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Bill Belichick was surprised Logan Mankins returned to Sunday's game

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff  December 30, 2013 10:37 AM

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The day after the Patriots' 34-20 victory over Buffalo in the regular-season finale, coach Bill Belichick reflected briefly on Sunday's game before turning his focus to the future.

"Again, as I said yesterday, it was a good team win for us," Belichick said in his day-after conference call with the media. "We had contributions in all three phases, contributions from a lot of people. The conditions were challenging, but that's part of the game and I thought we dealt with them, not perfectly, but we took advantage of some opportunities. At this point we've got to turn the page, move ahead. There are certainly things we need to work on as a football team."

There are three teams the Patriots could face in the Divisional round - No. 3 Cincinnati, No. 4 Indianapolis or No. 5 Kansas City - but they won't know who exactly will be making the trip to Gillette Stadium for a Jan. 11 game until Sunday afternoon, after the Bengals-Chargers game.

Because of that, it sounds like the coaching staff will spend little, if any, time with players discussing the strengths and weaknesses of those teams, since time spent on two of those three teams would essentially be time wasted.

"First things first will be getting through this [Buffalo] game, and the Baltimore game - we never really cleaned up some things from that game (because of last week's schedule with the Christmas holiday)," Belichick said. "We have some familiarity with Cincinnati obviously [the teams met in Week 5], but not with Kansas City and not with Indianapolis, at least not this year. So we have to make some determinations as to how to organize our preparation and so forth.

"For right now, our focus is trying to get through the Buffalo, and to a certain extent, the Baltimore game, and take care of our house. Regardless of who we play, we have to get some things straightened out and adjusted ... I think it starts with the Patriots."

Belichick praised offensive lineman Logan Mankins, who had to be helped off the field Sunday – he was limping gingerly with what the team called an ankle injury – and went into the locker room. But he returned to the field, to the surprise of even Belichick.

But considering Mankins played through a torn knee ligament a couple of years ago, maybe it's not so surprising after all.

"First of all, I agree with Tom (Brady) in terms of Logan's toughness – I've coached a lot of tough guys, none that I would put ahead of him. Maybe on the same level, but none ahead," Belichick said, referencing comments Brady made after the game Sunday. "If Logan needed help off the field ... it was definitely a concerning moment. When (head trainer Jim) Whelan came and told me 'Logan's back,' I was a little bit surprised to hear that.

"But he's a tough individual, physically and mentally tough."

Much has been made about the adversity the Patriots have weathered this season, with players who weren't expected to be key parts of the roster when the season began – DTs Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, RB LeGarrette Blount, CB Logan Ryan, and to a lesser extent (at least on the expectations scale), WR Julian Edelman – becoming key contributors.

Belichick talked about roster building, and noted that all of those players ended up in New England in a different way.

"Some of the guys mentioned – draft choices [Ryan], college free agents [Vellano], waiver-wire pickups like Chris Jones, trades like for LeGarrette, veteran signings, or re-signings in the case of Edelman – those are all the ways to build your team," Belichick said. "I think in the offseason what we try to do with the coaching staff, with Nick Caserio and his staff, is try to build the team.

"It's so hard to know how it's all going to turn out. You have some kind of idea what a player can bring to your team, but how the team's going to come together, you don't know ... It's a long process."

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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