FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots have prided themselves on a one-game-at-a-time approach, but now that the team is preparing for its regular-season finale, quarterback Tom Brady yesterday allowed himself to look at the big picture.
For seemingly the first time, Brady publicly acknowledged the Patriots' chance to make history with a victory over the Giants Saturday night.
"I think we all realize what a win would mean," Brady said. "Being 16-0 would be a very special achievement, one that no other team has ever achieved. We're finally at that point."
The NFL's last undefeated team was the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who finished the regular season 14-0.
Brady touched on why players were reluctant to talk about an undefeated season in prior weeks.
"It's always one-week seasons," he explained. "We've said it all year that we're just focused on the team we're playing. It's very short-term goals that hopefully at the end of the season you can look back and be very proud of what you accomplished."
Now that the finale is a few days away, Brady was more comfortable looking at the big picture, noting that the season would be looked at differently if the Patriots don't close the deal.
"This has been a very special season," he said. "I'd hate to think that we'd go out there and not put our best out there this week, so we've got to bring energy and excitement. I just hope we're able to finish off the season the way that we really hope."
The Patriots' pursuit of a perfect season has drawn considerable media attention. There were 12 television crews on hand at Gillette Stadium yesterday, but Brady said that if the topic is an undefeated season, it's "a good distraction to have."
Brady enters the game having thrown 48 touchdown passes, one shy of Peyton Manning's record. Yet Brady indicated he was more concerned about a different record.
"We've got a lot of records at stake, the most important one being the 16-0," he said. "I hope we achieve that. It would be a great feat for the team. We'd go down as the only team to be 16-0, so that's the goal I've got in mind."
Private tutorRookie defensive back Brandon Meriweather and ninth-year running back Kevin Faulk play on opposite sides of the ball, and are at different points of their careers, but that hasn't stopped them from uniting on the field.
After dropping a potential interception last Sunday against the Dolphins, Meriweather said he planned to spend time catching passes after practices with Faulk - who is known for his receiving abilities.
Meriweather, whose playing time has increased in recent weeks when the Patriots employ six-defensive-back packages, has had three potential interceptions bounce off his hands this season. He said he's heard ribbing from players and coaches, but takes it in stride.
"I'm happy to be out there," he said. "I came in and had a lot to learn, and waited patiently. Thanks to the coaching staff, now I'm playing a bit."
Coach Bill Belichick noted Meriweather has "improved through the course of the year."
"There's still a lot of things he needs to work on, but I think he gives us good depth at the position," he said.
Eckel achingThe Patriots did not submit an injury report yesterday because they didn't hold a regular practice, but it is expected that running back Kyle Eckel (ribs) will be on the injury list today.
While covering a kickoff in the second quarter of last Sunday's game, Eckel took a helmet to his chest and did not return. He walked through the locker room yesterday but declined to discuss his status. Eckel was not spotted at the team's walkthrough.
If the Patriots are forced to play without Eckel this week, it would leave just three healthy running backs on the roster - Faulk, Laurence Maroney, and Heath Evans. Eckel was being integrated into the team's goal-line package last week, and had emerged as a core player on special teams.
Not tellingIn a conference call with New England media, Giants coach Tom Coughlin didn't reveal his intentions as to how he would utilize his personnel Saturday, instead noting that the team's approach leading up to the game would be the same as it has been all season. The Giants cannot improve their No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs, and some have speculated Coughlin might limit the work of players such as receiver Plaxico Burress, who has been slowed by an ankle injury.
"I've been asked a million times about these kind of questions," Coughlin said. "Quite frankly, they don't sit well with me. I don't think that way."
But just in case Coughlin was seeking advice, Brady made himself available for consultation when it came to defensive ends Osi Umenyiora (13 sacks) and Michael Strahan (nine sacks).
"I'd rest them, definitely wouldn't play those two," Brady said with a smile. "I'm lobbying for that. Cough Coughlin, if you're listening, definitely rest those guys."
See you next yearEntering this season, as part of the NFL's predetermined scheduling formula, the Patriots knew 11 of the 13 opponents they would face in 2008. The only holes to be filled were a road game against the AFC South team that finished in the same spot in the standings, and a home game against an AFC North team that finished in the same spot in the standings.
The opponents are now finalized, as the Steelers locked up first place in the AFC North last week.
So, the Patriots will have home games against the Bills, Broncos, Cardinals, Chiefs, Dolphins, Jets, Rams, and Steelers. The road games will be against the Bills, Chargers, Colts, Dolphins, 49ers, Jets, Raiders, and Seahawks.
Here comes SantaBelichick is on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated in a Santa Claus suit.
"Just when you thought you've seen it all, something new comes along," he chuckled. "It's a pretty funny and strange use of technology. I doubt there are many kids out there dreaming about their pictures on magazine covers quite like that, but I'll take it as a compliment that someone decided to turn me into Santa Claus."
Tough stuffIn his 12th NFL season and eighth under Belichick, linebacker Tedy Bruschi told New York media that Belichick has coached the team "harder this year than he has ever done in previous years." Bruschi also said he felt it was Belichick's best coaching job, in part "because of all the distractions that he has had."
"And with every distraction that he has had, he has come through it stronger," Bruschi added. "He has coached us harder and I think that is him saying, 'I can only worry about one thing, and that is how I prepare this team.' He is not worrying about outside factors and he has done a great job of that this year and he has continued to take that maybe as motivation to just continue to be the best coach that he possibly can be and prepare his team as hard as we can work."