Patriots preparing for Mexico City altitude
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots (7-2) are trying to turn a challenge into an opportunity this week in Colorado.
Following Sunday night's 41-16 blowout of the Denver Broncos, New England set up camp in Colorado Springs and is practicing this week at the United States Air Force Academy in advance of Sunday's trip to Mexico City to take on the Raiders.
On one hand, consecutive road games at altitude -- Mexico City is actually a quarter mile higher than the Mile High City -- could be a challenge for a Patriots team that's tied a team record with 12 straight wins away from Foxborough.
And while they have struggled to date, the Raiders (4-5) were a popular pick as an AFC Super Bowl contender following last year's breakout season. They still have plenty of playmakers on offense, led by young passer Derek Carr.
But a week in Colorado also offers up the chance for a bonding experience for the defending champions, a chance for a mid-season coming together on the way toward what all involved hope is another postseason run with a new cast of characters.
It's far from a vacation but it's also far from a traditional work week, too.
"We talked about some of the other options, but again, this was the best one. I felt like this was the best one for us. We're happy to be here," head coach Bill Belichick said of working in Colorado and at the Air Force Academy. "They've been very accommodating for us. They've done a great job of trying to give us all of the things we need, whether that's facilities or the weight room, equipment and so forth.
"They've been great -- the entire coaching staff, the facility staff and so forth. Our main concern is just to really have a good week of preparation for the Raiders and everything else is good. We just need to focus on what we need to do, what we can control and be ready to go."
New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who has an aeronautical engineering degree from RPI, maintains that his focus is on preparing for Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and the rest of the Raiders weapons, even if his curiosity could be piqued by his surroundings this week.
"You know where my focus is going to be. I really hope what we get from being out here is a great week of work and preparing to play the Oakland Raiders. So that'll be my No. 1 concern," Patricia said, before acknowledging that it's not a normal work week.
"I might have an eye to the sky if I see a jet flying by that might be pretty cool for me right there. I love planes. It's one of my passions obviously with my degree and my background. Any time I can see a military plane flying around I tend to enjoy that. Hopefully, we'll get to see that. It's obviously a great place. We're very lucky to be here and appreciative of the Air Force Academy to have us and allow us to use their facility and everything and hopefully that'll help us get ready to beat a very good Oakland Raiders team. These guys are extremely tough and pose a lot of problems here offensively that we have to deal with."
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who spent a season-plus in the Rockies as the Broncos head coach, did admit there could be side benefits of the time away together.
"I think these weeks, it's just a great opportunity to be around each other a little bit more than we would normally be around one another," McDaniels said of potential team bonding. "You know, you're eating your meals together, you see each other in the hotel, you travel to and from practice together. Any of the guys that take the opportunity to do some of the things on their off day, again, it's just another opportunity to spend time with one another as teammates or as coaches and teammates, and these have always been great experiences for us.
"I think it's a great opportunity for us to just get ourselves focused on the tasks that we need to get focused on this week, which is a really good defensive football team, and get ourselves prepared to play our second game in a row on the road. So, a lot of good has come out of these trips in the past and we're looking forward to this week, also."
SERIES HISTORY: 32nd regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series, 16-14-1. New England and Oakland/L.A./soon-to-be Las Vegas have a history that dates back to the days of the AFL, when they met twice a year. More recently, New England has won five of the last six meanings in the Bill Belichick era, kicked off by the controversial Tuck Rule game in the 2001 postseason with Adam Vinatieri's famous field goal in the snow that kick-started the dynasty in Foxborough. The Patriots are 2-1 on the road against Oakland over the last decade-plus, the last two road meetings convincing New England wins 49-26 with Matt Cassel at quarterback in 2008 and 31-19 in 2011.
--Quarterback Tom Brady earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his impressive performance to beat the Broncos in Denver. Brady completed 25-of-34 passes for 266 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in his 86th career regular-season victory on the road, passing Peyton Manning for most in NFL history. It's Brady's 30th Player of the Week honor, most in history, his third of 2017.
--Running back Dion Lewis earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors, the first such award of his career, thanks to his 103-yard kickoff return touchdown in the first quarter of Sunday night's win over the Broncos in Denver. It was his first career regular-season kickoff return for a touchdown -- he had a 98-yard kickoff return TD last January in the playoffs against the Texans -- and the first Patriots kickoff return for a touchdown in the regular season since Devin McCourty went 104 yards against the Jets in October 2012.
--Fullback James Develin played a career-high 45 snaps in last Sunday night's win in Denver. Though Develin had a pair of catches in the game giving him five for the season, the former college defensive lineman's value certainly isn't measured on the stat sheet.
In the past, head coach Bill Belichick has compared Develin to a hockey player who does the dirty work in the corners to get the puck, but doesn't score too often. This week, Belichick had even more praise for the physical fifth-year veteran who is also a core special teamer.
"He's the ultimate team player," Belichick said.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels added a little more detail to Develin's role in the NFL's No. 1 offense.
"He's an incredibly hard worker, he's a great teammate, he's very tough, physical. He adds an element of that to our skill group in the position that he plays," McDaniels said of the man Tom Brady has called the best fullback in the NFL. "We ask him to do a lot of different things in our offense. He obviously is a lead blocker in the running game, he pass protects, he caught a couple balls the other night and he plays in the kicking game. So, (he is) a very unselfish guy, really embraces his role and his responsibilities in terms of adding an element of toughness and physicality to our group, and it's a pleasure to coach a guy like that, and we have a lot of them. Really, James did a nice job for us the other night and has done a nice job all year."
--There were plenty of serious comments coming out of Colorado Springs this week from Patriots players and coaches regarding the respect and appreciation they have for the United States Air Force Academy, where New England is working out in preparation for Sunday afternoon's trip to Mexico City to take on the Raiders.
Leave it to tight end Rob Gronkowski, though, to have a bit of a lighter message when it came to fans looking forward to Sunday's game.
His message for the fans from Mexico was one he's expressed in the past.
"Yo soy fiesta, baby!" Gronkowski said with his trademark delivery and smile.
NOTES: WR Matthew Slater (hamstring) did not practice on Wednesday at the Air Force Academy and reportedly headed back to New England. Slater left last Sunday night's win in Denver in the first half and did not return. He missed the first four games of the season and the entire preseason to a hamstring injury. ... DT Malcolm Brown (ankle) joined the team in Colorado Springs after missing the last two games to the injury. Brown was limited in practice on Wednesday. ... WR Chris Hogan (shoulder) did not practice on Wednesday due to the injury suffered in the pre-bye win over the Chargers that's sidelined him for both games and practice for the last two-plus weeks. ... WR Danny Amendola (knee) continues to be limited in practice, though the injury has not been keeping him from game action. ... TE Martellus Bennett (shoulder/hamstring) continues to be listed as limited in practice, with hamstring issues added to the shoulder issue that led to his release by the Packers last week. Though he had not been practicing or playing of late in Green Bay, Bennett caught three passes in his return to the Patriots on Sunday night in Denver. ... DT Alan Branch (neck) was added to the injury report after practicing on a limited basis on Wednesday. ... DE Cassius Marsh (shoulder) continues to be limited in practice, having missed his first game of the season last Sunday night in Denver due to the injury. ... CB Eric Rowe (groin) continues to be limited in practice with the injury that has now kept him out of action for the last five games.