|Patriots say they play aggressively, not dirty|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 25 January 2008 10:19|
Even a fine for taunting an opposing coach.
Perfect in the standings, the Patriots are hardly the model of proper behavior. Call them chippy, even dirty. They just shrug their shoulders. They're not about to change their aggressive style, even if it starts yellow penalty flags flying and opponents' lips flapping.
Rodney Harrison has been the target of enough critics of his body-crunching blows during a fine-filled 14-year career to remain unaffected.
``Who cares? It's football,'' New England's safety said. ``We sign up for a dirty sport, a tough sport, a very physical sport, and that's what we do. And, when you're on the field, anything can happen.''
And any team can do it.
Harrison missed all three playoff games last season after spraining his right knee in the last regular-season game when he was blocked by Tennessee wide receiver Bobby Wade. Harrison and his teammates didn't think it was the cleanest of plays.
``Football's a dirty game,'' Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said Friday. ``We're a bunch of grown men out there with helmets and shoulder pads and we're trying to knock each other down. Sometimes you need to grab a shoelace or anything you can to bring the other guy down.
``So I think the word `dirty' goes along with the game of football.''
With the Super Bowl championship and a 19-0 season at stake on Feb. 3, don't expect the mashers to turn into milquetoasts against the Giants. Even New York coach Tom Coughlin may be a target.
Harrison was fined $5,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct for unnecessarily taunting Baltimore coach Brian Billick on an interception return in the Patriots' 12th game.
Later, emotions ran high in the regular-season finale, with both sides aiming for important goals: the Patriots' quest for a 16-0 record and the Giants' desire to stop them.
So high, in fact, that Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork felt compelled to make a point - right through the face mask of running back Brandon Jacobs - with a finger as both teams jostled after the whistle.
He wasn't penalized and said he missed Jacobs' eye.
But the NFL didn't look the other way. It slapped the 325-pound Wilfork with his third fine of the season, $15,000, bringing the total for his bad-boy behavior to $32,500.
``It was nothing more than them doing trash-talking and in the heat of the moment, I pointed my finger in his face,'' Wilfork wrote on his Web site, vincewilfork75.com.
Jacobs didn't seem upset with the Patriots' style.
``I don't think they're dirty,'' he said Thursday. ``They're aggressive.''
Giants linebacker Kawika Mitchell went even further. He said Patriots running back Heath Evans rescued him when he sprained his left knee while it was pinned under a pile of players.
``He pulled me out of the pile and probably prevented more serious injury to my knee. I look forward to talking to him and saying 'thank you,' `` Mitchell said. ``That's good sportsmanship.''
What, no more Bad Guys?
Not so fast.
In the next game, Harrison reasserted himself as the Patriot most likely to cross the line between legal smashes and WWE-style smackdowns. The officials hit him hard with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the fourth quarter of the 31-20 divisional playoff win over Jacksonville.
One of those led to a field goal.
``I'm very disappointed about the personal fouls,'' Harrison said. ``I wouldn't be Rodney Harrison if I took away my aggressive style. So I'm going to play my game. I'm going to be a lot smarter, but it won't change.''
One week later, the Patriots may have been at it again. At least San Diego center Nick Hardwick thought so. He unleashed some serious verbal punches at defensive end Richard Seymour, who rarely, if ever, had been accused of dirty play.
Hardwick labeled Seymour ``a dirty, cheap, little pompous (expletive)'' after the Patriots 21-12 win in the AFC championship game last Sunday. He accused Seymour of a litany of nefarious deeds: stomping feet, slapping heads and punching people in the back.
Seymour looked more like a gentle giant on Thursday, smiling as he discussed opponents' complaints.
``They can say whatever they want to say. I can't control that,'' he said. ``The people that are around you know who you are, and I think that's the most important thing. And if we ran around worried about everything someone else says, that isn't the way that you go about handling your business.''
Wilfork goes about his business despite the fines.
-$12,500 for a low, late hit on J.P. Losman on Buffalo's first series of the third game that sidelined the quarterback for the rest of the day and two more games with a sprained left knee.
-$5,000 for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a late hit on Dallas tight end Jason Witten in the sixth game.
-The $15,000 for his gesture at Jacobs.
Tack on another $5,000 for linebacker Mike Vrabel, the bill for his unnecessary roughness in the final minute of New England's 34-17 win over Cleveland in Game 5.
Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson prepared to spike the ball with 11 seconds left. Vrabel hit left tackle Joe Thomas low, Thomas was knocked back and Anderson ended up on the ground.
Guard Eric Steinbach had a one-word description of Vrabel - ``classless'' - and said he deliberately dived at Thomas' knees after the outcome of the game had been decided.
Vrabel's defense: ``I don't play that way and I'm sorry that they feel that way ... and we're going to move on.''
On to the biggest game of the season.
The Giants better get ready to absorb some hard hits, maybe even a few after the whistle.
But are the Patriots a band of dirty outlaws or just another aggressive team that occasionally crosses the line?
``I wouldn't call them a dirty team,'' defensive end Osi Umenyiora said on HBO's ``Inside the NFL.'' ``They have certain individuals, like I am sure we have certain individuals, who are perceived to be dirty, but people wouldn't call them a dirty team.''
But what about the actions of Patriots left tackle Matt Light in their last meeting?
``He did a couple of things that he shouldn't have done,'' Umenyiora said. ``We are really going to go at it this time.''