Belichick pleased with first performance

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Belichick pleased with first performance

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick wouldn't rule out the return of linebacker Dane Fletcher during a conference call Friday.

Belichick did acknowledge that the linebacker, who tore his ACL on a punt, according to a source, is not in good shape.

"The news on Dane doesn't look very good," said Belichick. "He'll be out for a while. It's unfortunate. He worked hard in the offseason. We've got good competition, it will be an opportunity for somebody else to step in but it's unfortunate for Dane."

Belichick remains high on the upside of veteran Bobby Carpenter, who seemed destined to platoon with Fletcher as a coverage linebacker, taking Brandon Spikes off the field on clear passing downs.

"Bobby is a very experienced player," said Belichick. "Hes been with several teams. Hes played inside and outside in the 3-4, hes played the different positions in the 4-3 and nickel defenses, he has a lot of experience in the kicking game. Hes done a lot of different things for Detroit, Miami, Dallas and us. Hes a versatile player with a lot of experience."

Mike Rivera, a second-year player who now movesup the depth chart, is still learning according to Belichick. "Mike is a player that is trying to work his way up from the other end (from Carpenter). He was on our practice squad last year; wasnt in training camp for us but had a good year on the practice squad and did enough things that we re-signed him this season and hes been very competitive in camp. Were trying to give him some opportunities to see what he can do and how effective he can be doing it. But hes certainly well ahead of where he was last year because of the spring practices, the OTAs and being here in training camp, so he knows our system a lot better. Hes a hard working kid that has shown up in the kicking game and on defense. Hes done some good things, but still has a long way to go to establish himself as a veteran NFL player. I think Bobby has done that."

The Patriots don't play again until a week from Monday. The players have the weekend off then will be back for the longest continuous string of practices they have for the rest of the preseason.

Belichick seemed pleased after looking at film of the game.

"Overall the players competed well and we were running without too many bumps in the road so I think that was in the right direction," Belichick pointed out. "Individually there were good plays from a lot of players. Some of the things we worked on in practice showed up on the field in a fundamental and technique standpoint. We had production running the ball. Defensively, we didn't give up many points. We played competitively against both the run and the passing game."

One standout Thursday night was Jerod Mayo. The Patriots' linebacker has played all over the second level, filling different roles. This year, playing as the weak-side linebacker, he seems in a position to utilize his speed and playmaking ability a bit more. He had a nice third-down takedown of Darren Sproles Thursday night and also tipped a pass that was picked off.

"Jerod has a lot of strengths and he does a lot of things well thats why hes such a good player," said Belichick. "He can run, he can tackle, he can take on blockers, he can chase down plays. He can play good zone pass defense, he can cover guys man-to-man, he has the ability to blitz. Hes smart, he calls our defenses, he makes adjustments. Hes a versatile player, but hes also a player that if you just put in one spot that can do a lot of things well and help your defense in a lot of ways."

Mayo's versatility, combined with the versatility of other linebackers like Rob Ninkovich and Dont'a Hightower, makes the defense as a whole better, said Belichick.

"He gives you good flexibility on your team all the way around just because he does so many things well," Belichick explained. "And he has a very good understanding of not only what were trying to do, but what the opponents are trying to do and what things we would or wouldnt want to do against certain looks or certain problems that they try to give us. He does a nice job of getting the defense to something that we would want to be in or something that we would want to play in that situation."

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Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

FOXBORO -- Alan Branch knew he had a good case, otherwise he wouldn't have appealed. It was just a question of when that appeal might be heard. 

As of Wednesday, the Patriots defensive tackle hadnt heard anything as it related to the appeal of his four-game suspension. But by Saturday morning, according to Field Yates of ESPN, Branch had won the appeal and been cleared of the league's ban. 

Branch's agent later confirmed the news on Twitter.

Word of Branch's punishment, which stemmed from what was reported as a positive marijuana test, became public when reported by ESPN on Nov. 21. Per the league's substance abuse policy, appeal hearings are typically scheduled for the fourth Tuesday after a player has been informed of his penalty. The policy notes that it is possible for appeals to be heard on another date should the two sides be able to work out different schedule, but Branch was not optimistic that would be the case earlier this week. 

Good news came quickly, though. 

Had Branch been forced to miss any time, it would have docked the Patriots arguably their top interior defensive lineman. Branch has started every game, and he leads all Patriots defensive tackles with 457 snaps played. 

The Patriots recently waived running back DJ Foster and signed defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, seemingly as a way to build some depth on the roster if Branch had been suspended. 

By having his four-game suspension wiped away not only are the Patriots saved from having to deal without one of their top players in the trenches, but Branch saved himself a relatively hefty financial penalty.

A four-game ban would have cost him nearly $300,000 in base salary as well as four game-day bonuses adding to $100,000. He also stood to lose as much as $750,000 in season-long playing-time incentives. In all, had the suspension stood, it could have cost him about $1.1 million. Patriots salary-cap expert Miguel Benzan goes into more detail about the potential financial impact of Branch's suspension here

Thankfully for Branch, he doesn't have to worry about that any longer. With this situation in the rear view, he can now focus on helping the Patriots win games during the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs.