HOUSTON — The New England Patriots are going international again in the fall.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced Wednesday at his State of the NFL press conference that the Patriots will play the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City next season. The date and time will be released in the spring with the rest of the NFL schedule.

It will be the second consecutive year the Raiders will play in Mexico – they defeated the Houston Texans 27-20 in a Monday night game, drawing over 76,000. It will be New England’s first regular- season game in Mexico.

The Patriots played a preseason game in Mexico City in 1998, defeating Dallas, 21-3.

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“It was a great experience and I am looking forward to our return,” said Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots, in a statement. “I know we have a lot of passionate Patriots fans in Mexico. We have had plenty of success in international games and I attribute that to our tremendous fan support in those venues.”

The players seemed excited to make the trip.

“That will be interesting,” said offensive tackle Nate Solder. “I’m looking forward to it. I love to travel. I love to see new places so it will be awesome.”

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Special teams captain Matthew Slater said the game shows the strong draw of the NFL.

“I’ve seen this game grow a ton over my lifetime. It’s grown worldwide,” he said. “I think if we can get this game to keep expanding beyond our borders, it’s great for everyone.

“The NFL and pro football is a great product. It’s a great sport to see the gladiators go out and compete. It’s great for the fans. So that’s exciting news.”

Goodell said the game likely would be played on a Sunday, adding that playing on a Monday night last year “made it difficult for the teams getting home that late at night on a short week.”

THE PATRIOTS returned to practice Wednesday, and just in time. Several players said they were getting a little itchy not being on the field.

“It was great to get out and move,” said linebacker Rob Ninkovich. “And it was nice out. Not the 20s and snowing like it would have been back in Foxborough.”

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It was 75 and sunny in Houston on Wednesday.

“It was nice to be in the sunshine,” said Slater. “It was great to sweat and run around.

“It brings your focus back to the task at hand.”

DEFENSIVE TACKLE Alan Branch was added to the Patriots’ injury report on Wednesday with a toe injury. He told Mike Reiss of ESPN that he got stepped on in practice but that the injury wasn’t bad.

NINKOVICH WAS asked what makes Tom Brady such a good teammate and he responded with an anecdote from a year ago near Christmas.

“Tom is very generous,” said Ninkovich. “He’s definitely a team guy.”

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Then Ninkovich held up his watch – a Tag Heuer. “I told Tom what a nice watch he had,” said Ninkovich. “And I had that in my locker. It was awesome. It was like, ‘I should compliment you on everything you wear.’ ”

The watch was wrapped in his locker, something that Ninkovich clearly remembered.

“I just happened to say, ‘Wow, that’s a really cool watch, Tom.’ ” said Ninkovich. “And he heard me.”

BECAUSE WEDNESDAY was national signing day, Atlanta Falcons star wide receiver Julio Jones was asked if he remembered what that day was like for him.

“Well, I didn’t know where I was going, I can tell you that,” he said. “Lots of media. It was good, though, to have my family there, who had been supporting me. Just seeing them there and just the whole city of Foley (Alabama) behind me and supporting me.”

Well, when did he decide?

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“I was up that morning, I had my five envelopes and I just didn’t know where I’m going to go,” he said. “But just before I went to school I decided. ‘Why don’t I just stay in Alabama?’ Because of the people who’ve been supporting me over the years, if I go someplace too far they’re not going to be able to come see me play. That was one of the big reasons I went to Alabama.”

Then he couldn’t resist taking a jab at one of the Tide’s biggest rivals.

“I was going to go to Auburn but I just didn’t like Auburn,” he said.

“It left a bad taste in my mouth.”

JIMMY GAROPPOLO, the Patriots’ backup quarterback, has had perhaps the quote of the week thus far, and it came from the opening-night media circus.

Asked what it was like to be the second best-looking quarterback on the Patriots (behind Tom Brady), he replied, “Second, huh? Tom is first? Did he tell you to say that?”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH


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