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Coach got picture via the tube

FOXBOROUGH -- While not particularly fond of television scouting ("You don't really get a lot out of it but sometimes you can pick up a little bit"), Bill Belichick managed to get a lot out of watching Sunday's Cowboys-Bills game. He learned that it's extremely difficult to get much going against Dallas's defense. The phrase "the game wasn't as close as the score would indicate" was especially applicable to Dallas's 10-6 victory.

Belichick, whose team will face the Cowboys Sunday night in Foxborough, liked what he saw and didn't like what he saw, all at the same time.

"It was a very impressive performance," the coach said yesterday, his players' first day back to work after a four-day vacation. "They showed why they're leading the league in defense. They're strong on the run. They're strong on third down. They don't make many mistakes.

"I thought they played a real good football game and certainly deserve to be 7-2. And anybody who saw that game saw that they had pretty good control of it the whole way. I could sit here and rattle off a lot of stats for you. I'm sure that you're aware of them all."

For those who aren't, Dallas has the league's top-ranked defense. The Cowboys allow the fewest points, fewest first downs, fewest passing yards, and the third-fewest rushing yards. Opponents are completing only 49.1 percent of their passes.

"It's a combination of nobody's open and their pass rush," Belichick said.

Offensively, Dallas ranks seventh in rushing and possesses the ball an average of 32 minutes 49 seconds.

"When a team runs the ball as much as they do and has the time of possession that they have, and plays as well defensively on third down as the Cowboys are playing, that's why they're 7-2," Belichick said. "Bill [Parcells] has obviously done a real good job with the team. He's got them playing pretty much error-free football."

Tedy Bruschi stayed close to work during the bye week and used the time to get ahead in his preparation for Dallas.

"I stayed here and watched film," he said. "I think they run the ball quite well. They have a couple of good backs. They look good. Any team that wins seven ballgames is going to look good."

Neal down The Patriots will place guard Stephen Neal on injured reserve. He has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list after undergoing shoulder surgery over the summer . . . The Patriots re-signed rookie safety Shawn Mayer, who was released Friday, to the practice squad. The active roster stands at 51 . . . Belichick said offensive lineman Gene Mruczkowski, who had been on the reserve/non-football injury list, will begin practicing this week . . . As for the practice availability of Ted Johnson and Ted Washington this week, Belichick said, "I can't tell you exactly whether or not they'll be ready, but if they are, we will practice them, yes. It's getting close." Washington was expected to return to the field this week, while Johnson yesterday seemed uncertain as to his timetable . . . Ty Law was spotted running around Gillette Stadium yesterday morning. "The bye week was pretty good," said Law, who got to rest his sore right ankle. "Much needed. But things are still going to linger through the season. But I'm ready to play and looking forward to going back out."

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Next game:
Nov. 16 vs Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN Radio: WBCN (104.1)

afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 7 2 0 .778 20.4 17.2
Dolphins 5 4 0 .556 18.7 15.7
Bills 4 5 0 .444 16.6 17.6
Jets 3 6 0 .333 18.4 19.2
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