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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

Vrabel knows tricks of the trade

TEMPE, Ariz. -- One of the more interesting moments of the Patriots' 23-12 win over the Cardinals yesterday occurred near the end of the first half when kicker Neil Rackers was about to attempt a 58-yard field goal.

The Patriots called a timeout to freeze Rackers.

As the sides lined up, the official announced that the teams had no more timeouts, but that didn't stop Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel from signaling an exaggerated timeout as the ball was being snapped, appearing to distract Rackers, who misfired on the kick. Rackers had made field goals of 51 and 52 yards earlier in the second quarter, and his career long was 54. But with the wind at his back at Sun Devil Stadium, a 58-yarder was plausible.

The Cardinals complained, but the referees weren't going to call a penalty on Vrabel.

"It's just something to get into the kicker's head," Vrabel said. "Whether it distracted him at all, I don't know. I hope it did. It's just something I've done at times, if the situation is right. Most of the time you don't have that situation. Every little bit helps. Like I said, I have no idea if it helped. It was a long attempt."

It was just another example of some of the little things the Patriots do to win games.

Bruised Branch
Deion Branch was injured just before the end of the first half on a fluke play. Linebacker James Darling had intercepted Tom Brady on a throw intended for David Givens. On the play, Patriots guard Stephen Neal was blocked below the waist by Darnell Dockett, and stumbled onto Branch's legs. Branch was down and out for a few moments on the sideline and never returned to the game.

Coach Bill Belichick said Branch could have gone back into the game in the second half but decided to play it cautious.

Neal was apologetic, but there was nothing he could do.

Touching tribute
Brady was impressed by the Pat Tillman tribute at halftime.

"He was a great NFL player, and what he gave to his country and the sacrifice he has made was obviously the ultimate sacrifice," said Brady. "I think it gives everybody a great example of what a hero is. He is the type of person that you should look up to. Ultimately, what we do playing football doesn't hold a candle to what he did in his life and the actions he chose. We were wearing the decals today and they retired his jersey. It's a special day for this organization and around the league."

Tillman's widow, Marie, spoke briefly and thanked those who had been so thoughtful after her husband's death. Cardinals owner Michael Bidwell said Tillman, "is probably looking down upon us and smiling."

What streak?
Patriots players continue to downplay the winning streak. "You know what? The thought hasn't even crossed my mind," said Brady. "It's so challenging every week that no matter who you play, or where you play, it is always tough and it's always a challenge." Willie McGinest echoed those sentiments. "I don't even think about the streak," said the linebacker. "One game at a time. That was last year and you can't play off of last year. It's about one game each week." . . . Inactive for the Patriots yesterday were third quarterback Jim Miller, wide receiver P.K. Sam, running back Kevin Faulk, guard/center Gene Mruczkowski, offensive tackle Brandon Gorin, tight end Benjamin Watson, defensive end Marquise Hill, and defensive tackle Ethan Kelley . . . Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, and Rodney Harrison represented the Patriots as captains during the pregame coin flip . . . Troy Brown, who was nursing a right knee injury and was out of Week 1 against Indianapolis, was back on the active roster returning punts. He did not start at wide receiver and only made limited appearances in the offense, catching one ball for 6 yards. Brown made a nice move between two defenders on a return in the first quarter for a 22-yard gain . . . Belichick is 9-3 when having nine or more days to prepare for a game . . . The Patriots rotated their offensive linemen. On the second series, Neal and Adrian Klemm replaced Tom Ashworth and Joe Andruzzi, who had the wind knocked out of him. Klemm also saw duty at left tackle, giving Matt Light a respite at times . . . As well as two touchdown receptions for Daniel Graham, he also made a good play on Corey Dillon's second-quarter fumble, tackling Bertrand Berry, who recovered the ball, at the 11. The Cardinals had to settle for a field goal, making it 14-3 . . . Harrison led all Patriots tacklers with seven. Seymour was shut out. Seymour got a lot of attention from the Cardinal offensive line, drawing double teams all day . . . Eugene Wilson had a fine day, defensing three passes and picking off two. 

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