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Wilson absorbs $7,500 hit

NFL says safety's tackle was a bit too dangerous

FOXBOROUGH -- Eugene Wilson still doesn't know what he did wrong, but he knows now that it was costly.

The rookie safety was notified yesterday by the league office in New York that he'd been fined $7,500 for a hit on Cowboys wide receiver Antonio Bryant last Sunday night.

Wilson continues to profess his confusion over what he was flagged, and now fined, for. It appeared that he had simply driven his body through Bryant, causing an incompletion, but the league's position was he had launched himself with head down at the receiver.

The play, and the fine, left coach Bill Belichick at a loss for what to tell Wilson.

"I couldn't tell him to do anything differently," Belichick said Monday. "I thought he made a real good play on it. Sometimes that's the way it goes.

"The calls that we are definitely wrong on you can show the player, and the other players who play that position, `Here's what you can't do. This one is going to be called and it's not what we're looking for and it's not anything we are going to accept.' Eugene Wilson's play, I don't know what to tell him. There is nothing I can tell him to do differently than what he did."

He can tell him to write a check, an experience Wilson now shares with veteran safety Rodney Harrison. Harrison has been penalized in this fashion by the NFL's disciplinary office for much of his career and has grown numb to the sometimes baffling ways the league believes the game should be played.

"It was a great play," Harrison said yesterday of Wilson's hit. "He didn't lead with his helmet. But that's what this game has become -- finesse."

Branching out

The new, more reserved Deion Branch will debut in Houston. Branch received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the second quarter of the game against the Cowboys, reducing his 23-yard reception to an 8-yard gain. Belichick made the flamboyant second-year receiver feel small in front of the team in the film session the following day. "That was an unnecessary flag on my part," Branch said yesterday. "It was an emotional thing, and it was a learning experience. We don't need that at that point in the game. That's not what my team needs me to do. A play like that can cause the difference in the game. That's one reason you won't see me doing that again." Branch said it was Dallas safety Darren Woodson who was doing the trash talking, but the league reviewed the play to see if a taunting fine against Branch was warranted. As of midday yesterday, Branch was not aware of a fine . . . Belichick was asked how the loss of starting quarterback David Carr might hurt the Houston Texans, Sunday's opponents, and he replied in typical fashion for a fretful coach. "[Backup] Tony Banks's quarterback rating is around 95," Belichick said. "Carr's rating is about 75. So I'm not sure who's dropping off from where." . . . Although the Patriots have yet to replace struggling punter Ken Walter, Belichick said Walter's problems are being noted and worked on by the punter and special teams coach Brad Seely. "I don't think things are going to change just because the leaves are changing," Belichick said. "You make things better or they don't get better. It's dropping the football [cleanly] on your foot and hitting it the way you want to hit it. I'm not saying this is golf but there's not a whole lot of difference between hitting a drive in the fairway and hitting the ball in the water. You just do a couple of little things and you're looking for your ball." If Walter doesn't start doing a couple of things differently, he'll be looking for a job. He is 12th in the AFC in punting, averaging a net of only 34 yards per kick .

Michael Smith of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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