It sure felt like a Friday afternoon.
Like most of us who work, Fridays are usually a bit more relaxed than the rest of the week, particularly as it gets close to closing time. The Patriots locker room was no exception.
The players who talked today seemed in generally high spirits, even when discussing the serious matter of Sunday's game against the 2-0 Atlanta Falcons.
"It's definitely a challenge. I mean, they have good receivers, a good quarterback, a running back, so, it'll be a good test," said LB Adalius Thomas. "They do a lot of things well. They do a lot of shifting, motioning. You have to be on top of your game as far as communication [on defense]."
Among the talented Falcons receivers, veteran Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez, who signed as a free agent with Atlanta this past offseason. Thomas said it's not surprising that Gonzalez, in his 13th NFL season, is still a potent weapon.
"No, it's not. He's one of the true professionals out there. You just try to contain him. He's one of those guys – veteran, very crafty, good blocker. They do a lot of different things with him, so, we just have to make sure we know where he is at all times."
The quarterback is last year's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Matt Ryan, the former Boston College star. A curious, if misguided, member of the media asked Thomas if he's found any weaknesses in Ryan's game that the Pats could exploit on Sunday.
"Yeah, I'm going to tell you about all those things. Come on, cut that out," Thomas replied with a smile and a chuckle, before getting serious. "I mean, he's a good quarterback. He's young, but he's very accurate. I haven't seen any weaknesses. If you find any when you watch tape, let me know."
As for Atlanta's bruising running back, Michael Turner, Thomas said, "He's just a good back. He's a load. He runs hard."
On the other side of the ball, New England's offense is hoping to find more balance, starting with the running game. In the first two games of the season, QB Tom Bradyhas thrown the ball 100 times, compared to less than 50 rushing attempts by the Patriots committee of backs.
"Yeah, anytime the defense can just sit there and go against one thing, it's easier on them and harder on us. We'd love to have that balance," guard Logan Mankinsagreed.
"We just feel that we have to do a lot of things better," added RB Laurence Maroney. "We've got to be more consistent."
With a forecast that's calling for showers throughout the day on Sunday, there could be a greater need than normal for the Patriots to run the ball. But the players, as you'd expect, wouldn't divulge if a more balanced attack is in the game plan for this week.
"You'd have to ask the coaches about that. They do all the game planning and come up with the plays. We're just peons who go out there and do what they tell us to do and try to do it good … We believe in Bill [Belichick] and what he and the rest of our coaches come up with."
But as was par for the course on this Friday, a reporter jokingly shot back, with mock surprise, "You mean, Bill doesn't consult you about the game plan?"
"Not lately," Mankins responded facetiously, without missing a beat, to the delight of the assembled crowd. "When I was a rookie, he would ask me a lot. But as I've gotten older, he's gotten away from that."
The answer drew huge laughs from the media, and Mankins couldn't help but join them.
Friday practice notes
LB Jerod Mayowas the only player absent from practice, and safety Matthew Slater shed his red, no-contact jersey for his normal blue practice shirt. The rest of the team was out on the field, in shells and sweat pants, under bright, blue skies and early autumn-like temperatures in Foxborough.