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Sports

September 21, 2013

Patriots prepare for a veteran QB ­‑ for a change

(Continued)

“I think Josh has real good physical skills and he’s matured and developed a lot as a player,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Even working against him in practice the last two years, just seeing him on a consecutive-day basis standing out there watching him throw the ball, run the offense, handle the team, he’s definitely grown and developed as a quarterback and is a guy who can run the offense and has all the physical talent to make all the throws, scramble and get out of trouble.

“He’s a hard guy to sack.”

Freeman isn’t off to the best start, completing just 45.3 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s not much of a threat to run the ball, either, something New England had to contend with when facing Manuel and Smith.

“As a D-line, you just try and get the pressure on him and get him thinking,” Ninkovich said. “Just getting pressure on him, having him make quick decisions, that’s what you want to do to get after him.”

They’ve certainly wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks so far. In fact, New England’s defense surprisingly has helped overcome a shaky start by Tom Brady and the offense.

Usually, it’s the other way around.

Trailing by four points in the fourth quarter of the opener at Buffalo, the Patriots forced three punts and recovered a late fumble to help seal the win. Four days later, with Brady and a slew of rookie receivers struggling to connect, the defense recorded four sacks of Smith and intercepted him three times in the fourth quarter to end the upset bid.

“I think everyone knows we’re a couple of plays away from losing games and they were a couple of plays away from winning games,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “So you really can’t always take a team just from the record.”

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