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Patriots hope to avoid distractions

- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2012

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) - So much for a quiet bye week.

New England Patriots players, anticipating a restful weekend watching potential playoff opponents, were hit by a key question Friday. Would offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien's hiring as head coach at Penn State be a distraction even though he's expected to stay with the team throughout the postseason?

No, wide receiver Julian Edelman said.

"We're still getting ready for the playoffs so we didn't change anything," he said. "We're going to get back to work here soon and enjoy a couple of days off and rest."

Backup offensive lineman Nick McDonald agreed. It was business as usual in Foxborough on Friday, he said.

"It's just another work day," he said. "Come to work and do our jobs."

O'Brien wasn't at practice on Thursday. Instead, he went to Penn State for an interview. Asked if O'Brien was in Foxborough on Friday, Edelman said that was a question for coach Bill Belichick, who did not speak with reporters.

A few hours later, Penn State announced that O'Brien would replace Joe Paterno, who was fired on Nov. 9 after child sex abuse charges were filed against retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. O'Brien will be formally announced at a news conference on Saturday in the Nittany Lion Inn ballroom on campus. It begins at 11:30 a.m.

The top-seeded Patriots had team meetings, but did not practice on Friday. Several players declined comment. Tom Brady entered and left quickly without speaking with reporters.

This is not the first time Patriots coordinators have been interviewed for head coaching jobs during the season. It happened twice during the 2004 season and that didn't distract them from winning their third Super Bowl in four years.

On Dec. 12 of that year, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis coached in a 35-28 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Foxborough, then flew to South Bend, Ind., where he was hired as Notre Dame's head coach that night.

During that season's playoff bye week, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was interviewed for the Cleveland Browns head coaching job. Nine days later, his defense held the Indianapolis Colts without a touchdown in a 20-3 divisional round win.

In the AFC championship game, a 41-27 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Weis' offense scored three touchdowns of more than 20 yards.

And two weeks later, the Patriots won the Super Bowl, 24-21 over the Philadelphia Eagles. Two days after that, Crennel was introduced as Cleveland's coach.

"I think it all showed on the field," Troy Brown, a member of that team said Friday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Charlie and Romeo were professional about it."

Brown, who played both wide receiver and defensive back that season, didn't think there was any distraction.

"I don't think it was a big issue," he said. "I don't think it'll be a big issue now. And that's one of the benefits of having the bye week off. So I'm sure somebody on the offensive side of the ball or Belichick himself can get the things done that he needs to get done there offensively" until O'Brien returns.

"I'm sure he's professional enough to stay focused on what he needs to be doing here in New England. It's not a big distraction for this team."

Two other former Belichick assistants left to become NFL head coaches. But defensive coordinator Eric Mangini went to the New York Jets after the 2006 season and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels went to the Denver Broncos after the Patriots missed the playoffs in 2008.

McDaniels, still under contract as offensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams after the firing of head coach Steve Spagnuolo, is considered a possible replacement for O'Brien.

The Patriots annual success _ this is the ninth time in 11 seasons they've reached the playoffs _ provides opportunities for assistants.

"That's just kind of the way it's going to be, especially playing in New England," Brown said. "If those guys don't interview for jobs, before you know it, all the jobs will be filled because they're always in the postseason."

That outside interest is fine with Edelman. In fact, he called O'Brien, in his fifth season with the Patriots and first as offensive coordinator, "passionate" and "charismatic."

"You're always happy to see a guy succeed and get opportunities," he said. "When guys go different directions, that just gives opportunity for other people."

For now, Edelman plans to spend the weekend resting and watching playoff games on television. The Patriots will be home on Jan. 14 against Denver, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati.

"You're watching your position group or you're watching the opposite position group," he said, "and just relaxing, probably eat some pizza or something."

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