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Dan Shaughnessy

Coaches like ground(ed) game

FOXBOROUGH -- The voice on the other end of the phone expressed caution. Bill Parcells has been around long enough to know what it's like to be favored, and he knows expectations won't take you anywhere once you get on the field against the Jets Sept. 9.

"Don't make that mistake," warned the Tuna, who'll be one of the ubiquitous TV talking heads this season. "It's a different year and you have to start over. Having high expectations is a healthy thing for your team, providing you've got some grounding effect, some voices of reason. The coach can do that. No doubt. Good leadership and dependable people -- those are very valuable assets."

We are two days into training camp and it's pretty clear the time-tested "no-respect" card is out of play for the 2007 Patriots. New England's never-satisfied owners will continue to complain about their place behind the Red Sox (someone at Gillette actually counts column space devoted to the Patriots in relation to the Sox), but it's going to be impossible for coach Bill Belichick to rally his men with hard evidence that they've been dissed by hometown media, out-of-town pundits, or rival teams.

Check any magazine stand. Turn on one of ESPN's football shows (if you can work your way around "Who's Now," which may go down as the dumbest idea in the history of the network). The Patriots are the bomb. They will be on national night games five times in 2007. They are the team to beat. This time they are simply not going to be able to hold the Lombardi Trophy aloft, confetti falling around their heads, and scream, "No one said we could do it."

I tried to get Belichick to talk a little bit about this on the first day of training camp. It would have been easier getting David Stern to talk about pointspreads or Barry Bonds to chat about steroids.

Connecting a stunning series of skull-imploding clichés, Belichick cited, ". . . one practice after another, putting one foot in front of the other. We're just day to day right now. There's no light at the end of the tunnel. We've got a long way to go, a lot of work to do, and I'm not really worried about anything down the road, a month from now, or two months from now, or any other team right now . . . It's not about expectations or comparisons or anything else."

Sure, Bill. But is it going to be hard to keep the guys from believing all the great things being said about them?

"About what you guys write?" he asked, with a chuckle. "It doesn't matter. It doesn't make any difference. Anybody can go out there and say whatever they want. They can say we're the best team in the league, we're the worst team in the league. It doesn't really matter. What'll matter is what we do on Sundays. That's what we have to focus on. What everybody thinks and says and the predictions and all that. We look at 'em every year. There's too many variables in the NFL to predict that.

"I don't think you really sneak up on anybody in this league. When you go out there and compete against the other team on Sunday afternoon, they're as ready for you as you are for them. The team that plays the best wins, not the team that has the most All-Stars, or most Pro Bowl guys, or any of that. That's not what it's about. It's about the team that plays the best and that's what we're about, is trying to play better."

OK, but does he run out of the room when he hears pro football pundits carrying on about how the Patriots addressed all their issues in the offseason and now stand alone as favorites? "I don't see a lot of that," he said.

Parcells said he couldn't remember any of his teams going into the year as prohibitive favorites.

"I recall the expectations being high when we [the Giants] won in '86, but the Bears had been so dominant, people were still looking at them," he said. "But it really is irrelevant. You're going to coach your team and do the best you can do. What the prognosticators talk about doesn't mean that much. You realize that it's their job. There's so much media now. You're cognizant of it, but it is not bothersome."

Sounding like his star pupil, Parcells said, "Regardless of the talent level, you go back and start over. There really isn't a lot of carryover from year to year."

The Tuna is careful when discussing the Patriots. His son-in-law is Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli and he has a long and complex history with Belichick.

"Obviously, when you have a relative on the team, you want good things to happen," said the Tuna. "And when there's a guy who worked for you for a long time, you hope things go well. Certainly, you would have to view them as a contender in the AFC. I think Adalius Thomas is a versatile player and he will fit in. And I know other names have been added."

Such as Randy Moss.

"I don't know that player personally," said Parcells. "He was a very skillful guy at one point in time and he's going into a situation that should be good for him with the quarterback they have there."

Parcells was morphing into abject coachspeak. He was talking about Moss and Tom Brady without mentioning their names.

This phone call was about done.

"Oh, and there's one more thing I wanted to ask you," said the Tuna. "Are the Sox going to be able to hold onto their lead?"

Sure, Bill.

At the end of the day, no matter how much they pretend not to know what's being said or written, they are all fans and they have hopes and expectations. And they don't run out of the room when the commentators are talking about them.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at