New England, as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, will be spectators this weekend when the Wild Card playoff games kick off, and that suits them just fine.
Perhaps no Patriot will be more excited, though, for next weekend's Divisional round playoff game than RB Steven Jackson.
"Last time I appeared in a playoff game," he recalled with a smile, "was 2005 [as a rookie with St. Louis]. You don't forget the feeling, but at the same time… it's been a long time."
The veteran ball carrier only returned to the NFL two weeks ago, after being out of the league since February, when he was released by the Falcons. In some ways, he still feels like a rookie, having to get better acquainted with the Patriots' playbook and nomenclature. So, for him, even though he could use more on-field work, having this weekend off is a chance to take more mental reps.
"I planned it that way," he laughed. "I've still got an uphill battle. I'm still learning. It's a lot of terminology that I'm getting introduced to on a day-to-day basis. They've played a lot of football and we do need this bye to let guys kind of nurse some bumps and bruises they've suffered from. But for me personally, it allows me an extra week to get comfortable with the terminology.
"I can't stress that hard enough," Jackson added, "because it's a different language and I'm trying to learn it on the go. When you learn a new offense – I was in Atlanta the last two years – that's a whole other language. So, you may run some of the same concepts, but you call it something different. And when you get in the heat of the battle, sometimes your body reverts back to what it knows, instead of what it should be doing."
Branching out from Belichick's coaching tree?
With head coaching vacancies popping up across the NFL, New England's coaching staff is being linked to a number of other clubs, including Miami, Cleveland, and Tennessee. During this upcoming bye weekend, the Patriots' offensive and defensive coordinators, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, are reportedly going to be interviewed for at least one of those top jobs. Miami is said to have requested interviews with both men, while Patricia is reportedly on the Browns' radar and McDaniels may have interest in the Titans gig.
"He's a great coach to work with," TE Rob Gronkowski said of McDaniels. "He knows his football inside and out. Whatever question you have, whatever answer you need – how to get open, what type of coverage it is – he's always on top of his game and he can just spit it right out and let you know."
"Intense," was the first word safety/co-captain Devin McCourty used to describe Patricia. "He's a guy that makes sure we're always kind of locked in. He has a lot of different things he likes to tell us to get us motivated. He really focuses on, for us as a defense, having a certain type of attitude. He brings that every day. He has a certain way about him. I don't care what he's going through, whether it's no sleep, a lot of sleep, having a baby born, he has a certain attitude he brings to work every day and I think the guys feed off that."
For the second straight day, Bill Belichick decided to conduct a walkthrough practice to let his dinged up players give their bodies a rest while still keeping their minds active.
While it appeared that nearly everyone on the roster was on the field for today's session, the most notable difference was that safety Nate Ebner arrived with his right arm in a cast. It's unclear how and when he sustained whatever injury he's now nursing.
At this point, the Patriots plan to be back on the field again Friday, although in past post-seasons, Belichick has given his team that day off.