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Sports

Patriots carry out normal routine without head coach

| Thursday, Nov. 24, 2005

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There was no spitball throwing from the back of the meeting room, goofing off in practice or screaming at the substitute boss.

The New England Patriots went about their business Wednesday as if coach Bill Belichick were there instead of in Annapolis, Md., for the funeral of his father.

"We have enough leadership and enough mature guys that it's really been very easy," said Dante Scarnecchia, the assistant head coach filling in until Belichick returns. "We have a lot of very prideful guys, and they understand the routine and the work ethic that we want."

Belichick is expected back for Friday's practice for Sunday's game at Kansas City.

His father, Steve, died Saturday night of heart failure at the age of 86. Belichick informed his players after last Sunday's 24-17 win over New Orleans, then left. His father had been an assistant football coach at the Naval Academy for 33 years and lived in that area.

Scarnecchia ran team meetings and practices, but primarily stuck to coaching the offensive line, his primary job for the last six of his 22 seasons as a Patriots assistant.

"I don't want to talk about me," he said, standing in for Belichick at the head coach's regular Wednesday morning meeting with the media.

Belichick spoke with him for about a minute on Tuesday morning, but Scarnecchia thinks the head coach has spoken more this week with defensive coordinator Eric Mangini because Belichick is defense-oriented.

In 1992, Scarnecchia filled in as head coach for seven of the last eight games when Dick MacPherson was ill. The Patriots' only two wins that season came under Scarnecchia. He stayed on when Bill Parcells became coach in 1993 and continued with Pete Carroll before Belichick took over in 2000.

The current team is much better and more disciplined than the 1992 group.

"We've got good leadership here," linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "Dante and the rest of the assistant coaches and the players understand that if it was a player that was gone, we'd pick up the slack."

"If something's not going well, maybe a veteran has to talk to somebody, where Bill would say something himself," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said.

For a few days, players were spared Belichick observing them from different spots on the field and the sound of him providing immediate feedback.

"You know he's going to watch the film (of practices)," linebacker Don Davis said, "so when you make that mistake, you may not have heard that comment right away, but you're going to hear it eventually, so it's really just like business as usual."

The Patriots have plenty to attend to, especially on defense where they will face Larry Johnson. He rushed for a club-record 211 yards in last Sunday's 45-17 win over Houston.

Johnson is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and the Chiefs have Trent Green throwing to one of the NFL's best tight ends, Tony Gonzalez, who leads the team with 54 receptions.

Green also had to deal with the death of his father.

On Oct. 27, Jim Green died at the age of 58. Ten days later, in the Chiefs' first home game since then, the younger Green taped off the seat his father had used for every game at Arrowhead Stadium since the quarterback arrived there in 2001, and it remained empty for the Chiefs' 27-23 win over Oakland.

One Kansas City player thinks Belichick's father's death could bring the Patriots closer.

"They're coming together as in grief on the death of his father," linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "That brings out the best in people. It reminds you, don't take this life for granted."

So, the Patriots keep working as they usually do even though their coach is away.

"It's our responsibility to show up every day and work hard. That's what he would expect of us," quarterback Tom Brady said. "He would be pretty (upset) if we came back on Friday and things weren't accomplished the way he wanted them to be."

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