Patriots

Thursday's Patriots-Texans practice report: Gronk participates, Cannon does not

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Thursday's Patriots-Texans practice report: Gronk participates, Cannon does not

FOXBORO -- There was good news and bad news for the Patriots on Thursday's injury report.

The good? Rob Gronkowski ratcheted up his participation in practice from Wednesday to Thursday and was listed as a "limited" participant. On Wednesday, though he was spotted on the field and participating in some drills, he was listed as a non-participant. 

The bad? Marcus Cannon was on the field to start the session, but he was later listed as a non-participant as he deals with an ankle issue and a concussion.

Also on the not-so-good news front for Bill Belichick's club: Rex Burkhead (ribs) did not participate for the second-straight day, throwing his availability into doubt for Sunday; defensive tackle Vincent Valentine (knee) was also held out of practice. 

On the Texans' end of things, it's worth keeping an eye on the status of their corners Kevin Johnson and Jonathan Joseph. Johnson didn't participate due to a knee issue, and Joseph was limited with a shoulder injury. 

Thursday's practice participation/injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Texans game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle/concussion)
DT Vincent Valentine (knee)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
WR Danny Amendola (concussion/knee)
WR Phillip Dorsett (knee)
CB Stephon Gilmore (groin)
TE Rob Gronkowski (groin)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
WR Chris Hogan (knee)
LB Elandon Roberts (thumb)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)
WR Matthew Slater (hamstring)

HOUSTON TEXANS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
G Jeff Allen (ankle)
CB Kevin Johnson (knee)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
RB Alfred Blue (ankle)
NT Brandon Dunn (knee)
WR Will Fuller V (shoulder)
CB Jonathan Joseph (shoulder)
G Xavier Su'a-Filo (knee)
DE J.J. Watt (finger)

FULL PARTICIPATION
TE Stephen Anderson (concussion)
CB Marcus Burley (knee)
T Chris Clark (wrist)
WR Bruce Ellington (concussion)
TE Ryan Griffin (concussion)

With Hogan down, what's next for Patriots at receiver?

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With Hogan down, what's next for Patriots at receiver?

The Patriots have been dealt yet another blow on the injury front, it appears. 

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Chris Hogan is not expected to play against the Steelers on Sunday afternoon. Hogan made the trip to Pittsburgh, but he's still dealing with a shoulder injury that kept him out for four games following the bye week. 

Hogan returned to action on Monday night against the Dolphins and was targeted five times, catching one for one yard. He played 55 snaps, taking over the No. 2 receiver role and keeping Phillip Dorsett (zero snaps versus Miami) on the sidelines. 

For the Patriots, not having Hogan against the Steelers stings because he had nine catches for 180 yards and two scores in the AFC title game in January. 

What do the Patriots do if Hogan can't go? The answers shouldn't be all that hard to find. They just spent a month without him. But the acquisition of Kenny Britt, which went down earlier in the week, complicates things a tad. 

From Weeks 10 through 13, Dorsett played an average of 42 snaps -- second only to Brandin Cooks at his position. But for all the work Dorsett saw, Brady threw only three passes his way in four weeks. 

Asking Britt to take on a heavy workload would be asking a lot. The Patriots practiced with Britt three times this week, but one was a walkthrough. The team did as much as it could to get Britt caught up on the week's game plan, but how he works with Brady and the rest of the offense in a game situation remains to be seen. 

The Britt situation, in some situations, mirrors what went on with Michael Floyd and the Patriots last season. Floyd was claimed off of waivers on Dec. 15 last year. He played nine days later against the Jets and caught one of two targets for six yards. 

It's not out of the realm of possibility that Britt is able to play and see extensive action against the Steelers five days after being signed, but he would've blown the Floyd timeline out of the water. 

Though he doesn't have the familiarity with the offense that Dorsett does, Britt's size and physicality could make him an immediate option against a secondary that has openly admitted this week it plans to get its hands on Patriots pass-catchers. He's a more viable option in that kind of game than someone like Dorsett, who relies on his speed more so than his ability to win battles at the line of scrimmage. 

The Patriots should feast on Steelers linebackers in coverage in this game with running backs Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and James White. Rob Gronkowski will also be a focal point as he returns off of his one-week suspension.

With Hogan out, now maybe Britt can get into the mix as well.  

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Curran: Pats and Steelers a study in contrasts . . . and we should be grateful

Curran: Pats and Steelers a study in contrasts . . . and we should be grateful

PITTSBURGH --- Mike Tomlin started embracing the "elephant" s on November 27.

Foreplay with the pachyderm can finally cease. The Patriots and Steelers get after it this afternoon. This is the Game of the Year in the AFC. Maybe the NFL.

While Tomlin started hyping the Patriots game 21 days ago, the Patriots didn’t breathe a word about it until this week. And that only came after a Monday night loss in Miami that raised the stakes for this game into a do-or-die for the Patriots in terms of getting the No. 1 seed.

PATRIOTS VS. STEELERS

That whiff of vulnerability that descends after every Patriots loss was in the air this week. Segments of the fanbase react like the worst kinds of hypochondriacs -- perfectly fit but thinking every day that every twinge means an aneurysm is near.

But on Saturday, the 40-year-old quarterback did for New England what he’s been doing since 2001. Put his hand on its shoulder and said, “LFG.” 

Thank God for Tomlin. As much as we lampooned his giddy embrace of this matchup, he got the hype train out of the station and the tub-thumping since has made this the most anticipated Patriots game since February.

While we’re at it, thank God for the Steelers. For Big Sloppy Ben, for Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and the detestable James Harrison. Without them, the Patriots would be completely without a foil in this league.

Think about it. The NFL is Rex-less. Peyton’s long gone, the Colts are dead, the Broncos are also dead, the Ravens are washed, Eli’s on his last legs for a two-win team.

The Steelers are the only ones out there, picking up a rock and fitting it in a slingshot for the rest of the conference, the rest of the league.

Take it a little further: Thank God for the Steelers as an organization. They serve as an AFC measuring stick for the Patriots. They won back-to-back Super Bowls twice in the 1970s and have won six Lombardis overall. While there’s no arguing which franchise has been better since the 1990s, you can have a spirited talk about whether the Patriots have yet supplanted the Steelers in overall historical resume. You want 45 years of really good with spikes of being the best, as Pittsburgh’s had? Or 40 years of not-so-good with spikes of real good and then a 17-year stretch like no team’s ever had?

These Steelers and Patriots have nothing in common when it comes to the way they do things. The coaches are polar opposites. The quarterbacks are nothing alike. The Steelers defense flies around with the same danger and disorganization of a wasp attack. Playing the Patriots defense is like punching a snowbank for three hours. Everything about the Patriots offense is based on timing and precision. The Steelers have an air of winging it when they have the ball, whether it’s Bell hanging out in the backfield after the snap until a crease opens or Roethlisberger waiting to restart a play while Brown skips through the opposing secondary.

The Steelers always talk a big game. The Patriots say next to nothing.

As consumers, we all love the talking and the hype because it ratchets up the drama. But as football observers based in New England, we’ve come to believe that talking beforehand is like giving your own eulogy.

But a lot of what Mike Tomlin said you can agree with even if you’re only on your couch today. You will remember this game, as opposed to the succession of beatdowns over the procession of also-rans the Patriots seasons sometimes become.

"It's good to be in the kitchen,” said Tomlin this week. “The kitchen's in Pittsburgh, PA, this week in the National Football League, and at Heinz Field. That's where you want to be in the middle of December. We don't take it for granted."

And neither should we.

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