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The much anticipated season opener is finally here. Tonight, at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots begin their Super Bowl defense against the Indianapolis Colts. Bill Griffith of The Boston Globe looks at the additional hoopla surrounding tonight's game, as well as who will be covering the game. "It's safe to say that any media outlet that does sports in this market is trying to latch onto the Patriots," writes Griffith.
Michael Smith of the Globe writes the Patriots are a special group in that their team-first orientation is an NFL anomaly. "The players? Many receive less recognition than they deserve," writes Smith. "Some play more than they'd prefer, others less than they'd like, others in foreign positions. Most play special teams. A few have taken less money to come or to stay here. They do it because they know the ultimate reward awaits."
Also in the Globe, Jim McBride previews the game with keys to victory for each team.
Nick Cafardo goes through each position of the team in an effort to forecast the Patriots potential for a repeat. Cafardo points to the team's 2002 season, in which they failed to make the playoffs just one year after winning their first Super Bowl. "Among the problems were poor personnel decisions that created a lack of depth, and lacking the resiliency needed to stay on the mountaintop week after week without slipping," writes Cafardo.
Smith highlights new Patriots running back Corey Dillon, who makes his regular season New England debut tonight. "Dillon was the anti-Patriot, one who epitomized everything they aren't about. Or so it seemed. Now that Dillon is here, courtesy of an April 19 trade, the opposite is true. Dillon has plenty in common with the Patriots. He likes to win," writes Smith.
On the other side of the ball, Smith has a feature on veteran Tedy Bruschi, no stranger to the Colts rivalry. "He is Mr. Patriot, Mr. "Full Tilt, Full Time" because of his whatever-it-takes style of play. He comes across as someone who sincerely appreciates the privilege of playing pro football," says Smith.
Joe Burris writes about Tom Brady, taking a look at where the 27-year-old quarterback stands within the history of the game. "When Tom Brady's feats are summed up for posterity, allow for some creative prose and overstatement. But remind those who will listen that above all, the star quarterback had a knack for winning -- not for heroics, not for drama, not for thrills," writes Burris.
Bob Ryan writes "the Patriots have enjoyed the greatest stretch in franchise history, and they've been lauded for doing it with team play." Ryan then takes the other three major Boston sports teams and compares a stretch in each team's history that stacks up with what the Patriots are doing now.
Looking to tonight's kickoff, Michael Felger of The Boston Herald believes the Patriots still have something to prove. "The Patriots, for all their success, have yet to defend their perch atop the NFL. They have yet to show that they can go into a season with a bull's eye on their back and come out the other side having survived the slings and arrows," writes Felger.
Felger also notes Bill Belichick's different approach to this season's training camp, suggesting this year's model may be more suited for a repeat than the team two years ago. "To the naked eye, and to the eyes of many players, Belichick's style has most certainly evolved with the times. The Patriots' 2004 offseason and training camp were markedly different from the 2002 versions, and only time will tell if the changes were enough to avoid a repeat of the Pats' playoff-less season two years ago," writes Felger.
Rich Thompson of the Herald looks at the Patriots secondary, a group that thrives on its character and attitude.
Thompson also features the special teams unit, a group that could very well be the deciding factor in tonight's game. "You don't need to remind Patriots special teams captain Larry Izzo that New England's two Super Bowl victories were decided by the kicking game," writes Thompson.
Thompson goes in depth on special teams, with a look at new punter Josh Miller. Miller's predecessor, Ken Walter, was, statistically, among the league's worst punters last season, and considered one of the Patriots few weak spots. Miller, who spent the last eight seasons plying his craft in Pittsburgh, is no stranger to inclement weather. "With free agency on the horizon and his services available in a seller's market, Miller was tempted to sign on with a warm-weather club or one of the many NFL dome teams," writes Thompson. "But the 34-year-old wanted a Super Bowl ring more than a soft touch, and the Patriots [stats, news] were his most attractive option."
Also from the special teams arena, Thompson writes on Adam Vinatieri, who "secured his reputation as a money kicker when he booted a 41-yard game-winner with four seconds remaining to beat the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII last February."
Kevin Mannix knows how big a loss Ted Washington's free agent departure is, and thus takes a look at his replacements to see if they can fill the void. "Between them, Keith Traylor and Vince Wilfork weigh 665 pounds. How well the 14-year veteran and the rookie first-round draft pick pull their weight will go a long way in determining how good the Patriots defense will be this year," writes Mannix.
Felger points out that something is missing in the Pats special teams unit tonight, a dependable punt returner with Troy Brown hobbled with an injured knee (he remains questionable, sitting out portions of practice yesterday), Kevin Faulk out for personal reasons and Terrell Buckley released, the Pats may have to go with their fourth option," writes Felger.
Thompson highlights the offensive line, a unit that has been steady and dependable the last few years despite a number of personnel changes. "The same crew of beefcakes that kept Brady protected through last winter's playoffs will take the field when the Patriots host the Indianapolis Colts tonight at Gillette Stadium," writes Thompson.
Michael Gee goes behind enemy lines to preview the Colts changes from last season. "The Colts' youth is most notable in the secondary, which boasts four rookies on the positional roster. One of them, second-round pick Bob Sanders, is out for tonight's game with a foot injury," writes Gee.
The Herald runs an article by Mike Reiss The MetroWest Daily News in which he discusses the talent and depth of the linebacking corps. "You have what [Roman] Phifer, with a laugh, calls the 'stronghold of the defense, a veteran group with a mix of hot young talent.'''
Reiss also looks at Belichick's right-hand men, coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. "Both will likely be on the head coaching radar again in 2005," writes Reiss. "But in the meantime, they're back to help the Patriots, Crennel in his 24th NFL season, Weis his 15th."
Tom Curran of The Providence Journal takes a look at the Colts retooled secondary, as many of their personnel changes came in the wake of their loss to the Patriots in last year's AFC Championship game. "Shredded would be an apt word, but even that gives the feeling of some resistance. Tom Brady took what he wanted when he wanted it in the two meetings last year and, in response to that, the Colts revamped their secondary in the offseason," writes Curran.
Also in the Journal, Jim Donaldson gives 10 reasons to be optimistic for this Patriots season.
In today's notebook, Ian Clark of The Union Leader forecasts tonight's game from every angle, and gives his prediction for the final score.
Finally, Michael Parente of The Woonsocket Call notes the precarious position the Patriots occupy, entering the season as defending champs. "The upcoming season has the potential to be a successful, yet difficult, year for the defending Super Bowl champs," writes Parente. "Comparisons will inevitably be made to last year's team, which won 15 consecutive games, went undefeated at home and boasted the league's best defense. Anything that goes wrong will undoubtedly lead to discussions about the 2002 team that failed to defend its title."