How do you win respect in the NFL? Well, winning the Super Bowl's
a good start. Unless you happen to be the Patriots.
"Someone told me that Las Vegas has an over-under of 8 1/2
[wins] for us," quarterback Tom Brady says. It's true. The
Imperial Palace in Vegas has assigned the defending champions a
position slightly above mediocre. Ten teams are projected to win
more games. Last season the Patriots beat five of them.
"See? No respect again," says Brady, who started for injured Drew
Bledsoe in the third game last year and closed out the season
with nine straight victories, ending with his game-winning drive
for a field goal in the Super Bowl. "In a sense, it's
frustrating. In another, who gives a damn? All I know is that
I've got a Super Bowl ring on my finger."
"Always fighting, always the underdog, that's us," says strong
safety Lawyer Milloy.
Last year coach Bill Belichick and player personnel director
Scott Pioli handpicked personnel who fit a mold: hard workers,
role players, guys willing to sacrifice, such as Willie McGinest,
who gave up his job as a pass rusher in the Super Bowl to perform
the mundane task of chipping away at Rams running back Marshall
Faulk, blunting his effectiveness as a pass receiver. Faulk's
numbers: four catches, 54 yards, no touchdowns.
In the Pro Bowl voting, only two New England players, Brady and
Milloy, were picked--the lowest number for any championship team
in the 32 years the game has been played in the AFC-NFC format.
(Two other Pats, cornerback Ty Law and wideout Troy Brown, were
added later as injury replacements.) "The best names on the
market, the superstars and big-contract guys, aren't always what
you need to win with," says cornerback Otis Smith, a Jets
castoff. "You need players. The guys who are superfast, who can
jump over a stadium, yeah, they're nice. But you only need the
guy who can beat the man he's playing against."
The buzz out of Pittsburgh, one of the preseason Super Bowl
favorites, is the return of 19 starters. New England brings back
19 too. Plus the Pats fortified themselves at tight end, picking
up Christian Fauria from the Seahawks and Cam Cleeland from the
Saints as well as drafting Daniel Graham of Colorado in the
first round. They've added two quality wideouts, Donald Hayes
(Panthers) and rookie Deion Branch of Louisville; a pair of
nickelbacks, Victor Green (Jets) and Tommy Knight (Cardinals);
and a defensive end, former Jet Rick Lyle. And Brady, protected
in a system that will not call on him to win games on his own,
should be even better.
The Patriots should be improved. So why no respect?
"People talk about this as a motivating tool," Belichick says.
"But you know where motivation comes from? From knowing what
you're doing, from being in the right defense. The other
stuff--the speeches, the emotion, running through a brick
wall--is overrated. This is a team with leaders. Do you think
you have to give a Lawyer Milloy or a Willie McGinest a pregame
speech? They wait all week for Sunday."
Early in August, though, Belichick did take his team to the Imax
Theater in Providence for, well, no one quite knew for what. Then
the curtain opened, and out stepped one of the greatest team
players who ever lived, former Boston Celtic Bill Russell, the
center on 11 NBA championship teams. The topic of his 45-minute
address: how to repeat as a champion.
"It's not easy to impress professional athletes, but we were in
awe," McGinest says. "He opened it up to questions, and someone
asked him, 'After winning eight or nine championships, how did
you stay hungry?'
"He said, 'By being aggressive.' That will be the 2002 Patriots."
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Smith (right) is one of the unsung Patriots who makes plays, not headlines.
COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS FAURIA
--The newest New England defensive wrinkle will be the Big
Nickel, which features free-agent signee Victor Green and fellow
safeties Tebucky Jones and Lawyer Milloy. The middle of the
field will be a hazardous area for receivers. "Just watch," says
secondary coach Eric Mangini. "They're going to light up some
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Patriots
"On paper this looks like a better team than last year's Super
Bowl champion. But the Patriots lived on the edge last season,
and can you tell me that guys like Roman Phifer, who nobody
wanted but had a career year, or Otis Smith, who'd probably have
a hard time making any other team, will come through again the
way they did?... It's obvious what the thrust of their
off-season moves was: Get more help for their young quarterback.
Nobody worried about their tight ends last year. Then they
picked up Christian Fauria, who's probably on the downside but
better than anyone they had, then Cam Cleeland, an injury gamble
but a big score if they can keep him healthy, then Daniel Graham
in the draft. Now it's a position of strength.... I like Donald
Hayes, the big [6'4"] wideout they got from Carolina, and their
second-round pick, Deion Branch, so now Tom Brady has two more
wide receivers to throw to. They had to do something. They
scored only three offensive touchdowns in the playoffs last
season. They can't keep living on scores off blocked kicks and
interceptions and punt returns.... You know that a Bill
Belichick defense is going to be good, particularly if he gets a
big year out of Willie McGinest, who was hurt a lot last
year.... Watch these two guys who were rookies in 2001--Matt
Light and Richard Seymour. Both could move up to Pro Bowl level."
Sept. 9 PITTSBURGH (Mon.)
15 at N.Y. Jets
22 KANSAS CITY
29 at San Diego
Oct. 6 at Miami
13 GREEN BAY
20 Open date
Nov. 3 at Buffalo
10 at Chicago*
17 at Oakland
28 at Detroit (Thurs.)
Dec. 8 BUFFALO
16 at Tennessee (Mon.)
22 N.Y. JETS
NFL rank: T13
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .504
Games against playoff teams: 8
PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics
COACH: Bill Belichick; third season with New England (52-60 in
2001 RECORD: 11-5 (first in AFC East)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 13/22/19; defense 19/24/24
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Tom Brady 43
413 att. 264 comp. 63.9% 2,843 yds. 18 TDs 12 int. 86.5 rtg.
RB Antowain Smith 52
287 att. 1,157 yds. 4.0 avg. 19 rec. 192 yds. 10.1 avg. 13 TDs
RB J.R. Redmond 224
35 att. 119 yds. 3.4 avg. 13 rec. 132 yds. 10.2 avg. 0 TDs
FB Marc Edwards 262
51 att. 141 yds. 2.8 avg. 25 rec. 166 yds. 6.6 avg. 3 TDs
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Troy Brown 21 101 rec. 1,199 yds. 5 TDs
WR David Patten 138 51 rec. 749 yds. 4 TDs
WR Donald Hayes[N] 103 52 rec. 597 yds. 2 TDs
TE Christian Fauria[N] 226 21 rec. 188 yds. 1 TD
K Adam Vinatieri 209 41/42 XPs 24/30 FGs 113 pts.
PR Troy Brown 21 29 ret. 14.2 avg. 2 TDs
KR Kevin Faulk 347 33 ret. 20.1 avg. 0 TDs
LT Matt Light 6'4" 305 lbs. 14 games 12 starts
LG Damien Woody 6'3" 320 lbs. 14 games 4 starts
C Mike Compton 6'6" 310 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Joe Andruzzi 6'3" 315 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Kenyatta Jones 6'3" 305 lbs. 5 games 0 starts
LE Bobby Hamilton 31 tackles 7 sacks
LT Steve Martin[N] 39 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
RT Richard Seymour 25 tackles 3 sacks
RE Anthony Pleasant 35 tackles 6 sacks
OLB Roman Phifer 70 tackles 2 sacks
MLB Tedy Bruschi 54 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Mike Vrabel 40 tackles 3 sacks
CB Ty Law 59 tackles 3 int.
SS Lawyer Milloy 77 tackles 2 int.
FS Tebucky Jones 50 tackles 1 int.
CB Otis Smith 55 tackles 5 int.
P Ken Walter 49 punts 40.1 avg.
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)
"They can't keep living on scores off blocked kicks and
interceptions and punt returns."