FOXBOROUGH -- He was as earnest as a kid reading his essay on the meaning of life to the class. After putting a whoopee cushion on the teacher's seat.
Richard Seymour was droning on about the virtues of the Patriots' 4-3 defense as opposed to the 3-4 -- and vice versa. But the mischievous twinkle in his eye and the wry grin on his face conveyed a different message: I know something you don't know.
On the topic of which alignment the Patriots will use Sunday night against the Denver Broncos, Seymour delivered the vaguest, and thus most revealing, point of his dissertation.
``Maybe the 4-3. Maybe the 3-4."
In other words, who cares about all this nonsense? The bottom line is that the Broncos' offense has no idea what to expect. And in the ultrasophisticated realm of the NFL, a little confusion is what really matters.
If nothing else, the Patriots created this element of mystery this past Sunday in their 24-17 ordeal against the New York Jets when they unveiled the 4-3 -- and unshackled Seymour and his fellow linemen.
Of course, Seymour has no complaints. He's mastered the Patriots' 3-4 sufficiently to have earned four consecutive Pro Bowl trips and three Super Bowl rings. But while his role in that setup is to contain, the effect on him can be to constrain. In the 4-3, he's like a horse breaking from the herd, and against the Jets, he frolicked for five tackles, a sack, a pass deflection, and a quarterback hurry. Not confined to devouring blockers but instead free to attack whatever moved in the Jets' backfield, Seymour and his colleagues up front -- Ty Warren (11 tackles), extra man Jarvis Green (6), and Vince Wilfork (5, including a sack) -- became predators.
It was a pleasant change of pace for Seymour, who acknowledged that it can get lonely out there with only 600 pounds of company beside him.
``I like having four defensive linemen on the field," he said. ``I like having more of our guys out there. It gives us more beef up there. It gives us a chance to move around up front, not always line up on the same guy."
But its primary benefit is that it introduces a question mark that hovers over the X's and O's in opponents' game plans. At least that was implicit in his boilerplate discussion of the 4-3 vis-a-vis the 3-4.
``Whatever gives us the best chance to win, that's the defense we're going to use," said Seymour, as if offering a groundbreaking discovery. ``We do it all pretty well. It's good to be versatile. Teams don't know what to prepare for. They know we can do both. We can switch in and out defensively. It gives offenses more to prepare for."
One caveat, a huge one: The object of mixing it up is not to get mixed up yourselves. And all was not serendipity for the Patriots in the Meadowlands.
They pulverized the Jets for 2 1/2 quarters, building a 24-0 lead. But they almost unraveled. Jerricho Cotchery demoralized them when he somehow sliced horizontally through a Chad Scott-Eugene Wilson sandwich, kept his footing, and finished off a dazzling 71-yard touchdown on a pass from Chad Pennington. Later in the third, Pennington zipped a 46-yard scoring pass to Laveranues Coles, capping a drive on which the big fellas might have had too much freedom: Wilfork extended it with a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer.
New York totaled 306 yards passing, though only 51 rushing. The aerial damage was not exactly an endorsement of New England's secondary -- or, for that matter, the consistency of the pass rushers. Which left Bill Belichick emphatically unimpressed. A 4-3, a 3-4 -- heck, a 1-6 if that's what it takes -- the coach just wants more from his defense than he got Sunday.
``Any time you give up 17 points, give up the yards we did in the passing game . . . not every pass completion is the responsibility of the secondary," said Belichick. ``It's the responsibility of everybody -- the pass rushers, the linebackers, the secondary. We can do things better on defense across the board."
The good part is, Denver -- and everybody else on the Patriots' schedule -- won't know which defense they'll be trying to do better on.