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Patriots notebook

Coach has their back

Belichick declines to blame corners

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / November 3, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - When he wasn’t getting grilled about Julian Edelman’s arrest, Bill Belichick was challenged yesterday on another front - the play of cornerbacks Antwuan Molden and Phillip Adams in last Sunday’s 25-17 loss at Pittsburgh.

Belichick was asked if Molden, a fourth-year player who was claimed off waivers Sept. 1, and Adams, a second-year player who was released Oct. 8 and re-signed Oct. 18, made him feel better about releasing veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden last week.

“I think they played competitively in the game, yeah,’’ Belichick said. “I would say the problems we had in the Pittsburgh game, I wouldn’t put that at the top of the list.’’

Hines Ward, however, seemed to suggest otherwise. Yesterday, the Steelers receiver told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the reason he didn’t rush back from an ankle injury to play against the Patriots was that “we felt we could exploit their secondary. That wasn’t the same secondary that we played against a year ago without having [James] Sanders, [Brandon Meriweather] wasn’t back there, and they let Leigh Bodden go.

“We kind of liked our matchups. So there was no need for me to try to force it and go.’’

The Patriots’ pass defense, which is ranked last in the league (323.1 yards per game), allowed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to spread the ball to nine receivers and complete 36 of 50 attempts for 365 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

So when he suggested that cornerback play wasn’t an issue - “Corner? Which plays are you talking about?’’ - Belichick was quickly challenged. The coach was reminded of the time safety Patrick Chung blitzed, leaving Molden to sprint downfield because he had no help over the top. It resulted in Mike Wallace gaining 15 yards on a screen.

“I wouldn’t say that every play was a good play,’’ Belichick said. “But I would say there are a number of plays that happened on the perimeter of the field relative to the plays that happened well inside the numbers. I don’t think there’s any comparison.’’

Both corners were thrown into the breach, seeing their first significant playing time for the Patriots.

“In Houston, I played both [cornerback and special teams], but mostly special teams,’’ Molden said. “Each and every week I have a standard, and after watching film this week, there’s little things I could definitely improve.’’

For Adams, it seems to have been a more difficult transition, getting released and re-signed twice last month.

“You have to be ready for every situation and prepare yourself mentally and physically for it,’’ he said. “You just have to prepare yourself for any situation and your teammates, like mine, they help me. When you get out there, you just play.’’

That was then

While Sunday’s game against the Giants is being looked at by some as a Super Bowl XLII rematch, the Patriots disagree.

“That’s a distant memory,’’ said Tom Brady. “There’s not much you can take from that. This is an entirely different team that we have and that they have - strengths and weaknesses.

“There are so many players on our team that were obviously not part of that game or any game against the Giants.

“We’re familiar with them, we play them in the preseason mostly every year and we’ve played them in the preseason this year, and that probably gives us a little more of an understanding of what they do than the game a few years ago.’’

Welker absent

Wes Welker, whose neck was wrenched by Troy Polamalu on a horse-collar tackle last Sunday, did not practice yesterday. Linebacker Dane Fletcher (thumb) also was absent. Seven players took part in a limited capacity: Josh Barrett (thumb), Shaun Ellis (rib), Kevin Faulk (knee), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (toe), Aaron Hernandez (knee), Jerod Mayo (knee), and Sebastian Vollmer (back) . . . Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich, the former Boston College standout who battled Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, observed a significant anniversary yesterday when he posted on Twitter: “Exactly two years ago today I sat in the chemotherapy chair for the last time.#miracles#blessed.’’ Although he went undrafted, Herzlich made the Giants. “He’s a tough kid and dedicated football player,’’ said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, a former BC coach. “He’s smart and working as hard as he can to grow and develop.’’

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