Formula for NFL success

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

Public persona and reputation aside, behind closed doors how could the New England Patriots not sneak a peak both forward and back?

Ahead, they see the prospect of a threepeat and four Super Bowl wins in five seasons, a feat thought to be foreign in today's NFL.

Behind, they not only see the championships, but if the assessment is honest, a level of domination of their opponents that has been as much mental as physical.

If the players are thinking of it in Foxboro, Mass., on the eve of the 2005 season, however, they sure aren't sharing it.

"I don't think you're going to hear those words come out of our mouths," Pats quarterback Tom Brady said on a conference call this week when asked whether his team is a dynasty and poised to "threepeat."

CARRY OVER

"You would like to think things carry over but they really don't. If we don't play well, we're going to get beat.

"I don't care about three years ago. I don't care about two years ago. I don't care about last year. We've done all the celebrating we need to do from last year. We went to the White House and we had ring ceremonies and parties. The only thing I care about is this week."

Spoken like the true disciple of Patriots coach Bill Belichick that Brady has become during the four seasons it has taken him to establish himself as the most efficient quarterback in the league.

Despite modest protestations to the contrary, the Pats still have plenty on paper to make them the team to beat, not just in the AFC East, but throughout the league.

They still have Brady and running back Corey Dillon.

They still have a fiercely motivated defence, despite the loss of a trio of linebackers.

They still have the reputation of a team that just won't lose at home when it matters most.

And they still have Belichick, who has been hailed as a genius as often as his team has been labelled with the D- word.

The losses sound serious. After a minor stroke during the off-season, linebacker Tedy Bruschi decided to take a season off. Ted Johnson is worried about persistent concussions. Cornerback Ty Law, who like Bruschi was the heart of the defence, has moved to the division-rival New York Jets.

Charlie Weis, the Patriots offensive co-ordinator who took opposing defences to school, has gone back to college to coach the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

Romeo Crennell, the Patriots defensive co-ordinator who helped sculpt workmanlike players into a defence capable of dominating, now is the head man with the Cleveland Browns.

If it were any other team, such upheaval would trigger an obituary eulogizing the death of a dynasty. But these are the Patriots, an organization which has defied the laws of salary-cap economics.

The team has made its mark by bringing in unheralded players and plugging them into a system that works and a locker room that demands unbridled commitment.

Belichick seems to be taking the roster upheaval with as much angst as he does, say, with the challenge of stopping Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in a playoff game.

"In 30-plus NFL seasons, I can tell you that some of the seasons where teams have undergone the most change or what might be perceived as the most difficult circumstances turn out to be the best years," Belichick said.

In fact, it can be argued that change is the ultimate antidote for the plague of complacency. When he was overseeing the San Francisco 49ers dynasty, Bill Walsh saw a need for a similar approach.

"You have to reinvent yourself each year, Walsh said recently. "What helped us was there was some turnover every year. Some free agents came to play for us because they really wanted to join the 49ers. They brought new energy and excitement to the team."

As much as Weis and Crennell were heralded as perfect fits for the Patriots, Belichick and his players hardly seem worried about their departure.

Defensive backs coach Eric Mangini will call the plays on defence while Belichick himself plans to send in the signals on offence.

"I feel like I've been responsible for having the final say on what has happened out there on the field," Belichick said. "A lot of times I've delegated and will continue to do that. But at the same time, if there is something I don't feel comfortable with or I don't like the call or if there is something I want to do, then we'll do it."

RELIABLE

It doesn't hurt that in Brady, Belichick has a quarterback who is not only reliable, but one who thinks like a coach. A remarkable 48-14 since he took over for Drew Bledsoe, Brady is unbeaten -- 9-0 -- in the post-season.

"You really have to play the best game of your life because he is the one guy in the NFL on offence and defence who doesn't make any mistakes," Bills defender and former Patriot Lawyer Milloy said. "You really have to play a mistake-free game if you want to have success against him."

Brady refuses to acknowledge such comments with more than a baby-faced grin and a shrug of his shoulders.

Whether he has consumed too much of the Belichick Kool-Aid or comes by his attitude honestly, he typifies the Pats' formula for success.

"Each player has to come in and play the role that the team has for him," Brady said. "I don't have to play left tackle. I don't have to play running back. I just have to play quarterback and I think that's what we ask of any player -- just play your position."


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