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News Blitz 11/22: Branch suspension

Most Patriots observers were taken aback by the news that DT Alan Branch had been suspended again, this time by the NFL for a failed drug test (reportedly marijuana). As a result, unless his expected appeal is successful, Branch will miss New England's next four games, beginning this Sunday against the New York Jets.

The Boston Globe has more details of Branch's disciplinary action, including financial implications for him and the team.

"In total, the suspension will likely cost Branch about $1.13 million, and could hurt his future value. Branch is set to be a free agent after this season," the writer notes.

ESPN's blog examines the impact of Branch's absence in a post today, including who might fill his void.

Elsewhere on New England's D-line, Jabaal Sheard was excluded from the travel party to San Francisco this past weekend, and not for health reasons, apparently. However, Bill Belichick gave no substantive explanation for the move when asked about it by reporters on Monday, as CSNNE.com recounts.

"[Bill Belichick] fell back on his often-stated 'all decisions are made based on what's best for team' mantra during his Monday conference call," the author explains.

"'What's best for the team' can mean a lot of different things – off-field considerations, on-field performance etc. – and Belichick opens the door for media-based speculation when he doesn't specify. He doesn't care. And here's something else he doesn't care about: perception."

On a positive note, RB Dion Lewis had a successful return from injury in his season debut at San Francisco. The Boston Herald even asserts that Lewis exceeded expectations with his performance level in that game.

"I knew I could do that," Lewis said afterward. "I wouldn't have come back and played if I couldn't do that because that's what I do. That's my game. If I couldn't do everything I'm used to doing, I probably wouldn't be out there."

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy also made his Patriots debut against San Fran, and CSNNE.com looks at Van Noy's contributions to New England's defense then and going forward.

Staying on defense, NESN.com provides a detailed breakdown of the Patriots' No. 2 cornerback rotation throughout this season.

Rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell enjoyed a productive afternoon against San Francisco this past Sunday, including his first NFL TD reception. New England under Bill Belichick's stewardship has had less than desirable results with developing young receivers. However, as ESPN's blog points out today, Mitchell may be bucking that trend in a positive way.

"I've just been impressed with him since the day he came in and his personality is infectious," QB Tom Brady remarks about Mitchell in this piece. "He's growing along with everybody else. It's been really great to see."

Speaking of the win over San Fran, the *Globe *provides one writer's impressions of the victory, which he claims are inconclusive.

"It struck me how difficult it was to evaluate the Patriots and where they stand with six games to go in the regular season. Sunday's game was an anomaly that likely won't translate moving forward, for several reasons," he states before going on to elaborate.

Another *Globe *columnist claims the Patriots are still a work in progress.

"As we approach Thanksgiving, the Patriots have proven that beating ordinary, injured, and inept teams is no problem," he declares. "But as the real season looms, they still have some real work to do."

However, for an opposing viewpoint of the 8-2 Patriots, visit the Boston Herald column that asks, why the doom and gloom over this New England team?

Peeking ahead to this weekend's game against New York, WEEI.com gives us five things to know about the Jets.

Further ahead, Martellus Bennett has been having a great first season with New England, but should the veteran tight end be a priority signing for the Patriots this coming off-season, as he is reported to be? The MassLive blog examines this question.

Let's end today on a light note. What's it like to have pizza and beer with Brady, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon? One Patriots fan knows, and the *Herald *caught up with him.

"It was awesome, fantastic, a little surreal, but fun," said Rick Granberg, the winner of a contest to dine and drink with the famous trio in Boston. And he goes into a lot more detail in the Herald story. Enjoy!

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