After a spiriting full-pads scrimmage on New Year's Eve last week, the Patriots went back outside Tuesday on easily the coldest day of the season for another session in full pads. Biting cold temperatures and light snowfall set the tone for New England's first practice of the new calendar year and first on-field work session in preparation for this Saturday's Divisional Playoff against the Baltimore Ravens.
From a health standpoint, the Patriots are in great shape. All 53 players on the active roster, plus the 10 practice squad men, suited up in long sleeves, gloves, and headgear underneath their helmets to withstand the frosty Foxborough air. Game-time weather is expected to be similarly cold on Saturday evening.
Wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who missed both practices last week with an ankle injury sustained in the regular season finale, was back in action, giving the Patriots their full complement of players to start their preparations for the Ravens.
"It feels good just to be back out there on the practice field, practicing hard, together as a team," tight end Rob Gronkowski told reporters afterward. "Just have to keep working hard… Can't take it for granted."
"We're preparing, doing our best, working hard at getting ready for the game," added left tackle Nate Solder. "We're focused on Baltimore."
This will mark the fourth time the Patriots have faced the Ravens in the playoffs, with all three previous contests having come at Gillette Stadium. Baltimore, however, holds a 2-1 edge.
"You know what, whoever it is, it is," DE Rob Ninkovich maintained when asked about the . "We have to go out there and play good football. Got to come in here and prepare, come Saturday, play well in all three phases."
There was a serious tone to most of the player's interviews Tuesday, with the exception of CB Brandon Browner, who was thoroughly delighting in his impromptu Q&A session with media in the middle of the locker room.
Browner took a number of Ravens-related questions, particularly about Baltimore's receivers, before he began playfully teasing the group about it being so large, yet only a relative few were asking him questions. This, a week after Browner jumped in on a group interview with TE Tim Wright last week and pretended to be a reporter himself.
"I'm having fun with you right now," Browner smiled.
When a reporter asked Browner about the threat of WR Torrey Smith and his being a threat in the red zone, Browner said he felt Smith was more dangerous in the open field because of his speed.
"What do you think?" he asked the reporter.
"I don't know, that's why I'm asking you… I think he's got, what, 11 touchdowns in 49 catches. That's a pretty good ratio."
"Well," Browner responded coyly, "where are they caught, in the red zone or in mid-field?"
"Well, they're probably caught in the end zone," the reporter retorted, to which Browner gave him a high-five.
"I usually don't like talking to you guys," Browner joked as he walked away, "but today, I'm loving it."