Two recently-suspended rookies have officially been thrust into the playoff-week circus between the New England Patriots and their AFC Divisional Playoff opponents, the New York Jets.
First-year linebacker Brandon Spikes was reinstated by the Patriots after serving a four-game NFL penalty for violation of the NFL's banned substances policy and took part in two days of full-pads practices during the club's bye week. Previously, he was not allowed to practice or be at the team facility during his ban.
Spikes did not appeal his suspension, which ensured he'd be able to play in the postseason after an initial NFL year that saw him make 36 tackles and intercept one pass in 12 games after his second-round selection from the University of Florida.
Still, he may have work to do to guarantee a role in the Patriots' third go- around with the Jets this season Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
"It looked like he hadn't practiced in four weeks with the team, so he's got a ways to go," New England head coach Bill Belichick said of Spikes. "Hopefully he'll be better this week than he was last week. He should be with the extra days of practice and just getting back into it, but we'll see how it goes."
Linebackers coach Matt Patricia said Spikes is working to "get himself back in the groove" and that anyone who misses four weeks of work faces an adjustment period.
"There's a progression he's going to work at, obviously, and we're just going to truck along like we normally do, working hard every day, trying to get better in each individual performance so that collectively, as a whole, we can get better," Patricia said.
Also coming back from a break is defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick, who was suspended for four days last week, but reinstated Friday night after the Patriots placed veteran end Mike Wright on injured reserve with a concussion.
The Boston Globe reported that Deaderick's suspension came after he was late for and/or missed several meetings. New England director of player personnel Nick Caserio said it remains to be seen if Deaderick got the intended message from the suspension.
"We'll find out," Caserio said. "He's here. We'll start practicing and we'll ask him to prepare for the game just like we ask any other player. If he's ready to play, then he'll be given his opportunity. So we'll see how it goes this week."
Deaderick was a seventh-round draft pick from the University of Alabama. He appeared in five games and made nine tackles, including two sacks.
The winner of Sunday's contest will advance to the AFC Championship Game. The teams played twice during the regular season, with the Jets winning the initial game in September, 28-14, before New England dominated the rematch by a 45-3 score at Gillette Stadium in December.
BRADY SET FOR JETS
New York head coach Rex Ryan delivered the first salvo in a would-be war of words with the Patriots when he praised Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning for his commitment to preparation and added that the Patriots' Tom Brady "only thinks" he studies as much as Manning.
The Jets eliminated Manning and the Colts, 17-16, in last Saturday's AFC Wild Card Playoff.
Brady, at least initially, was unmoved by the Ryan jab.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion," he said. "Maybe he's right. He's a good coach, so I'll just keep getting ready like we've done all year and get ready for Sunday night. It's an exciting week for us, I think everyone is in [preparation] mode. It will be a tough game. I'm excited to play the Jets again."
The three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback claimed comments like Ryan's neither motivate or aggravate him. Instead, it's the vision of a fourth Super Bowl championship that provides playoff drive.
"I don't think anything people say bothers me over the years," he said. "People have had their opinion over the years, and I feel really confident with our team and the way our team prepares each week, and I'm sure we'll be prepared going into this game on Sunday. The only thing I care about is us being ready to play on Sunday. He does what he needs to do and we do what we need to do.
"We're at the point in this year where we're motivated by much more than what people might say to us. We have a great opportunity to play a division rival at home in the biggest game of the year. There will be a lot of hype and buildup, and the reality of it is none of it matters. There's going to be a lot of things said this week and none of it matters."
Additionally, Ryan said Brady gets much more help from the New England coaching staff, particularly Belichick -- a former Jets assistant -- than Manning does from the coaches in Indianapolis.
Brady actually had no quarrel with the statement.
"I get a ton of help from our coaches. Of course we do," he said. "I think we have the best coach in the history of football. Coach [Belichick] comes in every Wednesday -- Tuesday this week -- and tells us what to do to win, and he's right almost every time."
DECISIVE THIRD GAME
In addition to the third overall meeting of the 2010 NFL season, Sunday's game will be the third between the franchises in their respective playoff histories.
New England was a 26-14 winner at the Meadowlands in an AFC first-round game in 1985 en route to an appearance in Super Bowl XX. The Patriots also beat the Jets, 37-16, in an opening-round game in 2006 at Gillette Stadium.
According to Belichick, neither of the 2010 meetings will have a large impact on Sunday's results.
"I don't think the last game, or even the first game, either one of those games is going to mean a whole lot," Belichick said. "Both teams know each other well. We're ready for a whole new week of preparation. Even though we're familiar with them and they're familiar with us, it feels like every time you play a team, games go a lot differently. We're not expecting anything other than starting this game off and trying to do a better job than the Jets do.
"I think the most important thing is the week of preparation and how the teams prepare [for] Sunday. I think that's what it really comes down to. I don't think what happened last week or in some game in December or some game in September or some game in October, I don't think that's going to have too much bearing on it. I think what happens between now and kickoff and how the teams perform once the game starts, I think that's what will decide the winner."
The teams have split the regular season in four of the last five years. New York was the last team to beat the Patriots at home during the regular season, in 2008.