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Teaming up to carry the load

FOXBOROUGH -- Just in the AFC, Fred Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams, Travis Henry, and old friend Curtis Martin all have rushed for more than 1,200 yards this season. They have plenty of time to look back on every one of them during the postseason, which they'll be watching from home. Here in New England, Kevin Faulk and Antowain Smith are approaching 1,200 yards themselves. Combined.


So their coach has one question for Patriots fans concerned that their team's weakness is the absence of a go-to back, or a reliable running game altogether: Which would you rather have, one 1,000-yard rusher on a non-playoff team, or two 500-yard guys on a 13-2 team?

"When you add all of the backs up, I don't know, what did we gain -- 1,400 yards, 1,300 yards, whatever it is," Bill Belichick said yesterday. (The answer is 1,476.) "If one back had gained those 1,300 yards, then everything would be OK? I don't understand that mentality."

The Patriots are averaging 3.4 yards per carry, second-worst in the league. In the offseason Belichick probably will look for a front-line running back. But for now, at least, he's not looking at next week as the start of his team's offseason.

"I'm just saying that my mentality is for the offense and for the team to be productive, whether that's one back getting 100 yards or two backs getting 120 yards," he said. "When you look at the production overall of our backs, I'm not saying it's great, it certainly could be better, but if it's 1,300 yards or whatever it is, are we saying that if one back had 1,300 yards, then we would all be sitting here saying, `Well everything's great'?

"What's the difference? It's what the team produces and what you do in the situations to win or lose the game. That's what it really comes down to."

Blue Drew

Drew Bledsoe has fallen on hard times in Buffalo, partly because he's hitting the ground pretty frequently (46 sacks). The former Patriots quarterback has struggled without Peerless Price (gone to Atlanta) and Eric Moulds (injuries). Bledsoe played behind a patchwork offensive line last week against Miami. But, all that aside, Bledsoe (11 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, a rating of 75.6) just hasn't played as well as he did in 2002. "At times he's just pressed too hard," Bills coach Gregg Williams said yesterday. "He's tried to, maybe at times, do too much. But I think that all good players, all top players, think, `I'm going to put the team on my back and I'm going to overcome everything and win it for my team.' " . . . Defensive rookie Dan Klecko received the Shaw's Supermarket and Kimberly-Clark Corporation's 12th Player Award, presented to the player who personifies the Patriots' team spirit and contributes to the community.

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afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 13 2 0 .867 317 238
Dolphins 9 6 0 .600 288 240
Bills 6 9 0 .400 243 248
Jets 6 9 0 .400 262 276
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