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Veteran LB still producing for Patriots

FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) _ Willie McGinest grabbed the ball out of the air and returned the interception 27 yards to set up a touchdown. In his 11th NFL season, all with the New England Patriots, he still makes big plays on a team that has won its last 20 games.

And he wants to keep making them for the Patriots until he stops playing.

I've been here for a while and I plan on retiring here,'' the linebacker said Wednesday.This being my only team that I've played with and with free agency and all the stuff that's going on in the NFL now, that's a hard thing to do.''

He joined the Patriots as the fourth pick in the 1994 draft and has had ups and downs, enduring injuries and losing seasons.

But at 32, he's tied for the team lead with three sacks. Last Sunday he picked off Matt Hasselbeck's pass on the first series of New England's 30-20 win over Seattle and was tackled from behind at the Seahawks 26-yard line.

Of course, I wanted to score a touchdown, but I just don't want somebody to try to knock the ball out,'' McGinest said of his fourth career interception.Anytime you get an interception or a turnover, the worst thing that can happen is somebody to come up and knock the ball out and they get it back.''

His biggest plays recently have come toward the end of games.

He helped preserve a 27-24 opening win over Indianapolis when he sacked Peyton Manning for 13 yards, forcing Mike Vanderjagt to try a 48-yard field goal that missed.

He saved another victory over the Colts last Nov. 30 two plays after limping off with a knee injury. He returned to tackle Edgerrin James on fourth down with the ball at the Patriots 1 with 14 seconds left. New England won 38-34.

He's found the fountain of youth,'' Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said.I see a guy bouncing around. The guy's a leader. His play has just stepped up. It seems like he's getting younger the older he gets and it's a good sign because it gives all us old guys hope.''

As a rookie out of Southern California, McGinest played all 16 games and had 4{ sacks. But the Patriots lost in the first round of the playoffs.

They were 6-10 the next season, but followed that with a trip to the Super Bowl, where they lost to Green Bay 35-21.

His only other losing season was in 2000 when the Patriots were 5-11 in Bill Belichick's first year as coach. But they won the Super Bowl the next season and again two years later.

One bad season, though, doesn't make him appreciate the good ones more.

That's all in the past,'' McGinest said.The only thing that really matters is what's going on now and this week.''

The Patriots and New York Jets meet Sunday in Foxboro in a matchup of 5-0 teams. In a 21-16 win at New York last season, McGinest returned one of Chad Pennington's five interceptions for a touchdown and had 1{ sacks.

They're playing differently,'' McGinest said of the Jets. Penningtonis doing a good job of taking care of the ball. They don't have a lot of turnovers and they're causing turnovers, so you've got to expect what you see now, not the past.''

Except for being older, McGinest doesn't seem to have changed much in fellow linebacker Tedy Bruschi's estimation.

He's always made big plays for us. He's scored a few touchdowns in his time since I've been here,'' Bruschi said.He makes just enormous plays that turn games.''

With three sacks already this season, McGinest ranks fourth on the Patriots' list with 65{.

You constantly learn in this game every week, every day, every year,'' he said.I don't care if you've been in the league for 15, 20 years, you still learn something.''

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