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Taylor missing from start of Pats practice

09.30.10 at 1:31 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Veteran running back Fred Taylor was among three who were absent for the start of Patriots practice Thursday afternoon. Taylor, who has been hobbled by a nagging toe injury, wasn’t on the field for the portion of practice the media is allowed to watch.

In addition to Taylor, cornerback Terrence Wheatley and offensive lineman Nick Kaczur were also not present for the beginning of the session, which was held in shorts and shells on the upper fields behind Gillette Stadium.

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Patriots add Clayton, drop Ojinnaka

09.30.10 at 12:51 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots have added running back Thomas Clayton to the 53-man roster and released offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka.

Clayton, 5-foot-11, 222 pounds, went to training camp with New England but was waived on Sept. 4. He signed to the Cleveland practice squad on Sept. 14. Clayton originally was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the sixth round of the 2007 Draft out of Kansas State. After spending all of 2007 on the San Francisco practice squad, Clayton spent the first 14 weeks of 2008 as part of that unit until being signed to the active roster for the final two games of the season. He spent the 2009 season on injured reserve after getting injured during the preseason.

Ojinnaka, 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, was acquired by New England in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons for undisclosed draft considerations on Aug. 23. He is a veteran of four NFL seasons after originally joining Atlanta as a fifth-round draft pick out of Syracuse in 2006.

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Spikes: ‘I was embarrassed by tape’

09.30.10 at 12:28 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes spoke Thursday morning at Gillette Stadium and for the first time addressed the sex tape that made national headlines shortly before the start of the regular season,

“I definitely was embarrassed, but we already addressed the issue so I’m just trying to move on.”

Although no disciplinary action was taken by the league against Spikes, the sexually explicit video reportedly resulted in Reebok dropping a proposed marketing deal with the rookie.

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AFC East division race starts to heat up

09.29.10 at 5:37 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. (AP)

FOXBORO — The race for the AFC East title begins in earnest this week.

On Monday night in Miami, the Patriots will meet the Dolphins, while the Jets travel to meet the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday. The Jets currently hold the top spot with a 2-1 mark, but their 2-0 mark in divisional play sets them apart from the rest of the field. Meanwhile, both the Patriots and Dolphins are 2-1, and 1-1 in the division. (For purposes of this argument, we’ll disregard the division chances of the 0-3 Bills. Click here for a complete look at the standings.)

It’s a safe bet that New York will handle the Bills — and move to 3-0 in AFC East play. That means the contest between New England and Miami will be big when it comes to counting the division wins and losses at the end of the season. The loser of that game falls to 1-2 in the division and would likely create a huge deficit for themselves with the division schedule halfway done.

The game is probably slightly more important for Miami — if they lost, the Dolphins, who have struggled up north late in the season, would then have to win games in New York and New England in December and January if they wanted a chance at the division.

But that doesn’t mean the game has any less significance for the Patriots.

“There are no bigger games than division games, and division games on the road are huge,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “I know it’s only the fourth game of the season, but these are the kind of games that at the end of the year have a big impact on the division standings [with] tiebreakers and all of that. We all know that.

“We don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but we know that they’re important games. I don’t think we really do anything different other than we know it’s a big division game. All division games are big.”

Last season, the Patriots lost a pair of division games, both of them on the road (to Miami and New York). It didn’t come back to haunt them — New England won the division by a game — but the two defeats certainly made things a lot closer than they needed to be.

“These are important games for us. If you can’t beat these teams, you’re not going to win the division,” said quarterback Tom Brady. “Division games on the road are hugely important. We had one of those this year and it didn’t go too well. We have another one and hopefully we can go out there and play a lot better.”

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Tom Brady: ‘Not a lot of margin for error’ in Miami

09.29.10 at 4:52 pm ET
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FOXBORO — You’d think after three Super Bowl titles, a perfect regular season and some great wins over the last 25 years in Miami, the questions would stop about how hard it is to win in South Florida. Well, that didn’t stop reporters from peppering Tom Brady on Wednesday about his difficulties over the years with the fish. Thanks to the Patriots P.R. staff, here were his answers to that question and much more:

Q: What is it about the Miami Dolphins that has contributed to the poor record in Florida since 2001?

TB: Um, what is it about them? The Dolphins… Well, I don’t think we’ve played particularly well [in Miami]. Certainly in the early part of my career, we got beat quite a bit down there. There was a long streak for a long time that we hadn’t won down there. Then, we hit Troy [Brown] on the deep post [in 2003], then we won a few [games]. But I think what it means is that there’s not a lot of margin for error down there. So as an offense, I think we have to understand that they have a very good defense and they play well at home. So, you’re right, it’s a tough contest for us every time we go down there, every time we play those guys. In my experience here, whether it was home or away, we’ve always had some great battles with the Dolphins. I’m sure this week will be no different

Q: Do you have more options to throw to this year compared to last year?

TB: It’s only been three games, so I wouldn’t…

Q: Now you’ve spread it around more than last year…

TB: Yeah, I think the tight ends have been more involved this year. We’re running the ball like we did last week. I think that’s been a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish. So, we’re just trying to be balanced. The best offenses are the ones that run it well and throw it well. You have different [running] backs that run it like Sammy [Morris] and Benny [BenJarvus Green-Ellis] and Fred [Taylor]. And you have different receivers that you throw to that all present different challenges to the defense. We have some guys underneath we throw it to, some guys intermediate we throw to, some guys deep that we throw to, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to spread it and make them defend everything. Because if it becomes one-dimensional and you start throwing to one or two guys, then that’s not hard to defend. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bits from Belichick, 9/29

09.29.10 at 4:44 pm ET
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Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here are a few of the highlights from today’s Q&A between Patriots coach Bill Belichick and the media:

Q: Can you talk about the dimension that BenJarvus brings to the team and the options you have when he’s in there?
BB: Benny is a good, solid back. I think he does everything pretty well. [He] runs, obviously. He can pick up the blitz, catch the ball. He plays solid for us in the kicking game. He can really help us on all four downs in the game. It’s good to have players like that that are versatile and can do a lot of different things. Benny is tough. He seems to always kind of be moving forward on contact and get that extra yard or two. You don’t see him get knocked back very often. He’s got good pad level, runs hard. He’s tough.

Q: It’s been almost exactly two years since Miami unveiled the Wildcat against you guys. This year they’ve been more efficient with their standard sets instead of the Wildcat. Do you see it as something that might be coming to an end?
BB: They use it every week, so I think it’s part of their offense. They have a different version of it each week; they change the formation or the look or they give you a different look on it. But with Ronnie [Brown] – well it could be Ricky [Williams] too, they’ve used him back there – but as not the quarterback taking the snap from center and then having a variety of plays that come off it, they do a good job of disguising that. A lot of it’s just their core things they do on offense. It’s not really new plays, but it’s a new look and it puts you in a different dimension defensively. I think it’s still there. I think every team is going to see it and probably depending on how well they do or don’t do against it, you get more or less of it.

Q: Have you found your offense to be more varied this year in terms of how many different people Tom Brady can throw to?
BB: I think Tom has always tried to throw to the open receiver. We’ve always, I think for the most part, moved the ball around and had a number of different guys on the receiving end of his passes. We don’t design plays [and say], ‘Well, we’re going to go back and throw to this guy,’ or ‘we’re going to go back and throw to that guy.’ We try to keep everybody involved in the play and then depending on how the defense and what kind of coverage they present to the quarterback, he’ll make hopefully the right decision about where to go with the ball and those players will be open based on there being less coverage in that part of the field. That’s kind of how we set it up.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Pats Wednesday practice: Taylor absent

09.29.10 at 1:23 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Fred Taylor, who was limited in Sunday’s win because of a toe injury, was among three players missing for the start of Patriots practice in full pads on the upper fields outside Gillette Stadium.

Also out were cornerback Terrence Wheatley (foot) and OL Nick Kaczur (back). Wideout Taylor Price, who missed last week with an ankle injury, was back in action. A formal injury and participation report won’t be filed on Wednesday since the NFL doesn’t require injury reports for teams playing on Monday night until Thursday.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer, TE Aaron Hernandez, safety Jarrad Page, LB Dane Fletcher and safety Sergio Brown were in black jerseys, honored as practice players of the week.

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