Midweek report

They're in prime position for quest

Email|Print| Text size + By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / November 14, 2007

They will play their next three games in prime time, a bright-lights reminder that the NFL is locking in on their quest for a perfect season, and with that, they must be prepared to hear the same question daily: Can you do it?

Such attention and pressure might be a powerful enough force to derail some teams, but the Patriots seem uniquely qualified to handle the onslaught because of their blend of experience and perspective.

Consider that, of the NFL's 32 teams, the Patriots rank as the fourth oldest, with an average age of 27.3. The team has the league's sixth-oldest starting corps (28.1).

So yes, they are physical specimens playing football at the highest level, but in NFL years, they are also qualified to sit on the front-porch rocking chair and reflect on experiences of days gone by, passing along the wisdom they've gathered to the next generation.

According to 37-year-old linebacker Chad Brown, who was with the Patriots for training camp and four games this season but is now a free agent, the Patriots have "all the tools to handle the experience."

"Look at a guy like Junior Seau, who has had a fantastic 18-year career and has played in a Super Bowl and lost - do you think he's going to get a big head at this point?" asked Brown. "Guys that have been there and experienced that, they're not going to get ahead of themselves. I could see that happening with a younger guy, but the older guys in that room can help avoid that situation.

"When you've been so close, and seen it all crumble in front of you, it will give you some perspective that no other situation will."

The 38-year-old Seau might be the shining example of the perspective that permeates the Patriots' locker room, but he's far from the only one.

Wide receiver Randy Moss, 30, was part of a 15-1 season as a rookie with the Vikings in 1998, but that team lost to the Falcons in the NFC title game.

Eighth-year linebacker Adalius Thomas, 30, won a Super Bowl as a rookie with the Ravens in 2000, but a fresher memory is last year's 13-3 season that ended with a thud, a loss to the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Tight end Kyle Brady, 34, played for the Jets in 1998 when they lost in the AFC Championship game, and then for the Jaguars the following season, also losing in the title game.

Add in the majority of players on the roster who experienced last year's heartbreaking 38-34 loss to the Colts in the AFC title tilt - many of whom also won Super Bowls with the team - and the picture starts to become a bit clearer.

So when asked how they will stay focused as the NFL's spotlight puts a microscope on their pursuit of perfection - 9-0 with seven games remaining - they can simply draw from experience to avoid getting swept up in the storm.

"When you're an older player, I think you have enough perspective to realize what the ultimate prize is - it is what comes at the end," Brown said. "If a perfect season were to happen along the way, I think it would be looked at as fantastic, but that is not the ultimate prize and they realize that.

"One thing I noticed quickly is that all the things Bill [Belichick] says, the guys repeat them in the locker room. The veteran guys, the older guys, they buy in because what he says is true: We can't think about next week, 16 games, undefeated. The only thing we can worry about is how to get better this particular practice, how we'll game-plan that week."

Brady, now in his 13th NFL season and first in New England, quickly noticed how Belichick's message spread.

"Coach has a constant mantra about not getting caught up in all the fluff and hype; he's constantly talking about that," he said. "He keeps reminding us that it's only November, that we haven't done anything yet, haven't won anything yet. He's adamant about reminding us, and that helps, too.

"With the older guys, the guys who have been around, you can tell it exudes in the locker room, and there is a belief that the most important part is still to come."

That dynamic was new to Brown, who first arrived in town in 2005 after playing for the Steelers (1993-96) and Seahawks (1997-2004).

"I think it starts with Bill and how he doesn't talk about the game at the end of a season, but only this week's opponent," he said. "I've been in other locker rooms where teams get ahead of themselves. In Pittsburgh, the year we lost to the Chargers in the AFC Championship game [1994], we were preparing for the game and I remember getting pulled into a players-only meeting and there was a choreographer for a Super Bowl video somebody planned to do.

"That was my second year in the NFL, but I remember thinking to myself, 'We might be getting too far ahead of ourselves here. We have a game to go win.' It just blew me away, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking that.

"I don't think you'd see that type of thing in the Patriots' locker room, where the absolute approach is doing what it takes today to win that game on Sunday."

Having strong-minded veterans to reinforce the message, and receiving positive feedback in the form of victories, doesn't hurt the cause either.

"It seems so simple - the No. 1 purpose for a football team is to win games, and the No. 1 purpose as a player is to get better to help the team win games - but it's not that simple," Brown said. "They are two mantras that are not heard on every team but they are spoken every day there. From the meeting room to the locker room, there is a single purposefulness to the approach.

"It makes it a special place, because you have all different personalities, all different age groups, people from different backgrounds, and if not for that singular purpose, then maybe all those differences come to the forefront. But everyone buys into it."

It was one of the first things that struck Brown upon his arrival - how everyone was on the same page, from Belichick, to the veterans, to the youngsters. It's also why he thinks that if anyone is equipped to cope with the hype that comes with the pursuit of an undefeated season, it's the Patriots.

"When I first came in, you could see there were already a lot of strong guys in the locker room," said Brown. "I had done this and done that, but I quickly found out that Pro Bowls don't count, it's the Super Bowl titles that count, and I didn't have any of those. It was almost like being a rookie - just shut up and learn."

"I can't predict the future and how this will go, but I think they have the tools to handle it, they have the perspective on it. And I'm sure Bill won't be afraid to remind them."

Mike Reiss can be reached at

REISS'S PIECES: Read the latest Patriots news at

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