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News Blitz 12/28: Alan Branch sticking out for Patriots D

There are a lot of areas worthy of praise for the Patriots these days.

New England is tied for the best record in the NFL and is seemingly playing its best football heading into the postseason. That success has come thanks to impressive performances by so many different guys in all three phases of the game.

The Boston Globe notes that Bill Belichick took the opportunity in his Tuesday conference call to dish out plenty of praise for veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch and the role he's played in the Patriots No. 3-ranked rush defense. While Branch has been around the NFL block, the Globe has young tight end Matt Lengel saying that every day with the Patriots is a gift this holiday season. The Globe NFL notebook looks at the Bills firing head coach Rex Ryan and his brother, Rob.

ESPNBoston.com recalls last year's debacle with the running game in the season finale in Miami and notes that things are quite different this time around. ESPNBoston.com reports that the Patriots worked out free agent linebacker Arthur Brown, a former second-round pick with a history as a special teams contributor. ESPNBoston.com uses Ryan's firing in Buffalo to look at the unbelievable stability that Belichick has brought to New England since 2000. ESPNBoston.com has Belichick saying Branch has been New England's best defensive tackle this season, by far. ESPN also wonders if either of New England's coordinators – Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia – might be fits to replace Ryan with the Bills.

The Associated Press tells the story of two off-duty firefighters who helped save a man who had a heart attack at last Saturday's Patriots game.

WEEI.com says Ryan's firing is the just the latest example of the AFC East's coaching carousel. WEEI.com declares that despite what some might say, the Patriots are indeed battle tested this season. WEEI.com says Atlanta's Matt Ryan should win the NFL MVP, not Tom Brady. WEEI.com passes along Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz saying the Patriots want no part of playing New York again in the Super Bowl.

CSNNE.com opines that Ryan chose posing over leading in Buffalo. CSNNE.com closes the door on the dominant win over the Jets with its report card (slideshow warning!!!!) from the game. CSNNE.com notes that in defending himself to criticism, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says that Belichick is the only "great" sideline boss in the NFL. CSNNE.com also has stories on Floyd getting acclimated with the Patriots offense and Branch dominating in the middle for the team's defens

NFL.com's has Bucky Brooks – who has annoyed Patriots fans with his seemingly slanted coverage at times in the past – listing his top five coach of the year candidates and not including Belichick in the mix. NFL.com also details all the AFC East coaches that have come and gone during Belichick's dominant tenure in Foxborough.

FoxSports.com passes along Chargers tight end Asante Cleveland telling the tale of how he was cut by Belichick last year on Christmas Day.

SI.com has injured tight end Rob Gronkowski talking about Wrestlemania and other topics at the opening of his new Gronk Fitness Program in Boston. 

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