Sports

Vince Wilfork knows this opponent well

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 24: Vince Wilfork #75 of the New England Patriots prepares for drills before a game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Vince Wilfork practiced against Dan Koppen for over eight years; now the center is with the Broncos and finds himself the starter after Denver had to place J.D. Walton on injured reserve. Credit: Getty Images

FOXBOROUGH – Vince Wilfork will see two players he knows pretty well across the line of scrimmage on Sunday: Dan Koppen and Willis McGahee.

Koppen, who was with the Patriots from 2003 until being cut last month, is now the starting center for the Broncos after the team placed J.D. Walton on injured reserve with a broken left ankle — an injury similar to the one that Koppen suffered in the 2011 season opener, which proved to be his last game with New England.

But now Koppen is snapping for his second future Hall of Fame quarterback, and he’ll be in the trenches going against Wilfork.

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The defensive tackle smiled when asked about facing Koppen.

“Being with him for nine years, I know Koppen a little bit,” Wilfork said. “He knows me also a little bit. You’re going to try to win the ballgame. It’s Denver vs. the Patriots, not the Patriots vs. Koppen.”

Despite his experience with Koppen, Wilfork still had to study up on his former teammate, like he did with the rest of Denver’s players.

“Absolutely. That can’t go out the window for just one guy,” Wilfork said. “I still have to do what I’ve been doing, that’s to prepare well.”

Wilfork and McGahee were teammates at the University of Miami, with McGahee coming out in the 2003 draft after tearing ligaments in his left knee in the Fiesta Bowl that year. Wilfork was drafted in 2004.

McGahee came back from the injury after sitting out his rookie year with Buffalo, before being traded to Baltimore in 2007. The Ravens drafted Ray Rice in 2008, and McGahee saw a sharp decline in his opportunities.

But he experienced a revival last year, signing with Denver and rushing for 1,199 yards. In two games against the Patriots, he totaled 24 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s a hard worker. I’ve seen him work, seen him come off a knee injury — how hard he worked to get back and show guys that he can play football,” Wilfork said. “He’s running the ball very, very well. He’s always been in good shape. This guy probably has a body like Tarzan, and he’ll let you know about it, too.”

Love of the game

There was a funny moment during Tom Brady’s press conference last week, which showed again that he still is a football junkie. He was asked why he wants to play football for as long as he can, given all that he has accomplished in his career.

“To play football?” Brady said, chuckling.

After explaining that he still loves coming to work and the mental and physical challenges the seasons bring, and that he loves his teammates, Brady paused for a moment.

“There’s just not that much out there, other than my family,” he said. “I think it’s like the abyss. There’s nothing else. It’s the edge of the cliff.”

Streaking quarterbacks

With one touchdown pass against San Diego on Sunday night, Drew Brees will break Johnny Unitas’s 51-year-old record for consecutive games with a TD throw. But with one touchdown pass against Denver, Brady would extend his own streak to 37 games, which would be third longest of all time. Currently, he is tied with Brett Favre at 36. Brady’s streak began in the 2010 season opener against the Bengals . . . For the third time in five games, a Patriot will face his brother. Chris Gronkowski is a fullback for the Broncos, one of the older brothers of New England’s Rob Gronkowski. In the opener against the Titans, Devin McCourty was opposite twin Jason, and in Baltimore it was rookie Chandler Jones and oldest brother Art, a defensive tackle for the Ravens.

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