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Worn turf makes Gillette Stadium a dust bowl

The horrible condition of the Gillette Stadium playing surface is evident beneath the feet of the players.
The horrible condition of the Gillette Stadium playing surface is evident beneath the feet of the players. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots have posted a 32-7 record at Gillette Stadium since the facility opened in 2002, but don't call it a home-field advantage.

Home-sand advantage might be more like it.

While coach Bill Belichick might be pleased with the results, he said yesterday that no one is happy about the current condition of the playing field. The area between the hash marks is worn from goal line to goal line, conditions that have led to missed field goals in the last two games at Foxborough -- one by Patriots rookie Stephen Gostkowski against the Broncos Sept. 24 and one by Miami's Olindo Mare Sunday.

``The field is in terrible condition," Belichick said yesterday. ``I don't think anybody in this organization is happy about it, or thinks it's in good condition. Everybody in this organization would like to see that field in better condition than what it's in. Everybody."

Belichick's remarks might be considered surprising by those who perhaps believed the coach was in favor of having a chewed-up field. He said that wasn't the case, that he doesn't believe the Patriots earn any advantage because of the poor field.

``I think we play better on a better surface," Belichick said.

Several Patriots players echoed his thoughts.

``Would you rather have grass or dirt?" said running back Heath Evans. ``It's not good for us, it's not good for anybody else. No one is happy with it, but both teams have to play on it.

``What to do about it, who knows? The coaches, us, the opponents -- no one is happy about it. That's all we're supposed to say. That's the truth, too. You deal with the conditions that you're dealt with."

The field conditions were noted by a few Miami players after the Patriots' 20-10 victory Sunday.

Mare had a 40-yard field goal attempt blocked in the first quarter when his plant foot slipped, and he changed his cleats after the attempt. In the third quarter, punter Donnie Jones couldn't handle a snap and was tackled on a fourth-down play that negated a potentially significant field-position shift. Jones said the ball was slick because it was covered with dirt. Long snapper John Denney said the ball was covered with a fine powder that he dusted off on each snap.

Each year, players are polled by the NFL Players Association on the best and worst playing surfaces in the league. In 2004, for example, the artificial turf in Indianapolis's RCA Dome was voted the worst playing surface (Gillette Stadium was 21st).

The Colts put in a new synthetic surface prior to the 2005 season, and that is one possibility for Gillette Stadium in the future. Giants Stadium and Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium are two facilities in the Northeast to make the switch in recent years.

The Krafts have always preferred natural grass. They overhauled Foxboro Stadium's old artificial turf for grass in the 1990s, and when Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, a grass surface was installed with a special drainage and heating system designed to extend the life of the grass.

Gillette Stadium is also a multipurpose venue. The New England Revolution play home soccer games at the field, and the stadium regularly hosts concerts. Starting today, filming for the movie ``The Game Plan" will begin at the stadium, with parts of it taking place on the field.

If changes are to be made with the field this year, this would seemingly be the time to do it, as the Patriots don't have another home date until Nov. 5. The Revolution have one remaining regular-season home game, on Saturday, plus playoff action. The changes would also have to be done around filming of ``The Game Plan," which is scheduled through Nov. 1.

Belichick was asked if a synthetic grass surface was a consideration.

``I don't know," he said. ``We'll see what the options are and see what we can do. It's October. It's not like it's peak growing season here in New England.

``All that being said, Jon Bengtson, who does our field, I think does a tremendous job. He works hard. Our practice fields, we go out there and practice on those fields twice a day in training camp. He's done a tremendous job with them and they've held up great.

``We'll see what we can do. I don't want to speculate on whether to put weed killer on it or we're not going to put weed killer on it. I don't know."

Back in the locker room, players spoke about how it was tough to keep their footing on the field, but that both teams had to deal with the same challenge.

``It's kind of like going to the beach," Evans said. ``I don't know who has the advantage."

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