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Age equals experience for Pats

The Pats have 22 players who are 30 or older, but that experience has helped them advance to Houston.

We've heard it all before. You know the drill: the Patriots come to work on Wednesday with no idea what the coaches will present them with from a game plan standpoint. It might be so radically different than anything they've done before. Unorthodox at times. Maybe even downright mind-boggling.

But by the end of the week, they've bought into it and are running it with near precision. When Sunday rolls around, the opposing offense is seeing looks that never appeared in their meeting rooms or in their VCRs. They must adjust on the fly on the sideline and oftentimes after the ball is snapped.

So while Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis huddle up at the chalkboard and devise these schemes with great attention to detail, the players pay close attention, study them intently and adhere to Belichick's credo that most battles are won before they are fought.

But the players Belichick and Scott Pioli have assembled can handle it. They can handle it because they are loaded with experience and can quickly adapt knowing that everything is built off the same foundation that was laid throughout the offseason and during training camp.

"You have to be a genius," nine-year veteran linebacker Ted Johnson cracked. "You have to be flexible. You have to be a guy that's willing to apply what he's learned in the classroom and go out and do it full speed. It's not easy because it changes from week to week. You have to adjust."

It seems that every time the Patriots draft or sign a player, Belichick will rattle off some of the same traits. You can bet football will be important to the player, but besides that, the player will have "position flexibility."

Finding the right mix of youth and experience may the ultimate challenge in keeping the system moving at a consistent pace, one where the team has experience, but isn't old and has youth, but isn't too young.

Belichick and Pioli missed on that last year, even by only a miniscule amount. Their team was too old, and Belichick admitted as much the day after the season. But his 2003 unit prepares for Super Bowl XXXVIII with 22 players that are 30 or older. This season, they are experienced instead of old.

"You want to keep a balance," Belichick said. "Last year we were the oldest team in the league and we tried to supplement that with some younger players. I understand that we have more (older players) than most. Whether that will always be the case, I don't know. We felt like that was the best combination this year."

He knows that he needs those players to make his system work. He needs them to accept his coaching and help the younger players reach the heights of their veteran teammates.

"We buy into it," Johnson said. "How can you not? Winning the way we have, it's easy to buy into.

"Bill's detail oriented," Johnson continued. "He hits on every point. He empowers his players. He allows us to give input. If we see something that might be a problem area, we voice our opinions and if he thinks it's a worthy point, he'll tell us. But he's been to a few of these [Super Bowls] before so he knows the lure that's out there. I wouldn't doubt if he's got notes from every Super Bowl he ever went to and what happened from day-to-day and minute-to-minute and I'm sure he refers to those notes and uses them as a guide. But we have a lot of vets on this team, a lot of guys that know why we're here."

Forget what they here for. They'd better know that or they wasted the cost of charter flight and week's worth of room charges to come to Houston. Why are they here?

They're in Houston because they bought into a system and worked well within it because of experience, preparation and attention to detail. They executed their coaches' plans and adjusted to them because they could.

"The bottom line is how a team prepares, how focused it is and how well it plays on Sunday. The team that plays better on Sunday is going to win and that's all we're focused on."

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