FOXBOROUGH — Denver cornerback Champ Bailey is 34 years old and in his 14th season in the NFL, but he still gets a healthy dose of respect from Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
“Champ is one of those few corners in the league who can match up with anybody,” said Belichick. “He matches up against the Andre Johnsons of the world, the big, strong, physical, fast guys. Then he’ll match up against quick, real good route-running, quick receivers, guys like that, too.
“It doesn’t really make any difference.”
Belichick noted that Bailey has covered tight ends in the past as well, including Tony Gonzalez when he was with the Chiefs.
Bailey is an 11-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro pick, whose 50 career interceptions rank third among active NFL players.
“He’s just a great ballplayer,” said Patriots receiver Wes Welker. “I think he just gets out of bed and he’s just great. He’s very patient, does a good job getting his hands on you, plays really well.
“He’s a smart guy, instincts, all those things — it’s why he’s stayed around for a while.”
Asked if there is a secret to getting open against Bailey, Welker said, “You have to be very precise, keep him on his toes, make sure that you’re really mixing it up on him and being physical.”
So far this season, Bailey has 11 tackles but has not recorded an interception. He does have two pass break-ups.
Belichick echoed Welker’s thought when talking about Bailey’s natural abilities.
“He’s a very instinctive player, so he has a good sense of what the guy is trying to do and what their tendencies are and things like that,” Belichick said. “He’s on a lot of routes just because he’s experienced and he’s smart.
“It looks to me like he does a pretty good job against anybody — on whoever the other team’s best receiver is, if they want to match him up, which sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
“He’s a good Cover-2 corner, he’s a good one-on-one corner, he’s a good zone corner, tackles well, he’s a good run force corner. He’s pretty much a prototype corner in terms of having a full set of skills.”
Rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who injured his hamstring last Sunday at Buffalo and was relegated to limited participation in Thursday’s practice, said he was feeling better Friday but will likely be a game-time decision.
Hightower is listed as questionable on the injury report.
“Right now, it’s going to be a day-to-day thing,’’ said Hightower. “It’s going to be up to Jimbo [trainer Jim Whalen] and Coach Belichick, but each day I’m feeling better and moving around great, so it’s going to be a game-time decision. It’s going to be up to them.’’
Asked if he was frustrated about getting hurt in a game in which the Patriots had six takeaways, Hightower said, “Obviously, any time you get hurt, you try to do everything you can to prevent that.
“It was definitely hard going down. But Tracy White did a real good job of stepping in and doing my job, definitely well-prepared, he’s a great player. Rob [Ninkovich] and everybody else did a great job of picking up where I left off, so hopefully I’ll be able to get out there this weekend so I don’t have to go through that.
“There’s no pain. I’m out there running around and doing everything I can, so what can I say? It’s a day-to-day thing.’’
Safety Steve Gregory (hip) and receiver Julian Edelman (hand) did not practice all week and have been declared out for Sunday. Hightower is one of a dozen players listed as questionable, along with tight ends Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Aaron Hernandez (ankle). Gronkowski is expected to play, but even though Hernandez took part in practice Thursday and Friday on a limited basis, he is a long shot.
Guard Logan Mankins (calf/hip) is among the dozen, but he was limited in practice all week. The rest of the Patriots listed as questionable: RB Brandon Bolden (knee), DL Brandon Deaderick (ankle), DE Justin Francis (ankle), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder), DB Sterling Moore (knee), RB Shane Vereen (foot), and T Sebastian Vollmer (back).
Spikes is fined
Linebacker Brandon Spikes was fined $21,000 by the NFL for his hit on Scott Chandler during Devin McCourty’s interception return in the second half last Sunday. Specifically, he was docked for unnecessary roughness (illegal blind-side block). There was no flag thrown on the play.
Buffalo defensive tackle Kyle Williams was fined $15,750 for hitting quarterback Tom Brady below the knee area. According to the Associated Press, Williams intends to appeal the fine, questioning what he did wrong when attempting to make a tackle while Brady had the ball.
Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones, who registered his third sack of the season when he dropped Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick for a 5-yard loss in the first quarter last Sunday, was asked about his strong start (he was the Defensive Rookie of the Month for September).
“Our defense as a whole,’’ Jones said. “All the credit goes to the defense and guys like Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Rob Ninkovich, and the others. Without those guys, it couldn’t be possible.”
Spinning backVollmer was asked about the time when he was a rookie and got thrown into the breach for the injured Matt Light during a 20-17 overtime loss at Denver Oct. 11, 2009.
Asked if his head was spinning when he found himself in the game at Invesco Field, Vollmer replied, “Yeah, I guess, but it was a few years ago. But you prepare for that when you’re not playing full time.
“Obviously, you don’t want to see anybody get hurt, but at the same time you want to make your opportunities count. So you’re kind of excited, I guess. Time flies, huh?”Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung. Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.