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Patriots notebook

They’re taking full advantage

Turnovers have been foundation for success

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / December 17, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — The fact the Patriots lead the NFL in turnover differential (plus-18) has become a point of pride. The Patriots vaulted over the Eagles (plus-15) last week, forcing four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) in the 36-7 victory over the Bears.

“We preach it every day in practice,’’ said nose tackle Vince Wilfork. “The more you do in practice, the more plays you make in practice, the more consistent you are in practice, then you have a good chance of being that consistent on game day, and it’s been working for us.’’

The Patriots have forced 27 turnovers (including 20 interceptions, second most in the league behind Philadelphia’s 22), while committing only nine.

During their five-game winning streak, the Patriots have set an NFL record for consecutive games scoring at least 30 points and without any turnovers.

The defense, meanwhile, forced 13 turnovers during that stretch, with 11 interceptions and two fumble recoveries. The Patriots forced 14 turnovers in the first eight games.

“We’ve had a lot of turnovers,’’ said linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who has two interceptions and two fumble recoveries this season. “Running to the ball has a lot to do with it, and also just having awareness where the ball is at certain times. There’s always a high emphasis on it with every team because it’s such a big factor in the game.’’

The Patriots have converted their 27 turnovers into 105 points. During the winning streak, the Patriots have scored 61 points off turnovers, including a season-high 21 (all in the second half) against the Jets.

“I love giving Tom Brady a short field to work with,’’ Wilfork said. “He’s the best quarterback in the game and our job is to keep him in those situations, so the more we do in practice and the more plays we make in practice, we’ll have that much more confidence in the game, we’ll have the same success.’’

Will Flynn be in? While Brady (right shoulder/foot) and rookie cornerback Devin McCourty (rib) returned to practice yesterday, improving their outlook for Sunday night’s game against the Packers, the status of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers (concussion) remained unclear. The Patriots, as a result, are also preparing to face backup Matt Flynn.

“It’s a little bit different because he’s not like Rodgers,’’ Ninkovich said. “Rodgers has the ability to throw the ball anywhere on the field and can run. We go and see tape of some of the games [Flynn has] been in and see some of the things that he’s done, because he can still throw the ball pretty well. He’s got a pretty good arm. So you’ve got to see what kind of stuff he was doing in preseason and in the games he’s played in.’’

But, Ninkovich said, it is not likely the Packers will make wholesale changes on offense if they have to start Flynn.

“Their offense is going to do what they do,’’ Ninkovich said. “They’re going to continue to run the same things on offense, so we’ve got to prepare to face some of the same things.’’

Said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, “We’re a quarterback-driven system, so it’s important for us to make Matt Flynn successful.’’

Local knowledge During his teleconference with the New England media Wednesday, McCarthy was asked about defensive coordinator Dom Capers, and if the season Capers spent on the Patriots staff (2008) gave him some insight into New England’s schemes. “I know that Dom had a very positive experience there,’’ McCarthy said. “He has a lot of respect for Coach [Bill] Belichick and the way they operate the program. We’ve talked numerous times about how Dom’s done at the places that he’s been — Houston, Carolina, and the experiences he’s had in New England, so I don’t think it’s going to factor into the outcome of the game. I think you’ve got to trust your preparation and your process, you trust your training, and that’s been our approach.’’ . . . Patriots defensive linemen Gerard Warren (knee), Ron Brace (concussion), Mike Wright (concussion), and Myron Pryor (back) sat out practice for the second day in a row. Cornerback Kyle Arrington (elbow) returned to full participation . . . In addition to Rodgers, linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) missed practice for the Packers.

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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