January 13, 2013

NFL: The journey begins for New England

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots were dubbed the “Team of the Century” when they won three Super Bowl championships in four years.

click image to enlarge

MORE TO CELEBRATE? New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, celebrates tight end Rob Gronkowski during a regular season game. The Patriots face the Houston Texans in an AFC divisional round game today in Foxborough, Mass.


Houston at New England

WHEN: 4:30 p.m. today


With Bill Belichick calling the shots, Tom Brady directing the offense and Adam Vinatieri providing the kicks, the Patriots beat St. Louis, Carolina and Philadelphia to win the championship in 2001, 2003 and 2004. They were 9-0 in playoff games in that stretch.

Since then?

The Patriots have continued to make the playoffs, but their success has been muted. They’ve gone 7-6 in the playoffs since 2004, advancing twice to the Super Bowl, losing both times to the New York Giants (2007 and 2011) in the final minute.

Only three players remain from the last Super Bowl champion: Brady, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and reserve wide receiver Deion Branch.

Wilfork, who got his ring as a rookie, knows he’s not going to get many more chances.

“Winning is hard,” he said. “Winning one early in my career, you kind of get the sense that it happens like this all the time, but it doesn’t. It’s very, very hard to win at this level — at any level. We play this game for one goal — to be champions, plain and simple.”

And the Patriots’ road to New Orleans, site of this year’s Super Bowl, begins Sunday at 4:30 p.m., against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots routed the Texans, 42-14 on Dec. 10 in a Monday night game. Wilfork says it’s best to forget about that game.

“We can’t overlook this team,” he said. “We have to go in and play good football. If we play well, we’ll be OK. If we don’t, we’ll be in trouble.”

The Patriots know this first-hand. In 2010, they routed the New York Jets 45-3 in a Monday night game at Gillette on Dec. 6. New England earned the No.1 seed in the AFC playoffs, then lost to the Jets 28-21 in the Divisional Round.

While Branch insists “we don’t think about that,” recent Patriots playoff history certainly indicates the difficulty of beating a team you’ve already faced.

The last six Patriots playoff seasons have been ended by a team they played in the regular season: 2005, Denver (Divisional Round); 2006, Indianapolis (AFC championship; 2007, Giants (Super Bowl); 2009, Baltimore (Wild card); 2010, Jets (Divisional Round); 2011, Giants (Super Bowl).

Logan Mankins, the Patriots offensive left guard who has played in two Super Bowls, said you probably shouldn’t read too much into any of that.

“Oh yeah, 2010 is a good example,” he said. “Beat the hell out of the Jets and then come back and lose to them. Then last year we beat Denver and they come here and we beat the hell out of them (in the Divisional Round). So it can go either way, it’s just what you do on that Sunday. If you execute and play good football, you give yourself a chance to win.”

The key, the Patriots have told anyone willing to listen this week, is to remember that nothing will be the same the second, or third, time around (as was the case with the Jets in 2010).

Plays that worked in the regular season may not work in the postseason. The teams will certainly make adjustments, and you have to be ready for them, almost anticipate them.

The only important thing from that last game against Houston, said Brady, is that it gave “us an opportunity to have this game at home.”

“Other than that,” he continued, “this is going to be a whole different game full of our own execution, our ability to try to beat a very good football team that’s played well this year.”

(Continued on page 2)

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