By Danny Cox

After taking out the Denver Broncos for their fifth straight victory, the New England Patriots were still hoping to get better as they prepare to take on the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City this Sunday. While one Patriots player shockingly returned to practice, three others were held out, and that brings about a bit of concern for the remainder of New England’s season.

Patriots Head South of the Border

The Pats not only have a different setting for practice this week, but they’ll also be switching things up for the game itself. Sunday’s matchup against the Raiders will take place in Estadio Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, Mexico. The Mexican stadium sits at an elevation of over 7,000 feet, and so to get acclimated to the altitude before game day, the Patriots have been holding this week’s practice at Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After last week’s defeat over the Broncos, coach Bill Belichick decided to keep his team in the Centennial State to train at altitude.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio is taking a different approach in hopes of replicating his team’s win over the Houston Texans last season in Mexico City. “We’re going in as late as possible, and they’re spending the week training at altitude in Colorado,” Del Rio said. “So, two contrasting approaches to it, and we’ll see how it works out. We did this last year. We went the day before like we’re doing this year and that seemed to work for us. I know that there are several theories out there in terms of how you best handle the altitude and we just do the best we can to prepare our squads, and then we go compete.”

Malcolm Brown is Back

Defensive tackle Malcolm Brown headed out on the practice field Wednesday, much to the surprise of a number of people. He hasn’t played for the Patriots since Week 7, which was a big 23-7 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Since then, he’s been dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out of wins over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 8 and the Denver Broncos in Week 10.

New England had a bye week between those two games, which gave him a bit of extra time to rest and heal up.

The veteran lineman has been quite a force for the Pats this season, and it now seems possible that he could return this week. The Patriots are going to continue to watch him the rest of the week in practice, but seeing him back out on the field is a good start.

Three Pats Missing from Practice

Unfortunately, things haven’t progressed as well for a few other players. Wide receiver Chris Hogan is still dealing with the shoulder injury that kept him out of the Week 10 win over the Broncos. Offensive tackle Marcus Cannon’s ankle injury also kept him out of the game on Sunday night, and he remained out of practice on Wednesday. Wide receiver Matthew Slater suffered a hamstring injury against Denver, which also caused him to sit out on Wednesday.

As of now, all three aren’t looking good to play against the Raiders. As a matter of fact, Slater’s injury is one that may be much worse than originally anticipated. The Patriots traveled to Colorado Springs for practice, but Slater was sent home for more testing and treatment as his hamstring injury is being seen as “serious.”

Belichick Pleased Penalties are Down

While both the offense and defense performed masterfully in their 41-16 victory over the Broncos, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had one particular stat that pleased him the most. This entire season, penalties have been a huge problem for his players, and he felt as if that may have been one of the big things holding them back from performing even better than their record shows.

His postgame comments to his team show that he’s proud how they turned things around against Denver.

“How about one penalty?” Belichick said. “How about…one penalty?”

The team applauded those words as the reality of just a single penalty against the Broncos started to sink in. The only Patriot flagged for an infraction was cornerback Stephen Gilmore, who was flagged for defensive holding. While Belichick’s primary concern has been the penalties on the offense and special teams, both of those areas of the team were mistake-free, and he’s hoping that trend continues.

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