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Patriots notebook

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick admitted yesterday that he’d spent very little time watching the Carolina Panther this season. With the exception of games the Panthers played against upcoming Patriots opponents, Belichick hadn’t seen Carolina at all.

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick admitted yesterday that he'd spent very little time watching the Carolina Panther this season. With the exception of games the Panthers played against upcoming Patriots opponents, Belichick hadn't seen Carolina at all.

But that will most certainly change by Thursday when Belichick is next slated to meet with the media and the team will begin its on-field preparations for Super Bowl XXXVIII. Belichick said yesterday that the coaching staff will start to implement the game plan later in the week but the team won't be quite ready for the Panthers when they touch down in Houston on Sunday.

One key concern for the team that probably will be a major topic throughout the next two weeks is the status of linebacker Tedy Bruschi. The veteran was shaken up late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 24-14 win over the Colts in the AFC Championship Game and limped to the sidelines.

Bruschi spoke with the media for a long time after the game but wouldn't divulge the extent of his injury. The problem appeared to be in his lower right leg as he seemed to jam his foot into the ground just after the two-minute warning. He fell to the turf after trying to stretch out the injury and eventually limped slowly off the field.

Bruschi admitted after the game that the injury was not a cramp and that he planned to meet with the training staff for evaluation. Belichick didn't shed much more light on the topic. "We will have to take a look and evaluate that," the coach said. "He didn't finish the game. We will see how he is and we will update you on that as soon as we know something."

Since the injury report won't be revealed until a week from tomorrow (Jan. 28), don't expect much information on the subject until then.

I like Tom

Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme paid Tom Brady a huge compliment at the start of the playoffs when he was asked which NFL quarterback he'd like to emulate and said Brady. Delhomme mentioned all of Brady's team-oriented characteristics and penchant for winning as part of his explanation.

Evidently, Belichick and Bill Parcells saw some of those characteristics in Delhomme back in 1997 when both were with the New York Jets. Delhomme was out of work after being released by the New Orleans Saints and the Jets had him in for a couple of tryouts.

But the Saints eventually re-signed him to their practice squad, and stint in NFL Europe backing up Kurt Warner in 1998 and five years of relative inactivity in New Orleans later, Delhomme led the Panthers to the Super Bowl with a poor man's Brady approach.

"He's a winner," Belichick said. "He's making the plays you need to make to win football games. That's what it's all about. It's not about stats."

Drafting a plan

With two weeks of hype staring Patriots fans in the face, there will be countless tidbits of information regarding the Panthers surfacing during that time. Cornerback Tyrone Poole began his career with the Panthers and was the franchise's second-ever draft pick back in 1995. Poole was the 22nd overall selection in the first round (one spot ahead of Ty Law) and Carolina's second pick of the round. Earlier they selected current New York Giants quarterback Kerry Collins with the fifth overall pick.

Another draft link between the teams is Rod Smith, the former Patriots cornerback who was the Panthers first pick in the 1995 expansion draft. The Patriots also lost wide receiver Steve Hawkins to the Panther in that expansion draft.

The last time the teams met was the final week of the 2001 season with the Patriots cruising to a 38-6 win in Charlotte. But that game was originally scheduled to take place in Week Two but was postponed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The game was supposed to take place on Sept. 16 (and the Panthers would have been 1-0) but wasn't played until Jan. 6 after the Panthers lost 14 straight games.

Another honor for Belichick

Belichick racked up another award when The Sporting News named him its 2003 NFL Coach of the Year, easily outdistancing Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, Carolina's John Fox and Kansas City's Dick Vermeil. Belichick received 13 first-place votes from 26 head coaches while Lewis had just four and Fox and Vermeil tied with two each.

The magazine also announced its All-Pro team with the Patriots and Panthers getting one player each named. Both were defensive tackles as Richard Seymour and Kris Jenkins earn spots.

By the bye

Belichick made an interesting point on Monday by saying this is his fifth trip to the Super Bowl as a coach (1986, 90 with the Giants and 1996 and 2001 with the Patriots). In the previous four, there was one-week between the game and the conference title games and two had two weeks in between. The major difference this time is his last of familiarity with the opponent.

"In all of those cases we had played the team earlier in the season," Belichick said. "In this case, we're really starting new on Carolina. I think the most important thing from a coaching standpoint is to make sure that we know what we're doing before we give it to the players. So we're going to make sure we take enough time to thoroughly evaluate the Panthers and try to come up with a competitive game plan against what they're doing."

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