Head coach Bill Belichickhas talked often of late about the need to "self-scout" during the bye week period. This year, that's especially helpful, as New England's week off comes this weekend, nearly at the midpoint of the season.
Belichick explained that the process his team goes through is akin to the kind of evaluation he and his staff perform on their opponents: watching film, analyzing tendencies, studying individual players, etc.
"It gives you a little chance to look at yourself and look in the mirror and see what you're doing," he said Thursday, "but at the same time [we're] getting ready for Miami and there are going to be certain things that you're going to want to do against Miami, whether you've shown a lot of them or haven't shown a lot of them. That's going to be part of the game plan or the attack against our next opponent.
"It's good to know where you are even if you decide to stay with a tendency. At least you are conscious of what it is and that's what you're doing."
As a player, however, the process may be a little different, but they still take some time to take stock of where they are as individuals and as a unit.
"We're coming along, we're making strides," WR Wes Welkersaid when asked to offer his assessment of the current state of the Pats offense.
"We're improving, and that's the ultimate goal. We're starting to get there. There are a lot of things we need to improve on and get better at, but we're headed in the right direction. We just need to continue that. Our passing game has definitely improved. A lot of our areas have improved and need to continue to improve."
Good news for the Pats is that, under Belichick, they've traditionally been a strong team in the second half of the season. The reason?
"Emphasis," RB Kevin Faulkoffered. "It's a stressing point, that this is the time of the season when the good teams break away from the pack. We have to come together and play as one."
"The conditions get a little bit worse," added Welker, "and I think we're used to those conditions. Coach prepares us well for what we're going to play in and we're able to adapt and practice in it and be ready when the games come along."
New England's November stretch is particularly tough this season, with three road, primetime games against the currently undefeated Colts and Saints, plus division rival Miami.
"Yeah, obviously, there are some great teams, and that's the way it is week in and week out, especially this next month," said Welker. "We have to stay on top of our game and make sure we're hitting on all cylinders."
In the meantime, after today's practice and normal Thursday routine, the Patriots will have the next three days to themselves before getting back to work to prepare for their Miami, which comes to Foxborough next Sunday.
"We hope we have a good practice today and make sure that we don't have one foot in the parking lot or anything like that," Welker told reporters. "But I'm definitely looking forward to getting a few days to see the family back home."
Some players, like Welker, will head back home – in his case, to Oklahoma – to visit with family and friends. Others, like Faulk, will remain in the New England area.
Either way, they probably won't be watching a whole lot of football during their time off, with perhaps one exception.
"I'll be watching the Miami Dolphins, I'll tell you that much," Faulk promised.
Thursday locker room/practice notes
For the second day in a row, a skeleton crew of the Patriots roster practiced on the game field of the Gillette Stadium bowl. Today, 13 players didn't take part in the session, presumably to give them some extra time to recuperate from any lingering bumps and bruises.
The list of absentees is as follows: rookie WR Julian Edelman, RBs Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney, and Sammy Morris, CB Shawn Springs, LBs Jerod Mayoand Junior Seau, LT Matt Light, NT Vince Wilfork, WR Randy Moss, and DLs Ty Warren, rookie Myron Pryor, and Jarvis Green.
The Patriots wore full pads at practice, the last time they'll be on the field together until next Tuesday.