The Patriots keep on T.C.O.B.

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The Patriots keep on T.C.O.B.

The Patriots took care of business yesterday.

Thats probably the best and most simple way to put it.

They didnt do anything especially well. They didnt do anything especially poorly. There were no game-breaking highlights that youre dying to re-watch this morning (although it was nice to see Aaron Hernandez in the open field, and WelkerRidley both go over 1000 yards for the season). There's no one player particularly deserving of week-long media stoning (although it would be cool if Stephen Gostkowski chilled out on the Scott Sisson impression).

Basically, all the Pats did this week was go down to Miami and earn a solid, division road win against a solid NFL team.

Like I said, they took care of business.

At this point, what more can you ask for?

Were long past the audition stage of this NFL season. Were long past obsessing over the aesthetics of any victory. From here on out, there are no ugly wins or uplifting losses. Youre either good enough or youre not, and thats all that people will remember. That is, if they remember at all. But on Sunday, the Pats certainly set a positive tone.

For the third straight week, they took the field as the more talented team and actually played like it for the better part of 60 minutes. For the third straight week, they had nothing to gain (in the eyes of the fansmedia) and everything to lose against an inferior opponent, but still maintained an adderall-like focus. And while, individually, those three victories did little to change our perception of the Patriots, as a collective, those wins made an important statement. Today, New England not only stands at 9-3, but it's a 9-3 that you can believe in. A 9-3 that you can celebrate without an assembly line of buts and ifs.

But naturally, no one's celebrating. Not an admirable win over Miami. Not the 9-3 start. Not even the team's 10th AFC East title in the last 12 years.

Instead, we're already looking ahead to one week from today: Monday Night Football. Houston at New England. The latest and greatest Most Important Game of the Patriots season.

With a win, despite their tumultuous and exhausting 3-3 start, the Pats will be back within a game of the AFCs No. 1 seed (and would obviously hold the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Texans). With a win, if were being honest, the Pats wont have too much more to prove this regular season. Sure, seeding is important, and there will still be plenty to play for, but really, if they beat Houston on Monday night, expectations will officially burst through the ceiling. With a win, regardless of what happens the following Sunday against the 49ers, or in either of the final two games against Jacksonville and Miami, the Pats' Super Bowl aspirations will be certified beyond a reasonable doubt.

For what its worth: Despite the Texans' 11-1 record, their fourth-ranked offense, sixth-ranked defense, the fact that theyre undefeated on the road and have already handedly beaten both the Ravens and Broncos, the Patriots opened as 4.5 point favorites.

For what it's worth (part II): This is only the second time all season that Houston will enter a game as the underdog. The other time was in Week 10 at Chicago, and the Texans won 13-7.

For what it's worth (part III): No one cares.

At this stage, it's not about favorites and underdogs. It's not about style points. It's not about blow out victories or escaping by the skin of Vince Wilfork's belly. It's only about doing enough to win. It's about doing what the Patriots have for six straight weeks and counting.

It's about taking care of business.

And they've got nine weeks to finish the job.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Patriots get roster exemption for Ebner, add TE Pascoe and OL Halapio

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Patriots get roster exemption for Ebner, add TE Pascoe and OL Halapio

FOXBORO -- The Patriots, as expected, have been given a roster exemption for safety Nate Ebner. Therefore, while Ebner is playing for the USA Rugby Men's Sevens team in the Rio Olympics, his spot will not count against New England's 90-man roster. 

"I’ve talked to Nate several times," coach Bill Belichick said on Wednesday. "Wish him well in his endeavor. It’s a great opportunity for him to follow his passion, participate in the Olympic Games. We’re pulling for him to bring back something around his neck."

With the roster exemption, the Patriots found themselves at 88 players on their roster. In order to fill their last two openings, they signed offensive lineman Jon Halapio and tight end Bear Pascoe, Belichick announced. 

Halapio, a product of the University of Florida, was a sixth-round selection by the Patriots in 2014. He was released at the end of training camp that year, and he later landed on the Broncos practice squad in December of 2014. Before the start of last season, Halapio signed with the Cardinals. He was released on Sept. 5. 

In between NFL gigs, Halapio has spent time with the Boston Brawlers and the Brooklyn Bolts, both of the Fall Experimental Football League. 

Pascoe, 30, is in his eighth NFL season. He has spent time with the Giants, Falcons and Lions, primarily as a blocking tight end. In his career, the 6-foot-5, 257-pounder has caught 40 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns in 85 career games. 

Ebner will participate in the Olympic rugby competition with Team USA beginning on Aug. 6, and fellow Patriots special teams ace Mathew Slater will be paying attention.

"I’m just so happy for him," Slater said. "And I know why rugby means so much to him, and many of us are familiar with the situation with his father, and his father obviously introduced him to the game of [rugby]. So, that connection with father and son is bigger than sport itself.

"I know this means a great deal to him and we’re all excited for him. I’m just trying to figure out where I can get my Ebner rugby jersey. I’ll be supporting him and watching him along the way."

McDaniels: Garoppolo still a long way from a 'finished product'

McDaniels: Garoppolo still a long way from a 'finished product'

FOXBORO -- As the Patriots move forward with their process of preparing Jimmy Garoppolo for Week 1 of the regular season, there's plenty of refining the third-year quarterback needs to make to his game. 

But that's what training camp is for, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels explained on Wednesday.

"We're a long way from where we want to be in terms of the finished product in terms with he and a lot of guys on our team," McDaniels said. "There's nobody that's as good as we can make them. We're excited to have the opportunity to work with all of those guys and try to improve everything we can."

And while the goal this summer is to help Garoppolo improve as much as possible, it's not to turn Garoppolo into Brady. They are different players with different strengths and weaknesses, and McDaniels acknowledged that things within the Patriots offense may have to be tweaked for the first month of the season in order to take advantage of Garoppolo's game.

"It's smart football and good coaching, I think, to play to the talents that the players on the field have," McDaniels said. "And our job over the course of five or six weeks here is to try to identify what those are in each player, and as our unit kind of gels and grows together, we'll figure out exactly what it is that we do best.

"Hopefully that's what we're doing most of. We never wanna put guys n a position where they don't feel comfortable with what they're doing. It's too competitive. There's too many good players and too many good coaches. If you're trying to do too much of that, you're going to put yourself in a bad position."

Garoppolo seen plenty of work as Tom Brady's backup over the last two years, both within the Patriots offense and as the "look team" quarterback, impersonating the likes of Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Now, as Bill Belichick explained on Wednesday, Garoppolo's development as the team's starter is a priority.

How far Garoppolo has to go before he's ready remains to be seen. But McDaniels seemed to indicate that if Garoppolo can continue on the track he's been on in terms of his desire to improve, he'll be where he needs to be when he needs to be there. 

"He's worked extremely hard," McDaniels said. "He's gotten a lot of opportunities in his first two-plus years here, in practice and in spring football. This will be his third opportunity at training camp. He's got a great work ethic. He's got a great approach. He tries to get better and improve every day, and he's made progress." 

He's made so much progress that Belichick didn't even venture to get into the details of the road the Eastern Illinois product has traveled since arriving as a second-round pick in 2014.  

"Experience, everything," Belichick said. "It’s everything. All of the things that go into playing football: preparation, execution, knowing the opponent. We could sit here and talk about it for a day. Everything."

Garoppolo's teammates have noticed his progression as well. While both safety Devin McCourty and special teams ace Matthew Slater were careful not to compare Garoppolo to Brady, they praised the work they've seen behind the scenes from the backup-turned-starter. 

"The cool thing seeing Jimmy, I was a veteran when he was coming in," McCourty said. "You see a rookie, he's just been developing. Each time he steps on the field, he gets better and better so I think it's probably very exciting for him knowing the work he's put in. 

"And I think for other guys on the team, you know he's a hard worker so I don't think it's worries or anything like that. He's a confident kid, and he's been out here practicing hard. We see him a lot all throughout the year when he's on the look squad and being different quarterbacks . . . It's tough for me to really break him down and compare him. I think Jimmy's just a guy who's come in here and learned everything he could under Tom and just keeps getting better."

"I know that he's been working hard, just like the rest of us have," Slater said. "He's prepared himself for a moment to play since he got in this league. He's worked hard for it. We believe in his talent and his abilities, and we know he's going to go out and give us everything he has."