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Patriots.com News Blitz - 12/30/05

Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that Bill Belichick said his starters definitely are going to play against the Dolphins Sunday. How much they play will be determined by how the game goes. Indications are players nursing injuries that are projected to be better with a week of rest are unlikely to play much, if at all. That list is headed by linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who was not at the portion of yesterday's practice the media is allowed to view.

Jim McCabe of the Boston Globe breaks down all of this weeks NFL matchups and offers his picks.

Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe also offers an article on Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest. Through 12 seasons, McGinest's productivity has remained steady. He had a career-high 88 tackles in 1995, he averaged a career-high 5.6 tackles per game in 2003, and this season he is sixth on the team in total tackles (55). But more significantly, he is second on the team with six sacks and is tied for second in solo stops (44). That means when he gets a hand on a ballcarrier -- even with his gigantic right hand buried beneath a cast for much of the season -- the play is over.

Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald writes that the Patriots have heard how some fans and pundits believe an easier playoff road for them would be created by losing to the Dolphins Sunday. That would assure a first-round date with Jacksonville, thus avoiding Pittsburgh or Kansas City. The suggestion that they would try a little less against the Dolphins Sunday or Belichick would throw in the towel early to stay away from a first-round encounter with Pittsburgh or anyone else. To them, it's blasphemy. "That's just silly," punter Josh Miller said. "At the end of the day, any one of us in here, we don't care who we're playing. It doesn't matter. You still strap it on. You're going to play a good team regardless. That's how we look at it."

Tom Curran of the Providence Journal writes that New England has become more and more proficient at scoring red-zone touchdowns as the season has progressed. Through 15 games, New England is second in the AFC in turning red-zone trips into touchdowns, doing it on 63 percent of their 54 drives. As for goal-to-go situations, the Pats have had 31 of those and scored touchdowns 26 times. By contrast, their opponents have been goal-to-go 22 times and have 14 touchdowns. The Patriots' red-zone efficiency is building to a crescendo. After three times settling for field goals in four red-zone trips against the Jets on Dec. 4, the Pats have scored touchdowns on 12 of their last 15 trips inside the 20. "It's better execution," Bill Belichick shrugged. "It's not new plays, it's not like we're running the option down there and they can't stop it. We're just doing things better. More consistently. One of the things that's killed us and killed us (Monday night against the Jets) is negative plays. We had a sack down there on second down (late in the game) and it cost us an opportunity for a touchdown."

Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald writes that Tom Brady is planning on playing as long as coach Bill Belichick lets him, and as usual, is counting on a stiff test Sunday from the Miami Dolphins, who come to Foxboro riding a five-game winning streak. The Patriots quarterback isn't likely to see his consecutive starts streak end at 86. "I expect to play as long as I can, until coach Belichick take me out," Brady said yesterday. "That's usually the way it goes. I said this before, I love playing, and I think that's the reward for all this crap we do during the week, to get out and play.

Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald also writes that more than 40 members of the Patriots' 1985 AFC championship team are expected to be on hand for a ceremony prior to Sunday's matchup against Miami at Gillette Stadium. Nearly 20 years ago, the Pats defeated the Dolphins in Miami, 31-14, in the AFC Championship Game, earning them a trip to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. "It's an opportunity to recognize a little bit of history in the organization," the former linebacker said. "A lot of us feel a little special being the first team to make it to the Super Bowl. We have that as a little bit of a bragging right, even though the teams that won it overrule us. It's still special in the point we were the first to do it. . . . It was a special year."

Tom Curran of the Providence Journal writes that with Brandon Gorin having taken over at right tackle, Tom Ashworth was a man without a position when he returned from a knee injury. But his skills have been put to good use in the last few weeks, both as a pass-catcher at tight end (he had a touchdown catch against Tampa) and as a lead blocker in the backfield. Monday night against the Jets, the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Ashworth did a nice job of clearing holes in short-yardage situations for the Patriots. His nimbleness and relatively good speed make him an interesting weapon as the playoffs approach.

Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant takes a look at how Dolphins head coach Nick Saban has turned the francise around. Greenberg writes that if Miami is able to secure a top level quarterback in the offseason, the Patriots will have a serious contender to deal with next season.

USA Today offers an article which discusses linebacker Tedy Bruschi's calf injury. Bruschi was knocked out of Monday night's win over the Jets with a left calf injury, reportedly one in which the muscle was torn. Beisel, who figures to replace Bruschi in the starting lineup in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Dolphins - and perhaps in the playoffs, too - suffered a similar injury last year while playing for the Chiefs and missed nearly a month.

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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