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Rematch won't be replay

FOXBOROUGH -- Ninety percent of life is showing up. Words to live by. And words to remember this week as Saturday's AFC divisional playoff between the Patriots and Titans approaches and when referencing the teams' Oct. 5 meeting at Gillette Stadium, won by New England, 38-30. For starters, the fact that Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair has (pick an ailment) and running back Eddie George dislocated his left shoulder Saturday is lost on New England coach Bill Belichick.

"They will be there," Belichick said. "Eddie George will be there. Steve McNair will be there. You hear about that every week, and they show up every week. The damn guy [George] started a hundred and how many straight games?"

That would be 136, Coach.

"They are all going to be there," Belichick continued. "I don't even think about that. They are all going to be there. I'm sure they will be at their best, and I hope we're at ours, too. They'll all be there. You can take that injury report and put whatever you want on it -- probable, doubtful, questionable, maybe, definitely in, definitely out -- they're going to be there."

As opposed to the regular-season meeting, when several key players for both teams either weren't there to begin with, weren't all there, or hadn't been where they were for very long.

Tennessee ranked first in the league in run defense this year, allowing 80.9 yards per game, and is coming off a wild-card win at Baltimore in which Jamal Lewis gained 35 yards. The Patriots amassed a season-high 161 rushing yards in Week 5 against the Titans. Doesn't add up. There's a reason. Several Titans defenders were missing.

Big defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (6 feet 6 inches, 320 pounds) missed his third straight game with illness and a partially dislocated elbow. The Patriots anticipated end Kevin Carter playing inside in Haynesworth's place. Carter inside usually creates a favorable matchup for Tennessee in passing situations, when quickness often prevails. Power comes into play more in the running game. New England was able to overpower Carter.

Linebacker Peter Sirmon, Tennessee's No. 2 tackler, missed the game with fractured bones in his back. When the Patriots went to three receivers, forcing the Titans to go to their nickel defense, that left second-year man Rocky Boiman manning the middle and Pro Bowler Keith Bullock playing out of position. Mismatch. New England gained most of its yards off counters, draws, and dives out of its one-back, three-receiver formation.

The Patriots haven't run that well since, nor have the Titans been as bad at defending the run. Only two of Tennessee's next 12 opponents cracked the 100-yard mark (though five averaged 4.4 yards per carry or more).

"They ran the ball well against us, which was embarrassing when we looked at the tape," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher. "We've corrected those things since then."

Beginning with tackling. The Titans missed 14 on defense and another eight on special teams in the October game. The next week, Fisher put them through one-on-one, training-camp-style drills.

"Some of those plays were circumstantial," Belichick said. "I think anytime you get through the line of scrimmage and the back breaks a couple of tackles, you get a long run and that piles up. That's where most of it came. I would say most of our yardage came on a few plays. There were plenty of plays there that didn't look all that hot."

Antowain Smith had carries of 19, 14, and 10 yards, Michael Cloud runs of 17, 42, and 15. That left 44 yards divided among 21 other carries.

"From game to game you never know what's going to happen," said Belichick. "Look at Baltimore. They're one of the better run defenses in the league, and they gave up whatever it was, 160-something yards to the Titans."

For the record, the Ravens were sixth against the run, and the Titans ran through them for 165 yards. The Patriots are fourth, so . . .

"It's how you match up that day and how it'll match up this week," Belichick said. "I'm sure that this game against the Titans will play a lot differently than the last one did, even though the teams are the same and there are a lot of things that are the same. There will be some things that are different."

Like New England's defense. NFL co-MVP McNair passed for 391 yards against New England, but he did so against several second-teamers. The Patriots were without Mike Vrabel, Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest, and Ted Washington. Ty Law, having sprained his ankle two weeks earlier, was still going in and out of games.

And rookie Eugene Wilson was playing his fourth game at free safety. He's been there now for a full season. Oh, the Titans also lost cornerback Samari Rolle (dislocated elbow) early in that game.

The events of Oct. 5 are irrelevant. Consider that three of the four wild-card games were rematches, and two of the three first-game losers atoned for their earlier defeats.

"I don't think it means anything," Belichick said. "Look at Denver and Indianapolis. They're as good an example as you want to see right there. I don't think it means anything. It's a new week. It's a new season at this point."

"Baltimore beat them the first time, too," Troy Brown pointed out, "and they went in there and matched up with them physically and took the game from them. So it doesn't matter what happened in week whatever it was. They're going to come in here ready to fight."

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