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Hits are up again on Tom Brady as QB alters his preparation this week

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Brady: Patriots must be above mediocre (0:51)

Tom Brady feels good about taking on the Steelers Sunday and looks forward to beating the team with the best record in the AFC. (0:51)

PITTSBURGH -- Hits are up on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady again, which ties in to a notable shift in Brady’s preparations for Sunday’s road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (4:25 p.m. ET).

Since Brady landed on the injury report in Week 12 because of his Achilles, he has absorbed eight, five and six hits in the next three games, respectively. In each of those weeks, he has missed at least one practice to receive extra treatment. But this week, he was a full participant in all three practices.

Brady said it was a result of his feeling better, not because of some recent struggles in the passing game. Still, the hope with Brady’s presence -- or any player's, for that matter -- is to build a foundation that carries into game day.

“It’s always good to have everybody practice to get their preparation and to get it with their teammates. That’s how you build team execution, is from team practice,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “The more of that we can do, the better. It’s not always possible. We do the best we can. Every team in the league deals with the same thing. It’s not a unique problem here or anywhere else, so we just do the best that we can with it.”

As for the hits on Brady, while they aren’t always a result of breakdowns along the offensive line, some untimely technique breakdowns up front have been a factor.

Asked how he believes the line has been protecting Brady, starting left tackle Nate Solder said, “It’s not easy to do. We go against tough guys every week, and we’re not making any excuses. That is the burden we carry, and we work hard to do it.”

Brady’s approach, and the rise in quarterback hits in recent weeks, leads off this week’s “final walkthrough":

Flowers makes the trip: Defensive end Trey Flowers, who leads the team with six sacks, is making the trip to Pittsburgh after having missed the past two games. He has made significant progress from an injury to his ribs, setting the stage for his potential return Sunday.

Quote of the week: “He’s a Rutgers guy. Do we need to expand on that? We know what that means.” -- Devin McCourty, a Rutgers alum, turning to humor when asked his thoughts on the Patriots’ signing of wide receiver Kenny Britt.

Stat of the week, Part I: Including playoffs, the all-time series between the Patriots and Steelers is tied 15-15.

Stat of the week, Part II: Brady has 3,865 passing yards this season and needs 135 for his ninth 4,000- yard season. He would join Peyton Manning (14) and Drew Brees (11) as the only players with at least nine 4,000-yard seasons.

CBS’ top team on the call: Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (analysis) and Tracy Wolfson (sideline) will call the game Sunday on CBS.

Corrente assigned as referee: Tony Corrente, whose crew has called more penalties than any crew this season, is the referee for the game.

Prediction: The Patriots' front seven is banged-up on defense, with run-stuffing DT Alan Branch out with a knee injury and top playing-time LB Kyle Van Noy (calf) seemingly unlikely to play; the Dolphins attacked that vulnerability Monday. Add it all up and it seems like a fair question to ask how the Patriots, who are surrendering 5 yards per rush to the opposition, will slow down the Steelers consistently. So it will come down to whether the Patriots can outscore the Steelers, and while the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski should help, this is a tough spot in a short week. Steelers 34, Patriots 31.