With their first regular season game against the Bills on Sunday, coach Bill Belichick said the Patriots are taking advantage of the extra time they have to prepare. For the last two seasons, the Patriots first game has been on Thursday. The extra time is especially important given that the Patriots open the season with a division game this year.
"Division games are big," said Belichick. "We got two of them here, and three in the first five (games). It's a lot different from last season when we played about half the season without a division game. It certainly generates a lot of intensity. Every game's important, but a division game always just ratchets that up a little bit and that's definitely the case here."
Obviously, all regular season games count toward the team's final record, but the team that wins each division gets to open the playoffs at home, which has been advantageous to the Patriots in the past. They've never lost a home playoff game. Regular season ties count for a half win and a half loss for each team, and ties for division champion are usually given to the team that beat the other more that season.
Starting linebacker and 12-time Pro Bowler Junior Seau was quick to point out that every team's undefeated right now, and said, "The divisional opponents are always a key factor in the season, so you've got to definitely take care of that. It's about home turf and you've got to take care of that and get home field advantage."
Opening the season with two division matchups means a team has to be ready at the outset, but even after 17 preseasons, Seau doesn't believe there's any way to know if a team is ready for its first game until the players are on the field.
"You don't [know]. You just go out there and play the game," said Seau. "It's no different than the first year that you come into the league. It's something that you don't take for granted."
In anticipation of the season's quick start, the Patriots training camp was more arduous than usual.
"I can't really pinpoint specific things, but obviously, we weren't where we needed to be last year," said special teams captain and three-time Pro Bowler Larry Izzo. "So one way to get better is to go back to the basics and go back to fundamental-type stuff in training camp – a little tougher, more grueling training camp, and hopefully improve on where we were last year at this point."
According to Belichick, training camp was more about sticking to the basics this year. He thinks it's prepared the team better.
"I think we put a lot of time and energy into them (fundamentals), and we took some periods away from group and team periods that we maybe had allocated in the past, and devoted that more towards individual fundamental time," Belichick said. "They're never where you want them to be. We always need more work on them. I think that they have gotten better through the course of camp and I have seen some improvement. Hopefully that'll be able to carry us through the year."
"I think fundamentally, we're better off than we were a year ago heading into the season, but we still haven't played any real games," said Izzo, keeping things in perspective. "We'll know pretty soon where we're at, but hopefully we are better."
Notes: New practice squad quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan will be wearing number nine this season. … A Georgia football poster covers Patrick Pass' nameplate on his locker. Pass earned four letters as a Georgia Bulldog, and played as many positions for them: running back, pass catcher, returner and quarterback (three of five passes were completions). … Offensive linemen Gene Mruczkowski and Logan Mankins play backgammon almost every day when the press is in the locker room, and today was no different. The end of the game must have been close, because both players were ribbing each other and laughing when they got up to go to meetings. … Junior Seau loves sporting Patriots hats. Since joining the team he almost always has one on, including on the field during pre-practice stretches, as was the case today. … Rookie running back Laurence Maroney was at practice again today, though he sat out the team's final preseason game. … Tedy Bruschi, Chad Jackson and Nick Kaczur all missed practice today. Stephen Neal also missed practice today, though he was at Monday's practice. His injury is listed as an ankle. … Ty Warren, who missed Monday's practice returned to the practice field today, and David Thomas, who had been wearing a red non-contact jersey, was wearing his offensive white jersey today. … Also, Doug Gabriel is listed as having a hamstring injury, though his status for Sunday's game is 'probable.' Also with 'probable' status, Tom Brady has been listed as having a shoulder injury.