FOXBOROUGH -- Don't count on Rosevelt Colvin forgetting about the horrific broken and dislocated left hip that nearly permanently derailed his NFL career two seasons ago.
It's an unrealistic expectation when the remnants of the grisly injury and subsequent surgery include a metal plate and four screws strategically implanted inside his body.
''The plate looks like a piece of metal you'd buy at Ace Hardware or
Aside from accumulating scrap metal in his hip, Colvin quickly recognized the mental baggage from his misfortune might have been even more cumbersome. It's sobering to sit out most of an NFL season, as Colvin did in 2003, wondering all the while if you are done. It's more sobering still to return, as Colvin did last season, and wonder if your best days of football are behind you at the age of 27.
He was used to being the kind of player who made the difference. In back-to-back seasons with the Chicago Bears, in 2001 and 2002, he submitted 10 1/2 sacks each time. He was an explosive, aggressive, intimidating linebacker when he arrived in New England as a free agent.
He was rarely any of those things wearing a Patriots uniform last season.
''We all knew what the situation was," Colvin said, ''but I was the person who had to wake up every day and roll out of bed and pray that by the time practice came around, I would feel better."
Some days he did feel better; others he didn't. He experienced stiffness, a dogged decrease in mobility. The Patriots, on their way to the Super Bowl, simply did not have time to ease Colvin into their nucleus. He played, but he was not a major contributor. At any time, his body -- his hip -- would betray him without notice.
''I look at the film from last year and I cringe," Colvin said yesterday, ''because I don't know what kind of results I'll have, whether it's going to be a good play or a bad play."
Obviously, the team results of 2005 pale in comparison to the championship defense of last season. The Patriots' defensive struggles, particularly in the secondary, have been well documented. In the midst of the grim reality of what injuries can do to decimate a once-impenetrable lineup, the reemergence of Colvin has been one of the true bright spots in an otherwise disconcerting season.
Last Sunday against the Jets, when Colvin burst through the line and flattened Jets quarterback Brooks Bollinger before he even had a chance to take a name or number, he looked like the old Rosey. He appears quicker, stronger, and infinitely more confident. He'll tell you part of that is because he is playing more. Then again, he's playing more because he has reacquainted himself with his agility, his instincts, and sure, his swagger.
''My wife and I talked about it a lot," Colvin said. ''I talked with [teammate] Don Davis about it, too. This year, for me, was a little bit about respect.
''I had made a name for myself in this league, and then I became a free agent, and I signed a big contract. When that happens, most times things are generally handed to you. You don't have to worry about playing time because they give it to you.
''The injury humbled me. It brought me back to square one. Last year, when I came back, I still had fatigue. I was fighting my way back and, when you think about it, really learning [the Patriots'] defense for the first time.
''I don't think I had the respect of people around me. I sensed [opponents] saying, 'Is this the same guy? Let's pick on him.'
''This season I wanted to prove that I was who I was before. I want to be a dominant player again."
You wonder if Tedy Bruschi is experiencing this same phenomenon. He survived a stroke, stunned the football world with his gritty comeback, and has now settled into a season that started at breakneck speed without him months earlier. It is folly to expect vintage Bruschi at this juncture, just as it was folly, in retrospect, to think Colvin would step in last season and resume his assault on the league's quarterbacks.
His teammates were supportive, but some of them barely knew him. He had made his mark with the Bears, not here. Rings? He had one, but he hadn't been healthy enough to truly earn it. When Colvin says he had something to prove this season, that includes making a statement to the guys in his own locker room.
''Any time you've got a guy coming back from an injury there is an area of unknown, or doubt," Colvin said. ''It's understandable. As much as they might be rooting for you on a personal level, when it gets time to go on the field, they need you to perform.
''If a guy goes out and is unable to set the edge, or gets fatigued, or shows a little lack of discipline, or whatever, you don't really want to play with that guy. Now he might be trying his hardest. It might not be because he doesn't want to do it right, it just might be that maybe he can't.
''I just tried to fight through all of that last season. It was frustrating for me personally. On one level, I wanted to be out there, but I wasn't always sure I deserved to be out there."
Only now that he leads the team in sacks (4 1/2) and is fourth on the team in tackles (48) can Colvin acknowledge how difficult it was last season. Only now can he look back and recognize how far he has truly come.
''Last year I was in for the plays I was in," he said. ''I had to live with that. But this season, with an opportunity to play a little more, it has changed.
''I feel so much better. I don't have to worry about warming up for such a long time. I don't have to stress over a cold practice. I don't have the aches."
He will never forget the misery of 2003. He draws from it regularly. The screws and the metal plate will remain with him for the rest of his playing days.
The mental baggage, though, is getting the boot.
Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.