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Stokes signed to add depth

FOXBOROUGH -- It wasn't a question of big, small, or in between. The Patriots felt they needed a veteran receiver of any shape or size to go along with their three young ones and Troy Brown after David Patten was lost for the season with a knee injury. With Brown less than 100 percent and David Givens pulling a leg muscle late in Sunday night's game against Dallas, the Patriots were thin at wide receiver, so yesterday they signed former 49er and Jaguar J.J. Stokes to a deal for the remainder of the season.

Stokes, 31, was chosen 10th overall in the 1995 draft by the 49ers out of UCLA. He never played up to expectations, but in eight seasons in San Francisco, he caught 327 passes for 4,139 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Stokes, who is 6 feet 4 inches and 225 pounds, signed with Jacksonville as a free agent June 17 but managed only 13 catches for 116 yards in six games before being cut last Wednesday.

The concern in Jacksonville was that he had lost some speed and didn't show the separation the coaches were looking for. He began the year as a starter, then went to the bench and then to inactive. Once the Jaguars claimed Kevin Johnson off waivers from Cleveland, Stokes was released.

With Stokes signing on, the Patriots took Brown wideout Chas Gessner off their 53-man roster and assigned him to the practice squad.

The injuries to Brown and Givens are not considered serious, and both have a chance to play against the Houston Texans this week.

Looking for kick start

The Patriots continued searching for a replacement for Ken Walter, who has the league's lowest punting average. Yesterday the team tried out former Ohio State punter Brent Bartholomew and Steve Cheek of Humboldt State. New England must be impressed with Cheek; he also auditioned during the bye week . . . Sunday night's Patriots-Cowboys game on ESPN was the most-watched cable program in eight years and drew the fifth-largest audience in the history of cable TV. The Bill Parcells-Bill Belichick subplot apparently was enough to intrigue viewers, resulting in a 9.6 rating and 15 share, meaning about 8.45 million households tuned in.

Michael Smith of the Globe staff contributed to this report; material from Associated Press was used.

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