Let the journey begin.
Coming off their bye week, the New England Patriots are now in travel mode as they prepare for a long week of preparation followed by a nine-day trip out West that will feature back-to-back games against the 49ers and Chargers and could determine a lot about their playoff future.
With a 2-1 record thus far in the post-Tom Brady era, the team will leave for San Francisco on Friday, play on Sunday, then spend the week in California before heading to San Diego on Saturday for a playoff rematch with the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Arizona Cardinals put together a similar schedule, staying on the East Coast for games against the Redskins and Jets, but fell short on back-to-back weekends, including a beating at the Meadowlands on Sunday.
"I'm not a guy that really likes to fly a whole lot anyway, especially four or five hours in the air," defensive end Richard Seymour said. "Obviously it didn't work out too well for (Arizona), but we just have to understand that we're on a business trip and we have to take care of business."
The first order of business is getting ready for the 49ers, a team they haven't seen since 2004. They haven't traveled to San Francisco since 1995. Obviously, a lot has changed in the past four years, which means there will be more cramming done this week before the team hops on the plane Friday afternoon.
"They have transformed their offense," head coach Bill Belichick said. "We started (our preparation) in the off-season to get familiar with their personnel but (offensive coordinator) Mike Martz has come in there and, as usual, turned it into a very efficient attack.
"They have big play players like (Isaac) Bruce, Vernon Davis and Bryant Johnson. (Quarterback) J.T. O'Sullivan has done a good job for them. Frank Gore, of course is a tough guy to stop. They have made some changes on the offensive line and that's a solid unit, too."
Strangely enough, the Patriots have some experience with O'Sullivan, who spent time on New England's practice squad in 2006 before getting his big break with the 49ers.
"I think the same things that attracted us then are why he is playing now," Belichick said. "He's athletic, good arm, is a very mobile guy in the pocket and can make all the throws. He has a strong arm and can get the ball down the field. He has a good touch on the ball and can stay alive with his feet. He's been very productive for them."
The 49ers are coming off a tough loss to New Orleans, but Belichick is wary of falling into the trap - particularly with his team coming off a deflating loss to Miami two weeks ago. The Patriots worked extensively during the bye week to correct their flaws and will put everything to the test on Sunday afternoon.
"We worked on them and saw some improvement on the practice field," Belichick said. "We need to transfer that into game situations. We won't be able to evaluate that until we do it on the game field. We made some progress in practice."