Patriots notebook

To him, topic is a closed gate

Belichick avoids latest film flap

Short on kickoffs
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / November 30, 2010

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Bill Belichick wasn’t going to touch it.

Asked yesterday at the close of his conference call for his thoughts on the situation in Denver, where Broncos coach and former Belichick assistant Josh McDaniels is under fire after the team admitted filming a 49ers walkthrough last month in London, the Patriots coach was as brief as possible:

“Really just focused on the Jets.’’

It wasn’t surprising that Belichick wouldn’t comment on the situation, for which the Broncos were fined $50,000 and McDaniels was docked an additional $50,000 for not disclosing it in a more timely fashion.

The term “Spygate’’ was introduced in 2007 after the NFL ruled the Patriots had videotaped Jets coaches, leading to a collective $750,000 in fines and the forfeiture of a first-round draft pick.

Sunday morning, Fox Sports reported that during a staff meeting on Friday, when he told his assistants about the coming punishments, McDaniels said the Broncos’ taping incident wasn’t as bad as the Patriots’ because it was “coached’’ and “practiced’’ in Foxborough. McDaniels previously had denied any knowledge of the Patriots’ taping practices.

Sharing the credit Tom Brady’s MVP candidacy is growing as the quarterback’s numbers also rise — he’s 70 of 95 (73.7 percent) for 877 yards, nine touchdowns, and zero interceptions in his last three games — but No. 12 isn’t about to acknowledge that he’s playing at a high level right now.

“I could play better, there’s no doubt about that, and I really think this would be a great week for it,’’ Brady said during a morning appearance on WEEI. “I’d say offensively we’re definitely executing better than we had been; that really just makes my job easier when everyone is doing their job.

“Really, it discredits what everyone else is doing if you just talk about the quarterback because as the quarterback you rely on everybody else, and fortunately for me I play with a great group of guys who work their butt off.’’

New England is averaging a league-leading 30.4 points per game.

Cover story While kicker Shayne Graham has been solid on field goals and extra points since he was signed to take the place of injured Stephen Gostkowski, his kickoffs have been relatively short (two touchbacks on 22 attempts).

Asked if the Patriots would consider signing a kickoff specialist, director of player personnel Nick Caserio threw his support behind Graham.

“Sometimes there are elements that come into play, whether he’s kicking into the wind, he’s kicking with the wind, whatever the case may be. We’re happy with Shayne, what he’s done to this point,’’ Caserio said. “Special teams, it’s never one particular player, one particular spot. It’s a collective effort, and I don’t think that’s more evident than on coverage units. And those are big plays in the game.

“We’re not going down to any warm climates any time soon. We’ll deal with the elements. We’ll try to cover the kicks the best we can because they’re a big factor in the game, this week especially with a guy like [the Jets’] Brad Smith.’’

Smith is averaging 29.2 yards per kickoff return, most in the NFL among players with at least 30 attempts. He had an 89-yard runback for a touchdown Thursday night against the Bengals.

Wait and see While both running back Fred Taylor and safety Jarrad Page were in uniform for the first time in several weeks, neither played a snap against the Lions.

They would have played had they been needed, Belichick said, but with both coming off injuries (turf toe for Taylor, partially torn calf muscle for Page), there was no reason to push them into game action.

“For all of our players, it’s the same every week: get ready to go, be ready to play,’’ Belichick said.

“Based on the game plan and matchups and practice performance and all those things, we select the players that will be active for the game and based on the game, some players will play more or less.

“I expect every player to come in here and get ready to go this week and be ready to play against the Jets. And ultimately the playing-time decisions are coaching decisions; those aren’t things the players can control.’’

Clock management The NFL announced the Patriots’ Week 14 game against the Bears at Soldier Field Dec. 12 has been changed from a 1 p.m. kickoff to 4:15. It will remain on CBS . . . Jets right tackle Damien Woody missed practice while recovering from a sprained knee ligament, an injury he played through last week, but said he will be able to play Monday night. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (groin) was limited in Jets practice, but also hopes to play after missing two games.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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