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Patriots.com News Blitz - 12/14/05

Michael Felger of the Boston Herald reports that New England signed free agent offensive lineman Ross Tucker yesterday. To make room on the roster, the Patriots waived running back Michael Cloud. They also released guard Ryan Krug from the practice squad yesterday.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that the 2005 Bucs aren't the 2002 Bucs, who held opponents to 12.25 points per game, but they're limiting teams to just over 16 points a game. Defensive tackle Anthony McFarland may not play Saturday, but they have received such a boost from former Boston College star Chris Hovan, reborn as a nose tackle, that they may rotate a few tackles in McFarland's spot inside of ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires. The defense has allowed the fewest first downs in the league (195) and only 6 first-possession points (both field goals), second to the Broncos, who have allowed only 3. They're seventh overall in stopping teams on third down (34.5 percent) and are allowing only 92.85 rushing yards per game (fifth).

The Boston Globe reports that Walter J. ''Walt" Cudzik, who helped anchor the offensive line of the original Boston Patriots, died Sunday at his home in Gulf Shores, Ala., of congestive heart failure, according to his son David. He was 73. Mr. Cudzik, a center, joined the Patriots in the American Football League's inaugural year, 1960. He played in all 56 games from 1960 through 1963 and was named captain.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that barring a complete collapse by the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Peyton Manning seems likely to be named the NFL's Most Valuable Player. But the quarterback of the home team is also putting up MVP numbers. Tom Brady's 91.3 rating is the second-best of his career (92.6 last season). He leads the league with 3,630 yards, 1,558 of which have come after the catch, also best in the league. He's had 20 passes dropped and only four passes deflected. Brady, who is coming off one of the gutsiest performances of his career against Buffalo -- he played most of the game with an injured left leg -- has a 103.1 rating at Gillette Stadium. He also leads the NFL with 28 plays of 25 yards or better.

Michael Felger of the Boston Herald offers a story on the Patriots red zone defense. Strong red zone defense was always thought to be a given on Bill Belichick-coached teams. That's what made the Patriots' plunge to the bottom of the league in that category this season so shocking. But that worm has turned. There is now a growing list of encouraging trends with the Pats, and their play defending the goal line is near the top of it (right next to the run defense). It's one of the reasons you have to start taking them seriously again. The Pats have allowed just one red zone touchdown over the past three games, including a string of six straight trips by the opponent without a TD. Even in recent games where the Pats' defense struggled as a whole, the red zone was a bright spot.

Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald takes a look at Patriots rookie cornerback Ellis Hobbs. After a stellar four-year career at Iowa State, Hobbs was selected by the Patriots in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft. In a perfect Patriots world, he would have been granted the luxury of being eased into the game plan, but this season has been anything but perfect. Injuries to the likes of Tyrone Poole, Chad Scott, Duane Starks and others have forced the Pats to field a patchwork defensive backfield, which has translated to more playing time for Hobbs than anyone anticipated.

Eric McHugh of the Patriot Ledger writes that through 11 weeks of an up-and-down season, New England had been averaging 27 minutes 51 seconds of possession, putting them in the red since it's a 60-minute game. That average, by the way, left them in a tie for 27th in the NFL (with the one-win Houston Texans, of all teams), ahead of only the Jets, 49ers, Browns and Dolphins. Over the last two games, though, the Patriots have become ball hogs. Two weeks ago, they held the ball for a robust 38:10 against the Jets in a 16-3 victory. Then they topped that in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Sunday to the tune of 41:59 in a 35-7 blowout of the Bills. It was the most time of possession the Patriots have recorded in a non-overtime game since Belichick became coach in 2000. They had the ball for 43:50 in an OT triumph in Houston in 2003, but more than seven minutes of that came in the extra period. "Hey, it's always a plus," receiver Troy Brown said yesterday on WEEI-AM. ''The offense must be doing something right when you've got the ball that long."

Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes. Reiss also offers his latest mailbag where he answers your questions.

Michael Felger of the Boston Herald offers his weekly Patriots report card. The lowest grade of a C went out to the Patriots special teams, who allowed Terrence McGee to rack up 126 return yards on five attempts.

Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.

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