Momentous injury news for both the Patriots and Texans as their Sunday night tilt in Houston draws nigh.
Perhaps the most dominant defensive player in the NFL today, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt broke his left hand in Wednesday's practice and was forced to sit out and watch his team work out on Thursday.
"I'll play with it on Sunday," Watt promised.
The NFL's current sack leader with 13.5, Watt answered media questions in front of a podium Thursday, where he showed off the cast that he's now sporting on his left paw. He was defiant when a reporter asked if he's worried that the Patriots or other opponents might go after him and his injured hand.
"Let them try," responded Watt. "Come at it. I'll take advantage of whatever you try to do."
After Houston's practice, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien maintained that he didn't believe Watt's injury would affect his ability to play against the Patriots. Watt agreed.
"People are going to try to make a big deal out of this, but I've played with worse than this before, even in this season. This, I'm not very worried about it. My elbow a couple of years back was way more painful."
To this day, Watt still wears a large brace on his left arm as a result of that elbow injury.
Meanwhile, back here in Foxborough, New England's star tight end managed to suit up for practice after a 10-day layoff that included four practices and one game.
Rob Gronkowski, who's dealing with a bone bruise and sprain in his right knee, was sporting a bulky brace on that knee at the start of Thursday's workout, which took place in unseasonably balmy conditions for this area. Media were not allowed to watch any more than the team's stretching period at today's practice, however, so, it's unclear just how much Gronkowski was able to do and how well he was able to do it in his first on-field work since the Denver game.
Gronkowski's appearance at practice does not guarantee that he'll be deemed fit to play Sunday night in Houston, but certainly would seem to increase the odds.
There was more good news for the Patriots in terms of injuries, as safety Patrick Chung was able to take part on a limited basis. He was held out of Wednesday's session due to a lingering foot problem.
The only practice absentee was Julian Edelman (broken left foot).
New England also made a roster adjustment Thursday, bringing back cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who was released earlier this week. He was signed to the practice squad, and to make room for him there, the team released veteran DB Chris Greenwood.
Sticking to the script
It's been 13 years since the Patriots lost more than two games in a row. That year, 2002, saw the then-defending Super Bowl champions drop four straight from the end of September to the end of October.
The Patriots find themselves in the rare position of trying to avoid a three-game losing streak when they head to Houston this weekend, but some of the team's leaders insist that there isn't any different atmosphere around the facility this week.
"It's unfortunate, but you can't look back. You have to look forward," maintained defensive end/co-captain Rob Ninkovich. "So, you just really focus on what you can do to play better and at a high level. That's having great practices. It comes down to having a great week of practice and working hard."
"We talk about that all the time around here," remarked safety/co-captain Devin McCourty. "You guys ask about the mindset when we won six straight, seven straight… it's the same thing: on to the next week, preparing the same way. The last two games, I don't think we lost because we didn't prepare, lack of effort, or whatever. It works for us. We just have to stick to it and do it better."
"You have to stay the course, continue to prepare hard," added Ninkovich, "just trying to focus in on the things we need to do in all three phases to play well. The better practice you have during the week, the better you'll play on game day."
Both players also emphasized that there's not much they can say to the younger players on the roster to hammer this point home. Their approach is to lead by example.
"Just play football," McCourty asserted. "I think it's overhyped that a couple of guys who are leaders… can give a magic speech or something like that. You just have to go play football and make sure everyone is sticking to what we do around here and just keep going. We know how to win."