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Hang-in time for the punter

FOXBOROUGH -- No use kicking a kicker while he's down.

Patriots punter Ken Walter is tied for last in the league in gross average (38.4 yards), and the team has had at least five punters in for workouts over the past three weeks.

Walter has fallen on hard times. His 31-yard punt in overtime last Sunday gave Houston possession at New England's 35-yard line (though the Texans weren't able to capitalize). So what do you do if you're Bill Belichick? You don't make hard times harder.

"You have to go to your players and you have to have confidence in them," Belichick said yesterday. "They have plays that you expect them to make and it's their job to go out there and make them. [Tom] Brady fumbled the ball. We could have benched him in the middle of the fourth quarter, too. When you evaluate one play, I just don't think that's the way to go. You have to look at it a little longer than that.

"We could have taken [Daniel] Graham out, too, after he dropped a pass. We could have benched him. I don't know who we're playing with at the end of the game. We could get rid of me after challenging that fumble, too, get another coach in there calling [the plays]. Really, we all have bad plays."

Brooks Barnard, Brent Bartholomew, Steve Cheek, Craig Jarrett, and Filip Filipovic all have worked out at Gillette Stadium this month, but Belichick downplayed what seems like an open audition for a new punter.

"We have people in for tryouts every week," said the coach. "That doesn't mean anything other than we're keeping up to date on what players who aren't with teams are available, what their status is, their injury situation, what kind of condition they're in, and so forth. We do it in the offseason. We do it in season. We're always doing that."

Schedule change

The Patriots practiced yesterday, though Tuesdays are normally a day off. They'll practice again today and have tomorrow off. The team would not release the names of any players who did not participate yesterday. Asked before practice for an injury update, Belichick said it would be provided today . . . Belichick seemed to disagree with Texan Ramon Walker's comments regarding perceived weaknesses in New England's blocking formations on field goals and punts. Walker blocked a field goal and a punt Sunday. "It wasn't anything that we hadn't worked on or talked about," Belichick said. "We just didn't get it done." . . . New England re-signed receiver Jamin Elliott to the practice squad and placed offensive lineman Gene Mruczkowski on injured reserve. Mruczkowski had been on the reserve/non-football injury list (leg) since training camp . . . Ex-Patriot Kenyatta Jones signed with the Washington Redskins, reportedly for two years at the league minimum, about $375,000, with no bonus. Jones was released from New England's physically unable to perform list Oct. 25 after being arrested for allegedly dousing an associate with scalding water. Jones's attorney, Joseph Cataldo, said Jones is due back in Wrentham District Court Dec. 9.

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afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 9 2 0 .818 19.9 15.9
Dolphins 7 4 0 .636 18.3 15.5
Bills 4 7 0 .364 15.7 17.0
Jets 4 7 0 .364 19.1 20.1
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