Thanks to the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement, players will get five consecutive days off during their team's bye week. For the Patriots, that mid-season recess starts tomorrow.
"Kind of unheard of around here," remarked wide receiver Wes Welker, the leading pass catcher in the league going into Week 7. "It's really nice to get away, relax a little bit, refresh for the second part of the season.
"I am going back to Oklahoma City for a few days and see the family. Hang out there, just a couple days, then head back here."
"Just chillin'," offered tight end Rob Gronkowski. "Gotta work out, get my body right. Definitely have some bruises.
"Definitely going to do something [fun]," he added with his trademark grin, "I just don't know what yet."
Though there are free to leave Foxborough during their respite, they can't completely leave the game and their jobs behind. As Gronkowski indicated, players must still keep their bodies in top fitness, while trying simultaneously to recharge and heal whatever lingering ailments they might have.
"I think you put it out of your mind for a few days," Welker conceded. "There's just so much every single day of football, football, football. So, it's nice to get a few days to relax and spend time with family and friends and get away from it for a few days.
"It's not like spring break in college or anything like that. Everyone understands you still have to work out and so some of those things, but not out there running routes and the other things you do on a daily basis. But also making sure you're getting a lot of rest, sleep, not staying out late, and taking advantage of the time."
Head coach Bill Belichick told reporters today that he had meetings with his rookies to reinforce the notion that a few days of down time doesn't mean they can completely ignore their professional responsibilities. With that in mind, top pick Nate Solder revealed that the message Belichick gave him and his fellow first-years was, "Just get ready to finish off the season strong."
"There's been fun and there's been business," Solder added. "It's a mix of those two things which makes the NFL, I guess."
Solder may still be learning the ropes, but to old hands like Welker and Gronkowski, the routine of the bye week has become familiar.
"The whole time ... I'm thinking about my plays the whole time, what I'm going to do on my next route. When I come back on Tuesday I'm going to be ready," he chuckled sarcastically. "No, it'll definitely take your mind off football for a little bit. Go and do something, go enjoy yourself, relax, see some family, some friends. You'll think about football a little bit, but the majority of the time, just relaxing."
Gronk said come Sunday, he'll be parked on the couch watching his team's next opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers. A team the 5-1 Patriots may have to face again down the road in the playoffs.
But first thing's first, Welker was quick to remind overanxious reporters.
"It's nice to be in the position we're in, but we still have a long way to go. By no means have we won the division or anything close. We're a long ways off from where we need to be. We'll take these few days off, then get back to work and make a run this second half of the season."
For details on today's Patriots practice, please visit the PFW blog.