The Patriots finished off their Thanksgiving week on Friday with their last practice as they locked in on traveling to Houston to take on the Texans. Now that we're officially on to the most important part of the regular season, Tom Brady understands how important it is to start playing your best football.
"This is an important time of year for every team and the teams that are fortunate enough to really still be in it," said Brady. "This is the time where you've pretty much seen what you can do and what the other teams can do and the roles guys play and so forth. So, we've got to – we're playing some really good teams, and this is the one that matters the most is the one that we've got ahead of us."
Julian Edelman, who has fought through multiple injuries on track for the best season of his career, was his usual business-like self in the locker room after Friday's practice. Edelman is on pace for 110 receptions this season, which would surpass his career high set in 2013 of 105.
"It's a conference game against a really good opponent who we seem to play like every year," said Edelman. "It's very important."
The Patriots have faced the Texans five times in the last four seasons, including once in the playoffs. Despite being in different divisions, the teams are well familiar with each other both on and off the field.
There's no question Brady and Edelman are the two biggest offensive pieces for the Patriots, just as Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins are for the Texans. Brady was impressed with Watson after getting to know him during 2018's joint training camp practices between the two teams in West Virginia.
"Watching him play in college, he's spectacular, and he's off to a great start in his pro career," said Brady. "So, really love watching him play. He's a great leader for their team and he's hard to stop. He's got a great arm, escapes. They have a lot of playmakers, so it's a very good offense."
Edelman had similar feelings about Hopkins. When told by Mike Giardi of NFL Network that Hopkins had studied Edelman's work after the catch to improve his own game, Edelman was flattered.
"It's pretty cool," said Edelman. "He's a hell of a football player. We've hung out a couple times here and there in the offseason. I've seen him around. Nothing but respect for him. He's a cool dude and he's an unbelievable football player. He's not a 99 for no reason in Madden. He's a stud. Fortunately, I don't play him, I play against the defensive backs and the defense. That's where my focus is. But that's very flattering and pretty cool."
"He always has a knack for getting the extra four or five yards," said Hopkins of Edelman. "He's one of my favorite receivers in the NFL because of that. Because he keeps the chains moving."
The last two matchups between the teams have been close. Despite the overall dominance of the Patriots in the win column everyone is expecting a hard-fought conference battle that will have playoff implications.
"We've struggled against the Patriots in past years, but this is a different year," said Texans head coach Bill O'Brien. "Every year's different. Our team's different, their team's a little bit different, and we just have to go out there on Sunday night and we've got to play a clean game. We've got to play hard, we've got to be competitive for 60 minutes and see what happens."
Tom Brady threw some mutual respect back at his former offensive coordinator.
"It's a great football team, well-coached, very good on offense, very good on defense," said Brady. "They don't beat themselves, they're explosive. It's just a great football team. So, big challenge for us, Sunday Night Football. I'm sure they're going to give us everything they've got, and hopefully we can go match it."
Forbath joins Patriots after Folk surgery
The team officially signed kicker Kai Forbath after Nick Folk underwent surgery on Thursday to remove his appendix. Folk was released in a corresponding move to open a roster spot. With a short recovery time expected, Folk could be a candidate to return to the team, but Forbath would seem to have a chance to keep the job should he perform well in Houston this weekend. It should be favorable kicking conditions.
Forbath will make the fourth kicker this season after Stephen Gostkowski, Mike Nugent and Folk. He's seen time with four different times with his most recent action coming for Jacksonville last season, where he played three games and made four-of-five kicks with the one miss coming on a 50-plus attempt. He was perfect inside of 50 and made all three of the extra points he attempted.
The Patriots got some welcome returnees at the final practice of the week, which had a unique college fight song soundtrack playing over the loud speakers. While Dont'a Hightower and Isaiah Wynn were back on the field, Kyle Van Noy was a new absence and Ryan Izzo remained the last man knocked out by the illness that went through the locker room earlier this week.
Locker Room Sound Bites
Bill Belichick on how long snapper Joe Cardona and rookie punter Jake Bailey have handled having multiple placekickers this season"
"Yeah, they've been great. Joe's got a lot of leadership, obviously ,and more experience, but Jake's mature beyond his years. He's handled everything as well or better than I could imagine anybody at his age and his experience level handling it, from the punts to the field goals to the holding to the kickoffs. He's done a great job for us. They've both played great."