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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

Keeping up with the playoffs

Safety Jones missed postseason action

FOXBOROUGH -- In the three years after the Patriots traded him, safety Tebucky Jones played for the Saints (2003-04) and Dolphins (2005), missing the playoffs each season. Now that he's returned to the Patriots, Jones is eyeing a return to the playoffs.

''I've kind of missed that," he said yesterday at Gillette Stadium. ''I felt like I was in a bad dream and just woke up. My big thing is to win another championship."

Jones felt the Patriots offered him the best chance to do that, and also put him closer to his Connecticut roots, which is why he signed a two-year contract that included a $300,000 signing bonus last week.

He also considered an offer from the Jets, but said he wasn't interested in being part of a team that was rebuilding.

Jones said he didn't have to mend old relationships, even if it appeared he left the Patriots on bad terms. The team had placed the franchise tag on him after the 2002 season, against his wishes, before shipping him to the Saints for three draft choices.

''When I left, I had talked with [Bill] Belichick, and it was regular conversations," Jones said. ''There was no throwing chairs or anything like that."

When they spoke again last week, Jones said, Belichick welcomed him back.

As for his role, Jones said he's prepared to play on all special-teams units -- which he didn't do in New Orleans -- and has experience at both safety spots while ''already knowing the system."

''I'll do anything," he said. ''As long as I get to those playoffs, everything will be going well."

Getting acquainted
Belichick followed up a scouting visit to the University of Florida in March by hosting two Gators on predraft visits at Gillette Stadium within the last week: receiver Chad Jackson and defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey.

''Both players are flattered by the visits and the interest the Patriots have shown," said agent David Canter, who represents both players.

Jackson was in town Friday, according to Canter, while Mincey was at Gillette yesterday.

Jackson (6 feet, 213 pounds), who is entering the draft after his junior season, opened eyes at the NFL combine by running the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds.

He is a projected first-round choice after totaling 88 catches for 900 yards and nine touchdowns in 2005.

Mincey (6-3, 259) played defensive end but could be an outside linebacker in the Patriots' 3-4 defense. He isn't projected as a first-round pick.

The Patriots previously hosted defensive lineman Ray Edwards (Purdue) and cornerbacks Tye Hill (Clemson) and Richard Marshall (Fresno State) on predraft visits, according to their agents.

Still catching praise
Three months after he tracked down Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey in an all-out sprint, tight end Benjamin Watson said he's still stopped by fans applauding him for the effort.

''People say they want to show it to their kids, to Little League teams," he said. ''The thing about it is that if I didn't make the effort, it would have been 10 times worse because all the guys give so much of themselves. I felt like it was my job."

And after further review, Watson said, referee Jeff Triplette made the correct call by ruling the play a fumble and not a touchback.

''Everybody asks me if the ball went out of the end zone, and going back and watching it, I think the refs were right," said Watson. ''There wasn't conclusive evidence. They didn't have the camera angle to see it.

''I've talked to guys who have talked to physics professors at Harvard and MIT and they've done studies on the play -- about the projection of the ball and everything -- and said there is no way it couldn't have gone through the end zone. But if I was in the same spot, I would have made the same call."

In their corner
The Patriots re-signed exclusive rights free agent Randall Gay. The 23-year-old Gay joins a cornerback group that includes Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, Eric Warfield, Chad Scott, Hank Poteat, and Antwain Spann. Gay was limited to five games (two starts) in 2005 after sustaining an ankle injury in the second week of the season that later required surgery. He emerged as a rookie free agent in 2004, starting nine games and all three playoff contests. He has two career interceptions . . . Shortly after safety Mel Mitchell signed a two-year contract, he requested jersey number 40, only to learn it was retired (for Mike Haynes). The number has special meaning to him. ''My father passed away about a year ago, and that's the year he was born," said Mitchell, a five-year veteran who wore No. 40 with the Saints (2002-05) and will now wear 24. ''Without him, I wouldn't be where I am now." While Mitchell projects to be part of the Patriots' core special teams group, he said he has higher goals. ''I don't want to be labeled as just a special teams player," he said.

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