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Patriots already feeling at home in London

Posted Oct 26, 2012

New England gets off to a fast, familiar start upon returning to the United Kingdom.

LONDON – The Patriots are already running their hurry-up offense.

Bill Belichick’s team touched down in London shortly after 7 this morning (Greenwich Mean Time), boarded buses for their downtown hotel, and no sooner did the convoy pull up then head coach Bill Belichick was darting into the ballroom to take questions from a mix of UK and US media.

While he didn’t have much to say that was different from what he’d been saying all week, apart from acknowledging that some of the players who traveled across the pond won’t necessarily play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. Some are battling injuries and will be game-time decisions, he pointed out. And he didn’t rule out signing a new player or promoting one from the practice squad before kickoff.

Belichick also confirmed that his team will not visit Wembley Stadium, site of the game, before Sunday’s contest. Visiting teams often conduct their Saturday walkthrough practices at the field where the game will take place, but having played here just three years ago, Belichick felt it wasn’t necessary to revisit Wembley in advance of the game.

Following his brief remarks, which only lasted about 10 minutes, quarterback Tom Brady entertained the media for nearly half an hour. Topics ranged from the serious – why hasn’t his team been able to close out games consistently this season – to the silly (if you could go on a road trip across the country with just two teammates, whom would you take).

Looking relatively refreshed after the long voyage, Brady was not only patient, but also engaging and witty in his responses to every question, which certainly delighted the local media that don’t regularly get to prod him.

Brady recalled how “beautiful” a facility Wembley is from his previous visit in 2009, when New England beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7, but his focus today, he said, was to get rested and adjusted to the significant time difference. His plans for Friday night in London, he insisted, called for sleep.

A few other Patriots were just bright-eye enough (barely, in some cases) to answer a few questions before going about their “transition day,” as the head coach dubbed it.

There’s not denying the Patriots are focused on winning this Sunday against the Rams, but they’re also conscious of the fact that road trips of this magnitude don’t come around often, and they’re doing their best to savor it.

“It’s a business trip, absolutely. We’re coming over here to win, but at the same time,” defensive tackle/co-captain Vince Wilfork conceded, “we’re in a different country. This place has a lot of history. So, the little time you do have, if you can get out, you just do a little touring, that’s fine. You just can’t lock yourself up. I’m not like that. Get your fresh legs, walk around, see the city a little bit… and still be ready to go on Sunday.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of a mix,” added punter Zoltan Mesko, as internationally experienced a player as there is on the team, having grown up in Romania. “You have to know when to back off the fun or the sightseeing and come back to, ‘OK, I have to keep my body in shape, get off my feet, get my rest.”

It’s often the case that travel brings partners closer together, and that’s certainly true of a trip like this, which Mesko believes will be good for building team morale and camaraderie.

“I think it’s great to be put in a, kind of an adverse environment and to be mentally tough. Even the traveling part, to overcome the physical part of adjusting to the time zones. When you struggle together, you build team unity.”

It will also help that the Patriots enjoy perhaps the strongest support of any NFL team among fans in the United Kingdom. That makes going on the road feel less hostile than in a different city back in the States.

Linebacker/co-captain Jerod Mayo is familiar with this, having played in the previous Patriots game in London in ’09, and enjoys the atmosphere at Wembley.

“I do. It’s always great to come over here and play,” he told reporters. “I feel like this is a home game for us. This is old England that’s cheering for New England. It’s a good time.”

The Patriots may have gotten off to a quick start on their return to the UK, but for the rest of today, at least, seems like a good time to slow things down a bit.

“I got a little bit of sleep on the flight. I wanted to get here and be rested so I can talk to you guys,” Mayo laughed playfully. “I’m adjusted. I’m ready to go. As soon as the sun comes out, I feel good.”

“I actually feel normal right now,” echoed Mesko with his friendly smile. “Good cup of coffee and I’m ready to go.”

Maybe while he’s in London, he’ll try some tea instead. Word is, it’s pretty good here. PFW