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It was nothing to kick about

Stingy defense is Patriots' plus

FOXBOROUGH -- There are three superb seasons under his belt, a couple of Pro Bowl berths speak volumes about his talent, and there's the matter of two Super Bowl rings. So when Richard Seymour tells you he's figured something out about this NFL business, you'd best listen.

Like his view of the Patriots' 30-20 defeat of the Seattle Seahawks Sunday? Seymour said it was simple: "We held them to field goals and field goals don't get it done in this league."

Battered and bruised, the Seahawks were in a foul [not fowl] mood when they flew coast-to-coast late Sunday, knowing full well that Seymour had spoken the truth. Seattle had gotten four field goals from Josh Brown, but while each successful kick represented 3 points to the visitors, to the home club they translated into something more priceless.

"Any time [the opposition] gets down in the red area [inside the 20] and you can keep them out of the end zone, you've got to feel good about it," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, whose club has now won 17 consecutive regular-season games and 20 overall. "Any time you do that, you feel like you've won that situation."

For the Patriots' defense Sunday, there were five such red zone visits and only once did the Seahawks score a touchdown. The key to the victory? No doubt. But it hardly should have rated a surprise, because when the weekly NFL statistics were released yesterday, the Patriots showed up as the AFC's best defense in the red zone and second best in the NFL. In five games, the opposition has made 22 journeys inside the 20, but on only six occasions (27.3 percent) have the Patriots allowed a touchdown.

Now a bunch of guys who have put their hands on the Vince Lombardi Trophy twice in the last three years aren't going to stand up and take a bow for such a statistical entry as red zone superiority, but they will tell you that it indicates something about their mental approach to the game. Playing defense with their backs against the wall is an acquired mind-set and these Patriots have got it figured out.

"We don't care when it is, what the situation is," said linebacker Tedy Bruschi.

Look no further than the game's final play, a first-and-goal situation at the 1. While the game was all but official (New England led, 30-20), Seattle quickly discovered that the Patriots weren't about to exhale for one tick of the clock, so when running back Mack Strong tried to bull his way forward, he was shoved back for one last dose of rude treatement by the hosts.

At which time the game was over and the Seahawks were left to comprehend what Seymour already understood.

"Those guys play defense," said Seattle wide receiver Darrell Jackson. "They stopped us down there and only held us to field goals and that was the difference in the ballgame."

Of course, the sight of Strong being pushed back on that play was a familiar one for Patriots fans, many of whom will remember forever an integral moment to the 2003-04 Super Bowl season. It came at Indianapolis last Nov. 30, Willie McGinest stopping Edgerrin James at the 1-yard line as time expired to secure a 38-34 victory.

Had James scored, the Colts would have had home-field advantage for the AFC title game and there might never have been a Super Bowl trip for New England. But the Patriots' red zone defense was equal to that task, just as it has been more times than not under the tutelage of Belichick.

Just don't ask the coach to reveal the intricacies to it all, because like so many aspects to his job, Belichick makes defense in the red zone sound so simple.

"No. 1, you can't let them run the ball in," said Belichick. "If you can't stop the run in the red zone, then you're not going to have any red zone defense. If you can force a team to pass, then you have less space on the field and you use it to the best of your advantage."

The Patriots would be the first to concede that they had help in their red zone defense -- in the form of a bumbling Seahawks offense, that is. Midway through the fourth quarter, for example, when Seattle had it first and 10 at the New England 13, only to go in reverse to the 25 thanks to a 2-yard loss on a running play, then a 10-yard intentional grounding call against quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Instead of a possible touchdown to go ahead, Seattle settled for Brown's fourth field goal, cutting the deficit to 23-20, which is as close as the Seahawks would get.

There is the flip side to all of this, however, and at that end of the puzzle the Patriots are performing quite well, too. Sunday, they scored touchdowns on three of four trips inside the Seattle red zone and offensively they rank fifth in the AFC, at a 63.2 clip.

The secret on offense? "I really think it comes down to execution," said Belichick. "Speed actually in that area of the field is limited. Some of the best red area players aren't the fastest players, because their speed is neutralized. You're only dealing with a 10-, 15-yard area."

But being the perfectionist that he is, Belichick is hardly flashing ear-to-ear grins over his team's No. 1 ranking in AFC red zone defense. After all, they have faced 22 such situations already, the most in the conference and second most in the NFL.

"We need to do a better job," said Belichick, referring to his team's overall defense, which was chewed up for 443 total yards by Seattle, 341 through the air. "They were [in the red zone] more than we'd like, that's for sure." 

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