Bill Belichick questions workout limits

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is blaming recently instituted NFL rules shortening offseason practice time for what he claims to be an increasing number of player injuries.

Speaking during a conference call with Buffalo-area reporters this week, Belichick said players are more vulnerable to being hurt because they’re less prepared.

And he called the new rules limiting offseason workouts — including training camp — as being “the wrong approach.”

What’s in question is whether injuries are, in fact, on the rise since the new rules were put in place in 2011. NFL spokesman Michael Signora disputed Belichick, saying the league has no evidence to back up his assertions.

The NFL closely monitors injury data, but declined to release its numbers.

Orton expected to start

IRVING, Texas — Kyle Orton and Jon Kitna sat at opposite ends of a couch in the Dallas Cowboys’ locker room Wednesday, turned toward each other and stared chatting.

They probably were talking about Dallas’ offense.

Orton will make his first start at quarterback in his two seasons with the Cowboys on Sunday night, unless Tony Romo can recover from a herniated disc.

Dallas will be playing a winner-take-all game at home against the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East title and a playoff berth.

Welker returns to practice

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Wes Welker returned to the Denver Broncos’ practice field on Christmas Day for the first time since suffering his second concussion on Dec. 8.

He was allowed to participate on a limited basis according to the league’s concussion protocol.

Also returning to practice was defensive end Derek Wolfe, who hadn’t practiced since having a seizure-like episode on the team bus trip to the airport on Nov. 29.

And rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster practiced for the first time since undergoing surgery on his right thumb Dec. 13 after breaking it in the first half against San Diego the night before.

The only players who didn’t practice were backup center Steve Vallos (concussion) and tight end Joel Dreessen (knee).

Packers LB Matthews out

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Packers linebacker Clay Matthews will miss Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears for the NFC North title after aggravating a right thumb injury.

Green Bay didn’t practice Wednesday but issued an injury report as if it did. Matthews was listed as out.

Matthews got hurt during a sack in Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Matthews missed four games earlier this season after initially breaking the thumb in Week 5 in October.

Matthews looked to be in extreme pain on the sideline Sunday after the sack. Coach Mike McCarthy has described it as a “repeat injury.”

The Packers had Christmas day off.

They return to practice Thursday, when the team is also expected to announce if quarterback Aaron Rodgers is ready to return from a left collarbone injury.

Lions put TE Pettigrew on IR

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions have placed tight end Brandon Pettigrew on injured reserve, ending his season.