It appeared as if the week was going to end without any further comments from the Patriots about Chandler Jones.
Then, quite suddenly and without warning, with about two minutes left in the media interview period, the defensive end appeared in the locker room and addressed the assembly for the first time since his hospitalization four days earlier.
"I want to start off by saying I made a pretty stupid mistake this weekend," Jones began. "Right now, my main focus is on becoming the best player I can be and helping the team focus on Kansas City."
The veteran defender came across soft-spoken and contrite, but would not go into detail about the events that precipitated his medical emergency, saying only that he understood the questions and repeating that he wanted to turn his full attention to Saturday's playoff game versus Kansas City.
"I made a mistake," Jones reiterated. "I apologize to all the fans… but this weekend, I'm focused on having probably the biggest game of my life."
Gronk absent from practice again
For the second time this week, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski was held out of practice as he continues to nurse a nagging right knee injury. He sustained the injury in late November at Denver, but only missed one game.
Gronkowski was scheduled to speak with the media today, as he does every week, but he never appeared at his locker during the media interview period. According to ESPN, Gronkowski was at a Boston hospital on Thursday receiving treatment on that ailing right knee, further casting doubt on his availability for Saturday's playoff contest at Gillette Stadium.
Meanwhile, LB Dont'a Hightower, who missed the regular season finale at Miami, said after Thursday's practice that he's had "a good week" of limited on-field work and preparation for the Chiefs.
Rookie guard Tre' Jackson, on the other hand, has missed two straight sessions due to a knee problem, while LB Jonathan Freeny did not take part Thursday. He has been dealing with a right hand issue for the past month.
For the first time this season, the Patriots held their final practice of the week on the Gillette Stadium game field – something they've historically done on the final practice before a home game. The forecast for Saturday's game calls for possible rain and wind.
"It's good to be there, for wind purposes," observed safety/co-captain Devin McCourty. "The wind patterns are always a little different [compared to the practice fields]. I think it's good for some of the guys who haven't played in the crazy weather games that we did in this stadium."
"We haven't played at home in a while," DE/co-captain Rob Ninkovich pointed out, "so, the lighting, the return guys seeing the ball, it's a little bit different than being out on our practice field. Being in the stadium definitely helps with the special teams guys and vision of the football."
"I think the team's energetic, ready to play," McCourty declared. "Post-season: there's no tomorrow. The weather gave us some good, cold days… it really feels like post-season here now. We have enough older guys that have been in this situation and understand the importance of urgency. That's what was great about this week: the older guys led off, coming out to practice early, being ready, locked in on everything. Everybody else just fed off that."
Payton: Saints sinned letting Ninko go
Saints head coach Sean Payton recently paid a compliment to Ninkovich, one of his former players. During a press conference, Payton was asked about Ninkovich's enduring success in New England, leading the New Orleans boss to recall when he attempted to make Ninkovich a full-time long snapper for the Saints early in Ninko's career.
"So it tells you how much I know," Payton said self-deprecatingly.
Ninkovich briefly left the Saints for Miami in 2007 before re-joining New Orleans in '08. Again, Payton lamented not recognizing the talent he had in Ninkovich, who signed with the Patriots a year later and has been thriving on New England's defense ever since.
"One of the things that keeps you up at night during training camp is making the proper decisions and not allowing a good player to leave the building," continued Payton. "But he is a good example of someone that we drafted and yet I don't know if we had a real good vision of what we wanted to do with him. And then it only gets worse because he's back in the building a few years later and we have a second go at it, and we don't capitalize on that.
"First off, he's an extremely motivated player, hardworking, smart. He has all of those qualities that we look for. And those are the types of things that keep you up at night as a coach is having a good football player like that right under your wing twice and not being able to take advantage of it."