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Best in their field

Patriots feel secure on chewed-up turf

The playing surface at Gillette Stadium is a state-of-the-art mess. It's chewed up right down the middle, precisely the way the Patriots prefer it.

 

Home-field advantage.

"We know what it's like to play on that field, you understand?" said Patriots running back Antowain Smith. "We know what it's like. Teams that come in here, they don't know what it's like."

With the next game at Gillette not until at least Jan. 10, there is plenty of time to do repairs, especially if the league orders new sod so the field will look presentable on TV. But the Patriots probably would just as soon do a little cosmetic landscaping and take their chances. The only player the field might be affecting is kicker Adam Vinatieri, who hasn't been able to get the best of footing.

Both holders were seen patting down a spot on the field before their kickers attempted field goals in Saturday's 31-0 New England victory. Buffalo's Rian Lindell missed from 40 yards, and Vinatieri misfired from 24 before nailing one from the same distance in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots are 8-0 on the their home field, and from the outset it hasn't been in great shape. Early in the season, concerts and professional soccer caused some problems. Now the snow and rain have made it a mess.

"Well whatever it is, it is," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "My job is to coach the team and get the team prepared to play and that is really where my focus is. Doing the fields isn't my strength. I think we all know at this point in the season in New England there is going to be a lot less growing than there is at other points in the year, and the field has had a lot of wear and tear. It is what it is."

Asked whether he could turn to owner Robert Kraft and ask why the field hasn't been re-sodded, Belichick answered, "That is not really what it is about. It is our home field. We are comfortable playing on it. The fans have been great. The atmosphere in our games has been good. Whatever we play on, we will show up and play on it. That is our attitude. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about it."

Translation: "Why on earth would I ask my boss to take away an advantage like that?"

This is like Red Auerbach turning off the hot water in the showers of the Celtics' opposition after games. It's like the opposing team coming to the old Boston Garden and not knowing where the dead spots were on the parquet floor.

The field helps slow down the Patriots' faster opponents, and New England's speedier players have adjusted to it.

The area the field might help quite a bit is the running game. Smith, who gained 74 yards on 15 carries against the Bills after churning out 121 yards against the Jets at the Meadowlands the week before, knows how to run on this stuff. His game isn't based on speed or quick turns, it's based on power and churning out yardage. And when he's able to make a move on a defender, it's tough for the defender to follow him.

"We're heading toward the playoffs now and we're going to be relying on the running game more at this time of the year," said Smith. "It's up to Kevin [Faulk] and myself to get the job done. It doesn't matter what's happened to this point, it's what we do from here on out. We were able to accomplish a lot of our goals by winning [Saturday] and getting home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That's important because we know how to play on our field."

Smith's future with the team is uncertain for next season because he has a $2 million bonus, payable in March. His agent, Kennard McGuire, believes the bonus issue will be resolved through negotiation and that Smith has a great chance of being a Patriot next season. Smith is one of the holdovers from the 2001 team that won the Super Bowl. He's often asked to compare that team and this team. "The Super Bowl team won 11 games in the regular season and this one won 14," he said. "This one was better in the regular season. But that team won the Super Bowl. If we don't win the Super Bowl, we're not any better than that team."

But the 14 wins "shows we're doing something right," he said. "We'll spend a couple of days enjoying this, but then we've got to get back and begin to focus on the job at hand, getting ready for the playoffs. Everybody's got to do what they do best to help the team. Kevin and I have to run the ball well, because we need to help Tom Brady. You need a running game to help your passing game."

Having the home field played a big role in the Super Bowl season.

The Patriots got to play their first playoff game at Foxboro Stadium, the final game ever played there, in the middle of a snowstorm. Kraft ordered the tarp taken off the field a little sooner than he had to, allowing snow to accumulate in the belief his team would have an advantage over the Oakland Raiders. He was proven correct.

The Patriots had to go on the road to beat Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game, the one in which they lost Brady and Drew Bledsoe stepped in. This season, teams will have to come to Gillette Stadium, and possibly play on either a snow-covered field, or a field of slop. If that's the case, the Patriots wouldn't mind a bit.

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Last game / Dec. 27 vs. Bills
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afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 14 2 0 .875 348 238
Dolphins 10 6 0 .625 311 261
Bills 6 10 0 .400 243 279
Jets 6 10 0 .375 283 299
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