Temps dipped sharply Friday when the Patriots held their practice on the Gillette Stadium game field. There was sparkling sunshine, but a biting wind made it feel like well below freezing.
With tight end Rob Gronkowski (left forearm) now on injured reserve, every Patriots player on the active roster and practice squad was in attendance. The team has one spot open on the 53-man active roster. After practice, QB Tom Brady addressed the media for the second time this week. One member of the press corps wanted to know how the Patriots practiced this week. "It was perfect. Not one bad play," a smirking Brady replied, tongue firmly in cheek. He added, on a serious note, that he felt the team did have a good week of preparation.
Head coach Bill Belichick had some remarkable words of praise for special teams captain Matthew Slater earlier today. "Yeah, Matt has done a great job for us. He's taken that role…in my time here I've been very fortunate to have two outstanding, I mean exemplary, players at leadership positions on special teams with Larry Izzo and Matt Slater. I thought that really when we had Larry that that was, there'd never be another one like that, that that was so rare and Matt's different than Larry but I think in his own way equally effective. Matt's really, he's tremendous. His attitude, his work ethic, the example that he sets, the way he interacts with his teammates in a really good way. I don't know that a player could do anymore than what he's done for us in that role for the last several years, probably since after his second year. He's embraced his role on the team, he's been very good at it and he e makes other players around him better. I think that's a great compliment to him and the job he does. He's smart, he's well prepared, he works hard, he has good skill, good talent, he's tough, he's a good playmaker for us. I could go on about him all day. We're lucky to have him on this football team. He does a tremendous job for us."
Slater, as you might expect, offered a demure response. "First of all," he told reporters, "I'm no Larry Izzo." But he went on to offer his gratitude for the head coach's kind words.
Interesting comments from Ravens QB Joe Flacco today down in Baltimore. "[W]e feel like we are a great team and nobody can beat us. I think when you play with that kind of confidence, it definitely gives you a leg up just in case the other team isn't necessarily playing with that. I don't want to say they are not; I am sure that most of the time they are. But if anything, it may give you a little bit of an advantage just because in order to be successful in this league and really in anything, you have to have that confidence. Right now, we are walking around with a little bit of that."
Then there was this bit of philosophical perspective from Flacco. "[The AFC Championship] is a big stage, but there are things that are a lot bigger – things that matter a lot more than this. We play this game because we love it and have fun doing it, and we play to go win. We understand that we do everything in our power to go win that football game. There's no need to blow it out of proportion and get overwhelmed by that kind of thing. I think when you have that mindset, it is easy to go out there and stay calm and play in that moment."
Flacco also noted that his Ravens practiced indoors twice this week, having just gone back outside today. The Patriots, meanwhile, practiced outside in the wintry elements all week.
Honorary captains Kevin Faulk and Matt Light took a few questions from the media before practice, just like old times for the two players who retired after last season. They talked about what it feels like to be in this unfamiliar role. "I would like to say thank you to Mr. Kraft and the Patriot organization just for the opportunity and honor to be able to be the honorary captain for the AFC Championship game," Faulk began. "It's kind of different for me and I am pretty sure it's the same for Matt because we are used to being on the other side of these in the locker room preparing for the game. But… times have changed and we are on the other side of the fence preparing for it in a different way."
"As a guy that isn't the biggest sports fan off the field," Light remarked, "there is nobody that is going to be in this stadium that is going to be more fired up for this one than this guy right here."
The team announced Friday that 7-year-old Connecticut boy Matiwos Rumley will join Faulk and Light as an honorary captain for Sunday's AFC Championship Game against Baltimore. Rumley represented the Patriots in Atlanta last weekend, where he won the national Punt, Pass, and Kick competition for his 6/7-year-old age group.
UPDATE… 4:02 p.m.
Rookie DE Chandler Jones (ankle), the only player limited in practice yesterday, was upgraded to full participation today. He's listed as Probable for the AFC Championship Game, along with four other Patriots: RB Danny Woodhead (left thumb), CB Marquice Cole (left pinkie), OL Nick McDonald (right shoulder), and DE Trevor Scott (knee).
In Baltimore, CB Asa Jackson (thigh) has been ruled out. Four Ravens are Questionable: LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle/back), FB Vonta Leach (knee/ankle), RB Bernard Pierce (knee), and WR David Reed (thigh). Sixteen others are Probable with various injuries.