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Dominique Easley, Cameron Fleming among 4 limited at Patriots practice Wednesday 10.29.14 at 4:41 pm ET
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Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley

FOXBORO — The Patriots are getting healthier.

After having 12 players listed as having injuries last week at this time, the Patriots now only list eight players as they get set to face the Broncos Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Dominique Easley (knee), Nate Ebner (finger), Cameron Fleming (finger) and Matthew Slater (shoulder) were all limited in Wednesday’s practice. Easley and Slater played in last Sunday’s game against the Bears after being listed as questionable, while Ebner and Fleming have been out since Week 4 against Kansas City.

Offensive linemen Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork have been removed from the injury report after being questionable going into last Sunday’s game with concussions.

Once again, Chandler Jones (hip) was the only player to miss practice, which isn’t a surprise as he is expected to miss roughly six weeks.

Here is the complete practice report:

Did not practice

DE Chandler Jones (hip)

Limited participation

S Nate Ebner (finger)
DL Dominique Easley (knee)
OL Cameron Fleming (finger)
WR Matthew Slater (shoulder)

Full participation

QB Tom Brady (ankle)
CB Brandon Browner (ankle)
LB Dont’a Hightower (knee)

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T.J. Ward hasn’t reached out to Rob Gronkowski following season-ending hit 10.29.14 at 4:16 pm ET
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FOXBORO — One of the many storylines in Sunday’s Broncos-Patriots game is Rob Gronkowski facing Broncos safety T.J. Ward for the first time since last December when Ward was his the Browns and he hit Gronkowski low on his right knee, tearing his ACL in the process and ending his season.

Gronkowski was asked if he has any hard feelings towards Ward for the hit, but the tight end sidestepped the question.

“Just going out there playing like I play every day,” he said. “Just going out there trying to make some plays and do my job out there on the field and play to my max ability.”

He was later asked directly if Ward ever reached out following the season-ending hit.

“No,” Gronkowski said.

Gronkowski had a monster game last Sunday against the Bears, catching nine passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns, before leaving with dehydration after catching his third touchdown pass at the beginning of the third quarter. He echoed what he said after the game, saying he’s just fine and could have returned if he had to.

“Very well,” he said of his health. “Like I said, I could have come back into the game very easily.”

As for this Sunday, Gronkowski is expecting a great atmosphere at Gillette Stadium going against the 6-1 Broncos, who like the Patriots, come in riding a four-game winning streak.

“The atmosphere is going to be unbelievable especially playing at home in front of the home crowd,” said Gronkowski. “It’€™s going to be a great game. The Denver Broncos are a very, very, very good team. One of the best in the league, if not the best team in the league.”

Obviously the biggest storyline, among many in the game, is the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning matchup and is something Gronkowski is looking forward to being part of.

“It’€™s honor to be out there with both of them,” said Gronkowski. “Brady versus Manning can’€™t get any better. [They are] two great quarterbacks and two legendary quarterbacks. It’€™s an honor to be a part of it. And I definitely want to be on the winning side.”

Read More: Peyton Manning, Rob Gronkowski, T.J. Ward, Tom Brady
Bill Belichick is ‘way past’ Wes Welker’s hit on Aqib Talib 10.29.14 at 2:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Much was made of it at the time when Bill Belichick called it, “one of the worst plays [he's] seen” when Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker hit then-Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib on an apparent pick play across the middle of the field in last year’s AFC Championship game — knocking Talib out of the game with a hip injury and the Patriots lost the game 26-16, ending their season.

But, Wednesday in advance of the Broncos-Patriots matchup this Sunday, Belichick said he’s put that in the past and actually has “a lot of respect” for Welker.

“[I am] way past that,” Belichick said on a conference call with the Denver media. “I have a lot of respect for Wes and what he did for us and what he’€™s done for the Broncos and what he’€™s done throughout his career.”

Welker was a member of the Patriots from 2007-12 before the Broncos signed him prior to the 2013 season as a free agent when Welker and New England couldn’t agree on a contract.

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Read More: Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Wes Welker,
Offensive line’s ‘trust’ leading the way in Patriots’ 4-game win streak 10.29.14 at 1:34 pm ET
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Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork and the rest of the offensive line have protected Tom Brady well of late. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork, Dan Connolly and the rest of the offensive line have protected Tom Brady well of late. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — After Week 4’€™s blowout loss to Kansas City, the Patriots offense ranked 24th in the NFL averaging 20 points a game. After Week 8’€™s blowout win over the Bears, the Patriots offense now ranks third in the NFL averaging 29.8 points per game.

One of the biggest reasons why is the familiarity the offensive line now has with one another.

“Those guys have really dealt with a lot of change,” quarterback Tom Brady said before practice on Wednesday refercing to the unit getting a new coach in Dave DeGuglielmo after Dante Scarnecchia retired after 32 years in the NFL following last season.

“This year, it started back in the offseason, and [they] have really worked through that through training camp. And then different players have kind of come and gone and been injured from the start of the season, before the start of the season — with Logan [Mankins] and then being able to really adjust to that.”

Even though the Patriots have used three different starting offensive lines during the four-game win streak due to concussions for Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly, they have continued to rotate players in and out even within games, so everyone is ready to step in at any time and be on the same page as players who have been starting every week.

“I think those guys are really taking it as a challenge of the mental toughness,” Brady added. “At this point, [they've] really settled into kind of the group that they are and the group they want to be. They’€™re playing with a lot of toughness. They’€™re playing with a lot of commitment to what their coach is asking them to do. We’€™ve had some growing pains that we’€™re all trying to get used to earlier in the year, but I think we’€™re playing at a much better level.”

Although sacks are sometimes overrated when measuring the success or failure of an offensive line, Brady was sacked nine times in the first four games of the season, compared to only three the last four games. Sunday marked the first time Brady was not sacked in a game since Week 4 last year against the Falcons.

Brady has also been getting more time in the pocket to throw, which has allowed for the playbook to be opened up and not having to worry about Brady getting the ball out quickly to avoid pressure.

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Read More: Bryan Stork, Dan Connolly, Patriots offense, Tom Brady
Alan Branch, Jonathan Casillas make Patriots practice debuts; Chandler Jones still missing 10.29.14 at 12:24 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Newcomers Alan Branch and Jonathan Casillas wasted no time joining their new team on the practice field as both were present at Wednesday’s practice held in shorts and shells on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Broncos.

Branch, a defensive lineman, officially signed on Wednesday morning — this after being spotted in the Patriots locker room last week. Casillas, a linebacker, was traded to the Patriots from the Buccaneers Tuesday at the trade deadline.

Linebacker Akeem Ayers switched from No. 52 to No. 55, while Casillas took over No. 52. Branch wore No. 97.

Chandler Jones was once again missing, as his hip injury is expected to keep him out about six weeks.

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Read More: Alan Branch, chandler jones, Jonathan Casillas,
Patriots to honor 3-time Super Bowl champions during Sunday’s game 10.28.14 at 2:09 pm ET
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During the Patriots’ three Super Bowl titles in four years during the mid-2000’s, 22 players were on the team for all three. 18 of those 22 players will be honored Sunday during halftime of the Patriots’ matchup with the Broncos, as it is the 10th anniversary season of the accomplishment.

“€œCollectively, these 22 players will always share a special bond,” said Robert Kraft in a press release. “While individual Super Bowl teams will certainly be celebrated in the future, these 22 players represent the greatest era in franchise history and one of the greatest accomplishments in NFL history. It is always fun to participate in reunions with former players. The stories they share from their playing days are always entertaining and it is always fun to see the ovations the players get from our fans. I look forward to seeing them and sharing those experiences with them.”

The 18 players who will be honored at halftime are: Joe Andruzzi, Tom Ashworth, Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi, Matt Chatham, Je’€™Rod Cherry, Kevin Faulk, Ted Johnson, Ty Law, Matt Light, Willie McGinest, Stephen Neal, Patrick Pass, David Patten, Lonie Paxton, Roman Phifer and Richard Seymour.

Tom Brady and Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri are still playing, while Larry Izzo (New York Giants), Mike Vrabel (Houston Texans) and Adrian Klemm (UCLA) are currently on active coaching staffs and will not be able to attend.

Read More: Robert Kraft, Super Bowl, Troy Brown, Ty Law
Rodney Harrison on MFB: Next month will show how ‘fierce’ Patriots are 10.28.14 at 12:37 pm ET
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NBC Sports NFL analyst Rodney Harrison made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss the Patriots’€™ upcoming game against the Broncos and also Tuesday’s trade deadline. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The Patriots will have their toughest test of the season in Peyton Manning and the Broncos Sunday afternoon. It will also give their second-ranked pass defense a chance to go against an above average quarterback for arguably the first time this season.

“When I look at this team, they’€™ve played against Ryan Tannehill, the Oakland Raiders and Derek Carr –€“ I mean they haven’€™t played against a lot of great quarterbacks,” Harrison said. “I look at this next month in the season and they are going to play against some pretty quality quarterbacks so we’€™ll see how fierce the Patriots are, but if they want to get to the Super Bowl — I know that is their goal and aspirations, obviously they are not looking at it right now, but long-term that is your goal — you’€™re going to have to beat Peyton Manning. Not just compete with him, but you’€™re going to have to beat Denver.”

As for Tuesday’s trade deadline, there has been speculation the Patriots have expressed interest in wide receiver Vincent Jackson, but Harrison doesn’t see that as a fit.

“I wouldn’€™t say they have to go out and panic and get a guy like Vincent Jackson or someone like that because he still has to come in, learn the offense — and then who knows what kind of chemistry that messes up with Brandon LaFell,” said Harrison. “I think they are OK at the wide receiver spot. If they can stay healthy and have that offensive line protection — and Tom, he looks like he’€™s getting better. He looks like he’€™s getting more confident behind that offensive line, but I don’€™t think they need to panic and spend that type of money on Vincent Jackson.”

Harrison has been impressed with LaFell of late as he has 19 catches and three touchdowns in his last three games, including catching 11 passes on 11 targets in Sunday’s win over the Bears.

“I just love what Brandon LaFell has done,” Harrison said. “I love the confidence they are putting in him and it seems like each and every week the energy level, the route running, just the confidence and catching the ball — he looks like he is a legit wide receiver now.”

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Read More: Brandon LaFell, Peyton Manning, Rob Gronkowski, Rodney Harrison
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