|BILL BELICHICK More variables|
The opening game of the season brings plenty of excitement for Patriots fans, players, and coaches alike, but today's game against the New York Jets at Giants Stadium also brings an air of uncertainty for those who will be playing and coaching.
"I'm sure there will be a lot of things that you can't really predict or anticipate, and we need to be ready for that type of a game, as you always need to be ready for on opening day," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "But probably even more so with a team like the Jets that knows us as well as we know them."
Although it is probably the most anticipated game of the season, the season opener is also one of the most difficult to prepare for. Teams have had an entire offseason to tweak their systems, incorporate new players, and devise a game plan. It's the most time any coaching staff will have all year to prepare for a game, and like the preparation, the possibilities seem endless.
"You don't know what a team has changed or what they've added or what they've taken out of the offense, defense, or special teams," said Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. "We can only wait till the kickoff and that first or second play, and then as you go to the sidelines in between series, say, 'This is what they're doing. This is what they're trying to do.' Hopefully, you can make the adjustments and come out on top."
Facing the Jets and former New England defensive coordinator Eric Mangini only further clouds the equation. Under Mangini, the Jets, like the Patriots, create game-specific plans, changing what they do from week to week. A team must prepare for the Jets' or Patriots' entire playbook, not knowing what percentage of it they'll actually face. That negates part of the advantage the Patriots would have from playing the Jets for the fourth time in their last 20 games - and vice versa.
"You can get a lot of this or a lot of that or a little bit of everything," said Belichick. "You work on everything, but you have to commit more time to something and less time to something else. Those are the decisions you make in your preparation.
"It's opening day. Every team in the league is going through that. There's a lot more variables, and once you see a team play two or three or four games, then they're going to settle into something, whatever that is, and it's probably a lot less than what you've prepared for on opening day."
Both the Patriots and Jets have tried to gain insight into each other's game plan by bringing in former players. The Jets hosted recently released Patriots receiver Reche Caldwell and on Friday the Patriots returned the favor with Tim Dwight, who spent last season with the Jets and was released during training camp.
Any x-factor that can be eliminated is helpful, but even with X's-and-O's virtuosos like Belichick and Mangini, the best-laid (game) plans quickly can fizzle on the field of play.
The Patriots found that out last year, when they opened at home with a 19-17 win over the Buffalo Bills. The first offensive snap of the season delivered calamity - Buffalo linebacker Takeo Spikes came unblocked on a blitz and leveled Tom Brady, causing him to fumble. London Fletcher-Baker picked up the fumble and returned it for a touchdown and New England trailed just 12 seconds into its season.
So, expect the unexpected.
"The funny thing about the first game in every season is that we don't know what's going to happen," said Patriots linebacker Junior Seau. "All we can do is practice what we know best and kind of tone down on the mistakes that have happened in the past.
"We can give you a game plan as to what is going to go on [today], but we really don't know. We really don't.
"With the Jets being a tough team every year, there is a rivalry here and we can dramatize it, but the fact is your guess is as good as ours. We're going to go out there and play Patriot ball and hopefully that's good enough."