It's been lacking around these parts for years, but there is a definite brand of smash-mouth football being played in New England these days.
These playoff-bound Patriots are a rough and tumble bunch. Several opponents have come into games against this team with a swagger, only to leave with a limp. On defense, the Patriots are laying big hits, while the offense has produced a physical running game that prefers to run over people instead of around them.
Whether it is Bryan Cox dropping Indy's Jerome Pathon on a pass over the middle, or Tebucky Jones producing a fumble with a jarring crunch inside the 5-yard line, the defense has been bringing the wood with consistency throughout the season. On the other side of the ball, Antowain Smith has battered his way to the first 1,000-yard rushing season by a Patriots since 1998. Head Coach Bill Belichick enjoys the brand of football his team is displaying.
"Absolutely. Yeah, that needs to be our game," Belichick said when asked about the team's physical nature. "I think our team has gained that understanding through the course of the year of how we need to play. We need to play a physical style of football. We need to hit people and be aggressive and be physical. We're not a, we can't be a fast-break team."
These Patriots, who have ridden a five-game winning streak all the way to first place in the AFC East at 10-5, are not the most physically gifted bunch in the NFL. They can't tinker with a finesse game, which they fully accept.
"We can't run up and down the field with St. Louis," Belichick said. "That's not our style and I think that we need to play a hard hitting, physical game. We need to try to be aggressive and control the line of scrimmage. We need to run hard with the ball when we have it, regardless of who's got it. You know, we need to gang tackle. We can't count on one guy to get him down. So that's definitely been a point of emphasis all year and that needs to be our style of play."
That approach was emphasized last season, but the player personnel was different, as were the results.
"I don't think we got it in the games like we needed to get it, no not at all," Belichick said. "There's certain individuals that I think probably did [get it], but as a group we didn't have the same kind of toughness, either physical or mental, that we really needed. It was probably reflected in record, too.
"I think it was evident all the way through the season. Again, we played with a lot of young players last year. A lot of those guys really didn't know. They tried, but they just didn't know the standard that they really were being held to in this league and what it would take and I think we paid the price on that."
This year's team is getting it, and it is the New England opponents who are paying the price.