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Pats practice: Mike Wright, Dan Connolly and Ron Brace only missing players

12.30.10 at 1:29 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots fielded a fairly healthy squad for the start of practice on Thursday outside Gillette Stadium. Only offensive lineman Dan Connolly and interior defensive linemen Ron Brace and Mike Wright were missing from practice on the lower practice field.

Connolly and Wright are both dealing with the effects of concussions while Brace is nursing an elbow injury.

The team worked out in sweats and shells in the full practice, after an extended walkthrough inside the Dana Farber Field House on Wednesday.

Read More: Dan Connolly, Miami Dolphins, Mike Wright, New England Patriots

Wes Welker doesn’t worry about a repeat of 2009 finale

12.30.10 at 12:31 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The question seemed to be an obvious one – why would Wes Welker or the Patriots take the chance of risking another season-ending injury to a key starter in a season finale that means nothing to their playoff position?

The short answer from Welker mirrored what Patriots players said Wednesday, keep momentum from a 13-2 season continuing into the playoffs.

“It’s very important,” Welker said. “Not playing for a week and taking that week off, it’s good for you but at the same time, you want to keep it going. So, definitely this week is key for us, to keep that momentum and stay on top of everything and be ready to play.”

But naturally, the antagonists will point to last January when Welker’s season ended suddenly in the heart of Texas.

“I say I’m here to play football and that’s what I get paid to do, and I love playing,” Welker said on Thursday in front of his locker, 362 days after an injury that some thought would threaten his career. “No matter what’s at stake or what the deal is, I want to play. I know people are probably thinking different about that but I don’t worry about other stuff.”

Sunday’s game will have no impact on the Patriots’ playoff position. They enter the game with a 13-2 record, having already sewn up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming AFC playoffs and home field advantage through to the Super Bowl.

No one has to remind Welker, the Patriots or their fans about what happened nearly 12 months ago to the day of this Sunday’s season finale against Miami. But that hasn’t stopped the media from asking all season long and it didn’t stop reporters from asking again on Thursday.

“This is the first time I’ve heard about since I don’t know, it’s been a long time,” Welker said with his typical good-natured smile. “Thanks for re-hashing this memory. But I’m just definitely excited to be back out there and excited about this week, and practicing, getting better and getting ready for Miami.”

For the record, it was Jan. 3, 2010 and Welker made a cut on a catch in the first half. Welker made an attempt to use his patented move to quickly get up field when his left knee gave on the very questionable grass turf of Reliant Stadium.

The Patriots were 10-5 heading into last year’s season finale in Houston and led, 27-13, early in the fourth quarter before the Texans scored 21 unanswered to walk away with a 34-27 victory.

He was unavailable for the playoff game against Baltimore, which the Patriots lost at home, 33-14. Welker had reconstructive surgery on his ACL and MCL shortly thereafter and came back to start this season without missing a game, earning him the team’s Ed Block Courage Award on Wednesday.

“Whatever Coach Belichick decides for me, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m always ready to play,” Welker said.

“For me, I’m going out there and I’m preparing for Miami and getting ready for them,” Welker said of the 7-8 Dolphins. “They’re a strong team that hasn’t given up on the season. We’re definitely coming out and we’re definitely coming out prepared to play.”

Read More: grass turf, houston texans, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots

Bill Belichick on Logan Mankins: ‘A smart guy who doesn’t make mistakes’

12.29.10 at 8:24 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Logan Mankins has never backed down – on the field or off of it.

If he feels he’s being disrespected by someone on the other side of the line of scrimmage or on the other side of the bargaining table, he’ll let you know about it, and then make sure you don’t forget it.

No one forgets last summer when – after apologizing to owner Robert Kraft – he arrived to camp in late August with his agent, reportedly set to sign a multi-year contract extension. But then Mankins was told the $55-60 million deal came with the stipulation that he issue another apology, this one publicly, for his comments about the integrity of the organization.

But that toughness also breeds respect, and a lot of it. The latest example came Tuesday night when he was selected to his third Pro Bowl, despite playing just half the season with the Patriots. When Mankins reported to the Patriots on Nov. 3, he was so prepared to play that Bill Belichick put him in the starting lineup four days later against the Cleveland Browns.

“He’€™s been outstanding on and off the field,” Belichick said of Mankins. “He brings a great attitude, work ethic, just superior toughness to the field, to our football team [and] that unit. [He'€™s] an outstanding performer. [He'€™s] a smart guy, doesn’€™t make any mistakes, plays hard [in the] run, pass and every down, snap to whistle, first play to the last play.”

Mankins said Wednesday he hasn’t been playing to prove a point about his contract. Whatever, the motivation, Belichick said Mankins looks as strong as ever.

“[He'€™s] a very consistent player, always has been. He’€™s certainly shown that this year,” Belichick said. “It doesn’€™t matter whether it’€™s a Friday practice or fourth quarter or first play of the game. He’€™s very, very consistent, and good ‘€“ very good.”

Which begged the question, why would the Patriots even take the chance of letting Mankins walk away and play somewhere else next season.

“Well, right now, it’€™s just everybody getting ready for Miami,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of other things we could talk about, but none of them really apply at this particular time.

Mankins was around back on Oct. 4 when the Patriots blew out the Dolphins in South Florida on Monday Night Football. But Dolphins coach Tony Sparano still fears Mankins’ presence in the Patriots offensive line.

“The Patriots offense has been a good offense even when Logan wasn’€™t out there but Logan Mankins is an outstanding player,” Sparano said. “He brings a physicalness to a group and he’€™s a smart player and is certainly, like I said just the physical presence that he bring to the group is tremendous and I think that’€™s probably what he’€™s known throughout the league for is his physical play and the fact that he’€™s a smart guy.

“You get him back into the lineup with [Dan] Koppen and [Matt] Light and that group of guys and it seems to me like the whole group is, has kind of settled down.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Logan Mankins, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots

The Big Nickel: The Patriots want to play on Sunday, and the Dolphins think they’re going to see a lot of Tom Brady

12.29.10 at 6:51 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Wednesday:

1. Even if this Sunday’€™s game doesn’€™t necessarily mean anything in the standings, many of the Patriots’€™ starters want to play. At least that’€™s what they said when they met the media on Wednesday afternoon.

‘€œOh yeah, I want to play football,’€ said defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. ‘€œEspecially this time of year, I think the more games you play ‘€¦ the more consistent you can be. That’€™s where I stand. I want to play every game I can, crunch time. I think anybody who loves the game would want to be playing right now and I’€™m one of [those] guys. There are a bunch of guys in this locker room that want to play and want to win, so hopefully we can continue that this week.’€

‘€œIt means something to us,’€ said offensive lineman Logan Mankins. ‘€œEvery Sunday that you go out there, you’€™re playing for your pride and your teammates. You don’€™t want to let the guys down beside you, so you’€™re still going to play hard. You don’€™t want to lose a game ever, I don’€™t think. So, that’€™s how we look at it: we’€™re going to go out and try to get better and try to play the best we can.’€

‘€œWe’€™re competing,’€ said cornerback Devin McCourty. ‘€œI think each week when we get ready for a game, our focus is to get better, learn about our opponent and then go out there and compete on Sunday.’€

2. As far as the Dolphins are concerned, they’€™re preparing for New England’€™s starters, particularly quarterback Tom Brady.

‘€œI would expect to see a great deal of him,’€ Miami coach Tony Sparano said Wednesday when asked about Brady. ‘€œFrom my end, I think that I’€™m sure the Patriots, they want to win their 14th football game, so I would expect that they’€™re going to go out there and do everything in their power to be able to do that. Most teams going into the playoffs the way they’€™re going into the playoffs want to be as hot as they can be.’€

‘€œWell, I think we’€™ll see the normal team, just because everybody on that team is a competitor, and I think [Patriots coach Bill Belichick] is really on their guys strong to finish the season strong and get that 14th win and have a good feeling going into the playoffs,’€ said Miami quarterback Chad Henne. ‘€œSo, my feeling is that they’€™ll play, and for us Miami Dolphins, we’€™re practicing that they’€™re going to play and play against us.’€
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Read More: Brandon Meriweather, Chad Henne, Dan Connolly, Devin McCourty

Logan Mankins declares he’s ‘not playing for a contract’

12.29.10 at 5:18 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Despite earning his third Pro Bowl berth on Tuesday night, Patriots starting left guard Logan Mankins says he’s not trying to prove a point by playing extra hard this season.

“I don’t know if you ever watched any of our games, but I tend to play hard the majority of the time so I don’t think I’m playing for a contract right now,” said Mankins, who missed training camp and the first half of the season because of a contract dispute before reporting prior to the team’s Nov. 7 game in Cleveland. He has been in Pro Bowl form ever since.

On Wednesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Dolphins coach Tony Sparano called him one of the smartest and most physical players at his position in the NFL.

“It means a lot,” Mankins added. “I’d hate to be known as a wimp or a dummy so I’ll take the first one, that’s a lot better. It’s nice. That’s not why we play games, to make Pro Bowls. We play to win games so if it happens, it happens and you’re happy about it. If you never make one, that’s part of the hand you’re dealt.”

Mankins came to camp after signing his one-year contract – a $3.26 million deal he rejected just months earlier after he and the team could not work out the details of a multi-year contract in the neighborhood of seven years and $56 million.

He reportedly also refused to apologize to the team for holding out.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Contract dispute, Logan Mankins, Miami Dolphins

Dolphins injury report: Nolan Carroll, Karlos Dansby miss

12.29.10 at 4:49 pm ET
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Four players missed Dolphins practice as the team prepares to head north for Sunday’s season finale against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

The complete Dolphins injury report from Wednesday:

Did Not Participate
CB Nolan Carroll (head)
LB Karlos Dansby (toe)
TE Anthony Fasano (knee)
TE Lydon Murtha (head)

Read More: Karlos Dansby, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, nfl

Pats injury report: Tom Brady limited, Tully Banta-Cain out with flu

12.29.10 at 4:29 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” Tom Brady practiced Wednesday but was limited as were Deion Branch, Jermaine Cunningham, Aaron Hernandez and Myron Pryor. Tully Banta-Cain was out with the flu and Ron Brace missed practice with an elbow injury.

The complete injury report from Wednesday:

Did Not Participate
LB Tully Banta-Cain (flu)
DL Mike Wright (concussion)
G Dan Connolly (concussion)
DL Ron Brace (elbow)

Limited Participation
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot)
WR Deion Branch (knee)
TE Aaron Hernandez (hip)
NT Myron Pryor (back)
LB Jermaine Cunningham (calf)

Full Participation
CB Kyle Arrington (elbow)
CB Devin McCourty (rib)

Read More: Deion Branch, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Ron Brace
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