This is the last Sunday of 2012 without NFL football, and with a trip to Tennessee on the horizon, the Patriots are at Gillette Stadium today for a day's work.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski is looking forward to the season opener.
"Definitely anxious. It's always exciting to get the season started," he said. "Tennessee is a good opponent, first game of the season, always got the jitters, always ready to go and always excited for the game to come. College football started this week, it was exciting watching all that, and it's just getting you more excited to get going."
New England did very little, if any, game-planning for its preseason games, but now will revert to its week-to-week, attention to detail, game planning approach.
"You dig in big - physically, mentally, everything. It's game time now, this is what counts, this is what starts the season is this game and everything from here on out matters," Gronkowski said.
Though it's hard to think of the day when Gronkowski won't be with the Patriots, particularly given the contract extension he signed in the spring, he got another stark reminder of the realities of NFL life last week as the team released longtime Pats Deion Branch and Dan Koppen.
"That shows the business side of the NFL and it's always tough to see your friends go," he said. "Your friends, people that are your mentors, guys that you look up to, and it's tough seeing them go. That's part of the business but at the same time you wish them the best of luck and hopefully everything works out for everyone that you see go. It's definitely a tough time."
Branch is "just a great guy overall. He taught so much on the field - how to practice, how to stay motivated out there, how to always do a rep right so we don't have to repeat it. He's a great guy and we'll always be in touch with him."
And he knows one day it could be him.
"Definitely. I think of that on days like last Friday when you see people go. It's like, 'man, that could be me one day.' It's the business side of the NFL and you have to keep working hard every week, keep working out, keep practicing hard, keep doing what you've gotta do so you can stay around."