Check out photos from Patriots practice and media access leading up to New England's AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As an organization, the Patriots have appeared in the American Football Conference Championship Game 12 previous times, winning eight of those contests to reach the Super Bowl. When they host the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday, it will mark New England's sixth consecutive AFC title game and 13th overall.
It's become routine for players like wide receiver Danny Amendola and cornerback Malcolm Butler, who've made it at least this far in each of their seasons with the Patriots. But they don't appear to be taking that good fortune for granted.
"It means a lot," said Butler, who made the memorable interception as a rookie in Super Bowl XLIX. "I had an opportunity to learn from one [on the field last year] and sit back and observe one [in 2014]. So, I got both sides. I'm blessed to have the opportunity to be here with a great organization, but none of that matters. Everything that matters comes down to Sunday… You've got to raise the level of play. It's the playoffs."
"I don't feel like it's any different, honestly," Amendola remarked. "Every [playoff] game is the highest stakes, and every play is meaningful. It's the same this week as it was last week.
"These coaches do a good job of getting guys in position to make plays and be successful. We have a lot of good football players in this room. We're focused today on getting better today, and tomorrow's another day."
Wide receiver Michael Floyd is relatively new to the Patriots – he arrived in mid-December – but has championship game experience, having played in the NFC title tilt last season with Arizona.
"It's just a big game, you know," he said about this year's AFC Championship. "It's the game before the big one. This is the most important one [right now]. All of our attention needs to be on the Steelers."
Other veterans, like DE Chris Long, had never played in a playoff game until last weekend. For him, the AFC Championship will be a new experience, and he's eager to help his organization add to its history while making some of his own.
"I can't get too wrapped up in that. I have to pay attention this week… I wasn't a part of that stuff. I'm in the moment."
Running back Dion Lewis, also an AFCC newbie, isn't keen on dwelling on the team's past success this week.
"The past is the past. …Right now, I'm just focused on the Steelers and preparing as well as I can. We've got a lot of work to do this week. I'm looking forward to it."
"We do a great job," added Amendola, "of preparing together and studying together and working together throughout the day and going out on the practice field and stacking those good days up. Hopefully it leads to getting a win on Sunday."
The Patriots and Steelers are no strangers to one another, having just faced each other earlier this season and several times in the postseason over the years. No player is more familiar with Pittsburgh, though, than RB LeGarrette Blount, who spent most of the 2014 season with the Steelers before re-joining the Patriots for their Super Bowl stretch run.
Blount's parting with Pittsburgh was less than amicable, so, he was asked Wednesday if seeing the Steelers again this Sunday carries any additional weight for him.
"No," he maintained. "I'm just going to go out there and play just like I play everybody else. It's more about us than them… It's one step closer to the main goal for every team in this league. We'll just pin our ears back and go to work."
He did admit, however, that while with Pittsburgh, he developed a close relationship with Steelers ball carrier Le'Veon Bell.
"Le'Veon is playing amazing. Better than any back in this league," Blount declared, adding that he remains friends with his on-field foe.
"This game is limited and you never know when it's over. Friendships last forever," Blount explained. "He's one of the guys I'll continue to talk to for a really, really long time."
Blount was back on the practice field today after sitting out two days last week with an illness.
"I'm good," he told reporters before today's full-pads workout in rainy, raw conditions. Blount and every other member of the 53-man active roster suited up, at least on a limited basis, on Wednesday.
Only two players were absent, both of them from the practice squad: rookie fullback Glenn Gronkowski and rookie defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton. Practice squad players are not subject to listing on the injury report, so, we might not learn why either player was not out there today.