FOXBOROUGH -- Even though Richard Seymour was on the inactive list, he more than went through the motions with his teammates in the Patriots' 21-7 win over San Francisco last Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Seymour, recovering from a left knee injury, was on the sideline but his spirit was on the field.
And though the result would not affect the Patriots' playoff status, Seymour put as much symbolic effort into the victory as possible.
"After the game I went in and took a shower," Seymour said yesterday. "I felt like I was out there playing with the guys."
But Seymour would rather exchange the virtual experience for the real thing. And he expressed optimism about returning for the Patriots' playoff opener Jan. 16.
"I am praying for the best," Seymour said. "My goal is to be out there. I am preparing to play in the game but I will do what my body tells me. If I can, I will be out there."
Seymour was injured when hit by Jets center Kevin Mawae in the third quarter of the Patriots' 23-7 win over New York Dec. 26. Seymour left the game and has not played since.
If Seymour returns for the Patriots' playoff opener, he will have missed three weeks. Seymour planned to work out yesterday and will likely require support for his knee in practice and games.
"Any time you put on a brace, it is going to restrict what you are doing," Seymour said. "It's just common sense. Everyone knows that if you have tape on or whatever the case may be, it restricts you."
Seymour had five sacks this season, his lowest total since 2001, and has only one sack since the fourth quarter of a 24-3 victory over Baltimore Nov. 28. Seymour had a fast start with two sacks and a touchdown off a fumble recovery in the first four games.
"Being consistent is definitely important and it's a big key for me when I self-evaluate," Seymour said. "When I look at technique and the fundamentals of the game, compared to last year I have improved. Production is the name of the game and you can be productive and do what the coaches ask you to do. I am my own worst critic and I am very tough on myself. There is still a lot more for me to do."
The Patriots totaled 45 sacks this season, their highest total since they had 45 in 1997, but far off the team record of 58 set in 1977. The Patriots' defense produced four touchdowns, two by linemen -- Seymour's 68-yard scoring run in a 31-17 win over Buffalo Oct. 3 and Jarvis Green's fumble recovery in the Baltimore end zone. Green replaced Seymour in the starting lineup last week, his only start of the regular season.
"As a group we continue to get better, especially up front," Seymour said of the defense. "After last season we lost [Ted] Washington, and that was a big loss for us. But the two guys who came in [Keith Traylor and Vince Wilfork] did a good job. We have gotten better game in and game out. As a team we have gotten better. You want to get better as the season goes on and you want to be playing your best football in December and January."
Seymour had played in 46 of 47 regular-season games in the last three years before last Sunday. He played in 16 games in 2002 but missed the 2003 visit to Denver with a leg injury.
Seymour is among six Patriots who have been involved in victories in all six playoff games since he joined the team in 2001. The Patriots will meet Indianapolis, the Jets, or San Diego Jan. 16 at 4:30 p.m. The Patriots are 6-1 in home playoff games, losing only to Houston (31-14) in 1978.
"We are preparing for all three opponents," Seymour said. "We know the Jets better than the other teams, but we don't know who we will face so we are getting an overview of all three. It's going to be a tough matchup, whoever we face."