FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots has a couple reasons to be a bit more chipper than usual this week.

For starters, he pointed toward his improving health as the reason for his full workload in practice all week; he worked out on a Wednesday for the first time since Week 11.

“Just feeling better,” Brady said, dismissing the idea that a Monday night loss to the Miami Dolphins had any effect on his practice schedule. “It’s a short week, so I just try to get out there and practice. I take it week to week and I feel really good this week, so I’m very happy about that.”

And that’s not all.

The Patriots are preparing for one of Brady’s favorite opponents, and it sounded like he was off to a good start on the Steelers. There was discussion last offseason that Pittsburgh would implement more man coverages to a zone system that hasn’t changed much in decades.

Based off Brady’s assessment, the Steelers still look familiar.

“Within their zones there’s always man elements, so it looks like the Steelers to me,” Brady said. “I mean, they’ve had the same defense for a long time. Whatever they decide to do, we’ll be prepared for. We prepare for everything. We’ll go out there and cut it loose on Sunday.”

Brady is 10-2 against the Steelers, including three victories in AFC championship games. He has completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,552 yards (294.3 per game), with 29 touchdowns and three interceptions.

And even the Steelers’ occasional wrinkles haven’t been enough to throw off Brady. The Steelers are ranked seventh in points allowed and sixth in yards, so while it’s impractical to think they would make wholesale changes on the fly, they’ve played well enough to have confidence in their system.

Brady’s track record indicates he should enjoy an even higher level of confidence as the AFC opponents compete for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

“At this point in the year, it’s not like you’re going to go reinvent your whole defense in Week 15,” Brady said. “They’re ranked pretty high. They do a lot of things well. I’m sure they’re going to want to continue to do those things well. They rush good. They’re tight in coverage. They mix in their schemes – zone and man and blitzes – and they do it on all three downs. They don’t make it easy on you. Now, for us, it’s just being on alert.

“We’re going to try to go out and play the way we play, too, and that’s what makes for a good game. They’ve had a lot of good teams over the years. These are always pretty big matchups and this is a big one for both of us.”


Special teams captain Matthew Slater admitted how “frustrating” this season has been, as he has missed extended time twice because of hamstring injuries.

Slater tore his hamstring in the opening week of training camp and missed two months, including the first four games of the regular season. He then aggravated the injury in Week 10 against the Denver Broncos and missed three more games before returning Monday night against the Dolphins.

“As a player, you want to play,” said Slater, who never had hamstring issues before this season. “Injuries are part of the game. Over the course of my career, I’ve been relatively healthy. I’ve been blessed in that regard. This year, it just hasn’t been in the cards. I’m thankful to Coach (Bill) Belichick for giving me the opportunity to get through this season, and giving me a chance to get back out there and play. I was certainly really grateful to be out there Monday with my teammates.”


Wide receiver Kenny Britt has been placed in a nearly impossible situation.

After he was released last week by the Cleveland Browns, Britt joined the Patriots this week for the stretch run and could offer insurance in case Chris Hogan needs to take extra time off to rest his shoulder.

Or maybe Britt could push Phillip Dorsett just a bit more for snaps.

Really, just look at how difficult of an acclimation process it’s been for Dorsett, who was acquired on Labor Day weekend. That challenge will be exponentially harder for Britt, but Brady knows Britt will get what he earns in terms of playing time.

“He’s just kind of come in and worked hard the last couple days, and trying to understand all the things we’ve got going,” Brady said.

“Hopefully we can add something to the mix here in a short period of time. It’s always challenging for a guy to come in late and pick up everything at once, but hopefully he can figure out a role. He’s had a lot of production and he’s going to have to go out and earn it, earn everybody’s trust to get out there, but he’s done a good job the first couple days.”