Check out photos from practice and media access as Patriots prepare to take on the Falcons during the Super Bowl LI bye week.
The Patriots have a few more days before they pack up and head south for this year's Super Bowl host city, Houston, Texas. As the designated home team, their opponents, the Atlanta Falcons, arrive in Houston this Sunday, while Bill Belichick's squad will depart on Monday, giving the Patriots an extra day to prepare here in Foxborough.
There's still plenty to do between now and then, but in the interim, they're getting back to work on the practice field and in meeting rooms this Thursday to get started in earnest on the Falcons.
The past few days, players were given time off to deal with what can be an onslaught of requests from family and friends to arrange for tickets and accommodations for the Super Bowl.
"I'm pretty much done with all that," defensive tackle Alan Branch maintained. "If they didn't get to me by [last] Monday, they lost out."
"I handle it," stated defensive end Rob Ninkovich, "and when it's done, it's done. You get it over with as soon as possible, so you don't have the headache of dealing with… fifth cousins calling you, saying, 'Hey, remember me from five years ago?' I've had some friends call me, and you try and stick to close family members – my sister, my nephew, mom, dad, wife, kids. That's it… mother-in-law. People that I need to keep happy."
"Always happens… You always wonder how they get your number," Branch remarked with a smirk about long-lost friends coming out of the woodwork this time of year. "It's all good, though. Sometimes it's good hearing old voices."
"Yeah, I have that handled now," rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell smiled. "I told them after yesterday, that'll no longer be something I talk about frequently. Now it's just football."
"I actually didn't get overwhelmed with that," said tight end Matt Lengel, who's appearing in his first Super Bowl. "I'm glad I didn't have to say 'no' too many times."
Some players, like running back LeGarrette Blount, leave such uncomfortable responsibilities to others in his family.
"My 100-percent focus is this game," he declared. "Everyone on this team can just take out a week, week-and-a-half, and just focus on this game. It's the last one of the season. Hopefully, we can give our A game and come out victorious.
"Obviously, we all have one goal in mind, and that's to win this last game. We're going to do whatever we have to do to put ourselves in the best situation. We're going to make sure we cross all our Ts and dot all our Is and be ready for a fight. [The Falcons] are a great team. We're not going to let anybody or anything derail us what we're supposed to be doing."
That's the advantage of having an entire week in advance of Super Bowl Week to get ready for what could be biggest game of some players' lives.
"You really just have to prepare well, break down all the details, just work hard," cornerback Malcolm Butler explained. "You've got to stay focused and don't buy into all the temptation and the hype. It really doesn't matter who comes to the game. I just want to win the game, but I've got the most important [people] there that I think deserve to be there."
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime… I hope it's NOT a once in a lifetime," defensive end Trey Flowers chuckled. "It's a pretty big experience. I'm going to take care of family, but everyone else, they can watch it at home. I had to say 'no' a couple times, but everyone understands."
Wide receiver Chris Hogan is another Patriot making his Super Bowl debut. He described his approach to the two-week lead-up as "just taking it day-by-day."
"It's a lot of fun being in this moment and having a chance to play in the Super Bowl," he acknowledged. "I'm not letting it distract me from what I do as a football player and preparing for this game.
"I've got a good support group. Everyone's set. So, hopefully everyone gets down there safe. I told them I'll see them in Houston, because I've got a job to do and that's to focus.
This is some extra time we have to focus on our game plan and the Falcons and us. We have to put everything we have into the next 10 days."
Linebacker/co-captain Dont'a Hightower played 13 games this regular season, the most he's appeared in since 2013, when he saw action in all 16 contests. However, the veteran cropped up on the injury report with a shoulder problem following the Divisional Playoff against the Texans and was limited both in practices last week and in the AFC Championship Game versus Pittsburgh.
Coincidentally, Hightower was dealing with a shoulder injury two years ago when the Patriots went to the Super Bowl.
"I feel like I've been playing football for a year," he said Thursday when asked about his current health status, but wouldn't elaborate.
"That's something for Bill," he added. "Same as you, they tell me I am down this series, or we're rotating or whatever. It's really kind of knowing your role and accepting what it is. I am not here to argue as long as we get that [win] in the end."
Hightower took part in Thursday's full-pads session along with 51 of the 52 other players on the active roster. The only absentee was safety Nate Ebner, who's dealing with the aftereffects of a concussion suffered in the AFC title game.
New England will practice in Foxborough for the next three days before flying to Texas.
See your team off
Fans are encouraged to bid farewell to the Patriots in person on Monday. At 9 a.m., the team will host a send-off rally in the plaza outside the Patriots Pro Shop. Owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick, and team captains Tom Brady, Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, and the aforementioned Hightower will address the crowd before heading to Boston's Logan International Airport. The rally is expected to last approximately one hour.