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Recess over; it's back to old school

FOXBOROUGH -- Too much time between games. It's a pitfall of football, especially when your team is good enough to earn a bye in the first week of the NFL playoffs.

We all enjoyed the weekend games, watching the Patriots' potential competition and trying to think like coaches. Bill Belichick said he junked the Baltimore prep file Saturday, then chucked the Denver dossier shortly after the first quarter of Sunday's Colt rout of the Broncos.

Yesterday the Patriots went back to work after a nice holiday break and Belichick endured his first session with the media since the identity of this Saturday's opponent was established. There was a lot of talk about history, specifically New England's 38-30 victory over Tennessee in October.

Belichick assured us that history won't mean anything in this contest. He cited the Denver-Indianapolis turnaround (the Broncos smoked the Colts late in the season). New England fans don't have to look hard to find an equally dramatic reversal. Who'll ever forget the Buffalo bookends of 0-31/31-0 from Games 1 and 16 -- a rare scoreboard palindrome?

To that end, Belichick advised us not to make anything of New England's early-season win against Tennessee.

"I don't think it means anything," said the coach. "It's a new week. It's a new season at this point. Everybody's going to put their best out there and we'll see what happens. This is a game where everybody does all they can. What else is there? This is it."

With no players available to talk, yesterday's big topic was the new sod on the floor of Gillette Stadium. There's regional fear that the Patriots may have lost some home-field advantage with the changing of the grass. TV crews shot serious footage of the new lawn, and Belichick acknowledged that the landscaping was ordered by the NFL.

Clearly peeved by the league mandate, the coach said, "I thought that the [old] field played well. We hadn't had too many problems with it in terms of players' safety and cutting and consistent footing and all that, so let's hope that will continue to be the case."

This led to a somewhat amusing exchange when a reporter (in followup mode) asked if he thought the field would be level for both teams.

"I sure do," Belichick deadpanned. "I think we'll both be on the same field. I don't think that's an issue."

It was only one of several topics the coach preferred not to expand on. Another dead end was Belichick's Coach of the Year Award, which was announced Saturday.

Asked about his award, Belichick proceeded to share the credit, Oscar-style. He cited everyone who'd ever set foot in Foxborough with the exception of Irving Fryar and Chuck Sullivan. Belichick said the award was no big deal. He doesn't look like the type who'd be a good sport if he won the Hasty Pudding Man of the Year Award.

Belichick was more expansive when he talked about Steve McNair and Eddie George's injuries.

"Look, they'll be there, OK? Eddie George will be there. Steve McNair will be there. You hear about that every week and they show up every week. I mean, the damn guy [George] has started a hundred and how many straight games? OK? So, they're all going to be there. I don't even think about that. They're all going to be there. I'm sure they'll be at their best and I hope we are at ours, too.

"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. Just watch 'em play. Eddie George, he's running over everybody against Baltimore. Left the game in the second quarter, came back and ran over everybody in the second half. So whatever's wrong with him, give me some of it."

The Patriots have never played a postseason game at Gillette. They were 4-1 in playoff games at the old stadium, with the only loss coming in 1978 against Bum Phillips, Earl Campbell, and the Houston Oilers, who became the Tennessee Titans.

The Oilers, along with the Boston Patriots, were among the AFL's original eight. Bud Adams's Houston/Tennessee team has played the Patriots 36 times, and in 33 of those games it was the Patriots against the Oilers. As recently as 1996, today's Titans were still playing in the Houston Astrodome. McNair and George have been around long enough to have played with oil derricks on their helmets.

But that's old stuff. History means nothing when they line up Saturday night. This isn't baseball.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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