Ready to go a different route
FOXBOROUGH - Patriots receiver Wes Welker isn’t surprised to see opponents being more aggressive in how they defend him.
Welker was held to six receptions for a season-low 39 yards in last Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, and as defenses switch their approach, the Patriots also have to adjust.
“It’s been a lot more man coverage and guys getting in your face and grabbing and doing whatever they need to do, and at the same time you have to understand that and be physical and get open,’’ Welker said.
Welker is on pace to finish the season with 130 receptions, which would be the second most in NFL history, but has been held to fewer than 50 receiving yards in each of the last two games.
As the Patriots prepared for the Giants this week, they talked about finding ways to stretch the field in the passing game. And Welker said it’s not just his teammates who should assume that role.
“I’ve actually gotten the ball deep a few times, too,’’ he said. “I don’t think you can just take me out of the equation. Any time you get the ball deep to anybody it’s going to help out the passing game.’’
Welker is questionable for tomorrow’s game with a neck injury suffered against the Steelers, but he said he’s improving. He didn’t practice on Wednesday, and was limited Thursday and yesterday.
“Any time you play a game you’re going to have your bumps and bruises, and some things take an extra day,’’ Welker said. “You monitor it and move on.’’
Brace wants in
The Patriots have one spot open on the 53-man roster, and defensive lineman Ron Brace would love to have it.
Brace began practicing during the bye week after beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list after elbow surgery. The Patriots had three weeks from Brace’s first practice to make a decision on his roster status.
“I think he’s certainly making good progress,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “We’ll see how this week finishes up, but he’s getting close.’’
Brace is eager to find out if and when he can play.
“I would finally get a chance to actually be out there and be part of the team and help win games,’’ he said. “It’s something I’ve been waiting for a good 10-plus months now.’’
In a story this week in the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, former Patriots defensive lineman Chad Eaton said that while he was a member of the Browns’ practice squad in 1995, Belichick - then Cleveland’s head coach - paid him to start fights in practice.
“If practice was going slow, he’d look at me and just say, ‘It’s time,’ ’’ said Eaton. “I was known for that, and it paid off on Fridays. There’d always be some extra money in my locker. Practice players don’t make much, so I really appreciated it.’’
Belichick was asked yesterday about the story and said, “I don’t remember that.’’
In 2000, the Globe reported that Belichick paid practice squad offensive lineman Rob Gatrell $200 to go after Lawyer Milloy in practice to stir up the team before its game against the Bengals, which the Patriots won. At the time, Belichick denied that story.
Running back Kevin Faulk made his season debut last Sunday, and yesterday received his first fine. Faulk was hit with a $7,500 penalty for a chop block against the Steelers. Safety Patrick Chung also was fined $7,500 for a facemask penalty.
On the Steelers’ side, safety Ryan Clark was fined $15,000 for a personal foul. One surprise was that Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was not fined for his tackle on Welker that twisted the receiver’s head.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher (thumb) will miss tomorrow’s game. In addition to Welker, eight Patriots are questionable: Josh Barrett (thumb), Shaun Ellis (rib), Faulk (knee), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (toe), Albert Haynesworth (back), Aaron Hernandez (knee), Jerod Mayo (knee), and Sebastian Vollmer (back).
Offensive lineman Donald Thomas is probable. He missed yesterday’s practice as he awaited the birth of his first child.
Fletcher played Oct. 16 against the Cowboys but has not practiced since.
“He’s doing some rehab,’’ Belichick said. “When he’s ready, we’ll be happy to have him out there. If it was going to be for the year, we would put him on injured reserve, so we don’t feel like it’s that long, but we’ll just see how he comes along.’’
Guest in house
Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson sat in on Belichick’s press conference yesterday, and was welcomed by the coach. Johnson stayed to watch practice. Tomorrow’s game is on Fox . . . The Patriots signed Malcolm Williams to the practice squad and released fellow defensive back Josh Victorian.