The New England Patriots had to wait quite a while for their bye week to arrive, but it is finally here. Following their Monday night game in Buffalo, the Patriots’ players are now off from Thursday through Sunday.
Preparations for the upcoming Week 15 matchup with the Indianapolis Colts — another team currently on its bye — will not start until Monday but the Patriots still have set themselves some goals for their time away. They are pretty straight-forward: get healthy, get better, and don’t do anything stupid.
The first of those three was mentioned by team captain Matthew Slater during a press conference on Wednesday.
“Our guys have been going at it really hard and now is a good time for our team to try to get healthy a bit, get our legs underneath,” Slater said. “It’s important that we keep in mind what lies ahead. We’ve worked very hard to get to this point in the season; we’ve been through a lot; we’ve endured. But we’re nowhere near close to where we’d like to be.
“The most important games of the season, the most important times on the practice field, all that lies ahead of us. During this week, let’s keep this in mind, let’s do some self-scouting, and let’s try to put ourselves in a better position than we are now 10 days from now when it becomes time for us to compete again.”
The Patriots have had a successful but physically taxing 13-week stretch. Their injury report heading into the game in Buffalo was a reflection of that: eight players were listed as questionable to play.
All but one — rookie linebacker Ronnie Perkins (illness) — did suit up, but getting players back to full strength will still be key with the battles for the AFC East and the top playoff seed in the conference heating up. That is especially true given that New England suffered additional injuries during its 14-10 victory over the Bills.
Getting healthy is only one of the bye week goals, though. Another was pointed out by head coach Bill Belichick: be productive.
“Whenever the bye week comes, it comes,” he said. “Whatever time we have, whatever that is, at any point, is beneficial if we use it productively. If we don’t, then it’s not. Hopefully, whatever time we have, whether it’s a bye, not a bye, short week, long week, whatever it is, that we use the time productively, help ourselves, and help our team improve.”
Despite their 9-4 record and seven straight wins, the Patriots know that they still have a long way to go. Both Matthew Slater and Davon Godchaux said so on Wednesday, and Belichick’s statements fall into the same category.
Keeping the momentum going will be key, especially given the post-bye schedule: as noted above, the Patriots will take on the 7-6 Colts in Week 15. After their trip to Indianapolis, they will square off against the Buffalo Bills for a second time before closing out the regular season with games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins.
New England might have to run the table if it wants to keep the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
“That’s where our mind is right now, just getting ready for our next game, evaluating the past, but not looking too much into it, and then not worrying about the future, and just being where our feet are,” said quarterback Mac Jones.
Now on the first bye of his career, the youngster also relayed a message shared by the Patriots’ veteran leadership.
“The older guys have a great message: just don’t let anything in the bye week ruin something in the future,” he said. “Just go get your rest, enjoy your family, and stay safe. I think that’s what we’re going to do. That’s all you can ask for.”
The bye will see players leave the New England area, and Bill Belichick’s watchful eye, for an extended period of time for the first time since the start of training camp in July. Being smart, especially during a still ongoing pandemic will be equally important as getting healthy and using the time productively.
If the Patriots can achieve all of those goals, however, they should be in good shape heading into the final stretch of their season. And maybe this allows them to earn themselves another bye on wild card weekend.