Patriots notebook

Talking up the opponent seems to fit the bill

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / December 23, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — It began on Monday afternoon — the win over the Packers barely 15 hours old — with Bill Belichick saying the Bills will be a challenge for the Patriots on Sunday.

It continued yesterday, as the Patriots to a man mentioned the Bills’ 4-2 record over their last six games.

The Patriots frequently talk up opponents, but coming off a showing against the Packers that few on the team would call stellar, the rhetoric has been ratcheted up a bit this week.

“I’ve really been impressed watching Buffalo here the last few days,’’ said Belichick. “The last six weeks after the bye week, after that 0-8 start, they’ve really played well. They lost a tough one to Pittsburgh that they probably deserved to win, but we all know how that goes.’’

“They’re a much better team,’’ said tight end Alge Crumpler. “They gave us problems the first time that we played them. Since [their] bye week, they’re 4-2. They could easily be 5-1 with the Pittsburgh game, so they’re playing very well.’’

“They’re playing good football. [They] really should have won the Pittsburgh game, so they’re a tough team and they’re playing very hard,’’ said linebacker Jerod Mayo.

The Bills did, in fact, lose their first three games after their Week 6 bye, but the first two of those were both in overtime and on the road, against Baltimore and Kansas City, and the third was another 3-point loss, to Chicago.

Their first win was against the Lions, and they then posted a come-from behind win over the Bengals in Cincinnati. The loss to Pittsburgh would have been a win had receiver Steve Johnson been able to hang onto a pass in the end zone in the closing seconds.

Buffalo has won the last two weeks, against Cleveland and in Miami.

Over the six-game stretch, Buffalo has allowed just 16 points per game, after yielding an average of 29 points in its first eight losses.

But with so many things to potentially distract the Patriots — they’ve already clinched a playoff spot, are in the driver’s seat for the division title, and have beaten the Bills 14 straight times — Belichick is doing his best to ensure that the team does not lose focus.

“There’s no question that we’re going to get their best effort, like we always do,’’ Belichick said. “It’s always tough against Buffalo, but I have a lot of respect for Chan [Gailey] and his staff and the job that they do. I know that he’ll have his team well prepared.

“We’re going to have to go out there and try to play better than they do. But there’s no doubt about it, they’re a good football team. They’re playing well and I know that they’ll play well against us. We’ll just have to play and coach well against them. It’s a big challenge for us.’’

Brady sits with flu Eight Patriots were unable to take part in the practice yesterday, including Tom Brady.

Brady was listed as having the flu in addition to the usual foot and right shoulder issues. Aaron Hernandez missed practice last Friday with flu-like symptoms, so the bug may be hitting the team. Brady also pushed back his usual Wednesday news conference to today, a pre-practice sign that something was amiss.

Tully Banta-Cain (groin), Deion Branch (knee), Dan Connolly (concussion), Brandon Deaderick (shoulder), Hernandez (hip), Myron Pryor (back), and Mike Wright (concussion) also did not practice.

On the positive side, Ron Brace (concussion) returned to practice and was limited, as was Jermaine Cunningham (calf). Kyle Arrington (elbow) was listed as having full participation.

Brace said his time healing since suffering the concussion against the Bears Dec. 12 was “boring,’’ but now he was feeling pretty good.

The Bills listed just three players on their participation report, all of whom did not practice: offensive linemen Demetrius Bell (knee) and Geoff Hangartner (knee), and linebacker Chris Kelsay (knee).

Special player After becoming an instant sensation with his 71-yard kickoff return against the Packers, Connolly was named the AFC special teams player of the week.

“Congratulations to him. It was an excellent run on his part,’’ Belichick said. “He got some great blocking along the way. It’s a play that we’ve never seen before, but it was timely and he did a good job with the opportunity.’’

Gailey joked the Bills will look to kick away from Connolly, who has not had a chance to discuss his return publicly after suffering a concussion later in the game.

Connolly is just the second offensive lineman to earn the special teams honor, after Oakland’s Langston Walker in 2004 for blocking a field goal.

It’s personal Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has said he has a “personal vendetta’’ against Brady, yesterday called the Saints’ Drew Brees a better quarterback than Brady or the Colts’ Peyton Manning, and told Yahoo! Sports that he did not list Brady on his Pro Bowl ballot.

Which AFC quarterbacks did Suggs vote for? Manning, the Chargers’ Philip Rivers, and the Bills’ Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Part of Suggs’s reasoning was that Brady — the favorite to be named the league’s most valuable player — likely didn’t vote for him, either.

Fans did not feel the same way, as the league announced yesterday that Brady was the leading vote-getter league-wide for the Pro Bowl. Voting closed Monday.

Brady received 1,877,079 votes from fans, the Eagles’ Michael Vick was second with 1,522,437, and Manning was third with 1,130,399.

Among rookies, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was fourth with 205,948 votes. Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh led all rookies in votes and also was the top vote-getter among NFC defensive tackles.

The Pro Bowl teams will be announced Tuesday night.

Cohen in, Leonard out The Patriots signed Landon Cohen and released fellow defensive lineman Louis Leonard, who had signed just a week ago.

Cohen, listed at 6 feet 3 inches, 300 pounds, is in his third NFL season. He was a seventh-round pick of the Lions in 2008 out of Ohio. He spent his first two seasons with Detroit, but was waived prior to the start of the regular season and claimed by Jacksonville.

“I was just working out and my agent called me and said they want to work me out here,’’ Cohen said. “I came in for a workout, I really didn’t know what to expect or anything. I didn’t bring any clothes or anything, I was just working out. And ended up staying.’’

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

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