Patriots steel themselves for Cardinals

Zoltan Mesko (left), Rob Gronkowski (center) and Sterling Moore showed teamwork as they built a playground in Worcester — with a little assistance from Pat Patriot (below).
Zoltan Mesko (left), Rob Gronkowski (center) and Sterling Moore showed teamwork as they built a playground in Worcester — with a little assistance from Pat Patriot (below).
josh reynolds for the globe

Sunday’s home opener will match the Patriots against the Arizona Cardinals, a team they haven’t faced since the end of the 2008 season. New England won that December game at Gillette Stadium, 47-7, but both rosters have undergone substantial makeovers since then.

That’s not to say the Patriots don’t know what to prepare for. The Cardinals, now as then, are coached by Ken Whisenhunt, who spent six seasons with the Steelers before joining Arizona in January 2007. Pittsburgh and New England have met the past two seasons, and coach Bill Belichick said he can spot some similarities.

“We’re getting familiar here with an opponent that we haven’t seen in a while,” said Belichick. “We spent some time on them in the offseason, but it’s still a new team for all of us.

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“There’s a big challenge there in terms of our preparation here, getting ready for players and some of the things that we do that are a little bit different.

“Of course, this team has a lot of roots in the Pittsburgh system in all three phases of the game. There’s definitely some carryover there to the type of game that the Steelers play and that Arizona plays.”

The Cardinals were just 8-8 last year, and didn’t make the playoffs. Those numbers don’t impress. But Belichick was quick to point out numbers that do: Dating to last season, Arizona has won eight of its last 10 games, including this past Sunday’s 20-16 home win over Seattle.

“I think the Cardinals have some very, very good players,” said Belichick, “some of the best players in the league at their position, guys like [Larry] Fitzgerald and defensively [Adrian] Wilson, [Darnell] Dockett, [Calais] Campbell, [Patrick] Peterson.

“It’s going to be a tough week. This is a team that I’m sure is gaining confidence every week, and they’ve played very well over the last 10 games or so.”

Less for Wes

Analytical minds studying Sunday’s win have mentioned the fact that receiver Wes Welker played fewer than his normal number of snaps. Is that a sign of things to come, or was it an isolated occurrence because of the matchup approach against the Titans?

“I think the game plan each week is really different,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “We played quite a few snaps of three tight ends in the game at the same time. Then we played some two tight ends with two running backs in the game at the same time.

“Certainly Wes had some opportunities in the game and made the most of a few of those. Then we had some other opportunities we didn’t quite hit.

“Wes’s role is the same. We’ll go each week and try to do what we think is best to help us win.”

If you build it . . .

In a normal NFL week, players have Tuesdays off. Yet there was Rob Gronkowski drenched in sweat Tuesday, working hard as he and seven teammates helped build a playground at the Plumley Village housing development in Worcester.

“I think it helps with team-building,” said Gronkowski. “Every single week, there’s always a new activity every Tuesday, so you come out here with new players, defensive players that you’re not on the field with, so it’s definitely team bonding, you could say.

“It’s cool when you come out with like 15 guys on your team, when you’re coming out as a team, supporting communities. Everyone gives back to us every single week, so it’s an opportunity to give back to the community. We’re all doing it for the kids, which is huge.”

Gronkowski was joined by Nate Solder, Zoltan Mesko, Tracy White, Alex Silvestro, Jermaine Cunningham, Sterling Moore, and Matthew Slater.

In one day, an entirely new play area was built: Slides, swing sets, the works.

Gronkowski — a big, burly grown-up with plenty of playful, youthful qualities — was asked if he would have a hard time leaving.

“If the swing sets were a little bit bigger where I wouldn’t hit my feet, and the slide was just a little bit bigger, then I’d be going down them and swinging on them,” Gronkowski said. “But I don’t want to break anything before the kids can get on them.”

Opening eyes

The 34-13 win produced the highest local TV rating in team history for an afternoon season opener: 33.5, which was eclipsed for an opener only by a pair of Monday night appearances: 2009 against the Bills (35.1), and 2011 against Miami (37.1) . . . The Fox broadcasting crew for this Sunday’s game will be Dick Stockton, John Lynch, and Jennifer Hale  . . . Roughly 50 players attended Jerod Mayo’s charity bowling event Monday night in Dedham. Gronkowski said tight end Daniel Fells impressed the most with his bowling skills. As for Solder? “My best game? As sad as it sounds, I’m happy to get over 100. That tells you where I’m at.”