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Patriots.com News Blitz - 12/29/05

Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that tight end Daniel Graham was a healthy scratch from Monday night's game. According to Belichick, none of the players listed as inactive for the game sat out because of injury. Their ''benchings" were all coaches' decisions. "Whichever players were inactive last week, they were inactive," Belichick said. "It wasn't because of any medical reason. It was because of decisions that either I made or the coaching staff made, however you want to put it. That's why those decisions were made." With an allegedly healthy Graham on the sidelines, tackle Tom Ashworth started at tight end, along with Benjamin Watson and Christian Fauria, and linebacker Mike Vrabel was in for several goal-line plays at tight end, catching two touchdown passes from Tom Brady.

Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe reports that the Patriots released their injury report yesterday. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi was the only player listed as questionable and was listed with a calf injury. With the Miami game having little significance except for possible playoff seeding, a team source said Bruschi is expected to rehab in hopes of being closer to 100 percent the following week in the playoffs. "The best way I can categorize it is he's day to day," Belichick said of Bruschi, who hurt his calf on a first-half punt against the Jets. Tom Curran of the Providence Journal also offers a similar article on Bruschi's injury.

Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes that you should feel good about what the Patriots accomplished this season, no matter what happens the rest of the way. You should feel as confident as ever in Bill Belichick's program. Since roughly Thanksgiving on, the Pats have done just about everything they could to put themselves in the best position to succeed in January. Past events both out of their control (the departures of the coordinators, for instance) and firmly within their domain (the trade for Duane Starks, for example) may conspire to keep them short of the Super Bowl. But if the Pats go down early, it looks like they'll do so while playing and coaching at their best.

Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald writes that the possibility of not having No. 54 calling the plays, setting the defense, establishing the tone, communicating all the necessary changes and switches, and just being Tedy Bruschi out on the field has Patriots fans pacing the floors and questioning whether problems from the first-half of the season with the middle linebacking core will rear their ugly head again.

John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that fans recognized Willie McGinest yesterday with the 12th Player Award, given annually to the Patriot who best exemplifies team spirit. It's typically bestowed upon an overachiever, but even a player as decorated as the 12-year-veteran McGinest fit that bill this year.

John Tomase of the Boston Herald also writes that for all the talk of the resurrected running game, particularly after the Pats carried 50 times against the Jets, that part of the offense remains a work in progress. The Pats averaged only 3 yards a carry against a Jets defensive front missing starting linemen Dewayne Robertson and Shaun Ellis. Of their 50 carries, 23 went for 2 yards or less, though Corey Dillon's two short touchdown runs and two of Tom Brady's sneaks for first downs are included in that total. Regardless, the Pats haven't demonstrated an ability to control the ball against a good defense, which the Jets most certainly are not. "Everything in the running game can be improved, period," head coach Bill Belichick said. "That includes everybody - the blockers, the runners, the fakers. The total execution of it. I don't think you can exclude anyone from that process." The Patriots rank 20th in the league with 97.1 yards a game on the ground. Their per-carry average of 3.5, however, is tied for third to last in the league. Tom Curran of the Providence Journal also offers a similar article on the Patriots ground attack.

Michael Felger of the Boston Herald offers his weekly Patriots report card. Over the last four games, the Pats have held opponents to a grand total of 125 rushing yards, for an average of 31 yards per game. As a result, they've catapulted up the league rankings from 27th in run defense to fourth. And the scoreboard has reflected it. After nine games, the Pats' defense bottomed out, ranking 30th in the NFL in points allowed (27.5 per game). In the six games since, they've shaved seven points off that average. Now they rank 17th (20.7). Felger gives a grade of A for the defensive line and A- for the linebacker.

Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant offers a story on linebacker Willie McGinest. Although he is a 12-year veteran McGinest is still dominating opponents, an even more impressive achievement considering he has played most of the season with a broken right thumb. For a guy who had trouble staying healthy at the midpoint of his career - he missed 19 games and 26 starts from 1997 to 2001 - McGinest has been a terror since. He has started 37 consecutive games, the longest streak of any Patriots defender. This season, McGinest has been in on 56 tackles (44 solo), knocked down four passes, and is second on the team with 6 1/2 sacks. He is third on the team's career sack list (78 1/2).

Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his analysis of New England's 31-21 win over the New York Jets.

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.

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

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