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October 27. 2012 11:12PM

Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: Pats hope they can dismiss distractions

Every year, there are people — typically not long removed from college — who travel to Europe in hopes of learning something about themselves. By leaving the comforts of the regular and routine to face a challenge, they try to figure out what they’re made of.

And today the Patriots join them.

On the neutral turf of London’s Wembley Stadium, this afternoon’s tilt against the Rams is one the Patriots should win. New England is rightfully favored by a touchdown and its opponent has just one victory outside of St. Louis since 2010.

But the Rams have proven they’re no pushover in their first half-season under Jeff Fisher, and a departure from the normal could be problematic for a Pats team that moves toward the midpoint of its season still facing legitimate concern over its ability to handle business against the teams it should beat and questions about its mental toughness — both of which could be intensified by the circumstances of a trip on which it has practiced in nontraditional settings and seen preparation interrupted by the expectation that the players will be ambassadors for football.

It could be enough to cost them if the Patriots’ players aren’t mature enough to treat this strictly as a business trip.

“The most important thing about the whole week is just the Rams,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We can’t get distracted by all the other stuff. The Rams are a good football team.”

All the other stuff included a Thursday flight east, both the day and the direction different from a typical road game. Then there was a walkthrough Friday, not in a stadium or on a practice field, but in the middle of the public Hyde Park. Then Saturday began with several players — including a microphone-spiking Rob Gronkowski — joining Belichick at a fan rally in Trafalgar Square.

It’s all part of the responsibility as the NFL looks to globalize its game, and the Rams have obviously seen their routines similarly altered. But the worry for New England is that game prep has been an issue this season even on the most normal of weeks.

After losing to Arizona, several players noted the poor series of practices that preceded it, and this week Tom Brady suggested all three of his club’s defeat have been in a similar vein. The quarterback said that early in the preparation, Belichick will tell his team just what they need to do to beat the next opponent, and, according to Brady, “usually when we do those things, we win — and when we don’t, we get yelled at for an hour the next day and we usually have lost.”

Those losses come back to studying and practice and understanding the enemy. So although Belichick has said this week that his plans for normalizing the week revolve around keeping a consistent routine the day before and day of the game, it’s all the other days on which the Patriots have been beating themselves this season. That’s where things get scary for New England in old England.

And why they should fly out of Europe on Monday knowing more about themselves than when they arrived.

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UNDERRATED: St. Louis’ pass rush. The Rams are tied for fifth in football with 21 sacks, including seven from Robert Quinn and four from Chris Long. It’s a major reason St. Louis ranks ninth league-wide in points allowed.

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OVERRATED: Sam Bradford. The well-paid former No. 1 pick hasn’t made the progress St. Louis would like, entering with seven touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 81.5. It’ll help if receiver Danny Amendola (questionable) returns from a separated shoulder, and his other receivers are occasionally explosive downfield, but Bradford isn’t someone the Pats should fear.

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KEEP AN EYE ON: Chris Givens. The Rams’ rookie receiver has only 10 catches on the year, but has four catches of 40-plus yards in the past four weeks. That’s a big threat to a big-play-prone defense that’ll again be without starting safeties Pat Chung and Steve Gregory, and more than 23 teams have this season.

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KEY MATCHUP: Patriots’ defense vs. Rams’ offense in the red zone. St. Louis has kicked 17 field goals this season, while scoring only 10 offensive touchdowns thanks in part to the NFL’s 29th-ranked red zone offense (41.2 percent TDs). Subsequently, the Rams have only once scored more than 23 points in a game.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: St. Louis is one of six defenses in football with more interceptions (the Rams have eight) than passing touchdowns allowed (seven). The Patriots lost both games played against the others (Arizona and Baltimore).

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Dave D’Onofrio covers Boston sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com. Twitter: @davedonofrio


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