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Patriots' Seymour has earned reputation as a prime stopper

FOXBOROUGH -- He stands soft-spoken sentinel at his dressing space just inside the entrance to the Patriots locker room. Big Sey -- Richard Vershaun Seymour to his parents and the IRS -- is wearing a Homeland Defense knitted cap. While it's officially disavowed by the Gillette Stadium pro shop, Tom Ridge's color-coded guardians don't seem to mind.

"Just something to have some fun with," says Seymour, but he and his fellow defenders want to make sure you don't miss their arms-crossed point. No Cowboy, no Dolphin, no Titan, and no Colt comes into the foreboding windswept mansion atop Route 1 and comes out with a victory.

"That's what it's always been," says Seymour, the masonry contractor's son whose star-spangled teammates take on Indianapolis here Sunday afternoon with a Super Bowl trip on the line. "We've gotta protect our house."

Nobody has done a better job of it than this New England bunch, which has won a club-record 10 straight (and 18 of 21) at home, allowed only four touchdowns on the premises during the regular season, and are determined to prevent their first home playoff loss since 1978.

Seymour wasn't born then (he's 24) but he's the biggest man in the building now, a 6-foot-6-inch, 310-pound colossus who is the chief disruptor along the front line of the league's stingiest defense and who's headed to the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row.

"Richard Seymour is playing a total game," attests Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, who's hoping his offensive line can keep Seymour from totaling golden-armed quarterback Peyton Manning. "He's playing against the run, rushing the passer, and playing with a lot of energy. As a coach that appreciates defensive line play, he's fun to watch."

If his listed position is a generic "defensive lineman," it's because Seymour has played all of them during this mix-and-match, plug-in-a-body season, when 20 different players started on defense, seven of them up front.

Depending on the scheme and the injured list, Seymour found himself at end or tackle, inside or outside, his next-door neighbor changing by the week. "When you come in on Wednesday to see where you're going to be playing, you'd get the task," he says.

When the season began, Seymour lined up as left end in a 3-4 defense. When nose tackle Ted Washington went down and linebackers began dropping, Seymour shifted to left tackle in a 4-3 for two games, then moved to right end in a 3-4 for another, then to right tackle for two games in a 4-3. Then it was back to right end in a 3-4 for four games before switching back to right tackle. "That's not easy," says linebacker Ted Johnson. "Taking a guy out of his comfort zone."

Not that Seymour minded. He'd expected to be the roving ambassador up front, so he wasn't hung up on being tethered to a fixed address. "When your number's called, it's time to make plays," he says. "You have to make plays."

Nobody remembers where Seymour started out when kicker Olindo Mare lined up for the field goal that figured to beat the Patriots with two minutes left in regulation in their October meeting in Miami.

All that mattered was that Seymour got his big mitt in between ball and goal post and his colleagues went on to win in overtime and end their 0-13 autumnal tropical hex. "He's a force," says Johnson. "I saw that from Day 1."

Seymour came here three years ago out of Georgia, a No. 1 draft pick (sixth overall) who was viewed as a defensive building block for a team that had lost 11 games, finished fifth in the division, and routinely gave up three touchdowns a game. "They needed a big body," he mused, a few months after his arrival. "I'm it."

Seymour quickly proved he was more than a giant slab of pre-cast concrete. His mission, from the start, was "getting off the ball and causing havoc" from whatever direction he was coming. His goals: a Super Bowl ring and an annual trip to Hawaii to consort with his All-Pro peers.

Who knew that he'd have both checked off the list so quickly? "I couldn't have said that I would be in this position," says Seymour, who's the first Patriot defensive lineman to go to consecutive Pro Bowls since Houston Antwine in 1968.

"I knew I would be a good player, but I wasn't sure how the chips were going to fall," Seymour says. "I've definitely been blessed, for where I am in my career. Two Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl ring, and a chance to go for another. In three years, that's pretty outstanding. A lot of guys don't do that in their whole careers."

Given the longevity of defensive linemen, Seymour could be around for a decade or more. "The sky's the limit for him," says cornerback Ty Law, a fellow Pro Bowler. "Richard hasn't even reached his potential yet. That's the scary part. He's going to be the new breed of defensive lineman. I guarantee you, in two years, he's going to be the standard."

Seymour is already considered a seasoned veteran among a roomful of them, a bunch of whom have been around for a decade or more, and who've named Seymour a defensive captain. "That's an indication of the respect his teammates have for him," observes coach Bill Belichick.

Since the day he arrived, Big Sey has been a fixture on the D-line, starting all but four games that he's been available to play. Which is why his benching for last month's Jacksonville game, after Seymour missed two practice days to attend his grandfather's funeral in South Carolina, gnawed at him like a canker.

"Any time you're a captain, you want to be out there with your team," says Seymour, who was nearly in tears about what Belichick cryptically called a "coaching decision." "That was probably the toughest thing about it. You feel you're ready to go, but the opportunity isn't there. But I've always been a firm believer that coaches coach and players play."

When Seymour got in the game, he played like a dervish, making seven tackles (five solo) and clocking quarterback Byron Leftwich from the blindside to force a fumble.

"Richard's taken it upon himself to take his game to the next level," says linebacker Tedy Bruschi. "Instead of being a good defensive lineman he wants to be one of the best, and that's what he is right now. One of the best."

As the season dwindles and the stakes increase, it's all about elevated effort. The higher you go up the mountain, Seymour likes to say, the more blustery things get. And now, one game from the summit? "It's windy out there," he reports.

By the time Manning and his hyperactive offensive chums get here Sunday, the level will be gale-force and Seymour knows it. "They can put up points in a hurry," he says. "As quick as anybody in the league."

The last time the teams met, inside the RCA Dome in November, Indianapolis put up 24 in less than a quarter. Now, with the Colts coming off big-number victories over Denver and Kansas City and Manning operating not just in a zone but in the ozone with multiple receivers, New England's defense faces its biggest challenge of the season.

"You've got to do something to somebody," says Belichick, who reckons that his troops can't concede 34 points again and still expect to win.

Last time, it was one man making one play -- Willie McGinest dashing in to corral Edgerrin James at the goal at game's end. That's the fierce and random beauty of the New England defense, opponents say. Seymour may be its chief disruptor, "but you can't just zero in on him," says Dungy. "They've got other guys who can get there, which makes it tough."

It's the other guys -- the McGinests and Washingtons, the Bruschis and Vrabels, the Laws and Harrisons -- who've stepped up to make the New England defense the NFL's most parsimonious. But Seymour is the man most likely to breach the wall first, to separate the quarterback's head from his shoulders.

It doesn't matter where he lines up, this Sunday or any other day, or who's on the other side of the ball. "They do what they do and we do what we do," Big Sey says. "The best thing you can do is make plays -- and get off the field."

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