Belichick: Cunningham suspension 'unfortunate'

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Belichick: Cunningham suspension 'unfortunate'

Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave the expected answer when asked about his latest suspended player.

"It's a league matter," he said on Tuesday's conference call. "It's really out of our hands."

Belichick's reaction to the ban of defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham is nearly identical to the one he had less than three weeks ago, when running back Brandon Bolden was suspended.

Both players broke the same NFL rule by violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances.

Both players received the same punishment: Four games off without pay.

If Belichick fears a trend, he wouldn't say. Though that doesn't mean the coach hid his displeasure entirely.

"Unfortunately, sometimes on these things people make mistakes," Belichick said. "But everybody's accountable for them. I think those situations are unfortunate. Neither one of them needed to happen, they weren't that important. But they were violations, so they are what they are."

As the league is dealing with Cunningham, Belichick has the rest of his roster to manage. New England travels to Miami this weekend for its first of two divisional battles with the Dolphins. The Patriots can not only improve to nine wins this Sunday, but in doing so, clinch the AFC East's top spot.

The defensive line needs to be patched up in a hurry.

"We'll have to take a look at our options here," Belichick said of replacing Cunningham's presence. "Basically, there's two options: We could bring somebody in from outside and sign them to the roster, or we could do something with a player on the practice squad. We'll see. We'll take a look at our options, talk to Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio, get his thoughts and input on it relative to the personnel that's available like the way we usually do."

Cunningham's loss could mean gains for Trevor Scott.

Scott, a fifth-year defensive end, has played on the line sparingly this season, spending more time on special teams instead. But when starter Chandler Jones injured his ankle two weeks ago against Indianapolis, Scott stepped up. Against the Colts and Jets, he's added 51 snaps on the 'D'-line in addition to the usual duties on kickoff, punt coverage, and punt return.

Belichick lauded Scott's versatility Tuesday.

"Trevor's smart. He works hard," Belichick said. "He's in very good condition and he's a good athlete. He can run, he's quick, and he's long, he's got good length at the end of the line of scrimmage. He can handle some of those bigger tackles and tight ends, the 6-5, 6-6 tight ends with long arms. I think he's done a solid job when he's had the opportunity. We've had a lot of competition at those positions with Rob Ninkovich, and Chandler of course, Jermaine, Justin Francis . . .

"It's been a very competitive position, but he's done well when he's had the opportunity and he's contributed well for us in the kicking game."

Jones, seen Monday without a walking boot or limp, could come back this weekend. Cunningham, however, isn't eligible to return to the active roster until Monday, December 24. Someone -- Scott, or some rotation of players -- will need to make up for the 48-percent of snaps the latter defensive end played through New England's first eight games. And the coaching staff has to figure it out quietly, efficiently.

Belichick won't abide anything but business as usual.

"We'll handle it the same way we usually handle those types of situations," he said. "We'll try to make the best decision for the team we can for this week, for the remaining five games."

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Ryan, Falcons rout Packers, 44-21

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NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Ryan, Falcons rout Packers, 44-21

ATLANTA - Matt Ryan and Julio Jones teamed up for a dominant playoff performance, and the Atlanta Falcons ignored all those ghosts from the last half-century.

Next up: Super Bowl 51.

Ryan threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns in another MVP-worthy showing, while Jones shook off a toe injury to haul in nine catches for 180 yards and two scores, leading the Falcons to a 44-21 blowout of the storied Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship Sunday.

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Manziel attends AFC Championship Game in Brady jersey

Manziel attends AFC Championship Game in Brady jersey

You’ll never guess who the seventh-best quarterback* at Gillette Stadium was Sunday. 

Via video posted on his Snapchat, 2014 Browns first-rounder Johnny Manziel, currently out of the league, attended the AFC Championship wearing a Tom Brady jersey. 

Manziel was released by the Browns last March after two seasons and just eight starts. Had he played this season, he would have been suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. 

*He might have been eighth-best. Julian Edelman played quarterback in college. People forget that.