FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — A week of rest is welcome any time during the long NFL season.
The New England Patriots aren’t even halfway through their schedule, but glad to be coming off their bye week as they prepare for a showdown of divisional leaders Sunday at Pittsburgh.
“It’s good to have those few days to get your body back and you feel refreshed and ready to go on this week of preparation,” linebacker Rob Ninkovich said before Tuesday’s practice. “I feel good. Anytime you can get a couple of days off and not have the everyday pounding of practice and preparing, it’s always nice to have a few days just to relax and kick your feet up.”
Some even watched a little football during the five-day hiatus granted by coach Bill Belichick.
“What else are you going to watch on TV? I’m not a soap opera guy or watching Broadway or anything like that,” defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth said. “On Sunday, that’s what you’re going to watch is football. On Monday night, that’s what you’re going to watch.”
And on Tuesday afternoon, the Patriots stopped just watching and resumed practicing.
The Patriots (5-1) have won three in a row and find themselves back in first place in the AFC East. They resumed their position atop the standings when Buffalo lost to the New York Giants on Oct. 16, the same day the Patriots held off the Dallas Cowboys 20-16 at home.
“I guess rest is always good but at the same time, you have that urge to want to get back to football, get back to practice and right now, that’s where I’m at with it,” running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis said. “I’m just anxious to get back on the practice field and continue to get better at the things needed to win.”
Although they won against Dallas, the Patriots’ 13-game regular season streak of scoring 30 or more points ended with the narrow win over the Cowboys. And resuming the streak this week is unlikely against the Steelers, who have held their last six opponents to 20 points or less and are allowing just 279 yards per game.
Pittsburgh also has 17 sacks already this season. The Steelers (5-2) are on a three-game winning streak and lead the AFC North.
“They don’t dance around. They’re not finesse whatsoever,” defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth said. “Everybody runs hard. They don’t mind hitting. They like to hit. It’s a very physical team. More physical than we have seen this year.”
This is the only scheduled meeting between the divisional leaders, but both hope there is a rematch in the near future, possibly in the AFC Championship on Jan. 22.
“This is definitely a top team,” Haynesworth said. “It is a measuring stick for us to see how good we are and how good we can play.”
New England is playing at Pittsburgh for the second straight year. The Patriots survived last year’s trip by outscoring the Steelers 39-26 in a game that was typical for New England’s offense but slightly concerning on defense.
The Patriots’ defense has been sporadic this season, too, allowing an average of almost 424 yards per game. But Tom Brady and the offense have been potent enough to carry the Patriots to wins in every game but one so far.
“They are doing what they usually do,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “They are a top-quality team.”
Tuesday’s practice was the first for New England rookie Marcus Cannon, a fifth-round draft pick who has been battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Cannon remains on the non-football injury list, but can practice for up to three weeks before the Patriots need to decide whether to add him to the roster or put him on the injured list for the rest of the season.