The last thing the Patriots need this week is a bunch of relevant injuries piling up, yet here they are in the middle of a big week of preparation with a trip to Pittsburgh looming on the horizon and their starting quarterback on the sideline.
Tom Brady, who has not missed a practice since returning for a season-ending knee injury last year, sat out Wednesday with what the team listed as a foot injury. There's no word on whether it's serious, though it was serious enough to keep him off the field for at least a day.
Barring anything major, Brady will be in the lineup Sunday when the Patriots face the Steelers in a battle for AFC supremacy, but kicker Stephen Gostkowski will not. Gostkowski is now out for the season due to a quad injury suffered last weekend in a loss to Cleveland, leaving the Patriots with the task of having to find a replacement kicker on short notice. They did so by signing veteran Shayne Graham.
"I think just his performance in the league is definitely a positive for him," head coach Bill Belichick said of Graham. "He's had a good career -- an outstanding career. I thought he performed well this year when he's had an opportunity."
Also, there's the case of Fred Taylor, the veteran running back who has not played since Week 2 due to a toe injury. The good news is the injury will not require surgery, which is what the team initially feared.
"That's why I'm excited just to be able to be here talking to you guys," Taylor said. "Initially, we thought it would be surgery. It wasn't that. Just being able to train, get treatment at this point, I mean, I feel great. The initial prognosis was bad, to the point of tears. And all that other stuff that comes with it. But I'm here, and we'll see how it goes from this point. We'll go from here."
Whether he plays or not this weekend remains to be seen, but the Patriots could use his help. The combination of Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been serviceable, but it's hard to expect them to gain enough yards against Pittsburgh's stout defense.
"I'm looking forward to trying to improve, continue to improve and get back when it's ready," Taylor said. "I don't want you guys to jump too far ahead and say, 'Oh, Taylor's coming back this week!' I'm not sure. We're going to start slow and see how it feels and go from there."
Regardless of who's on the field, the effort and overall production needs to be better than it was this past weekend where the Patriots were dominated thoroughly in a 34-14 loss to the Browns.
"The Steelers look about like they always do: good. I've been real impressed watching them on tape. (They're) a real physical football team offensively, defensively (and) in the kicking game. They're strong. They're tough," Belichick said.
"They do a real good job. They've got an explosive offense. (Mike) Wallace has certainly added a lot to them in terms of the deep ball (and) his ability to stretch the field, along with all their other outstanding players: (Rashard) Mendenhall and (Mewelde) Moore and the receiver, tight end group, Heath Miller, (Hines) Ward and (Antwaan) Randle El and all that. (They have) a lot of familiar names on defense. (They're) a tough, physical football team. We know what kind of game we're in for on Sunday night."
SERIES HISTORY: 21st regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 13-7. The last time these two teams played, Pittsburgh cruised to a 33-10 win at Gillette Stadium in 2008. The Patriots are 7-10 overall in Pittsburgh, but did win in their last game at Heinz Field, a 23-20 regular-season victory in 2005.
--The Patriots are 14-3 all-time against the AFC North in the regular season since the division was founded in 2002.
Prior to the 34-14 loss to Cleveland last Sunday, the only AFC North losses for New England were to the Steelers, with a 34-20 loss at Pittsburgh in 2004 and a 33-10 loss at home against Pittsburgh in 2008. The Patriots' only other loss to the AFC North during that time frame was a 33-14 loss in a 2009 wild-card game at home against Baltimore. The Patriots are 2-1 so far in 2010 against the AFC North following wins against Cincinnati and Baltimore.
--WR Wes Welker was pressed into service as a kicker for the second time in his career this past Sunday and was successful on an extra-point attempt and handled a kickoff both in the fourth quarter.
Welker was filling in for the injured Stephen Gostkowski. While with Miami in 2004, he was pressed into action in a game at New England and converted one extra point, a 29-yard field goal and also handled kickoff duties.
Starting To Come Into His Own
Rookie LB Brandon Spikes finished with a team-high 10 total tackles to push his season total to 56 tackles. He is on pace to finish the season with 112 total tackles. Spikes has had four 10-plus tackle games in 2010 with 10 at the New York Jets (9/19), 13 vs. Baltimore (10/17), 10 vs. Minnesota (10/31) and 10 at Cleveland (11/7).
Long Term Success
The Patriots and Steelers are at the top of the league in several categories since 1994, most notably in Super Bowl championships (New England has three and Pittsburgh has won two).
Also, the Patriots have 189 wins since '94, while Pittsburgh is second with 181. The Patriots have also won five AFC championships to Pittsburgh's three and also have two more playoff victories (17) than the Steelers, who have won 15 playoff games during that stretch.
Late Season Success
Sunday's showdown at Heinz Field features the league's two best late-season teams over the past decade. In games played after Nov. 1 in the NFL since 2001, the Patriots lead the league with a 75-23 record while the Steelers are second at 66-30-1.
Change at Longsnapper
--The Patriots now have a new long snapper (Matt Katula), kicker (Shayne Graham) and a rookie punter/holder in Zoltan Mesko.
"We've got a few days so it doesn't really matter," head coach Bill Belichick said. "We'll do the best we can in the time that we have. I know those guys are getting started on it already.
"We know there's a lot of work to do. So we'll get at it. They've all played in the league, they're all hard-working guys and I'm sure they'll do what they can the next few days to get it the best that it can be. So we'll see where that is."
Belichick Hammers Home The Loss
--While the team is looking ahead to Sunday, Belichick certainly didn't let his players forget how poorly they played last week in Cleveland.
"I think we took quite a beating from our coach here the last couple days -- well deserved," QB Tom Brady said. "And we need to start playing better, start playing more the way that we need in order to execute better. You go into every game thinking this is what we need to do to win. And it's frustrating when you come out of the game and you don't do those things. And it's great when you come out of the game and you do do those things. So it would be great to try to get back on track this week."
BY THE NUMBERS: 30 -- The number of regular-season 300-yard passing games by Tom Brady, a new team record. Brady's seven 300-yard games in 2009 moved him past Drew Bledsoe (26) for the team record.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If I could be a defensive player, I would want to play like him. But I can't because I'm slow." -- Patriots QB Tom Brady on Steelers' S Troy Polamalu.