Patriots tough opponent after bye

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It has almost become part of NFL lore: You can't beat the Patriots when Bill Belichick has two weeks to prepare for a team.

In fact, the Patriots under Belichick have won eight straight games after their bye week, when Belichick has had two weeks to prepare for an opponent. They are 9-2 overall after byes under the coach heading into Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If the Pats don't keep the streak going, it won't be because they've had a bad week of practice. Belichick pronounced himself happy Friday with the way the team has prepared this week after coming back from the mini-vacation over the weekend.

''I feel like overall our team came back with a good level of energy on Tuesday and Wednesday practices,'' he said. ''I don't have any complaints or any issues with what they've done. I think that they're trying to get ready to go. Hopefully we'll be there. ''

The Patriots juggled their roster Friday, announcing the release of veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden. Bodden started one game this season after missing the entire 2010 season due to injury.

The already-thin cornerback ranks took another shot when rookie cornerback Ras-I Dowling -- who has been in and out of the lineup - didn't practice Friday and was listed as doubtful while still attempting to come back from a hip injury.

''Of course, every player wants to be out there and as a coach you want every player out there,'' said Belichick. ''It hasn't been easy for him (Dowling); it hasn't been easy for anybody. I think he's tried and worked really hard, as has the medical staff and everybody else. We'll see how it goes here.''

Dowling was one of the first Patriots to notice Bodden's empty locker Friday. ''That's why you have to go out there every day and give it your all. You have to keep your own locker.''

The return of defensive captain linebacker Jerod Mayo from his left knee injury - he missed the past two games - is also a possibility, although he's listed as questionable.

''He was limited in practice,'' Belichick said. ''He's done some things, there are some things he hasn't done. He's trying to do a little bit more each day. We'll see how it goes today. We'll make a decision this weekend based on the whole body of work.''

The roster juggling may not be over with Bodden's release as the Patriots decide who, if anyone, will be activated from the physically unable to perform list. The possibilities are veteran running back Kevin Faulk or defensive linemen Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick.

''We still have a little time to do that,'' Belichick said. ''It's good to have them out there. I think they're definitely getting there. We'll see what decisions we feel like are best for our matchup this week.''

Rookie defensive lineman Marcus Cannon, the Patriots' fifth-round pick who has been recovering from cancer treatment, was removed from the reserve/non-football injury list and began practicing with the team this week for the first time since being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in April.

Cannon said it was ''awesome'' to return to the field and that his cancer is in full remission.

''Everybody in here has been real supportive,'' he said. ''The offensive line's been helping me get into it. I love this team. Everybody's great, everybody's real supportive. ''

NOTES: Linebacker Dane Fletcher is out for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He missed the week of practice due to a thumb injury. ... Five Patriots are questionable for the game: S Josh Barrett (thumb), RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (toe), DL Albert Haynesworth (back), Mayo (knee) and OT Sebastian Vollmer (back). The Patriots also signed running back Josh Victorian to the practice squad and released defensive back Malcolm Williams from the practice squad.

Tagged: Patriots, Leigh Bodden, Ras-I Dowling

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