Patriots

Pats finally moving forward

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Pats finally moving forward

I wanted to write a little more about Tim Tebow this morning, but thats on hold because, well, Tebow wasnt the story yesterday in Denver.

The bigger news? The Patriots improved.

After back-to-back weeks spent running in place against the Colts and Redskins two of the least satisfying victories in recent memory the Pats strung together a performance that they can build on. That we can build on. That, for the first time in a while, has injected some much needed excitement and optimism into the NFL season.

Of course, the first few drives were concerning. Watching the Broncos running game dice the Pats 'D' like Sam Hurd carving up a kilo of coke, it was troubling. It's during stretches like that, which are a relatively familiar to this team, when we question if anything is possible. When all our insecurities about this defense are exposed. When we start to panic.

And that was certainly the case yesterday. It's hard to erase the memory of how the Patriots 'D' looked on those first few drives. The same way it's hard to forget the image of Roy Helu having his way in Washington or repeated bombs from Orlovsky to Garcon and Young to DeSean Jackson. Even with yesterday's victory, there exists legitimate concerns about this defense especially with the Andre Carter going down and this team.

But at the same time, given yesterday's impressive win against a tough team in an imposing atmosphere, there's no reason to put any restrictions on what the Pats can accomplish.

Why can't they reach the Super Bowl? They don't have to be the best team in Patriots history. They just have to be the best team in this AFC, a conference that features exactly zero dominant squads.

The Broncos are clearly beatable, regardless of where the game is played.

The Ravens are inconsistent and have only won two games on the road all season (at Cleveland and at St. Louis -- yikes).

The Jets have never been more dysfunctional under Rex Ryan, and that's saying something.

The Texans are finally living proof of a season's worth of awful luck.

The Steelers are still going strong, but Big Ben's hurt again. (Allegedly.)

I'm not saying that the Pats are perfect, obviously. Just that no one is. And if the Steelers lose tonight, at San Francisco (10-3), the Pats will be on the fast track to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. What more can we ask for? If that's not enough, what is?

As we learned the last two seasons, home field advantage isn't everything. But it sure beats the alternative. It still makes New England the favorites. And while New Orleans and Green Bay might present a greater challenge on the other side, we know (See: February 3, 2002 and February 3, 2008) that when is comes down to one game, anything actually is possible.

Likely? Maybe not. But after yesterday's performance in Denver, for the first time in a long time, the Patriots gave us legitimate reason to believe.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Gronkowski advises Hayward to treat rehab like anything else -- dominate

Gronkowski advises Hayward to treat rehab like anything else -- dominate

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski's never suffered a break like the one Gordon Hayward did on Tuesday night, but he has been through enough to know what lies ahead as the Celtics forward stares at a lengthy recovery period.

"I saw it. I mean, I wish him nothing but wellness," Gronkowski said on Wednesday. "Hopefully he heals ASAP. You never want to see that with a player in any sport. When my friend showed me that last night, you get that feeling in your body, like, your heart drops. I wish him well.

"I can't wait to see him back. I know he's going to bounce back. Being here in Boston, he's going to be a hard worker it feels like. I can't wait to see him back."

MORE: 

Multiple back surgeries, a plate in his arm, a surgically-repaired ACL . . . Gronkowski has put in his share of rehabilitation work. Asked if he'd give Hayward any advice as he embarks on his road back to normalcy, Gronkowski's message was simple.

"Just go into rehab just like you go into anything else. Dominate it," Gronkowski said. "Come back when you feel ready. Come back when you're 100 percent . . . He wouldn't be where he is now if he wasn't a hard worker. I don't know the guy. Never met him. But it's not something you want to see as an athlete happen to anyone else."

Gronkowski acknowledged that in his experience, one of the biggest hurdles following an injury like that is the mental one. You quickly go from being a powerful athlete to a patient in need of help with even the smallest of tasks. 

"There is a big mental challenge, definitely, with that," Gronkowski explained. "It's not just not being able to be with your teammates and all that. It's outside of football, too. Because it takes away your whole life, going out like that . . . You can't do anything. You can't walk. You gotta have people do [things for you]. You get really frustrated. You just want the people around you to help you out and keep you in the best mindset throughout the whole process."

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Patriots-Falcons practice report: Gilmore, Rowe absent; Hogan added

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Patriots-Falcons practice report: Gilmore, Rowe absent; Hogan added

FOXBORO -- Chris Hogan only had one catch for 19 yards against the Jets. He very nearly had a second grab in the second quarter, but Tom Brady's throw was off the mark, and Hogan's ribs were exposed for rookie safety Marcus Maye to hammer. The pass fell incomplete and Hogan crumpled to the turf. 

He didn't leave the game, but Hogan did end up on Wednesday's injury report as a limited participant in practice due to a ribs injury. He was one of three players added to this week's injury report. Linebacker Elandon Roberts has an ankle injury and did not participate in Wednesday's workout. Guard Shaq Mason has a shoulder issue and was limited. 

Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore, neither of whom were spotted at the start of the session, did not participate.

Here's Wednesday's full practice participation/injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Falcons game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
CB Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle)
LB Harvey Langi (back)
LB Elandon Roberts (ankle)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
WR Chris Hogan (ribs)
G Shaq Mason (shoulder)

ATLANTA FALCONS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
K Matt Bryant (back)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
OLB Vic Beasley Jr. (hamstring)
LB Jermaine Grace (hamstring)
LB Deion Jones (quadricep)
DE Takk McKinley (shoulder)
LB Duke Riley (knee)
WR Mohamed Sanu (hamstring)
DL Courtney Upshaw (ankle/knee)