For the Patriots, the suspense is over.
Last week, they had the luxury of practicing without having to game-plan for an opponent before enjoying a long weekend of rest while eight other playoff teams battled it out over the past two days. When the Houston Texans lost to the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday evening, the Patriots had to wait until Sunday afternoon to learn if they’d face either the Baltimore Ravens or Los Angeles Chargers.
Now, New England knows they’ll host the Chargers this coming Sunday at Gillette Stadium, and players here in Foxborough sounded anxious to get back to work.
“For sure. We come back off the bye energized, you know, ready to go and put our best foot forward,” cornerback Stephon Gilmore said late Monday afternoon.
“Yeah, that bye week is much-needed rest,” remarked wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, “but the guys are ready to get back to it. I know for a fact this team can’t wait to get out there and start game-planning. You can’t make it too big, bigger than what it is, but I felt like every guy got a chance to relax. Once we knew who we were playing, everyone got excited.”
To a man, the Patriots pointed out that Los Angeles is a tough, talented team that developed a knack for finding ways to win on the road this season. This could be especially consequential, the players here noted, because three of the four Wild Card winners did so on the road.
“We understand,” defensive end Trey Flowers maintained, “that a lot of teams have lost at home. You saw it with the games this past weekend. You can’t just hang your hat on home-field advantage. We have to prepare well in practice and execute on Sunday. It’s good that we are home and we deserved the right to be home, but it’s all about execution on Sunday.”
“It’s a great challenge. Good football team,” declared safety Duron Harmon. “Obviously, they’re tied for the best record in the AFC. They were able to win on the road as well, so, it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
If there is a home-field advantage for New England, it could be Mother Nature. Early weather forecasts are predicting some sort of precipitation in the form of snow for Sunday’s game.
“At this time, there’s always going to be some impact with the weather,” Harmon continued. “I mean, we’re in New England, there’s always a chance of snow, wind, being cold. At the end of the day, we’ve got to try to block those things out. Good thing is we get to practice in it. Hopefully, it’ll help us prepare.”
“We’ve been waiting for a snow game,” added Dorsett. “It’s fun. Whatever we get, we’ll be ready to play. In the playoffs, it really doesn’t matter. Three of the teams that had home-field advantage [in the Wild Card Round] lost. The only thing that’s important is how you play on Sunday. We know that and we’ve got to play a complete game.”
Those forecasts could change, of course, as kickoff is still several days away. In the meantime, what won’t change is the emphasis the Patriots can now place on their next opponent.
“It’s definitely a greater focus, greater intensity… I guess you could say the atmosphere kind of shifted,” Flowers concluded. “We’ve got to turn up the notch a little more.”