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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

Cloud not on immediate horizon

FOXBOROUGH -- Never one to make a hasty decision, coach Bill Belichick said yesterday the league has honored the Patriots' request for a one-week extension on running back Mike Cloud.

Cloud's four-game, league-imposed suspension for violating the steroid policy (he claims to have ingested a contaminated supplement) ended Sunday. New England doesn't have room for him on its 53-man roster, though, and rather than cut a player or place one on a reserve/inactive list, Belichick asked the league for an extra week to evaluate Cloud, during which he will not count against the roster.

"It's more of a procedural thing," Belichick said. "It's common. You apply for it and they either give it to you or don't give it to you. My understanding is that we've been granted that."

League rules forbade Cloud from practicing with the team during his suspension.

"I haven't seen him in a month," said Belichick. "I don't know what he can do."

What did the former Boston College standout do during his time away? Stay in shape and count the days to his return.

"It's been pretty tough the last month, watching guys on film, at home watching them play," said Cloud, who underwent calf surgery during camp but passed a conditioning test yesterday morning. "But I kept my mind straight and I'm happy to be back."

Perhaps in the nick of time. Leading rusher Kevin Faulk suffered a left leg injury on his third-quarter fumble Sunday and was limping around the locker room yesterday. Fullback Fred McCrary has been inactive the past two games with a knee injury, meaning the Patriots could have only Antowain Smith, Patrick Pass, and Larry Centers as healthy backs Sunday against Tennessee.

"It's good to have the bigger part of it behind me," Cloud said. "And I look forward to the rest of the season, and helping the guys out. I've been fired up for quite a while now."

Painful times It was evident by the looks on the faces of the Patriots Sunday night that the sting of the narrow defeat would linger for some time.

"I think it was one of those games, when you look back on it, where every player and coach that participated in the game feels like, `If I could have just done one thing differently or one thing better on this play or that play, that it would have made a difference,' " Belichick said. "I'm sure we all feel that way."

Besides the emotional pain, several players were still hurting physically the morning after. Bethel Johnson had a large ice pack on the left ankle that forced him from the game in the second quarter. Tedy Bruschi, who left the game briefly with a left arm injury, put it best when he answered an inquiry into his health: "It's Monday. Ask me in a few days."

Added Belichick: "I think there's a lot of respect for the toughness of our team, and a lot of the players in particular that displayed it [Sunday] at various points. At the same time, this game is measured in wins and losses, real wins and losses, and not in consolation prizes. It's not anything that I'm into and I don't think it's anything our team is into. We expected to win. We played to win. We went down there to win, not to keep it close."

Toeing the line Belichick described the effort of his patchwork offensive line, which included only two opening-day starters, as "courageous." "I thought the line hung in there well," he said. "I thought they competed hard. They played tough. Overall I thought it was a courageous effort by the group. There were guys that were in and out of the game that played through some bumps and bruises. They stayed in there and hung in there. I respect the way that they went about it." . . . The Patriots made a last-second switch up front, moving Joe Andruzzi back to right guard beside Tom Ashworth, and shifting Ross Hochstein to left guard next to Matt Light. Hochstein was slated to start at right guard, Andruzzi at left. Asked to explain the switch, Belichick said, "Doesn't it say `unofficial' on those depth charts?" . . . Expect the Patriots to employ both the 4-3 and the 3-4 as their base defense until some of the starters heal. "As much time as we've invested in both of those fronts, I think we can continue to use them," Belichick said . . . Ted Johnson and Stephen Neal made appearances in the locker room . . . The American Red Cross "Save a Life Tour" will host a blood drive today at Gillette Stadium from noon to 6. Donors must be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds, and be in good health. Anyone who has donated blood in the past 56 days or gotten a tattoo in the past year will not be eligible to donate. Donors are asked to park in the Mustang lot outside the Pro Shop and enter through the Fleet gate.

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