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Feels like the first time

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  January 5, 2010 09:23 PM

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Brady trophy.jpg

One Patriot recently had some T-shirts made and passed them around the locker room. “Just a little something that was done up by someone,” Fred Taylor said. (He wouldn’t say who.) The shirts have a message printed on: “Each One, Teach One. Teamwork Is Contagious.”

The idea is that older players should counsel younger players, and those young players should impart the lesson on other young players, and on and on, until the locker room becomes a giant cauldron of learning about how to play the game.

“We have to put that into work this week,” Taylor said. “Grab a young guy.”

Indeed, this week might be the most important time to heed that message on the T-shirts. The Patriots are the postseason standard in the NFL, having played in and won more playoff games in the 2000s than any other franchise. This season though, by their standards, they are playoff neophytes.

In 2007-08, the last time they were in, the Patriots who played in the postseason carried with them 275 combined games of playoff experience into the tournament. Of the 47 who played that year, only seven had never experienced a playoff game. Of those seven, none were especially significant. They were:

Kyle Eckel
Ryan O’Callaghan
Mel Mitchell
Kelly Washington
Ray Ventrone
Stephen Spach
LeKevin Smith

This year’s Patriots have a combined 235 playoff games worth of experience, and they are loaded with players who are about appear in a playoff game for the first time. I counted 23 players who might play Sunday that have never been on a playoff field. Surely, some of those players will either be inactive or not get off the sidelines. But some of them are crucial components. They are:

Rob Ninkovich
Brandon McGowan
Sam Aiken
Kyle Arrington
Leigh Bodden
Ron Brace
Darius Butler
Patrick Chung
Dan Connolly
Julian Edelman
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Gary Guyton
Brian Hoyer
Jake Ingram
Mark LeVoir
Jerod Mayo
Sammy Morris*
Myron Pryor
Matthew Slater
Isaiah Stanback
Sebastian Vollmer
Jonathan Wilhite
Terrence Wheatley

*Kind of incredibly, Morris has played 124 regular season games without one playoff game. He was with the Patriots in 2007, but injured for the postseason.

In that group, you’ve got two starting linebackers, a kick returner, a long snapper, a starting cornerback, a starting wide receiver, a special teams captain, a primary running back, and most likely a starting right tackle.

That is offset by the experience of player warhorses like Tom Brady, Kevin Faulk, Matt Light, Jarvis Green, and Ty Warren, all of whom have played at least 14 playoff games. But if you hear football announcers bleat this about what great experience the Patriots have, they are only talking about half the team.

Question is, does it matter? Coach Bill Belichick, for one, said no.

“No, I don’t think it matters,” he said. “In 2001, we didn’t have any playoff experience and we were OK. We had playoff experiences in other years – in 2005 and 2006, that was probably as much playoff experience as any team in the league. I think what it comes down to is which team plays the best on Sunday.”

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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