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1 New England Patriots

Sept. 03, 2007
Sept. 03, 2007

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Sept. 3, 2007

SI Players: LIFE ON AND OFF THE FIELD
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1 New England Patriots

This perennial powerhouse became even more formidable by making the off-season's splashiest personnel catches

WHAT'S NEW

This is an article from the Sept. 3, 2007 issue

> After onePatriot literally dropped the ball in the critical late stages of last year'sAFC Championship Game loss to the Colts, New England overhauled its widereceiver corps. The Pats dealt second- and seventh-round picks to Miami forreturner/receiver Wes Welker last March 5, then signed free agents Donte'Stallworth (Saints) and Kelley Washington (Bengals) a week later. That was allprelude to the bargain swap of the century, on the second day of the Aprildraft: New England's acquisition of five-time Pro Bowl wideout Randy Moss fromthe Raiders for a fourth-round pick. Moss then volunteered to take a$6.25 million pay cut as part of his effort to win that elusive firstring.

The running gamehas also been tweaked, though not nearly as much as the passing attack. CoreyDillon is gone, leaving the rushing load to second-year back Laurence Maroney,who had off-season surgery on his right shoulder and wore a red noncontactjersey for the first three weeks of training camp. In typical Patriots fashion,Maroney downplays his newfound prominence. "I'm just a little piece of theclub," he says, "a small part."

On the other sideof the ball, the addition of former Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas, who wasconsidered by many the gem of the 2007 free-agent class, will buttress aNew England defense that ranked sixth overall in 2006. The 6' 2",270-pound Thomas was prized for his versatility, and he is scheduled to startat inside linebacker, allowing Mike Vrabel to slide back to his natural outsidespot. And with franchised cornerback Asante Samuel finally rejoining the teamon Monday despite being unable to reach a long-term deal, the one majorquestion on defense throughout camp has been resolved.

WHERE THEY'REHEADED

> The extremewideout makeover appears to be a delayed effort to make amends to Tom Brady forgetting rid of Deion Branch, his favorite target and one of his best friends inthe league. Brady called his ceaseless fretting over the receiver's uncertainstatus before Branch was dealt to the Seahawks last September "a big mentaldrain," and Brady initially struggled to develop chemistry with Branch'sreplacements.

Newcomer RecheCaldwell picked up some of Branch's slack, leading the team in receptions (61)and receiving yards (760) and playing well in the postseason--until a bad dayat the office in the AFC title game. Three miscues stand out: The first camelate in the third quarter, when Caldwell dropped a sure touchdown pass thatwould've given the Patriots a 28-21 lead. (Jabar Gaffney's balletic catch inthe back of the end zone on the next play took Caldwell off the hook.) Thesecond, another drop, came midway through the fourth quarter with the scoretied at 28, the Patriots in the red zone and Caldwell wide-open. The third, along incompletion, came inside of a minute to play and seemed to be the resultof a miscommunication between Caldwell and Brady.

Rapport figuresto be a problem again in '07 as Brady breaks in this new crop of widereceivers. While the additions of Moss, Stallworth and Welker give thePatriots, in theory, the NFL's most dangerous offense, the unit has had fewreps together because of injuries. Moss has been sidelined with a balky leftleg for most of training camp, while Stallworth missed a week with a badhamstring. Welker has been healthy, but he and Brady have had trouble gettingon the same page; in one preseason game the team needed four yards for a firstdown, but Welker broke just two yards downfield. "We have a long way togo," says Stallworth. "We all have to learn each other's footballmannerisms."

It may take a fewweeks, but eventually that will happen. Last season Gaffney didn't join theteam until Oct. 9 and caught only 11 passes in the regular season, butcome the playoffs he emerged as Brady's top target, with a team-high 21 grabsand two touchdowns. Indeed, he became the first player in league history tohave consecutive playoff games with at least eight catches and 100 yards in thesame postseason.

No matter who hisreceivers are, the success of the offense all comes back to Brady, who excelsin whatever situation is put in front of him. The quarterback rarely locks inon a single target and is adept at spreading the ball around, reducing the needfor a true No. 1 receiver. Of the Patriots' top seven pass catchers a yearago, only two were wideouts.

Furthermore, ashe proved last week, Brady has a singular ability to focus on the task at hand.Despite taking two cross-country flights in the previous 48 hours to be inCalifornia after the birth of his son, John, and missing two days of practice,Brady turned in a sterling performance in his final preseason tune-up,completing 17 of 22 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns in a win atCarolina.

Stallworth,Welker and Washington each caught three balls in that game, but Moss was stillsidelined. When he returns, the possibilities are endless.--Andrew Lawrence

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP

WITH 2006STATISTICS

COACH BILLBELICHICK (111-81 in NFL), eighth season with Patriots

OFFENSE

RANDY MOSS (NewAquisition)

POS WR

REC 42

YARDS 553

TD 3

 

LAURENCEMARONEY

POS RB

ATT 175

YARDS 745

AVG 4.3

REC 22

YARDS 194

AVG 8.8

TD 7

 

TOM BRADY

POS QB

ATT 516

COMP 319

PCT 61.8

YARDS 3,529

TD 24

INT 12

RATING 87.9

 

HEATH EVANS

POS FB

ATT 27

YARDS 117

AVG 4.3

REC 7

YARDS 34

AVG 4.9

TD 1

 

DONTE' STALLWORTH(New Aquisition)

POS WR

REC 38

YARDS 725

TD 5

 

NICK KACZUR

POS RT

HT 6' 4"WT315

G 11

 

STEPHEN NEAL

POS RG

HT 6' 4"

WT 305 

G 13

DAN KOPPEN

POS C

HT 6' 2"

WT 296

G 16


LOGAN MANKINS

POS LG

HT 6'4"

WT 310

G 16

 

MATT LIGHT

POS LT

HT 6'4"

WT 305

G 16

 

BENJAMINWATSON

POS TE

REC 49

YARDS 643

TD 3

 

DEFENSE

MIKE VRABEL

POS OLB

TACKLES 89

SACKS 4 1/2

INT 3

 

TY WARREN

POS LE

TACKLES 84

SACKS 7 1‚ÅÑ2

 

VINCE WILFORK

POS NT

TACKLES 50

SACKS 1

 

RICHARDSEYMOUR

POS RE

TACKLES40 SACKS 4

 

ROSEVELTCOLVIN

POS OLB

TACKLES 53

SACKS 8 1/2

 

ASANTE SAMUEL

POS CB

TACKLES 64

INT 10

 

EUGENE WILSON

POS FS

TACKLES 24

SACKS 0

INT 0

 

TEDY BRUSCHI

POS ILB

TACKLES 112

SACKS 1 1‚ÅÑ2

INT 1

 

ADALIUS THOMAS(New Aquisition)

POS ILB

TACKLES 83

SACKS 11

INT 1

 

RODNEYHARRISON

POS SS

TACKLES 49

INT 1

 

ELLIS HOBBS

POS CB

TACKLES 44

SACKS 0

INT 2

 

DANNYBAUGHER*

POS P

PUNTS 37

AVG 47.5

 

STEPHENGOSTKOWSKI

POS K

FG 20-26

POINTS 103

 

NEW ACQUISITION*2005 College Stats

> 2006 RECORD12-4 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 12/12/11 DEFENSE 5/12/6

2007 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

9 at N.Y. Jets

16 SAN DIEGO

23 BUFFALO

OCTOBER

1 at Cincinnati (M)

7 CLEVELAND

14 at Dallas

21 at Miami

28 WASHINGTON

NOVEMBER

4 at Indianapolis

11 Bye

18 at Buffalo

25 PHILADELPHIA

DECEMBER

3 at Baltimore (M)

9 PITTSBURGH

16 N.Y. JETS

23 MIAMI

29 at N.Y. Giants (S)

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank 3

Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .535

Games against playoff teams 8

(M) Monday (S) Saturday

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