Bills tap QB Fitzpatrick to start against the Pats

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Bills tap QB Fitzpatrick to start against the Pats

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO While the Pats have already turned the page on Sunday's loss to the Jets, the Bills, who come to New England this Sunday, have turned the page on their starting quarterback.

Monday afternoon, Bills coach Chan Gailey announced that after two very unproductive weeks, he's benching starter Trent Edwards (he of the 58.2 passer rating) in favor of sixth-year pro and Harvard-grad Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The 6-2 Fitzpatrick is 8-14-1 in 23 career NFL starts, and was actually Buffalo's starting QB when the Bills hosted the Pats in Week 15 last season. He threw for 178 yards, a touchdown and an interception in New England's 17-10 win.

"Good quarterback," Bill Belichick said. "We saw him when he played in Cincinnati, we saw him last year. Strong-armed guy. Can throw it down the field. Seems like he has good presence. Good leadership in the huddle. The team rallies around him. That kind of thing. We'll be ready for everybody. Whoever they put in there at quarterback, running back or wherever else and we'll have to prepare for everybody."

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

WATCH: Celtics vs. Sixers

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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.