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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

Confident Patriots defense holding up its end

Having Vince Wilfork (75) in the middle makes it difficult for teams to attack the heart of the Patriots’ defense.

STEPHAN SAVOIA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Having Vince Wilfork (75) in the middle makes it difficult for teams to attack the heart of the Patriots’ defense.

FOXBOROUGH — Once considered a possible liability, the Patriots’ defense has become a play-making unit, capable of contributing to wins as much as the team’s juggernaut offense.

The defense’s improved play is leading to increased tenacity.

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“They’re gaining a lot of confidence,” Tom Brady said last week of his defensive teammates. “I talk to Vince [Wilfork] every week, and Jerod [Mayo], and they have a lot of confidence in what they’re doing.

“They’ve really settled in and they’re playing great football. They’ve got us the ball a bunch of times on turnovers, which is really critical to our success.”

Since giving up 31 to the Bills in Week 10, the points allowed by the Patriots have gone down every game — 24 to the Colts, 19 at the Jets, 16 in Miami, 14 to the Texans.

The defense has forced multiple fumbles in several games during that stretch, and has at least one interception in six of the last seven games.

Safety Steve Gregory couldn’t pinpoint one reason, but said players are “jelling, communicating with each other, understanding the defense and what everyone’s responsibilities are within it. Then it just comes down to going out and making plays.”

Wilfork noted there’s another benefit to better play.

“The one thing I see is confidence and guys playing and having fun. When you play with confidence, you have fun. When you play stuck-up, it’s not fun because you’re scared to make a mistake.

“It’s good when you can have coaches call plays and everybody is on the same page because you have good outcomes most of the time. Other teams, they get paid too, they play good football too, so every now and then you have teams that make plays. It’s not the end of the world, and I think the guys do a good job of understanding that and not getting down.

“It’s going to be like that again this week. The more confidence we play with, the better this team will be.”

Wilfork mentioned the 49ers’ multiple offensive looks, and said the Patriots are “expecting the kitchen sink.”

Eye-popping velocity

Former Patriot Randy Moss, who did not play in 2011 but signed with the 49ers this year, said 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did something to him in practice that Brady didn’t during their time together.

“Man, he dislocated my finger,” Moss said. “He had to put one of them Randy Johnson fastballs on me. When it hit my hand, I felt my finger pop . . . so I had to come back to the sideline and the doctor had to pop it back in.”

Moss said it had never happened to him, and that he tries to “finesse” balls as they come to him.

“Kap throws hard, he’s very strong. It hurt, it really did,” Moss said. “I tried not to show any tears. I don’t know if they caught me crying or not, but it did hurt.”

Moss has 21 receptions for 326 yards and two TDs this season.

Remembering the victims

The Patriots will hold a pregame ceremony on Sunday night to honor the victims of Friday’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

During a moment of silence, 26 flares will be sent up, one at a time, in remembrance of the 26 children and adults who were killed, and players will wear helmet decals showing a black ribbon, as well as the Town of Newtown seal.

 The Jets and Giants, who along with the Patriots are the three teams based closest to the tragedy, will also honor the victims by wearing S.H.E.S. decals, for Sandy Hook Elementary School, on their helmets.

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