FOXBOROUGH -- As one would expect, the Patriots minded their Ps and Qs yesterday with the release of their weekly injury report.
The Ps: Eleven players who were healthy entering Monday's game at the Jets are listed as probable for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Dolphins.
The Qs: One player, linebacker Tedy Bruschi, is listed as questionable with a calf injury, which according to the team's designation means he has a 50-50 chance of playing.
In this case, 50-50 means not likely. With the Miami game having little significance except for possible playoff seeding, a team source said Bruschi is expected to rehab in hopes of being closer to 100 percent the following week in the playoffs.
As per his norm, coach Bill Belichick wasn't particularly interested in getting into a speculative discussion.
''The best way I can categorize it is he's day to day," Belichick said of Bruschi, who hurt his calf on a first-half punt against the Jets.
And the best way Belichick ensures that talk of an injured player's presence or absence doesn't take away from the team's preparation is he doesn't talk about the injured player's presence or absence.
Belichick would only say that Bruschi has brought ''experience and energy" to the defense, but wouldn't expound.
''We've gone on and on about Bruschi for half-hours and 45-minute blocks at a time," Belichick said. ''There's plenty on record on Bruschi."
Indeed, much has been made of Bruschi's comeback from a stroke and the resulting transformation in the Patriots' defense since his return. The turnaround from one of the worst defenses in the league to one of the hottest has been dramatic.
Bruschi sat out for the first six weeks of the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. He returned Oct. 30 against Buffalo, and performed well for someone playing on ''emotion and adrenaline," as he describes it. Against Indianapolis the next week, Bruschi seemed sluggish, while everyone else was in midseason form.
The following week at Miami, Bruschi said he felt more like himself, and not coincidentally, the Patriots' defense hasn't looked the same since.
New England was 27th in the league against the run (128.9 yards a game) through eight games. The Patriots have been the league's best against the run (57.3 yards per game) in the last seven games.
The Patriots allowed 220 points in their first eight games (27.5 a game), 30th in the league. They have surrendered just 12.9 points a game in the last seven contests, which would be good for second in the league behind the Chicago Bears, were that their season average.
The Patriots were 31st in the league in total defense (370.9 yards per game) at the midway point. Since, they have been the fourth-stingiest defense in the league in yards allowed (276.9 per game).
We're talking 70 fewer yards on the ground, nearly 100 fewer yards overall, and 15 points a game off the opponents' score.
Despite the inherent unfairness, as Bruschi's return to the lineup is linked with the defense's improvement, so is Monty Beisel's removal from the lineup.
The fifth-year linebacker signed with the Patriots as a free agent last offseason, with the team hoping he would show he is ready to be a full-time starter. His adjustment to the 3-4 defense was slow, however, and just when Beisel started figuring out the responsibilities, he injured his thumb. Before he was healthy, Bruschi came back.
Since, Beisel has spent more time on the bench than on the field.
''It's been a learning experience, I'll tell you that," Beisel said. ''It's been a life experience. You grow up real fast in a situation like that.
''It's been an interesting year for me and hopefully as my career moves on I'll continue to learn from this year and the things that have happened to us, not only as a team but individually."
Depending on the severity of Bruschi's injury, Beisel could see significant playing time in the coming weeks. Coincidentally, a calf injury cost Beisel five games last season and hurt his marketability as a free agent.
Beisel was the starter at middle linebacker with the Chiefs for the first six games of 2004, then tore a calf muscle leaving the field after a play. He missed two games, returned, and aggravated the injury in the first half, then didn't play in the next three games, including one against the Patriots.
Bruschi's injury isn't thought to be that severe.
''I know mine was really bad," said Beisel, who had three tackles after replacing Bruschi against the Jets. ''I couldn't even walk for two or three days, I was on crutches.
''Some guys will be able to recover within a week or two. It's just like anything, muscle pulls, it's the degree of the injury. Mine was really bad."
Whatever Bruschi's status for the playoffs, certainly this week presents Beisel an opportunity to show what he can do. Prior to the Jets game, Beisel had not had more than two tackles since the game Bruschi returned.
''It's very difficult to prepare every week and not get a chance," Beisel said. ''This is my job, this is what I do to make a living. It's my obligation to go out there and prepare week in and week out regardless of the situation and be a professional about it and be ready to go when the time commands.
''In the beginning, it was tough. Obviously any time you learn a new scheme, it's difficult. I think now, by Week 15, 16, I feel pretty comfortable. I continue to work hard throughout the weeks and when an opportunity presents itself, you need to be ready to go no matter who you are. We have a big responsibility coming up this week and heading into the playoffs. I think we're all going to be ready."
Jerome Solomon can be reached at email@example.com