THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Days off for Patriots before game faces go back on

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / November 27, 2010

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In 10 days the Patriots will take the field for a game that may have the most impact on their season. The Patriots and Jets share the best record in the NFL at 9-2, and the AFC East rivals will meet the night of Dec. 6 at Gillette Stadium.

Both teams will have the same amount of time to prepare for their second meeting of the season, and the time will be essential for the Patriots, who continue to win despite some imperfections.

A mammoth second-half performance secured a 45-24 win over the Lions on Thursday, as the Patriots outscored their hosts, 35-7, in the final two quarters, beating a team with just two victories. It was New England’s third game in 12 days, and each ended in victory.

So, before the Patriots return to practice, coach Bill Belichick rewarded them with a few days off. The Patriots will return to Gillette on Tuesday to begin preparations for the Jets.

“I really appreciate what these guys have done so far this year,’’ Belichick said after Thursday’s win. “To be where we’re at has taken a lot of hard work. It hasn’t always been perfect. It hasn’t even been good, but it is what it is. We’ve got a good opportunity here ahead of us, so we’re going to relax here — kick back for a couple days, try to take this opportunity to rest and spend a little time with our families, and be ready to roll here next week with the Jets.’’

A number of players could use the rest. Quarterback Tom Brady has been limited in practice for nearly three weeks with a foot sprain. Guard Stephen Neal has been out with a shoulder injury. Running back Fred Taylor (toe) and safety Jarrad Page (calf) appear on the verge of returning to game action. Both were active on Thursday for the first time in weeks, but neither played.

Not only have the Patriots faced challenges with injuries, their schedule has been grueling. After back-to-back games against the Steelers and Colts, the Patriots had three days to prepare for their matchup against the Lions.

“We certainly have had a lot of different challenges over the course of the year,’’ Belichick said. “But I think that’s the way it normally is. There’s really not that many straightforward weeks in the 16 weeks of the NFL. You have injuries, you have different dynamics and different story lines on the game, short weeks, long weeks, division games, travel, and so forth. But this was certainly a challenge for us this week. Not much physical practices, a lot of mental preparation and physically gearing it up while you’re obviously on a really short week. So there were a lot of things that were challenging for our team, as it was for Detroit. Hopefully, in the long run we can benefit from that.’’

The Patriots have five games left in the regular season, three against division rivals. The importance of the next game is not lost on Jets coach Rex Ryan, whose team beat the Patriots, 28-14, Sept. 19.

“We’ll have a tiebreaker over New England, so it’s basically you’re a game and a half over them,’’ Ryan said. “It would be huge for us if we can pull this thing off. It’s not going to be easy. Obviously, they’ve won 25 straight at home [with Tom Brady as the starting quarterback]. We’ve won eight [straight] on the road. I know we’re confident going anywhere to play. They’re certainly confident playing at home in particular, but hey, it’s going to be, in my opinion, the best two teams in football squaring off against each other, and we’ll see what happens on the field.’’

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