Patriots

Brady (thigh) understands sometimes he has to miss practice to stay fresh

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Brady (thigh) understands sometimes he has to miss practice to stay fresh

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady was not spotted at Patriots practice on Wednesday. Nor was he out on the fields behind Gillette Stadium last Wednesday. 

The hit Brady absorbed to his right knee back in Week 10, when Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor drilled him low, continues to be a factor for the 39-year-old MVP candidate. 

His attendance at and his participation in practice have been somewhat sporadic since the Chancellor shot: He was not on the injury report in the days following the hit, but during Week 12 he missed two practices and was limited in a third with a knee issue; in Week 13 he missed one practice and was limited in the next two; in Weeks 14 and 15, he participated in practice fully and was not listed on the injury report at all; in Week 16, he was back on the injury report -- this time with a thigh issue -- and was limited in his reps for the final two weeks of the regular season. 

Brady was asked on Thursday about the challenge of playing well on game days when his on-the-field work leading up to those games is not quite as intensive, or as frequent, as he'd like it to be.

"You always want to feel great on Sunday," Brady said. "You’d always like to practice every day, too. I think just some weeks it’s about prioritization. I’d like to do everything all the time, but sometimes that’s not possible.

"Practice is pretty demanding. Our practices certainly are, so sometimes if you practice it might set you back a little more than you would want. But everyone is dealing with different things and I think as a player you just have to try to be smart. You obviously want to practice because you want to be prepared to play, but sometimes if you overdo it, you’re not feeling as good as you want to on Sunday when you are playing.

"I think after 17 years I’ve got a pretty good balance for those things. I’m the type of person who likes to practice a lot. I’ve also been around long enough to know you’ve got to be smart too, so it’s just trying to find that right balance."

The Patriots are in a pretty good place at the moment in that they have three quarterbacks on the roster so when Brady needs a day off, Jimmy Garoppolo can fill in with the offensive starters while Jacoby Brissett takes the scout-team reps. 

Garoppolo's ability to give receivers, backs and tight ends a good look in practice, combined with Brady getting the rest he needs, has done wonders for the Patriots offense. From Week 12 on, the team went 6-0 and averaged 28.3 points per game. 

Rex Burkhead, David Harris in uniform for Patriots vs. Falcons

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Rex Burkhead, David Harris in uniform for Patriots vs. Falcons

FOXBORO -- The Patriots went into Sunday night's game with only three corners available to them, and even one of those was questionable. Pitted against a Falcons attack that features the reigning MVP and one of the most physically-gifted receivers to ever play, that felt like a problem. 

It still might be, but that one questionable corner -- Johnson Bademosi (abdomen) -- will be in uniform to help thwart Julio Jones and Co. Patriots tight end Jacob Hollister (questionable with a chest injury) is also active and in uniform. 

The Patriots ruled out three players in the days leading up to the game: corners Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe and defensive end Harvey Langi. Joining them as inactive on Sunday night at Elandon Roberts (ankle), Geneo Grissom (healthy scratch), Cam Fleming (healthy scratch) and Cole Croston (healthy scratch). 

Running back Rex Burkhead will be available to the Patriots for the first time since Week 2 when he injured his ribs against the Saints. Though he's only seen a very limited number of snaps this season, when he was on the field through the first two weeks he was heavily involved. He's seen just 18 offensive snaps, but he's carried the ball five times and he's been targeted seven times in the passing game. 

Also in uniform will be veteran linebacker David Harris. He's played just seven snaps this season, but with Roberts out, maybe this is the week when he sees more playing time. He should slot in behind Kyle Van Noy and Dont'a Hightower as New England's off-the-ball 'backers. 

AFC: Steelers shut down Bengals to pull away for 29-14 win

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AFC: Steelers shut down Bengals to pull away for 29-14 win

PITTSBURGH - Ben Roethlisberger threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns, Le'Veon Bell added 192 total yards and Pittsburgh's defense dominated the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half of a 29-14 victory on Sunday.

The Steelers (5-2) relied on their stars to take the lead and then on their reinvigorated defense to blunt Cincinnati's and give themselves a significant cushion over the rest of the underwhelming AFC North.

The Bengals (2-4) came in looking to add some street cred to their resurgence after their 0-3 start, but instead spent the second half reverting to the kind of ineffective offense that got Ken Zampese fired two weeks into the season. The Steelers picked off Andy Dalton twice and sacked him three times over the final two quarters to pull away.

Chris Boswell added five field goals for Pittsburgh, which posted its highest points total and appears to be rounding into form as Halloween nears.

Two weeks after openly questioning whether he still "had it," Roethlisberger put together easily his best half of the season. He hit Antonio Brown for a 7-yard touchdown to cap Pittsburgh's first drive, found a wide-open JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 31-yard score in the second quarter and threw a perfectly placed 23-yard deep out to Brown late in the second quarter to spark a drive that ended with a 24-yard Chris Boswell field goal that put the Steelers up 20-14 at the half.

Dalton and Cincinnati appeared ready to keep pace early. He connected with Brandon LaFell and Tyler Kroft with first-half touchdowns, but when the Steelers turned the pressure up, the Bengals crumbled while losing for the eighth time in their last nine meets with their longtime nemesis.

Cincinnati managed just one first down in the second half, much of which Dalton spent on the run or throwing picks. Joe Haden collected his first interception with Pittsburgh when he made a juggling grab that set up Boswell's field goal. William Gay added one later in the third quarter on an ugly overthrow by Dalton.

Dalton finished 17 of 30 for 144 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Bengals had just 19 yards of total offense in the second half. Given one last desperate shot to get back in it with 5 minutes left trailing by 15, Dalton threw the ball away on fourth down, a microcosm of a forgettable afternoon.

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