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Super Bowl Update: Winning will take special effort

NEW ORLEANS -- Stop Marshall Faulk. Stop Kurt Warner. Stop Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

Blah, blah, blah.

Those guys are terrific football players and a huge part of why the Patriots will walk into the Superdome Sunday as heavy underdogs. And while it's true that the Patriots must find answers for those skill players, the Rams, believe it or not, may have some of their own work to do to get ready for Super Sunday.

To call the Patriots a scrappy bunch would be unfair. They have won games in every imaginable fashion, proving worthy of respect. But this week is all about the Rams offense and who will start at quarterback for the Patriots.

Forget all that.

The Rams should be worried. Oh yeah. They should be worried all right.

Certainly they're not concerned with their prolific top-ranked offense and their stellar third ranked defense. But one need only look at the Patriots win over the Steelers in the AFC Championship game to wonder if Rams special teams coach Bobby April is getting any sleep this week.

It would be hard to blame April if visions of Troy Brown darting through tacklers were keeping him awake in his Hilton hotel room. Brown, who doubles as the Patriots best wide receiver, may well be the league's best punt returner. He has returned three punts for touchdowns in the last six weeks and led the NFL this season with a 14.2 yards per return average.

"The last few weeks with all the touchdowns that have turned the games around, I think Troy Brown is a catalyst and he's given them inspiration. He takes them to another level, to a different mentality and to a belief that no matter what, they are going to do something explosive.

"The are always ready to fight because, in the back of their minds, they know they have a guy like that. But all that said, the key for them is that they are so solid and sound. That's as fine a punt unit as you will ever see. It won't get the credit that Brown gets because it's not an explosive performance, but they do a great job of keeping you away from the goal line. Their special teams are a real key factor in this game."

Guys like Larry Izzo and Je'Rod Cherry who signed with New England last summer amidst little fanfare, have been instrumental parts of the Patriots special teams success, but Head Coach Bill Belichick isn't afraid to march his frontline starters out on teams as well.

"That comes back to Bill," Patriots special teams coach Brad Seely said. "[He'll] use whoever we have to use and do whatever we have to do to get it done. That doesn't mean that just because you are a starter that you can't play special teams. They are the best football players we have so let's get them out on the field. Troy is a great example. Let's get him out there and give him an opportunity to make more plays."

While Brown in the obvious example, players like Tebucky Jones, Tedy Bruschi, Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law will all be seen on special as the Patriots work to gain any attainable edge.

In fact it was a crushing block by Milloy back on Dec. 9 against Cleveland that sprung Brown for his first punt return touchdown of the season.

The Patriots mission operandi this season is to deflect credit to somebody else who isn't willing to take it. In fact, the unselfishness is borderline nauseating. But that mentality has helped the Patriots reach this point. Seely, who has done a tremendous job with the special teams this season, punts the credit to Belichick.

"It all starts with your head coach," he said. "Your head coach can either make or break your special teams with his attitude. If his attitude is that it's a necessary evil and we'll fit it in there when we can and we'll get some guys that are hit or miss, then that's what you're going to get on the football field. If you get a guy that's committed to special teams, that will give you the time to practice it and will get good players for you, you're going to have a pretty good unit. Then it comes down to the players. Obviously if you're going to be good on special teams, you have to have a good kicker, a good punter and good returners.

The Patriots have all three this season with Adam Vinatieri's clutch kicking, Ken Walter's placement punting and Brown's explosiveness in the return game.

But any special teams conversation must include Izzo, the captain of the group.

"He's really into special teams. He knows that's what's paying his salary and he does a heck of a job for us in that regard not only on the field playing, but as a leader as well," Seely said.

Seely uses Izzo to deliver his messages to the other special teamers.

"He gives me responsibilities as far as getting the guys together on Saturday and try to keep them focused from a player's point of view," Izzo said. "You can sit there as a coach every day and say the things and sometimes it won't sink in, but when your teammate says something, sometimes a guy may listen more. Hopefully, I've been able to mediate things from a player's perspective."

"I think the greatest pressure in pro football is peer pressure," Seely added. "If those guys understand what has to get done and he gets that attitude to permeate through the whole group, it's a lot easier than some coach telling them we have to get this done."

The greatest pressure may indeed be pressure, but the greatest show opens Sunday at 6 p.m. It's fair to say the pressure will be pretty high in the Superdome Sunday night and the Patriots special teams may be the great equalizer in this title match. How's that for pressure?

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