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Humble pie always on menu

Players serve up slice with humor

FOXBOROUGH - Bill Belichick is focused on perfection, not confection, but the criticism the Patriots coach dishes out has made quite an impression on his players, who turned it into a sartorial statement.

Yesterday, the players wore T-shirts to their meetings that read, "I Eat It" on the front and "Humble Pie" on the back, a reference to Belichick serving them their just desserts for plays that don't pan out. Adalius Thomas cooked up the idea.

"I just came up with the idea of printing the shirt and everybody liked it and we kind of talk about it a lot here," said Thomas. "It's just kind of a fun idea, kind of like a camaraderie thing, everybody on the same page, everybody treated equal, everybody is the same. We all get a piece of that pie and as reporters you'll need it sometime and as players you'll need it sometime. We all get our share."

Thomas said he couldn't take credit for coining the phrase "humble pie." He said the first person he heard say it was Rosevelt Colvin, who said he got it from another player.

"It's just a little, fun saying that we use to break the ice," said Thomas.

Belichick received a sweat shirt from the team that had a twist on the mantra. The coach's shirt read, "I Serve It" on the front, with the humble pie reference on the back.

"He just laughed because he knows what we mean by that," said cornerback Ellis Hobbs. "We say that all the time to him. He doesn't deny that he gives us humble pie. He even told us this morning that he was about to give us a nice dosage of it, so this morning a lot of us got it in there, including me."

Thomas, whose favorite dessert is his mother, Eva's, peach cobbler, said the timing of the shirt, as the Patriots prepare to face a hungry Cleveland Browns squad, was coincidental but appropriate.

"It just so happened that the shirts came in and it was what it was," said Thomas. "The fact that we were 4-0, it is good timing because it is a good time to talk about being humble because . . . how many times do you see an undefeated team or a team that is supposed to be ranked higher by the media or the analysts against a team with a losing record or that maybe didn't make the playoffs the year before and they turn around and beat them and beat them easily?

"You don't want that to happen. You want to continue to go out and prepare well."

Close call

Marcellus Rivers, who was released twice by the Patriots before the team re-signed him Wednesday to replace second-year tight end David Thomas, who is done for the season with a foot injury, came close to signing with the Dolphins Tuesday.

But luckily for Rivers and the Patriots, he didn't pull the trigger and he was back in the Foxborough fold the next day.

"I was real close [with Miami]," said Rivers, who tied for the Patriots' lead in receptions during the preseason with nine for 100 yards and a touchdown. "My agent told me to get on a plane and we'll wait it out and see what happens, but ultimately he knew that this was where I wanted to be. I'm glad they did call."

Rivers, who also visited with the Falcons during his four-week unemployment, signed a two-year deal with the Patriots. He'll make a minimum base salary of $595,000 this season and $605,000 next season.

Hasn't missed a beat

Hobbs said it hasn't taken Rodney Harrison, who returned to practice Wednesday after serving his four-game suspension for using a banned substance, long to get back up to speed.

"He looked like Rodney. He looked good," said Hobbs. "I think he's been practicing on his own really, as far as keeping his footwork going. Practicing with pads on, obviously, when you're off that long, you might have a lag as far as your conditioning, but he hasn't missed a beat."

Space for rent

When Junior Seau left Southern Cal, Willie McGinest picked up his No. 55, starting a Trojan tradition for defensive playmakers. Seau had selected the number because his father turned 55 when he was a freshman.

When Seau, who had worn the number throughout his pro career, signed with the Patriots last season, ending his short retirement, he returned the favor to McGinest, who had worn No. 55 in New England for 12 years before signing with the Browns last season.

"Willie's number is still here. I'm renting it and that's all I do," said Seau. "This is his home and it always will be. What he's been able to do here is something that I tip my hat to. He helped build this culture."

Koppen at practice

Center Dan Koppen, who injured his left ankle against Cincinnati Monday and did not practice Wednesday, returned yesterday. Koppen was one of seven players who were listed as having limited participation in practice. The others were Colvin (ankle), cornerback Randall Gay (thigh), running back Laurence Maroney (groin), right guard Stephen Neal (shoulder), and wide receivers Donté Stallworth (knee) and Kelley Washington (left hamstring). The Browns had no changes to their injury report . . . Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs, who leads the NFL with a 34.3-yard kickoff return average, was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for September . . . Running back Justise Hairston, a sixth-round draft choice out of Central Connecticut who received an injury settlement from the team after being waived on the first day of training camp, has been signed to the Colts' practice squad.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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