Moving On From Moss To Mangini

The Patriots are no longer talking about Randy Moss, now they're focused on another former Patriot, Eric Mangini, head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

One distraction down, one more to go.

The New England Patriots don't have to answer any more questions about former receiver Randy Moss who was claimed off waivers by the Tennessee Titans.

They will, however, have to deal with all the sidebars regarding Bill Belichick's relationship with former assistant Eric Mangini and his now-ancient tenure with the Browns as they prepare for Sunday's game in Cleveland.

These days, it seems like every game brings its own set of storylines, whether it's a game against the Jets, facing Moss as a member of the Vikings, or playing the Browns, who hired Mangini after his brief coaching career in New York ended on a sour note. On top of that, they're faced with the distraction of guard Logan Mankins ending his holdout and returning to the team Wednesday.

Nonetheless, the Patriots are focused squarely on the task at hand, which is facing a Cleveland team surprisingly effective on special teams with the potential to explode offensively.

The Browns enter this week ranked near the bottom of the league in every important statistical category both offensively and defensively, yet Belichick painted Cleveland as a dangerous opponent capable of pulling off the upset on its own field.

"They have played a lot of good football teams and they've really taken them all right down to the wire, of course other than New Orleans -- they handled them," Belichick said. "It was a very convincing win over New Orleans, which is kind of scary in itself, of course, down in New Orleans. (They are) a real physical, tough, hard-nosed, running football team. (They are) tough on defense, good in the kicking game (and they) have some young players that have stepped up."

The Browns have only won twice this year, but their signature victory came two weeks ago when they crushed New Orleans, 30-17, at the Super Dome. They had a bye last week, so they'll either still be living off the euphoria from throttling the defending champs, or they'll suffer a letdown against a New England team with the best record in football.

"They are going to play very competitively," Belichick said. "They are a good, tough football team. It is going to be a challenge for us to go up there and deal with this type of team, playing at home, coming off a big win they had against the Saints. I'm sure they will be ready to go with the extra week of preparation and the momentum they had from that big win last weekend."

What might be difficult to prepare for is the fact the Browns have yet to announce their starting quarterback. Seneca Wallace, Colt McCoy and Jake Delhomme have all split time this year due to injury. As Belichick said, the Patriots "will prepare for all of the players that are on the active roster that are eligible to play."

There's no telling who that will be yet, but the Patriots know they have Tom Brady behind center, and he'll look to take his shots against a defense ranked 26th in the league against the pass. Still, his No. 1 goal is making improvements on a daily basis as the Patriots continue to march to the top of the AFC.

"I'd prefer us to be playing a lot better than we're playing, I'd say that," Brady said. "Maybe we'd get more attention if we were playing more consistently as an offense and scoring more points and being more effective on third down and in the red area. I think we've got to find ways to play better football as a team. Our record is what it is, and I don't think that's going to do anything at the end of the day. I don't think our goal is to win six games this year and certainly we've won a lot more games than that around here. I think what we're trying to do is make improvements."

SERIES HISTORY: 21st regular-season meeting. Browns lead series, 11-9. The Patriots have won the last four games dating back to 2001. They haven't lost at Cleveland since 2000. Overall, the Patriots are just 4-7 in Cleveland, but 2-1 at the new stadium since the franchise was reestablished.

NOTES
--OL Logan Mankins reported to Foxboro on Wednesday, ending his holdout. He said some helpful advice from Tom Brady made the decision to come back seem like a no-brainer.
"Tom's a great guy and he looks at things and really thinks about it and when you talk to Tom and you're getting advice from Tom you always know it's good advice because he's really thinking about what he's saying," Mankins said. "He's not telling you something (just) to say it. He's actually putting thought into it."

--Since 2001, New England has done a remarkable job of finishing the season strong, compiling a 75-22 (.773) record after Nov. 1, including playoff games.
The only season in which they didn't finish with a winning record after Nov. 1 was last year when they went 5-5 down the stretch.

--Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was Cleveland's head coach from 1991 to 1995.
He took over in Cleveland following the 1990 season, which was the worst in franchise history (3-13), and had the Browns in the playoffs by 1994 with an 11-5 record.
That year, the Browns beat the Patriots in the Wild Card playoff, which remains Cleveland's most recent playoff victory.

--There are 10 current executives or coaches in the NFL who were all hired by Belichick during his time with the Browns, including Scott Pioli, who is now the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The list also includes current Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, Browns coach Eric Mangini and University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.

--While the Patriots own the league's best home record since 2002 (63-13), they're also pretty tough to beat on the road.
Since 2000, the Patriots have the NFL's third-best road record at 53-30. Only Indianapolis (57-27) and Philadelphia (54-29-1) have been better away from home.

--DL Mike Wright was credited with a 10-yard sack in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Vikings for his fourth consecutive game with a sack.
The last player in New England to do so was Rosevelt Colvin, who accomplished the feat in 2005 with a four-game streak beginning on Nov. 27 at Kansas City, and ending Dec. 17 against Tampa Bay. Colvin also recorded a half sack in the fifth game, giving him 4.5 sacks through five games.

--QB Tom Brady will make his fifth consecutive start against Cleveland on Sunday. He is currently 4-0 against the Browns with four career touchdowns and three interceptions.
In his lone game at Cleveland back in December of 2004, Brady completed 11 of 20 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown in a 42-15 win.

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- The number of 10-plus reception games by Wes Welker. He has the most 10-plus reception games in Patriots' history.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't make the decisions around here. If I did, Lawyer Milloy would still be here and Deion (Branch) never would have left." -- QB Tom Brady when asked if he'd welcome back Randy Moss.


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