Four days off in a row, in the middle of an NFL season, is a rare treat – something the Patriots just enjoyed during their Week 11 bye. Whenever they appear on the schedule, bye weeks are a welcome time for teams to get away from football, heal any lingering aches and pains, and clear their minds for the remaining games on the slate.
Some players, like twin brothers Jason and Devin McCourty, took advantage of the extended break to get out of town. The McCourtys took their families to a lodge retreat for some rest and relaxation. Others, like rookie running back Sony Michel, balanced physical rest with mental conditioning and self-scouting.
However they spent the last four days, the Patriots came back to Gillette Stadium on Monday, refreshed in both body and mind, to start preparing for the final six weeks of the regular season. First up: a rivalry game on the road with an AFC East foe, the New York Jets.
“Back at it... Still got a lot more [football] left,” Michel told reporters. “Worked on certain things – my reads in the running game, blocking – Yeah, that’s what it’s all about.”
“You don’t usually get days where you’re not required to do any football,” Jason McCourty observed. “There was no game last week, so, there was no opponent to study. Now, you can get a head-start on watching Jets film. Got back home last night, turned on the game.”
With a 7-3 record, New England is in solid playoff position atop their division at the moment, but the Patriots went into their bye week having lost a lopsided affair to Tennessee in Nashville. With that most recent result on their minds, players aren’t taking any of their remaining six games lightly, because they know they can’t afford to do so.
"I think everyone’s intensity level goes up," special teams co-captain Matthew Slater remarked about playing in the NFL this time of year. "There’s a great sense of urgency for all the teams in the league for a variety of reasons. Certainly we’ve been fortunate to be in good position heading into Thanksgiving and we feel like we still have a lot to play for moving forward. Our focus, our intensity, everything needs to be dialed up a couple notches and every game is going to count that much more in the grand scheme of the season."
“First and foremost, every single game is important to us,” emphasized wide receiver Chris Hogan. “All of our focus is on the Jets this week. We’re going to try to work really hard throughout the week and put everything we have into every one of these games – try to play as good a football as we can and get everything clicking in all three phases.”
Right guard Shaq Mason is among the injured players hoping that this past weekend’s time off has done his body good. Mason, who suffered a calf injury at Buffalo at the end of October, has been held out of the past two games by the coaches and team’s medial staff.
“It’s tough,” he added about his forced hiatus over the past few weeks. “As a football player and competitor, you want to be out there with your guys. So, that’s been tough, but we had the bye and New York this week, so, I’m ready to get back on track.”
Monday, he declared that he intends to continue practicing, as he has done the past two weeks on a limited basis. When asked if he’ll be ready to move back into his spot on the o-line this weekend in New York, Mason replied, “I’m ready whenever they let me.”
Though they didn’t go out on the practice field today, with Thanksgiving coming this Thursday, the Patriots will be conducting a rare Tuesday practice to begin implementing their game plan for the Jets. They’ll take the field again Wednesday, get the holiday off, then come back for a Friday practice before heading to the Big Apple on Saturday.
“The Jets are a physical team,” added Hogan. “Going to MetLife [Stadium] is always a tough environment. Defensively, they’re playing really well. It’ll be a good challenge for us. We’re going to have to get to work and get to know these guys. I think everyone’s pretty excited coming off the bye, recharged and ready to get to work.”
That includes Michel. Even though his rookie season has been marred by knee injuries, the running back said he’s thankful that he’s been able to contribute in some way to New England’s success thus far, and believes the bye week has done him good.
“I feel better, feel strong. It’s all about finishing strong.”
With six games to go, that is without doubt New England’s objective.