Patriots stress importance of bye week

Jan 4, 2018 - 3:23 AM FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some coaches will tell you the bye week is only as valuable as you make it.

Certainly, there are the obvious benefits of rest and recuperation from a long regular season. And there is inherent value in advancing to the next round of the postseason without having to play a game, never mind having to win it.

No coach is better prepared to maximize the value of the bye week than Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

New England has had a bye in each of the last eight seasons.

To put that into perspective, safety Devin McCourty, who is now in his eighth season, doesn't know anything different than having the first weekend of January off in terms of game action. But he and other veteran Patriots also know this week is about more than rest.

"To me, this week is not as much about unplugging, just because like honestly we've got one more game left," McCourty said. "I don't really think you need to unplug to play in one game, you know? You unplug too much and you come back and you're not ready, that's the end of your season.

"Right now, it's about preparing to play your best football that next game because I guess it's only a couple of us that were still here with the last time we lost in the divisional round. Like that's tough.

"Losing the AFC Championship sucks too, but to put in all that work to get a bye week and then you come back and you lose that game, like my rookie year. It's kind of like, well, you just sit there and say I wish I did more that week we were off. You just want to keep preparing to be ready to go."

This week Belichick has emphasized that without a specific opponent to prepare for -- New England will play the lowest remaining seed of the Chiefs, Titans or Bills -- the Patriots will focus on areas that need improvement regardless of specific matchups. That could include run defense and big plays allowed, as well as improving the overall efficiency of the passing game that sputtered down the stretch.

"Being out there today it kind of had like a training camp feel," McCourty said of practice. "Obviously we have 16 games to go over some things that we didn't do well, but still just a chance to go against our offense a little bit and just to be out there just competing. We can't game-plan three teams so we can't come out here and say, 'this is this team's period.' You just can't do that.

"So it kind of gives you that true training camp where you're just trying to get better. No matter who you play you need to do that well whether it's leverage in man-to-man coverage, whether it's run technique up front using your hands, whether it's our lanes in coverage on special teams. Just doing those little things that are definitely going to come up sometime in these next games, or game I should say. We don't know when, but when it comes up it'll be probably a huge play or huge factor to decide a game. That's why this bye week has always been big for us since I've been here, as long as we kind of use it in the right way."

Make no mistake the Patriots feel like they know how to take full advantage of the bye week, one they earned through the course of the season.

"I'll start by saying we're very fortunate to be in the position that we're in, not having to compete in the first round. We certainly earned that, so we're thankful to be where we're at. But, this is a very important week for us," special teams captain Matthew Slater concluded. "I think really this week is about us focusing on the Patriots and how we can improve because our mentality needs to be that of, 'OK, we need to continue to work towards improvement.' Even though it's the postseason we can't feel like we've done enough at this point."

NOTES: LB Trevor Reilly re-signed with the New England practice squad Jan. 3. Reilly played in six games with one start earlier this season for the Patriots, but was released on Dec. 26 when the team added veteran LB James Harrison. ... WR Bernard Reedy was released from the Patriots practice squad Jan. 3. ... DT Alan Branch (knee) returned to the practice field Wednesday for the first of two bye-week workouts. Branch missed the final three games of the regular season and three weeks of practice to the injury. ... RB Rex Burkhead (knee) returned to the practice field Wednesday after missing two-plus weeks of practice and the final two regular-season games with a reported sprain. ... QB Tom Brady (Achilles/left shoulder) was on the practice field Wednesday during the media viewing window for the first of New England's two bye-week workouts. Brady had missed Wednesday practice during four of the last six weeks of the regular season.

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