Alan Branch: Won't matter who Patriots play if team doesn't improve

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are scheduled to practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of their playoff bye week, and defensive tackle Alan Branch said he doesn't plan to focus on possible playoff foes because it would be counter-productive.

"Honestly, at this point, I don't even care," said Branch, a nine-year veteran. "If we don't play good ball, it doesn't matter."

That captures the theme of the week for the Patriots: turning the focus inward.

"You take the time to focus on yourself and go out there and just try to figure out what your weaknesses are, make those weaknesses not as weak and become a better player," Branch said.

Players were in for meetings on Tuesday, and later in the day, Branch, linebacker Jonathan Freeny (who still has a cast on his right hand for a fracture sustained Dec. 13), special-teams captain Matthew Slater and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks were among those drawing large media crowds.

"There's a lot of football left to be played, and there's a lot for us to play for," said Slater, who has earned a Pro Bowl berth each of the last five seasons. "Obviously we don't feel as though we've done anything yet. We feel like we have a lot to prove. We're excited about the challenge."

As for practice, Slater called it a "getting back to the basics" type of week as the Patriots have hobbled to the finish line in the regular season.

"Obviously it's been disappointing to not finish the season as strong as we would have liked, but I think we're still confident in who we are as a football team," Slater said. "It's just about us executing. We can sit here and talk about what we need to do differently, what hasn't happened, what has happened, but at the end of the day we have to execute come Saturday [Jan. 16] when we take the field."