|Patriots return to practice, await word of next opponent|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 03 January 2008 14:13|
One meeting at a time plus one practice at a time will equal, they hope, the only 19-0 season in NFL history.
Junior Seau took an extremely shortsighted view Thursday when players returned from a three-day break. The 38-year-old linebacker stood in his football pants at his locker before donning his pads and was asked if the team has better practices equipped like that than with lighter gear.
``We'll find that answer out in another two hours,'' he said. ``There aren't any guarantees.''
And coach Bill Belichick opened his first news conference of the year with a pleasant, but telling, greeting.
``Happy New Year, everyone,'' he said. ``We're definitely in one.''
For New England, 16-0 occurred last year - just the winning numbers in the lottery that earned home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Now there are 12 teams left and all are 0-0.
That prompted Belichick to finally use the ``U'' word that rarely, if ever, crossed his lips when his team was the only one that was undefeated.
``It's a privilege, of course, to be involved in the second season here in the NFL, the new one where everybody's undefeated and we're all starting at the bottom,'' he said Thursday before the Patriots' first practice since their 38-35 win over the New York Giants on Saturday night.
The Patriots have been at the top all season - from their 38-14 opening win at the New York Jets to the last victory in the same stadium that wrapped up the first 16-0 regular season.
That's one for the record books, not for the players who produced it.
``We don't care. It doesn't matter,'' safety Rodney Harrison said. ``What happened in the past happened in the past. You really have to just focus on the here and the now. And no one cares about 16-0. No one cares about what we've done. It's about what we're going to do.''
On Thursday, they worked on their own game, eliminating mistakes and figuring out how to improve. They can't zero in on their opponent in the divisional game Jan. 12 until after this weekend's AFC wild-card games: Jacksonville at Pittsburgh on Saturday night and Tennessee at San Diego on Sunday.
Members of Belichick's staff are studying the three teams the Patriots might play. The lowest remaining seed among No. 4 Pittsburgh, No. 5 Jacksonville and No. 6 Tennessee will visit Gillette Stadium on Jan. 12.
Several Patriots plan to watch the AFC games at home. Belichick said he wasn't sure where he'd catch the Saturday night game that, barring a Tennessee upset the next day, would determine New England's opponent.
In a sports bar, perhaps?
``Yeah,'' he said with a smile, ``that's kind of what I was thinking. Maybe hit a couple of them - first half, second half. Get a different flavor for it.''
But, seriously, he doesn't find scouting from telecasts all that helpful.
``It's hard to see the game from the coaching standpoint, the way we need to see it,'' Belichick said. ``But it's interesting to see how it goes. It's AFC playoffs, so we're interested in that, but we'll wait until we get the game tapes and break those down rather than try to break it down off TV.''
Seau still has friends on the Chargers team he played with for the first 13 of his 18 seasons and lives in the San Diego area in the offseason.
``Obviously I'll be watching San Diego, cheering for them,'' he said. ``I've got my popcorn, everything on timer, ready to go.''
Then it will be time to get very serious.
By Sunday night, New England can begin preparing for its opponent, who will be trying to ruin the perfect season by handing the Patriots their first loss since last year's AFC championship game at Indianapolis.
They know the intensity and the stakes will be higher than in the regular season. But that stretch, and the concentration on just the next game, prepared them for this stage.
``We've been doing it from the beginning,'' cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. ``Every game is like, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0. So before you become 1-0, what are you? Zero and zero. So it's like this is just a smooth transition.''
Before the playoffs even start, the Patriots must focus on Friday's practice. No need to look beyond that - or before that.
``A lot of the things that happened last year really haven't sunk in,'' Seau said. ``Because of that, what you have to do (is) just keep on pressing. Every day, keep on pressing.
``If we are able to do what we need to do next week, then we afford ourselves another week of employment.''