Pats return to ‘Spygate’ scene seeking perfection
Vail, CO Colorado
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – “Spygate” seems long ago for the New England Patriots. They return to Giants Stadium, trying to finish their pursuit of perfection and a place in NFL history.
The Patriots play the New York Giants (10-5) on Saturday night, three months after Bill Belichick and the three-time Super Bowl champions were put under a cloud of suspicion for videotaping an opponent’s signals.
The focal point of the cameras this week will be the Patriots’ bid to become the first team to win all 16 regular-season games.
“We’ve got a lot of records at stake, the most important one being the 16-0,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “I hope we achieve that. It’d be a great feat for the team. We’d go down as the only team to be 16-0, so that’s the goal I’ve got in mind.”
The last team to go undefeated was the Miami Dolphins in 1972, when they won all 14 regular-season games en route to a 17-0 mark and a Super Bowl crown.
The Patriots’ historic run created so much interest that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell yielded this week and gave CBS and NBC permission to simulcast the game, which originally was to be shown only on the NFL Network.
“We have taken this extraordinary step because it is in the best interest of our fans,” he said.
In September, Goodell made a different sort of ruling regarding the Patriots. He fined the team $250,000, Belichick $500,000 and took away a first-round draft pick for videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive signals in the season opener at Giants Stadium.
Belichick refused to comment on the Patriots’ season coming full circle.
“Right now, we don’t really think too much about the record. We just think about this week,” Belichick said. “We just want to go 1-0 this week. That is all.”
Despite being under a microscope since the cheating scandal, the Patriots have been unstoppable in reeling off 15 wins.
Brady is two touchdown passes shy of breaking Peyton Manning’s season mark of 49 set in 2004. Randy Moss needs one TD catch to tie Jerry Rice’s season record of 22.
New England, which has not scored fewer than 20 points in any game, needs just six to break the Minnesota Vikings’ record of 556 set in 1998. They’ve outscored opponents this season by a record 312 points.
On the ho-hum side, New England leads the league in yards per game (412.7), passing yards (292.3) and first downs (366).
“The good thing about those records is all those didn’t come against us,” Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “Those 551 points, those 15 wins, that wasn’t against the New York Giants. This is just one game. It isn’t our fault the guys before decided to give up all those points.
“We are going to go out there and do our job like we normally try to do and stop them on defense, score points on offense, and try to win the game overall. These records really mean nothing to us.”
The only question surrounding the Giants this week has been whether they will rest players in what for them is a meaningless game.
No matter what happens, New York will play the Buccaneers (9-6) in Tampa, Fla., next weekend in an NFC wild-card game.
“It has been a good test for 15 teams before us, so definitely it is a good test,” Giants seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan said. “It gives us an opportunity to play against the best team in the league right now and gives us an opportunity to see where we are going into the playoffs.”
While the Giants have been inconsistent on offense in recent weeks, their defense has the potential to make life tough for Brady, especially if the front seven can pressure him.
Brady quipped this week that Giants coach Tom Coughlin should give Strahan and fellow defensive end Osi Umenyiora the night off.
“We can rush the passer,” said Umenyiora, who earned his second Pro Bowl berth this season. “That is what we have done all year. Anytime you go up against an offense that likes to pass the football a lot, you also have to have a strong pass rush in order to match up well. They are the best passing team in the league. And we’re probably the best defensive rushing team in the league. So it is a pretty good matchup.”
Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi is certain Belichick will have them ready for their date with history. In his mind, this has been Belichick’s best season.
“With every distraction that he has had, he has come through it stronger,” Bruschi said. “He has coached us harder, and I think that is him saying, ‘I can only worry about one thing, and that is how I prepare this team.'”
After Saturday, all the records will mean nothing.
The playoffs start the following week, with the Patriots having a first-round bye. They have home-field advantage for the playoffs.
“Maybe when you look back at the end of your career you look at those things and it’s a cool thing to have,” Brady said. “But everything I’ve experienced in the NFL and the greatest moments I’ve had is not when you throw five touchdown passes. It’s when you win championships.”
To do that for the fourth time in seven years, the Patriots will need one more undefeated season ” a 3-0 postseason.