Patriots Experience Could Be The Difference

There is no team in the postseason with a more proven track record than the Patriots. The story of the team's three Super Bowl titles in the last seven years is well told. Heading into Saturday night's divisional round battle with the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium, experience is clearly not an issue for New England.

Bill Belichick is not only the 2007 NFL Coach of the Year following his team's unprecedented 16-0 season, he's a postseason tactician with experiences dating back to his early days of dominating defenses on championship level with the Giants. For comparison, Belichick's five Super Bowl rings far outnumber the total number of postseason games Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio has coached: two.

Tom Brady enters his sixth postseason with a 12-2 career playoff record. A year ago he led a makeshift group of offensive weapons to within just minutes of another Super Bowl berth. The newly-crowned 2007 NFL MVP initially exploded on the playoff scene in his first year as a starter in 2001 when he led the Patriots to the surprising upset of the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI while laying the foundation of what is already one of the greatest postseason resumes of any passer in history.

Brady's two Super Bowl MVP trophies - and three Super Bowl rings - certainly overshadow the lone playoff victory that first-year Jags starter David Garrard picked up last weekend in Pittsburgh.

Across the board, the Patriots have postseason experience at virtually every position. Playmakers litter the roster that is coming off the most historic regular season in league annals. New England kicks off the postseason a week later than Jacksonville thanks to the bye, avoiding the extra physical wild-card weekend pounding that may have eventually hindered Belichick's troops trip through the postseason last January.

The Patriots also head into yet another postseason having won nine straight playoff games at home. New England hasn't lost in Foxborough since the team's initial appearance at home in the postseason, a 31-14 defeat at the hands of Houston in 1978.

Even series history between Jacksonville and New England, gives the Patriots the edge with a 6-1 advantage. New England beat the Jaguars 28-3 in the 2005 postseason and has won three straight against them.

To put it simply, it's hard to find a reason to believe the Jaguars will be able to travel to New England and pull the upset. Del Rio's physical defense is strong against the run. But the Patriots rarely ran the ball in 2007 and clearly will continue to be a pass-first team into the playoffs. Offensively, Jacksonville runs first and throws with Garrard later. But the Patriots' strength on defense is a stout group of defensive linemen and aged but productive linebackers.

The Jaguars became one of the hot teams in football over the second half of 2007, but the Patriots haven't lost since last January.

But don't expect Belichick, or his experienced group of veteran players, to take anything for granted. Sixteen wins are now a distant memory. All the teams remaining in the playoffs are on equal footing. And Belichick will be preparing his troops for the team's toughest game of the year on Saturday night.

"We have a lot to get ready for. They're an outstanding football team, coming off a big win in Pittsburgh," Belichick said. "That's twice they've gone up there (and won), which is something nobody else has done. So we have all the respect in the world for Jacksonville. We know we're going to have to be at our best, so that's what we're going to try to do. It's going to be a big challenge for us. These guys are really good, and we have a lot of respect for them."


--QB Tom Brady's 2007 NFL MVP award -- the record setting passer just missing out on the unanimous selection receiving 49 of 50 votes - is clearly a long overdue honor for the eight-year veteran. No one knows that more than his coaches and teammates.

"He deserves it," coach Bill Belichick said. "I have thought for a long time that there is no past or present quarterback I'd rather coach than Tom Brady and I am more certain of that every year he plays."

Added Pro Bowl LT Matt Light: "I can't think of anyone more deserving, not only for this season, but for the way that he has led this team over the years. He is responsible for a lot of the things that we have accomplished. I hope it gives people a better understanding of what he is like. Off the field too, he is the same kind of guy. Just the way he conducts himself and the professionalism that he shows. I am just happy for him. He deserves it."

Not surprisingly, Brady took the honor in stride as the team prepares for yet another postseason run.

"As I have learned over the course of my time with the Patriots, the most meaningful accomplishments are always the ones I have celebrated with my teammates. I am certainly proud of the success that we have enjoyed so far this season," Brady said. "I am flattered to join such an esteemed list of players, many of whom I consider the greatest of all-time. I hope that I can set as great of an example for kids around the world as the previous MVPs did for me.

"There is still plenty of football to be played this season and I look forward to getting back on the field with my teammates and preparing for next weekend's game. Thank you."

--NT Vince Wilfork was fined $15,000 by the NFL for unsportsmanlike conduct in the Patriots' season finale win over the Giants. Wilfork poked his finger through the facemask of New York running back Brandon Jacobs in the second quarter of the game. Though not flagged for a penalty on the play, Wilfork was fined by the league for the third time this season.

--CBs Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs both missed New England's pair of practices during the bye week. The status of the team's two starting CBs is not known as the Patriots did not have to issue an injury report during the bye week and the pair had not been dealing with injuries as of the season finale in New York.

--DL Richard Seymour thinks the Patriots benefited from the Giants' all-out efforts in the season finale in New York. Though they could have rested their starters, Tom Coughlin and Co. gave the Patriots a playoff-like fight to the finish.

"I thought it was really good to have that Giants game because it was definitely a playoff atmosphere and it was definitely good for this team," Seymour said. "It's good for the young guys to see the type of intensity, see the environment that we're going to be up against week-in and week-out. I thought it was a good game for us just from that standpoint."

--RT Nick Kaczur missed both of New England's practices during the bye week as he continues to deal with a foot injury suffered in practice the week before. Kaczur had started all 15 games for the Patriots at right tackle before injuring the foot and missing the season finale in New York. His status for the postseason remains unknown as the Patriots did not issue an injury report during the bye.

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