Belichick is seeing secondary gains

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Belichick is seeing secondary gains

Two games ago, the Patriots picked off three Andrew Luck passes and returned two of them for touchdowns.

Last game, safety Steve Gregory snuffed some building Jets momentum by stepping in front of a red-zone throw by Mark Sanchez in the first quarter of the Patriots blowout win.

Opposing wide receivers left desperately and totally alone along the sidelines for 20-something gains are becoming less frequent. Late-arriving defensive backs arriving without brakes and plowing into receivers have become scarce.

The Patriots secondary is making incremental improvement. Just like it did last year. Bill Belichick sees it too.

"I think over the last couple of weeks we've made improvement there," Belichick said on a morning conference call Monday. "Steve (Gregory) coming back, Devin (McCourty) at safety and with (Aqib) Talib and Alfonzo (Dennard) switching sides; with Talib coming (to the team) in the past couple games . . . there's some moving parts there but I think those guys have worked hard to try to improve it and I think there are some positive signs and they need to continue to do that."

Belichick said that, although the Patriots' track record has been to build momentum and efficiency as a season progresses, improvement is not automatic.

"It can increase as the season goes along," Belichick said, speaking of the secondary's intuitiveness and anticipation specifically. "I don't think that's a given or something you can take for granted. The people that are involved in the rotation and the amount of opportunity that they get to practice, prepare, play and communicate together (leads to improvement)."

Belichick cited practice reps as being indispensable to being able to effectively carry out a game-day plan.

"If your scout team gives you a really good look at a play in practice and you get that play in the game it can really build your timing and help your anticipation," Belichick noted. "That can make a difference too. All those little things add up. Where one stops and the other starts, they're all interrelated and all a part of the end-result product. We just try to incrementally (improve) and hope that in the end the product (is effective)."

The Patriots have cycled through a slew of defensive backs this season. Injuries, ineffectiveness and skipping on from ineffective combinations have forced their hand into moving guys around. But it now seems the intangible and invaluable attributes of confidence, aggressiveness and trust are starting to emerge.

"You know how quickly it moves and how fast the game is, especially at that position," said Belichick. "Just a split-second of anticipation or of saved reaction time can make the difference between making a play and giving up a play and those split-seconds are very hard to measure but the difference can be the difference in a game. So if you think that it's improving, I think it should continue to improve, it needs to continue to improve. We've gotta really work hard at it. That's everybody."

Bruschi to serve as honorary captain for Patriots before AFC title game

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Bruschi to serve as honorary captain for Patriots before AFC title game

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will have a good-luck charm of sorts on their side before they take on the Steelers for the AFC Championship.

Former Patriots linebacker and three-time Super Bowl champ Tedi Bruschi will serve as an honorary captain Sunday, taking the field for the pre-game coin toss with Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower and Matthew Slater. Tom Brady is the team's fourth active captain, though, he rarely participates in the coin toss. 

"With an undefeated record in games that we have honored him, I can't think of a more perfect player to serve as honorary captain this Sunday," team chairman and CEO Robert Kraft said in a statement. "He was called the perfect Patriot by head coach Bill Belichick, and he has lived up to that nickname with an 8-0 record in games where he has been a part of the Patriots celebration."

Bruschi is 2-0 as an honorary captain in AFC Championship Games, taking part in the pre-game festivities in the conference title games in both 2012 and 2015. Bruschi was last at Gillette Stadium as an honorary captain back in Week 13, when the Patriots took on the Rams and celebrated the franchise's Super Bowl XXXVI victory back in 2002.