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Ex-safety Fox still providing tight coverage

The Patriots' first-round playoff bye gave the past two weeks an almost pre-Super Bowl feel. Such was the buildup for today's game against the Colts.

At least one member of the broadcast media, instead of engaging in the seemingly endless pregame speculating, has enjoyed the time off as much as the players. That would be former Patriot Tim Fox, who escaped to Florida for a week.

"I have to thank the Patriots for earning the bye," he said by phone Tuesday from the Fort Myers airport. Fox was en route back to Boston to tape the weekly "Sports Plus" football show that airs on NESN each Friday and Saturday at 6:30 and 10:30 p.m.

It's easy to follow Fox's logic when it comes to balancing life and work. The way he sees it, if he's going to be at Patriots games, he's going to be paying attention to what's happening on the field. If he's doing that, he might as well share what he sees with an audience.

And so he does. After the game, he joins WBCN's postgame show with former teammate Pete Brock and host Gary Tanguay to dissect what happened.

Later in the evening, he and Brock typically head over to NESN to join studio host Hazel Mae on the expanded 10 p.m. edition of "Sports Desk." Every other week, it's then on to Channel 7 for a segment in the 11:30 p.m. "Sports Xtra" wrapup show. This week, Fox and Brock did a "SportsDesk" preview last night at 10, they will do a postgame wrapup tomorrow night at 10, and it's Fox's "off" week at Channel 7.

A big part of doing the media work is "staying connected" with the team. But there's more. "I'm in sales [RR Donnelley Financial Printing], and it's a lot easier to get clients and potential clients to answer the phone when they have the option of talking some football," said Fox.

Fox's on-air comfort level is greatest when talking about the passing game, especially the defensive coverage and receivers' routes.

"That's what I did for 12 seasons in the NFL, four years in college, four years in high school," said the former safety. "That's why Pete and I make a good team. He's got really good knowledge of what happens in the `inner circle' -- between the tackles -- and I've got the passing game and secondary."

An ideal Sunday viewing experience for Fox is watching the game from the WBCN suite, where he can see the overall play, much of which isn't shown in the tight television shots, then catch the replays.

Today's game presents an intriguing matchup for Fox.

"We've been thinking all along that the Patriots would get their guys back in the secondary and be at full strength by the time the playoffs rolled around," he said. "That hasn't happened, as we all know. I don't think that you'd call it devastating, but it's challenging and takes a lot out of the playbook. They've done a good job all year of disguising coverages and being unpredictable with their blitzes. Now they'll have to do it against the hottest hand in the NFL."

Fox wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots revisit the "milling herd" defensive look they used against Drew Bledsoe and the Bills two seasons back.

"But that leaves them susceptible to the run," he said, "and if you let the Colts get both the run and pass going, they'll pick you apart."

Fox said he had a couple of opportunities to do analysis on a national level, "but I didn't act on them because I've been tied up with my kids and their activities since I got out of the game." Middle daughter Haley was an outstanding field hockey and basketball player at Foxboro High and played field hockey on scholarship at Ohio State, Fox's alma mater. Son Christopher is a junior at Xaverian, and Fox was quick to point out that he was a Herald (but not Globe) All-Scholastic selection. Oldest daughter Landin also played two sports (field hockey and basketball) at Foxboro. "Then she went and got her degree in microbiology at Arizona State," he said.

Teaming up again Today marks the eighth time CBS announcers Phil Simms and Jim Nantz have worked a Patriots game this season and the third time they've done a Colts game. Simms on the matchup: "Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his staff know what the Colts are trying to do. Don't underestimate the Patriots' players. If you put Belichick in charge of some other teams, I guarantee he wouldn't get the job done against Peyton Manning. When he was using a two-deep defense with the Giants, I could never figure out what was so different about it. He could always fit it to your team. I guarantee Peyton Manning will see something that looks familiar in this game, but it won't be the same as what he's seen on tape. But he's not psyched out by facing Belichick. He's confident, and he looks forward to the challenge." . . . ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" (11 a.m.-1 p.m. today) has features on today's QBs: Steve Young sits down with Manning and Chris Berman visits with Tom Brady, suddenly "the other quarterback" in this game . . . CBS's Marcus Allen also interviews Brady and several other Patriots on the pregame "The NFL Today" at 4 p.m. Sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein contributes a segment with Colts receivers Brandon Stokely and Reggie Wayne . . . Channel 4's Steve Burton hosts "Patriots Game Day" at 11:30 a.m. with a report from Dan Roche from Pittsburgh on yesterday Steelers-Jets game. Bob Lobel, returning from vacation, hosts the postgame "5th Quarter" on Channel 38 at approximately 8 p.m.

At your service ESPN2 begins its 76 hours of Australian Open coverage tonight at 7. Over two weeks, the network will have taped action in the afternoon and live late-night coverage. Cliff Drysdale and Tim Ryan will call matches and be joined by Dick Enberg at midweek. Mary Carillo, Mary Joe Fernandez, Patrick McEnroe, and Pam Shriver all will spend time in the analyst's chair . . . Curt Schilling is the subject of tonight's "Conversation" on ESPN's "SportsCenter," scheduled to start at 10:30 p.m. . . . Channel 5 has Boston College-West Virginia men's basketball today at noon at the same time NESN is airing Boston University-Vermont in a meeting of top America East teams . . . ESPN has back-to-back Connecticut basketball games tomorrow: the women vs. Texas on ESPN2 at 5 p.m., followed by the men vs. Seton Hall on ESPN at 7 . . . NESN studio host Mike Perlow is holding a one-day TV job-hunting seminar on Feb. 11. Details are at his website, www.getatvjob.com . . . CBS has picked up the rights to four Formula One races this year, starting with the April 24 San Marino race in Italy and including the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal but curiously not the US Grand Prix in Indianapolis. Those races will be seen in the network's weekend time slots while the remainder of the schedule will air live on Speed, which is in the final season of a three-year F1 deal . . . "Calling All Sports" will air as usual today from 4-7 p.m. on WTKK (96.9 FM) with host Bob Rodgers and the family of the late Norm Resha, who revived the show and was its lifeblood for more than a decade.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com

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