Foxborough, Mass. - In this instance, a repeat performance isn't what the New England Patriots are looking for. Heading into the final game of the season against the San Francisco 49ers, owners of the NFL's worst record at 2-13, the Patriots won't have to look far back for a reminder on facing an opponent that is far out of the playoff picture.
The Patriots suffered their second loss of the season on Dec. 20 to the 2-11 Miami Dolphins, losing hold of an 11-point lead over the final four minutes of the game. Although Sunday's game will have little bearing on what transpires after the regular season, a loss to another of the NFL's bottom-rung teams certainly wouldn't be a momentum-builder heading into the playoffs. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick relayed to his team, and later to the media, that he sees similarities between the 49ers and Dolphins.
"I think there are a lot of elements of the 49ers that are similar in some respects to the Dolphins," Belichick said. "I think they have a lot of skilled players. I think they have a lot of talent on the team. They've had problems with some turnovers. Their record doesn't probably reflect the overall talent level of the team, but I think that in watching them play, they certainly make a lot of big plays."
While the Patriots are looking to secure their second consecutive undefeated season at Gillette Stadium, the 49ers are on the verge of tying the 1978 and 1979 teams for the worst record in franchise history. Going against what might be their first inclination, the Patriots aren't about to take the 49ers lightly. Clearly, the Patriots focus is on matching last season's franchise-best 14-2 record.
"The record doesn't matter," linebacker Willie McGinest said. "They are playing against us and we know they are going to come fired up ready to play. So we will be ready for them. What could I say? We lost to a team a couple of weeks ago that was [2-11]. Record really doesn't mean anything. These guys are going to come out. They have something to prove."
One of the biggest questions heading into the season finale is how Belichick will approach the game in terms of playing time for many of the regulars. At 13-2, the Patriots have locked up the AFC's second seed and a first round bye in the playoffs regardless of Sunday's outcome. As far as Belichick is concerned, at least outwardly, the Patriots will prepare for San Francisco as they would any other team. At least he didn't divulge many details that would suggest otherwise.
"This week is as normal as it can be," Belichick said. "Look, we are going to have 45 guys for the game, hopefully. Hopefully we will have 45 healthy ones. I wouldn't count on that, but I hope that is where we are. Those guys need to be ready to play. That is what a player's job is, is to prepare and be ready to play the game. Whatever substitutions and whatever plays are called, those are coaching decisions. Players can't do anything about those. All they can do is go out there and do their job and be prepared to do it. That is what the expectations are for the players this week. That is what they always are every week. That is what they'll be next week, last week and every other week. That won't change."
While many of the players suggested they're preparing to play an entire game, it wouldn't be surprising to see several of the starters - such as Tom Brady, Corey Dillon and others - on the sidelines Sunday.
"I don't know, hopefully the whole game," Dillon said when asked how much he expects to play. "I am going to approach it like I am going to play the whole game. I haven't got any word on how much playing time anybody is going to get. So I am pretty sure my mindset is I am going to play the whole game."
Wide receiver and defensive back Troy Brown was honored with another award Wednesday when he was named the recipient of this year's Patriots 12th Player Award. The award, sponsored by Shaw's and the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, is presented annually to the Patriots player who personifies the Patriots team spirit and is recognized for his contributions to the team, both on the field and in the community. Brown, who has spent all of his 12 NFL seasons with the Patriots, has been a valuable contributor on offense, defense and on special teams a punt returner in 2004.
Past winners include defensive tackle/fullback Dan Klecko (2003), kicker Adam Vinatieri (2002), Brady (2001) and linebacker Tedy Bruschi (2000). Brown was also the team's nomination for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his contributions on the field and in the community.
"It is another great honor for me to be still recognized in this community as a great football player and a great person in the community after so many years, and still be able to go out and perform at a high level and help [my] team win," said Brown. " It is about my teammates and my fans in this community. That is why I play the way I do when I am on the field, to bring a great feeling back to this community, back to this area and back to this organization and help my football team win in any way possible."
Injury Report: Seymour "Doubtful"
While not much is known publicly about the extent of his knee injury, it appears unlikely Patriots Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour will play this weekend. Seymour was listed as "doubtful" when the team released its first injury report of the week today, three days after the three-time Pro Bowler suffered a left knee injury against the New York Jets. While initial indications are against Seymour playing Sunday against the 49ers, Belichick indicated he wouldn't be lost for the season, saying "We're definitely not in that category."
The remainder of the Patriots injury report has grown to include 15 players. Safety Dexter Reid (shoulder) has missed the last two games and joins Seymour as doubtful. Safety Eugene Wilson (thigh), cornerback Earthwind Moreland (abdomen) and running back Patrick Pass (knee) were added to the injury list as questionable, joining linebacker Matt Chatham (hamstring), running back Kevin Faulk (knee), cornerbacks Ty Law (foot), Randall Gay (arm) and Asante Samuel (shoulder), tight end Daniel Graham (rib) and wide receivers Bethel Johnson (thigh) and David Givens (ankle). The team reported all of the above players missed a portion of team practice on Wednesday. Brady (shoulder) and quarterback Jim Miller (shoulder) are probable.