Quick hits from Belichick's press conference

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Quick hits from Belichick's press conference

FOXBORO A few highlights from Bill Belichick's Monday afternoon press conference:

Randy Moss' third-quarter touchdown reception, one of the prettiest plays you'll ever see and the 150th TD of his career, is one we'll be talking about all season. But for Belichick, it was just another in a long line of ridiculous catches that he's seen from Moss.

"It was a terrific catch, but I think we've seen that play in practice at least a dozen times," Belichick said. "The first time it happened I was like, 'Wow, my God,' but then you see it again, and again. I'm not saying it was a routine play, I don't mean it that way. Just that for those of us at practice, who watch Randy, I've seen that play a number of times. "

After Jets safety Eric Smith sent Wes Welker to the sidelines with a crushing (and illegal) first-quarter hit, Belichick was seen engaging the officials in a relatively volatile conversation. Belichick was vague on the details of the talk, but made his opinion on the matter very clear.

"I don't think that's really what the league's looking for, he siad. "Those plays. I can't imagine that they are.

The coach was asked specifically about the play of two of his younger defensive players. Rookie Jermaine Cunningham, who made two tackles as a reserve, and second-year defensive end Ron Brace, who struggled for most of the preseason (with injury and conditioning) but started at right defensive end and made four tackles against the Jets.

"I'd say Cunningham's a little farther along from last week against Cincinnati, Belichick said. "It's almost like his second preseason game, really. He hasn't had a lot of opportunity to play. But Jermaine's working hard. He's coming along. He's doing things better in practice. Some of the things show up in the game, some of them don't because the opportunities aren't there, but we'll see how it goes."

"Overall, our run defense was competitive, he said when questioned on Brace, "and there were also times where we were a little softer than we want to be. But Ron's gotten some time in. He got off to a slow a start in training camp but he's picked it up and gotten more reps and playing time."

The overall mood of the press conference was, as you'd imagine, pretty somber, but at the end, Belichick was asked if, despite all the negatives, there was anything positive that jumped out as he reviewed the game

"Not enough," Belichick said. And that was that.
Rich Levine can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Mitchell (knee) 'feeling well' as he prepares for AFC title game

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Mitchell (knee) 'feeling well' as he prepares for AFC title game

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Mitchell indicated before Wednesday's practice that he's feeling pretty good despite missing last weekend's Divisional Round matchup with the Texans due to a knee injury. 

"I'm feeling well," he said. "Just taking it day by day. Preparing. I just go from there."

Mitchell suffered the injury in a Week 16 win over the Jets at Gillette Stadium. He missed the regular-season finale and has been limited in practice in recent weeks. 

Mitchell was present for Wednesday's fully-padded practice outdoors, and he said it was crucial for him to prepare as though he will play even if he's unsure as to whether or not he'll be called upon. 

"That's the most important thing," he said. "Be ready for any opportunities that could come about."

He added: "As a competitor, no one wants to miss a game. What's important is the team going out theere and competing whether I was out there or not."

Should Mitchell be at all limited moving forward, the Patriots would likely continue to lean upon Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan as their top options. Both Danny Amendola and Michael Floyd were in uniform for last weekend's playoff matchup with Houston as well. 

Hogan suffered a thigh injury that knocked him from the Texans game, but he said on Tuesday that he was progressing well, and he was also on the field for Wednesday's practice. 

Mitchell said there is a sense of confidence in the receivers room that because of their depth, they'll be good to go as a group even if one or two members of the unit are at less than 100 percent. 

"We know there's some things we can't control," he said, "but our coach does a good job of getting everybody ready."

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

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Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test.