FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady walked into his weekly news conference and glanced at the unusually large media crowd.
Packed house, he said with a smile. Big game.
It's about time.
On Monday night, the New England Patriots face the Houston Texans, their toughest opponent in a season in which they've rolled over mediocre teams. They're 9-3 with seven wins against teams with losing records.
The Texans (11-1) are a different animal.
The Patriots did rout the Indianapolis Colts 59-24 on Nov. 18. And the Colts are 8-4 with a chance to gain a wild-card berth, although they must play the Texans in two of their last three games. The Patriots also beat the Denver Broncos (9-3) in the fifth game of the year, 31-21.
This game is ultra-significant — a Monday night national audience, the top team in the AFC and a need to avoid falling three games out of the conference lead — to a franchise that takes pride in first-round byes and home games in the postseason.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller sat out practice for the second straight day with a sprained left ankle, leaving his status for the team's game at Jacksonville on Sunday uncertain.
Backup quarterback Tim Tebow was limited for the second straight day Thursday with two broken ribs, and might not be able to play against his hometown Jaguars.
I'm still not ready to say I'm comfortable with him (playing) right now, coach Rex Ryan said. We'll see how it goes.
Keller, the Jets' second-leading receiver with 28 catches, was hurt in New York's 7-6 victory over Arizona on Sunday.
The fact he hasn't practiced in two days, I know he's getting better, so we'll see, Ryan said. I'm not willing or ready to rule him out, certainly, but this is the second day that he's missed. But, I know that he's getting substantially better.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Aldon Smith hardly has a free moment to stop at his locker, much less give thought to any intriguing matchups or scenarios as he chases Michael Strahan's single-season NFL sacks record.
Yet, come Sunday at Candlestick Park, it won't be the injured Jake Long lining up at left tackle for the Miami Dolphins against the 49ers defensive menace but rather rookie replacement Jonathan Martin. He is a former Stanford player plenty familiar to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and the rest of the staff — and the young offensive lineman suddenly faces the challenge of slowing him down.
Smith has 17 1/2 sacks, already tying Fred Dean's franchise-best total set in 1983. Next up: getting the 5 1/2 sacks he needs over the final four games to break Strahan's mark of 22 1/2 sacks set in 2001 with the New York Giants.
What does he have, 17 1/2 sacks? Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. In 12 games, that's quite a pace he's on. He's kind of got a knack for getting to the quarterback and sniffing things out. He's a good rusher when the quarterbacks drop back, and he does a good job containing.
-- The Associated Press