By Mary Paoletti
FOXBORO -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick met the media on Wednesday to discuss the bye week.
Well, not the week's plan itself, because there aren't many specifics to delve into. New England will play at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 16. Who against? It's yet to be determined. So in the meantime, all the Patriots can do is get the reps in that will make them better.
"Were just trying to work on some things that we feel like we need to improve on,'' Belichick said. "Weve got a good list of those. It doesnt matter who we play, just things that we feel we need to do better. I think theres definitely some carryover in the three potential opponents" -- the Jets, Ravens or Chiefs -- "that we could face, but more important than that, right now, its trying to work on things that we feel like need to get worked on. Then well deal with whoever we have to play after this weekend.
As this will be the ninth Patriots playoff berth in the Hoodie Era, there was an air of 'business as usual' hanging around Gillette. And this despite the fact that 25 players from New England's last playoff team, just last season, aren't involved in 2010's Super Bowl run.
Deion Branch is one guy who's been there, done that. Branch was on Tom Brady's receiving end when the Patriots brought home Lombardi trophies in 2003 and 2004. He earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXIX for his record-tying 11 receptions.
Belichick says that not much has changed about the player -- even after five seasons with the Seahawks -- and that's a good thing.
"The similarities far outweigh the differences. Hes a very intelligent player, really smart, really instinctive guy. No matter what the route, no matter what the coverage is, he always seems to do the right thing, make the right adjustment, make the right decision, make the right adjustment and I think that gives the quarterbacks a lot of confidence in him.
"Deion prepares well," Belichick continued. "Hes got good experience, but hes also got a good skill set. He can get open and catch the ball. He can run with it after the catch. Hes returned kicks in the past. Hes got some running skills and certainly has got a lot of experience. As a pure receiver, he knows how to get open and he has the skills to get open."
Branch has returned to his natural role on this roster without much stress. But there have been some more difficult transitions for this team in light of how much turnover there's been.
Tight end Alge Crumpler has had to make adjustments. A four time Pro Bowler with the Atlanta Falcons, Crumpler has a mere six receptions for 52 yards for the Patriots this season. New England has been featuring two-tight end sets frequently this year -- those sets have just favored rookies Aaron Hernandez (6 TD receptions) and Rob Gronkowski (10)
Does decreased catches bother him though? Belichick says no.
"You see a lot of players roles change and its not a problem and then you see other guys have a harder time making that adjustment. Without having worked with Alge before, I didnt really know exactly how it would go with him, but really, since day one, whatever weve asked him to do, hes not only tried to do them but hes very receptive to everything, a whatever you need type attitude, asking, Do you need me to do this? Do you need me to do that? Or how do you want me to do something else? and then hell try to do it that way. So he's been great.
"Alges been a big contribution to this football team in a lot of ways, probably too many to mention."