!Miami's SunLife Stadium. The name may have changed several times during Tom Brady's career, but the results in games he's played in the Dolphins' home arena have remained the same. It's always a difficult place for New England to win, even if they have a sizeable lead.
"We've had our struggles down there," Brady acknowledged Wednesday, "we've had some great wins, but we play them at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year, and it always seems to be a tough place to play. It's a division rival. They put a lot into the game, we put a lot into the game, and it's going to be fun – a fun way to start the year."
Brady and the rest of his Patriots teammates start the 2011 season much the same way they have over the past decade, too – among the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Eventually, Father Time will catch up to Brady, though. Even he realizes this reality. Which only adds to the expectations placed on him and his team.
New England has had great regular seasons recently, but has failed to advance further than one playoff game since losing Super Bowl XLII.
"You realize how tough it is to win games over the years, and I think that when you're out there as a veteran player and you provide the leadership for the team because you've been experienced – I've been experienced in this program – we're hoping to go out there every year and put together a winning season and it's frustrating when we don't do that.
"It's frustrating," the QB continued, "when we have a bad day of practice, so we're trying to make the improvements so that we can be a great football team. That's a lot of things; that's consistency, playing well under tough conditions, it's playing well under pressure. How this team stacks up against the people that we're going to face – that's why we're playing the game. That's the stuff that coach [Bill Belichick] stresses. We've got to go out there and practice and practice at a high level.
"Every time you take the field it could be your last time, so you've got to put everything you can each week into the games. This week, who knows if it's your last week? You really don't. I think that maybe that perspective has helped me a little bit as well."
Perhaps Brady is even more cognizant of his own football mortality today, with the news that the Colts' Peyton Manning won't start Indianapolis' season opener versus Houston because of a neck injury that hasn't fully healed. Manning's start streak seemingly will end at 227.
"Injuries are certainly part of the game and I've been very fortunate over the years to be able to play consistently," Brady mused. "Fluky things that happen out there … you sprain your ankle the wrong way and you're not out there and can't help the team win, then that's disappointing because if you're not out there helping the team you're pretty much useless to the team."
And when a player of Brady's or Manning's caliber can't play, that significantly reduces the chances of their teams advancing toward the Super Bowl.
"I mean, we have high expectations," stressed Brady. "Coach Belichick lays it on us every single day – what he expects from us. So, when the new guys come in, you get use to the program pretty quick. He doesn't accept anything less than our best every day in practice, every day in the meetings, every day in the walk through. So when we're not performing at a high level, you're going to hear about it."
But with all the success the Patriots had in the early part of last decade, New England has become a place where veterans who haven't won a Super Bowl choose to come in order to boost their chances of finally doing so.
"I don't think it's a burden. I think it's good," All-Pro guard Logan Mankins said of the club's high expectations. "It's going to drive you to work harder."
"You can't come here and think, 'Oh just because now I'm on this team we're going to [win]. Boy, it's going to be easy,'" concluded Brady. "Look, we've added new guys, other teams have added new guys, we have new coaches, and some other teams have new coaches. We're trying new things on offense. So are other teams, so, like I said, how it all comes together, that's why we're playing the games."
Starting this Monday night in Miami.
No beating around the Bush
Most Patriots players aren't too familiar with Reggie Bush, from a one-on-one competition perspective, but they will soon, now that Bush is a member of AFC East division rivals Miami.
One player who goes way back with Bush, however, is Matthew Slater. When the two were in college, Slater played for UCLA and Bush their archrivals, USC, where the latter won a Heisman Trophy as a productive running back and explosive kick returner.
"Probably saw too much of him, growing up over the years, playing against him in college," Slater said, smiling, today.
"He's a great player, and you've got to be ready for him, definitely, in the kicking game, obviously, what he can do as a returner. He's a dynamic player. We have to be prepared for him."
Though Slater remains primarily a special teams contributor, he had perhaps his best preseason ever as a receiver this year. The son of Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater, he made this interesting statement when asked if he wanted to see more action as a pass catcher.
"Whatever the coaches want me to do, whatever they ask of me, that's what I'm going to be willing to do … if that be putting my hand on the ground and playing offensive line, that's what I'm going to try to do."
Up front, Dolphins fatten up
Speaking of o-lines, Miami's has undergone some significant changes since Week 17 of last season, when last these two foes met. They now have a rookie at center (Mike Pouncey), a new right tackle in Marc Colombo, and a former right tackle, Vernon Carey, who's now the starting right guard.
"They made a few changes," noted linebacker Rob Ninkovich. "Their guards are pretty big guys, they can really push on [defenders]. They changed up the center, he's a quick guy. Their outside guys, they have Jake Long [at left tackle], who's a great player, and then Colombo. They have three positions with different people in there, but they're a solid line."
For more on today's Patriots practice, please visit the PFW blog.