FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots practiced Sunday for the last time this season at Gillette Stadium before departing Monday for Super Bowl LI in Houston. As players entered the locker room to prepare for their fourth practice of the week, travel bags were laid out and ready to be packed.
“We’re ready to put in one more good day here and then get out there and get it rolling,” wide receiver Danny Amendola said.
Last week, coach Bill Belichick said that the Patriots would be busy getting up to speed on an unfamiliar opponent.
The objective, Belichick said, was to be “more than halfway there” in terms of installing the game plan for the Falcons before departing for Houston, where the coaching staff will emphasize more specific things leading into the game.
“It’s like studying for a test,” Amendola said. “You want to get the work done early and get familiar with it.”
For some players, such as rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, the experience of playing in a Super Bowl still seems surreal.
“What we accomplished is literally a dream come true,” said Mitchell, who is from Valdosta, Ga., and played at the University of Georgia. “I just hope the team wins the game and I’m able to be part of the team. If that comes, I’ll be very fortunate.”
Center David Andrews has tried to prepare himself by narrowing his focus and stripping away the distractions that come with the Super Bowl.
According to Andrews, it’s helped that Belichick has kept preparations similar to a normal week despite fact the Patriots having an extra week between games.
“Stick to your routine as much as you can,” said Andrews, who is from Johns Creek, Ga., and also played at Georgia. “It’s obviously different not playing this week, but you just try to prepare as much as you can. You don’t just want to sit around and say, ‘Oh, I’ll get it next week.’ You do everything you can to get an extra jump.
“There’s no time to let your foot off the gas. Time to really just head down, keep pushing it. It’s just another football game. You’ve got to break it down and look at it as not such a big . . . it’s just a football game at the end of the day. It’s a great honor to play in this game, but don’t make it something, you know? Take a deep breath, keep preparing and moving forward.”
Cornerback Logan Ryan is only 25 but has veteran status. He hasn’t missed a game in his four NFL seasons and will be playing in his second Super Bowl. Ryan played five defensive snaps and 11 on special teams when the Patriots beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Now, he’ll have a much bigger role as an integral part of the secondary.
Ryan said last week was “extremely productive” for the Patriots. He added he is looking forward to the secondary’s test of defending Julio Jones and the rest of Atlanta’s receivers.
“Bill fortunately has done this a couple times, more than a couple times,” Ryan said. “So I think he has a good plan for us and [it’s] similar to 2014, the schedule. We kind of know what to expect, and like I said, it’s our last practice at home, so we’re going to have fun with it.
“We see what [the Falcons] did to other secondaries, so we have our work cut out for us, but at the same time, Pittsburgh was the same way and a lot of guys that we’ve played have — I mean, receivers are the best athletes in the world, honestly. A lot of those guys are extremely athletic. Our job is tough. We know that, but we’ve got to do it together.”
The Patriots practiced outdoors on a sunny but chilly day.
“Pretty excited to, honestly, to get in some warmer weather, so that will be good,” Ryan said.
Practice squad defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton was the only player absent from the practice period open to the media.
Safety and special teams player Nate Ebner, who returned to practice Saturday after dealing with a concussion, wore a red noncontact jersey.
Eight Patriots players hail from Texas, which makes this week’s trip to Houston fun for those who grew up close by. Though the Patriots have played there in the past, participating in a Super Bowl there makes it more special. “Born and raised in Houston, played a lot of football in Houston, so it will be special to play another game there,” Amendola said. “I have a lot of people coming, so it’s exciting.” Tight end Martellus Bennett, defensive lineman Malcom Brown, offensive linemen Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, and LaAdrian Waddle, linebacker Elandon Roberts, and cornerback Eric Rowe all hail from the Lone Star State . . . Veteran linebacker Rob Ninkovich bore gifts for the defensive linemen and linebackers Sunday. A box of Timberland boots was waiting for them when they entered the locker room.
Watch: A look inside the fan fest in Houston
Follow Anthony Gulizia on Twitter @AnthonyGulizia.