a less conversational tone.

"You listen to coach speak and see his actions, and you want to win," said Gaffney earnestly. "We can't get shut out again."

"It's tough, kind of humbling in a sense," Gaffney said of the loss. "I mean we were shut out. I don't know the last time that happened around here, but we didn't take too well to that. Coach didn't take too well to that. We're going to try to get back on track this week."

The Patriots have a good chance of getting "back on track" this weekend against the 4-9 Texans, who'll bring the fourth-worst total offense, matched by the fourth-worst total defense in the NFL, with them to Gillette Stadium.

Although this was only the second time his NFL team has been shut out, Gaffney knows what it feels like to be on a losing team. He played for the Texans during the last four years, finishing his contract at the end of the Texans dismal 2005 season.

"That was pretty frustrating. We were in a lot of games, and lost a lot of close ones, right up to the end. We ended up being 2-14 and I mean it was just a real disappointing season for everyone," said Gaffney. "I don't know how that happened. The year before that we were 7-9 and everybody came in with high goals and thinking we could make a run for the playoffs. Then everything started going bad. We just couldn't get a break, I guess."

Gaffney opted to leave Houston when his contract expired at the end of last season.

"I'm happy to be here," he said on Thursday. "It's good to be on a team where I have a chance to get to the playoffs. We're sitting at 9-4 – pretty good chance. And Houston, I know they're frustrated because there's a lot of talent on that team. Their record doesn't really show it, but they're a good team. They're going to get it together one day."

The Patriots can clinch a playoff berth this weekend if they beat the Texans and the Jets either lose to, or tie the Vikings.

"It's more laid back in here," Gaffney said, standing in a quiet Patriots locker room. "There are a lot of veteran guys. In Houston, it's more of a young team. Everybody's trying to fill out there little spot on the team or whatever. Here, there's a lot of veterans led by veterans. [We] just kind of watch those guys and move along how they do.

"The older guys pretty much set the roles for everybody to follow. It's business. Just business. Losing's not accepted."

With wideout Doug Gabriel released this week, Gaffney's six receptions for 101 yards now ranks fourth among the Patriots receivers. The affable receiver said Thursday, "I love to go deep," and his average of 16.8 yards per carry reflects that.

"Whenever my number's called, you know that little situation with Doug being released and whatnot. When he was here, I was ready whenever they called my number. Now he's gone and I'm still going to be ready," said Gaffney.

He admitted that he still has friends on the Texans, and roots for them when they aren't competing against the Patriots. He's trying to keep things in perspective, but remembers what it's like to lose often.

"In Houston, I learned about the NFL," said Gaffney in reflection. "It's a long season. You're not going to win every game."

The Patriots held practice on the game field inside Gillette Stadium Thursday. For the second day in a row, the only players not seen on the field during the portion of practice available to the media were Vince Wilfork, Benjamin Watson and Rodney Harrison, who's been upgraded from "Out" to "Doubtful" this week, giving him a 25 percent chance of playing against the Texans. … Following last weekend's shutout loss to the Dolphins, it appears nobody was named last week's Practice Player of the Week, since nobody is wearing the indicative black jersey at practice this week. … It has been confirmed that the offensive linemen all shaved their beards in the wake of the loss, and Logan Mankins also shaved his head. Needless to say, he looks like a completely different guy. … In the locker room, crowds gathered around Tedy Bruschi, Jabar Gaffney and Artrell Hawkins. … The players chose names for a Secret Santa gift exchange, and one prominent player was heard grumbling that he had received Jen Vrabel's name. When Mike Vrabel heard the grumbling, he admitted to putting his wife's name in the drawing, and joked, "Good luck finding her a present she'll like for under $100!" … Don't forget to cast your Pro Bowl votes for your favorite Patriots players. The deadline for fan balloting is Friday.

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