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On bye, time can really fly

Patriots will balance need to rest, prepare

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / January 3, 2012
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As the top seed in the AFC, the Patriots earned their second bye week of the season, which began yesterday as a day off for players and a planning day for coaches.

Bill Belichick said in his conference call that his team put itself in a “decent position’’ for the postseason, adding that there are “certainly a lot of things that we can do better.’’

“I think the big thing for us right now is to use our time and our opportunities and this position in a productive manner so that’s what we’ll try to do here,’’ he said.

In years past, Belichick has talked about using the bye week for self-scouting, for working on weaknesses and reinforcing strengths. He’s called it an enjoyable time because he gets to teach, one of his favorite parts of his job.

That will probably be on the docket this week, though the Patriots will also do some advance scouting on their potential opponent in the divisional round Jan. 14. It will be one of three teams: fourth-seeded Denver, fifth seed Pittsburgh, or sixth seed Cincinnati.

“That’s probably one of the things that we need to talk about here in the next day as a staff, how to make the most of it,’’ Belichick said of dividing the prep time. “Of course, you know what the possibilities are and who it could be, so you get a little bit of a jump-start on those teams, as far as breaking down film and looking at them; two of the three [Denver and Pittsburgh] we’ve played. That’s part of the process.

“A lot of it is working on what we need to work on; working on things that have been a problem for us, that if they come up again we need to handle better. Part of it will be looking at our potential opponents. If there’s something we feel like we need to devote a little bit of extra time to because of the difficulty that it brings, we’ll consider using our time on that too.’’

One thing the Patriots will almost certainly focus on is getting off to a better start. In their last two games, against Miami and Buffalo, the Patriots found themselves trailing, 17-0 and 21-0, before waking up and pulling out the win. Even against the Broncos Dec. 18, the defense put the Patriots in an early hole before finding better success against Denver’s option offense.

After Sunday’s win over the Bills, neither Belichick nor his players could put a finger on the cause of the team’s slow starts.

Belichick likely has his own list of improvements.

“The most important thing for us is to focus on our team and what we can do to improve on our end,’’ he said. “We’re aware of the three potential teams we could play next and we’ll definitely do work on them and make sure we’re prepared for them once we know who it is.

“The bigger picture for us right now is just trying to make sure that we take advantage of our opportunities and practice and meetings and the time that we have between now and our next game to do the best things we can to help ourselves individually and help our team. That’s what we’ll try to focus on, which obviously covers a lot of ground, but [we’ll] try to prioritize those and it may be different for some individual players than others.’’

Belichick will also have to strike a balance between giving players time to rest, mentally and physically - 19 players were on the injury report for Sunday’s game - and making sure they get all necessary work accomplished.

In the end, however, there’s one goal that might trump all others:

“If we can get, as a team, 10 percent better than where we are now or whatever that number is, then that’s good,’’ Belichick said. “We’re helping ourselves.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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