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November 07. 2013 8:03PM

Patriots' bye week a precursor to 'real season'

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Having a bye week is all well and good, but that doesn't mean it's all fun and games for the Patriots. This is the time of year that separates the contenders from the pretenders.

That fact is front and center with Tom Brady, who emphasized the point.

"I think the important part for all of us is to realize our most important football is ahead of us, and we can get a good jump on Carolina and we can work hard this weekend to improve ourselves as best we can, whatever that needs to be," the Pats quarterback said this week. "There's no letdown. This is time to ramp it up. It's when the most important football starts to be played — right about now."

Logan Mankins also struck that chord.

"This is when real football starts — in November, where you make that push," the offensive lineman said. "This is where we want to start playing good."

Historically, the Pats have been a very good second-half team. Since the 2010 season, in fact, the Patriots are now a combined 24-1 in the second half of the regular season.

Since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000, the Pats have gone 83-21 in the second half. They have gone 8-0 in the second half four times, and 7-1 three times under Belichick. With the Week 9 win against Pittsburgh, they've certainly gotten off on the right foot.

Working hard

Defensive line coach Patrick Graham has had to make do without the two top guns in the middle of his line. With Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly both on injured reserve, Graham has had to work in rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, as well as second-year man Marcus Forston.

How does the coach feel the kids were coming along?

"I think they're playing hard. They work hard in the classroom, they work hard taking care of their bodies and everything, and all we can ask them to do is come into the building, do your job, be attentive, work hard, and that's what they're doing," Graham said. "The success they've had out on the field as a group . . . is because of that hard work.

"Now, if they were taking shortcuts or anything, then you wouldn't get the results you're getting. But they're working hard trying to get better . . . and that's all you could ask right there."

Hammer time

Running backs coach Ivan Fears has been impressed by veteran LeGarrette Blount, who has been coming on as the hammer, closing out games late.

"He's a hard-working guy. He's a big back. Just like everyone else, they all have their roles and he has his role," Fears said of Blount, who picked up 47 yards on five carries against the Steelers, most of those coming in the fourth quarter. "We're very happy with what he's doing and getting after it."

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