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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

Team will work on its coordination

All will pitch to pick up slack

FOXBOROUGH -- The cone of silence surrounding Notre Dame's courtship of Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was lifted from Gillette Stadium yesterday when Patriots coach Bill Belichick finally acknowledged Weis's return to his alma mater as coach of the Fighting Irish.

As Belichick conducted his usual morning press briefing in Foxborough, Weis was being introduced as Notre Dame's coach in South Bend, Ind., where the Patriots' offensive coordinator agreed to a six-year, $12 million package.

"I spoke with Charlie again this morning. Obviously we've had a lot of communication relative to his situation the last few days," Belichick said. "I want to publicly, and I've already privately, congratulated him on his recent appointment.

"He's done a great job for us. He's been here five years and has had a lot to do with our success. He's been a good friend going back to his first year in the NFL with the Giants back in 1989. I'm happy for him personally. We all at the Patriots wish him well.

"At the same time we still have a lot of football left. We have a job to do and all of our energies are going to be focused on that."

Belichick did not elaborate on how Weis would juggle jobs.

"I know that he's going to have to split some responsibilities, but we've talked about that," Belichick said. "I've been through this before and have some experience in situations similar to this [when Nick Saban accepted the Michigan State job while serving as Belichick's defensive coordinator with the Browns in 1994].

"I think we have a good plan mapped out as to how we want to deal with it. We have discussed it and we'll try to work through it. We'll work through it the best we can."

Belichick remained tight-lipped about when he would begin the process of finding a new offensive coordinator, or if the vacancy would be filled by an in-house candidate. "Right now, Charlie is offensive coordinator and we're getting ready for Miami. That's where our focus is," Belichick said. "We are preparing for Miami and getting ready to play a division game on the road at a place that has been a tough place for us to play, historically. Our work is cut out for us.

"So we need to put all our energy and effort into that."

Asked how gratifying it was for him to see one of his assistants take such a high-profile head coaching job, Belichick said, "It's great. As I said, Charlie has worked hard. I think he deserves it. He is a good coach, he has had a good career and he's had a lot of success. He has been a big part of our success. It's an opportunity that I can't provide him. I can't provide that opportunity.

"So for it to become available somewhere else and for him to be selected for that, it is a credit to him," Belichick added. "It's a credit to him. I think it's a compliment to our entire organization and we wish him well.

"At the same time, we have a lot of football left this year and that is where our focus is and that's the job we have to do and what this team is about and that's not going to change. Charlie is a big part of that, too. I am not leaving him out of it.

"We are a team. We're going to operate as a team. We are going to prepare and play as a team. That is where our focus has to be."

Work to do
Wary of how they failed to make the playoffs the season after their Super Bowl victory in 2002, the Patriots cleared a hurdle by clinching a playoff berth in Sunday's 35-28 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Coupled with Pittsburgh's 17-6 victory over the Jets, the Patriots were able to wrap up their second consecutive AFC East title and third in the last four years. In most years, 12 wins by Week 13 easily would have clinched at least home-field advantage, but not this year. With three games remaining -- at the Dolphins Monday, at the Jets Dec. 26, and vs. San Francisco Jan. 2 -- the Patriots (12-1) will be vying with the Steelers (12-1) for home-field rights in the AFC playoffs. "There's still three games to go and a lot can happen," Belichick said. "There's a lot of things that aren't decided in this league, so it doesn't surprise me that it's not all accounted for. Those things [usually] come down to the last week of the regular season." . . . With Tyrone Poole's return from a six-game absence because of a knee injury coupled with the return of Asante Samuel from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss two games, Belichick was asked what impact that would have on Troy Brown's role in the secondary. "Whatever we can do to win, that is what we're going to do," Belichick said. "So if Troy plays more on offense, or more on defense, or splits time, or [plays] more on special teams, it will be based on what we think gives us the best opportunity to win and be productive. That is all it will be based on. He has a lot of skill and ability to help us in a number of different spots on the team and that flexibility is great to have. It is great as a coach to be able to draw on and wherever we can use it we'll use it."

He knows feeling Rodney Harrison said he could relate to Corey Dillion's playoff drought, which ended when Dillon qualified for his first postseason appearance Sunday after seven years of futility with the Bengals. Harrison went eight years between playoff appearances until he snapped the streak last year by going all the way to the Super Bowl in his first year with the Patriots. "He's definitely excited and I understand why because I went so many years without going to the playoffs," Harrison said. "I know how excited he is just by looking at him. You can see how hungry he is. He's excited, but he's really focused on Miami." . . . Harrison said Dillon reached some closure after his bitter parting with the Bengals and coach Marvin Lewis. "I told him not to go out there and play with revenge or something negative in your heart," said Harrison. "I told him to go out there and play to have fun. Don't go out there with a vengeful attitude or bitterness or anything like that. A lot of people had really built this game up to be Corey vs. Marvin or Corey vs. Cincinnati. I'm just proud of Corey the way he went out there and handled himself in a professional manner and played well for us." 

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