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 FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -There were 16 seconds left in the Patriots' season and a stone-faced Bill Belichick clutched the front of his gray sweat shirt with both hands, then scratched his head.
Tom Brady walked slowly to the sideline while the Colts celebrated his last play, an interception that ruined his chance at a fourth Super Bowl ring.
Indianapolis won the AFC championship game 38-34 after wiping out a 21-3 deficit and went on to win the NFL title.
Belichick went to work on improving his team, particularly providing more talented targets for Brady's accurate passes, and making New England a top contender to reach the Super Bowl this season.
He brought in Randy Moss, Donte' Stallworth and Wes Welker as his top three wide receivers. Last season's makeshift catching corps cobbled together after holdout Deion Branch was traded to Seattle one day after the season opener was a major problem.
Now, the Patriots have plenty at the position.
Moss missed all four exhibition games with an injury to his upper left leg but could be back for the season opener Sept. 9 at the New York Jets. And he's eager to get something the Patriots have won three times in the last six years: a championship.
``This organization has three and the players know how hard they have to work to get back to that point,'' Moss said. ``All I'm here to do is just to work hard every day and just come out and, hopefully, I can just give something.''
New England has improved so much at wide receiver that the players who started the AFC title game, Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney, are now fourth and fifth on the depth chart.
The newcomers and holdovers at that position have begun developing a relationship among themselves.
``We all hang out. We talk to each other all the time,'' Stallworth said. ``So we've bonded pretty well since we've all been here (starting) back in early March.''
The other major change in the offense is the expanded role of shifty running back Laurence Maroney. A first-round pick in 2006 out of Minnesota, he's now the starter after sharing time with Corey Dillon, who retired.
``Being a very physical back like Corey is definitely not a part of my game,'' Maroney said. ``I'm looking for the best route to get around you. If I can outrun you that's what I'm going to do. If I can put a move on you that's what I'm going to do. If all else fails and I've got to drop the shoulder, that's what I'll do.''
The key addition on defense is linebacker Adalius Thomas, signed as a free agent after making his second Pro Bowl last season with Baltimore. Entering his eighth year, Thomas is versatile. He can play defensive end and cover speedy receivers.
He's expected to start at inside linebacker in a veteran group that includes Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Rosevelt Colvin, with Junior Seau coming off the bench.
Thomas is one reason the Patriots, who came so close to the Super Bowl last season, are a popular choice to get there this season.
``The amateurs do all the picking,'' Thomas said. ``Pros just come and prepare for work.''
Two other key defensive players didn't play at all in the exhibition season, and only one could be ready for the opener.
End Richard Seymour is back on the physically unable to perform list but cornerback Asante Samuel, entering his fifth season, rejoined the team last Monday after holding out and then signing a one-year, $7.79 million contract.
``The fourth year, the fifth year, that's usually your prime years and I'm in those years,'' Samuel said. ``Hopefully, I can keep it going and, hopefully, I can lead and do what I did last year, and that would be great for all of us.''
Samuel tied Denver's Champ Bailey for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions, then returned two more for touchdowns in the playoffs.
But safety Rodney Harrison revealed Friday he will serve a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
The Patriots have a tough schedule and the tests come early. They face the Jets, San Diego, Buffalo and Cincinnati in their first four games.
New England was 12-4 last season and has improved, at least on paper. But with Belichick and team-first veterans setting the tone, they try to ignore their past and their potential and work as hard as ever.
The Patriots aren't overconfident about their past success - the loss to the Colts can bring them back to reality very quickly - just confident that they have the skills and teamwork to succeed.

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