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Banks cashing in on latest chance

QB poised to prove he's a money player

FOXBOROUGH -- Getting the backup quarterback usually is a good thing. But there's something a little unusual going on down in Houston. The backup, who will start for the Texans Sunday at Reliant Stadium, is having a better year, statistically at least, than the starter.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked this week if there were any drop-off from David Carr, the starter and top overall selection in last year's draft, and Tony Banks, the second-stringer who is with his fourth team in eight pro seasons. Answered Belichick, "Banks's quarterback rating is around 95 [94.7], and Carr's quarterback rating is around 75 [75.1]. I don't know about who is dropping from where."

Two teams have fallen to the Banks-led Texans. In his first start of the season, Banks, a starter most of his first six seasons, led Houston to a 14-10 upset of Carolina. Last Sunday, he came in for the injured Carr (right shoulder) and directed three scoring drives, completing 11 of 16 passes, in a 12-10 win at Buffalo.

A second-round pick of the Rams in 1996 out of Michigan State, Banks struggled along with the St. Louis franchise. He began the 2000 season as Baltimore's starter before losing the job to Trent Dilfer. He went from being Washington's starter in '01 to not taking a snap last year as Carr's understudy.

After seven years of learning the hard way, it seems Banks, 30, finally has come of age.

"Earlier in his career, like a lot of quarterbacks, they have so much confidence in their ability and their arm strength and sometimes they try to put it in some spots that are tight," Belichick said. "I think Tony has done a much better job, from what I've seen of him this year, in terms of being patient, being disciplined, taking what's there."

Patriots linebacker Roman Phifer was with Banks for his first three seasons in St. Louis. "He's a different player," Phifer said. "He looks a lot more mature, and he's making good decisions. And he still has the ability as far as a strong arm and mobility. You put that together with some maturity, knowing the game better, and some experience, and you've got a more complete player. Back in the day, he had a problem with fumbling, but he's definitely not that same guy. It'd be nice if he would go back to that for a week. He looks good, and I'm happy for him."

Too bad the Patriots can't relax with Banks at quarterback. Not with that right arm.

"Banks can make any throw you want him to make," Belichick said. "He can roll out to the right, throw the `go' pattern back to the left, play action, in cuts, posts, you name it. It will not be a problem getting the ball there with him. He can launch it. It'll get there. And you need to have him covered because the ball isn't in the air long. He can put it on a rope. The guy has a really good arm. He's a good player."

McCrary out for year

To clear a roster spot for Dedric Ward, the Patriots placed fullback Fred McCrary on injured reserve, ending his season. McCrary suffered a torn hamstring at Denver Nov. 3, missed last Sunday's win over Dallas, and was listed as "questionable" for Sunday's game in Houston. "It probably didn't look like he was going to make it," Belichick said. McCrary was inactive for Games 3 and 4 and was off the roster for the weekend of the Tennessee game because of a knee injury. He played in six games, with three starts, carrying three times and catching two passes. . . . The team reported that Troy Brown, David Givens, and Ted Washington did not practice yesterday. All three are listed as questionable with leg injuries . . . The Texans upgraded Carr's status for Sunday's game from out to doubtful. Carr did some light throwing in practice and should be available as the third quarterback. Houston also added backup running back Stacey Mack (questionable, toe) and linebacker Steve Foley (probable, shoulder) to its injury report . . . Deion Branch received a $2,500 fine from the league for taunting during last Sunday's game . . . The offensive line of Matt Light, Damien Woody, Dan Koppen, Joe Andruzzi, and Tom Ashworth has started the last six games, all victories. Two years ago, the line of Light, Mike Compton, Woody, Andruzzi, and Greg Randall started the last nine games, all victories. Could it be that there's some sort of connection between line cohesion and victory? . . . New England is allowing a composite opponent quarterback rating of 57.5, a completion percentage of 53.6, and a league-low 4 touchdown passes to 16 interceptions. Through 10 games last year, opposing quarterbacks had thrown a combined 15 touchdowns to 10 interceptions and completed 62.8 percent of their passes for a rating of 85.1 . . . The Patriots now have seven players on injured reserve: McCrary, Rosevelt Colvin, Compton, Adrian Klemm, Stephen Neal, Kliff Kingsbury, and David Patten.

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