Coach Bill Belichick usually gives a fairly brief opening statement at his Friday press conference. While this Friday's opening statement carried a typical tenor, the coach dressed it up a bit to match his attire.
"On behalf of the organization and the football team, it's an honor for the New England Patriots to participate in this championship game against the Colts," he began. "We have all the respect in the world for the Indianapolis Colts and what they've done, their organization, (Team President)Bill Polian, (Head Coach) Tony Dungy, (Owner) Jimmy Irsay, the coaching staff, the players. They've had an awesome year."
With so many football fans expected to watch this game, one might think the players and coaches would be as nervous and revved up for this game as the rest of the country is. Coach Belichick said earlier this week that he has no trouble sleeping before a game like this. Friday, he described the players as "excited to play," but explained that there's been no deviation from the normal procedure in terms of preparation.
"We talk every week about what we need to do for that particular game, in terms of our preparation," he said. "It varies from week-to-week with the opponent, and sometimes with the situation we're in. I think that's something that extends across the board.
"Certainly on an individual basis, the veteran players, the coaches, you know myself, will talk to the players periodically or on a daily basis in some cases, [concerning] a particular situation if we feel like it's relevant and helpful to the team. There are challenges every week across the board. Veterans. Rookies. Head coaches. Everybody. We try to address those challenges on a week-to-week basis."
Veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel expressed similar thoughts about the team's approach to this big game.
"We understand that we're in a moment," said Vrabel. "We've prepared each week very similar to how we do in a regular season. We put everything into it that we can. We don't hold anything back. It's not Little League where you try to save the best pitcher for the championship game. We're trying to get there.
"We do everything we can to get to that next game. And then you take inventory. You see who is healthy. You see how much you've got and then go from there. And we try to do that every week. And we've done that with the Jets and going out to San Diego, that being a tough challenge. Coming back here and seeing who we got and making a game plan, and then going to Indy tomorrow."
One major subplot entering this game has been the fact that kicker Adam Vinatieri, once known as "Automatic Adam" to New Englanders when he was a Patriot, is now kicking for the Colts. The Patriots rookie replacement, Stephen Gostkowski, was similarly reliable during the regular season, a trend that's continued into the playoffs. Facing a question regarding the reliability of both kickers and their shared ability to hit long attempts, coach Belichick made it clear that the goals for this week's game will be no different than they were in the previous 18 contests of the 2006 season.
"I'd like to think that the players go out on the field every time offensively and look to get the ball in the end zone," said Belichick. "That's what our goal is. Unless… it could be a strategic situation at the end of the game where you're playing with the clock. But we go out there and try and get the ball in the end zone. That's what we do when we walk out on the field. We always try to do that."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady admitted that the players are excited for the opportunity they have. This will be the team's fourth AFC Championship game in six years.
"We're excited about what we can accomplish. We're one game from the Super Bowl. A lot of teams would love to be in this position. I'm certainly glad we have this opportunity. They don't come around too often, so you've really got to take advantage of them when you get them," said Brady, but the excitement certainly isn't overwhelming him. He seemed more excited a few moments later when he paused mid-sentence to reveal, "I just found a few bucks in my pocket!"
Apparently, the two-time Super Bowl MVP hadn't checked his pockets since the last time he wore the gray suit. "That's a good feeling isn't it? It's 40 bucks," said Brady. "It's my lucky day…"
The Patriots have scored at least 20 points in 17 of their last 18 meetings with the Colts, so this one figures to be a high-scorer. The team seems to be doing its best to stick to the usual routine this weekend. They're leaving tomorrow at 1:00pm. A few veterans mentioned the importance of playing all 60 minutes of this game. There's a lot riding on this one, and the players know it, but they're keeping things usual to avoid letting the pressure affect them.
No belt for the big men
Following their 35-0 thrashing of the Packers in November, the Patriots defensive linemen began selecting a player of the game from among their group. To the winner went a plastic belt, which looks much like the belts given to professional boxers when they win a title fight. In Friday's national press conferences, defensive linemen Richard Seymour and Ty Warren revealed that nobody received the belt following last week's game against the Chargers.
"It kind of switches back and forth, but we didn't even give out a belt last week," said Seymour. "Giving up a 100-yard rusher (LaDainian Tomlinson), we're putting that on hold right now."
"It's pretty simple," said Warren a short while later. "We went into the season saying we didn't want any 100-yard rushers, but it is the NFL and that was LT. They had some success against us, and we felt like we didn't play our best game. That's why nobody got the belt. The good thing is that we have another opportunity to put our best work out on the field, with a chance to advance."
Quote of note:Question to coach Belichick: If you were preparing a defense to face Tom Brady, what would you most be concerned about?
"You think I want to answer that question?" Belichick quipped, a smile appearing on his face. "I'm glad I don't have to play against Tom Brady."
The Patriots practice inside the Dana Farber Field House again today, wearing shorts/sweats, shells and helmets. Everyone was present and accounted for during the portion of practice available to the media, which means Ty Warren was spotted at practice for the first time this week. He was excused by the team to fly back to his native Texas this week to deal with a family issue. "It was a situation where my mother got a little ill and she was hospitalized," explained the ultra-polite 300-pounder, "but she's doing a lot better now and was actually released last night." Warren explained that he's been though these kinds of things before, while playing in college at Texas A&M. He said his faith helped him stay levelheaded so he'd be ready to play in this game.