Four things we learned this week

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
5:29
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Two practices are in the books for the Patriots, and the players will now get away for three days off.

Before we turn the page to focus our attention on this weekend's slate of wild card games and then the Patriots' first playoff opponent, here's a quick look back at what we learned this week from the team.

1. Self-evaluation a focus. With three different potential opponents, the Patriots could not hone in on just one team in their preparation this week. That opened the door for the team to take a look in the mirror and identify areas to improve and build upon. While the team dedicated resources to looking at the Texans, Ravens and Colts, it also made sure to focus on itself with the extra time afforded.

2. Health, rest also critical. As is the case with every playoff team, the Patriots are dealing with their share of injuries, and after 16 games no player is without soreness. The team has found the balance between working and taking care of itself from a rest and recuperation standpoint. On Wednesday, quarterback Tom Brady was one of three Patriots to not suit up for practice.

3. Players will be watching this weekend. The players will return to the practice facility on Monday, at which point they'll dive full bore into their next opponent, whoever it may be. But before then, a number of players echoed that they'll be glued to the TV this weekend watching the wild card games to get ahead on their studies.

4. Ninkovich returns to practice. Perhaps no development was more important this week than the return of defensive end Rob Ninkovich to practice on Thursday. Reports earlier in the week indicated that his injured hip might not prevent him from playing in the Divisional Round, and while practicing on Thursday should not be mistaken for a guarantee that he'll suit up next Sunday, it's a positive sign for the team leader in sacks. Ninkovich has developed into a critical three-down defensive player for the team, and gives them a versatile player to set the edge from both an end and linebacker alignment.
Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.

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