Jon Scott: The interesting thing about keeping all the starters out and playing just backups… it's never been the way things are done in New England. So when the Patriots don't do it the next two weeks, the non-local media will say things like; "They're just trying to do it for the record," or "They're rubbing it in."
The reality is, a couple years ago when the final game of the season was a non-factor, Brady and the starters stayed in till late in the third quarter. Matt Cassel didn't get much playing time. Although against the Dolphins in 2005, Cassel played most of the game -- the infamous drop kick game where Cassel almost led the Patriots back to tie the game and send it into OT, but he threw a pass wide to Troy Brown on the 2-point conversion.
I think you'll see the starters through at least the first three quarters, possibly until the final drive. That's not to say the Patriots won't start to rotate the backups into the lineup through the game… they do that already.
Q. How much is 16-0 a topic in the locker room?
Jon Scott: It's an interesting question, but it's not a question players want to talk about. You ear them say all the right things, like, "We're just focusing on our next opponent," or "I'm only thinking about Miami." That's the typical response. Don't get me wrong, they definitely want to set a record, but you won't get them to say that on the record. The team polices the media reports on what is being said from the locker room. If they don't like what was said, Belichick will feed them a heavy helping of humble pie before putting them in the doghouse for a while.
Q. How important do you think it is for Brady and the Pats that he break the single-season touchdown passes record?
Jon Scott: Important, certainly. Is it the thing that drives them? Maybe.
Brady may push a bit too much trying to make it happen, but I don't think it defines their season. This is a team with its main purpose to get to the Super Bowl and win. Moss, Welker and Stallworth are all here specifically because the team knew they were better than the Colts last year, but a couple of dropped passes did them in. That loss really stung. Winning is the most important thing, and it isn't the regular season, but the playoffs that drives this team. Undefeated in the regular season would be a feather in their cap, but undefeated in the postseason is the goal.
Q. Are the Pats starting to use their running game a bit more?
Jon Scott: Absolutely. The running game was second nature because the Patriots could –- and still can -– exploit their opponent's secondary more easily than the could run against them. I think you'll see a lot of Brady passing again to try to attack Miami. If the weather is crappy, you'll see more Maroney and crew running the ball. The Patriots' best weapon is the passing game, though, and they're going to try to win using it.
Q. Just how valuable has Wes Welker been for the Pats this season?
Jon Scott: MVP caliber.
I said it at the beginning of the year in camp, and I think we even talked about this in the earlier game. A number of us (media types) made bets (not for money) on which player would have the biggest impact on the Patriots roster this year. Some said Moss, some said Maroney, some even said Adalius Thomas. Regardless of who each writer picked, every one of us thought Welker was a solid pick-up. One writer -– a friend of ours -– kept trying to convince everyone that Welker was easily a 75-catch receiver (he has 96 now). Few people wanted to take an opposing view, because we could see in camp the guy was special. While none of us imagined the season Brady would have, we all thought Welker was a key to the offense, and a guy that Brady could rely on for crucial first downs.
I still can't believe Miami let him get away. He's so versatile, that he can really kill a defense if they don't pay attention to him. You can see when Brady wants to find Welker on a late game-winning drive; he'll find him, even if the defense is trying to stop him. A couple of final do-or-die drives this season relied heavily on the Brady-to-Welker connection, and Welker delivered every time. The guy is clutch.