There's a natural human tendency to take things for granted. It's so easy to do, which is why it's often very difficult to resist that urge.
Take this week for example. Many NFL observers expect the Patriots to improve to 8-0 after they dispose of their next opponent, the Washington Redskins. Odds makers have New England as a favorite to win by two touchdowns. And they very well might do that, but it will be because they are better prepared and more talented, not simply because they'll just show up to work that day and the 'Skins will acquiesce.
That's how the Patriots say they're approaching this week. Like it's any other week. Like Washington is the toughest opponent on the schedule, precisely because they're the next opponent on the schedule. The Patriots are masters at not taking their superiority for granted, which is how, in part, they've maintained their dominance over most of the NFL for so long. They tell themselves over and over that no foe should be underestimated.
"As an offense, [Washington's] presenting a lot of problems," said d-lineman Alan Branch this week. "It's a solid team and we're not looking past them by any means. As a run stuffer, I have to put my tennis shoes on and get on that bike because they're going to get us stretched to the sideline with three [running] backs that are all really good. We have a lot on our table right now. They're definitely underrated.
"[Running back Alfred] Morris, I don't know how he flies under the radar, and [QB Kirk] Cousins, he's been competing for that position since he's been in the league. He's a good player. He's been playing some good ball. For anybody to say this is a team we can look past, that's definitely wrong."
To a man, the Patriots say this to anyone who will ask. And they appear to believe it. Why?
"Because it's the NFL. Everybody has good players. Everybody can play," declared safety Duron Harmon. "Most games are close games. It's not like everyone's getting blown out. Every game is competitive. The minute you go out there underestimating an opponent, that's when you get beat."
"You never can overlook anybody," stressed cornerback Malcolm Butler. "Any player, any position, any team. You have to go out there and play lights-out. Winning record, losing record, you just have to play 100 percent. [The Redskins are a] good team, good receivers. A couple of weapons on the outside. A couple running backs that can get outside, catch the ball. It's a good test we'll have to take on."
Washington gets a boost this week with the return of star wideout DeSean Jackson from a hamstring injury suffered in Week 1. Butler recalled facing Jackson last summer during joint training camp practices with the 'Skins down in Richmond, Va.
"Yeah. I asked to go against him. You know, that didn't go too well," Butler chuckled, "so, you have to be careful what you do.
"He's a very good deep threat. Pure speed, can stop on a dime. I've been a fan of him since way before I even got here. A lot of respect for that guy. He just got back, so, I know he'll be excited to get out there. It's a lot to prepare for.
"Every team in the NLF is good," added Butler. "So, you have to play hard every game, every snap."
Taking Gronk to (the) court
Washington head coach Jay Gruden was asked about defending All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski this week, and Gruden employed an NBA analogy in his response.
"Rob Gronkowski, he's like a great basketball player: Steph Curry, LeBron James. He's going to get his points. You've just got to make sure they don't kill you. We've just got to try to limit his big plays and when he does get the ball we get some people around him and try to force some turnovers."
Gronkowski was informed of Gruden's comments on Thursday and seemed honored by the compliment.
"Dang! So, I got a three-point shot, and I got quickness, and I got power? I'll take that," Gronkowski smiled. "I'll take the Steph Curry-LeBron combined. I was the No. 1 dunker in high school. Packed the house. Had to throw my jams down every game."
As was the case on Tuesday and Wednesday, only three Patriots were not present at practice due to injury: DE Jabaal Sheard (ankle), OL Marcus Cannon (toe), and rookie OL Tre Jackson (left knee). WR Julian Edelman, who cropped up yesterday with a knee injury, was not wearing any braces or wrapping when he went out to practice and was seen in the locker room afterward. He took part on a limited basis the past two days.
Harmon was not on the field, either, but it was believed to be for non-injury reasons. He was reportedly excused to be with his family for the birth of his second child.