NEW ORLEANS Bill Belichick didn’t really want to discuss the subject and Tom Brady wasn’t available, but the quarterback’s sprained left ankle was topic A when the New England Patriots met the media yesterday for the first time before Sunday’s Super Bowl XXXVI.
“I’m sure that a lot of you want more information than I’m able to give you right now,” said the typically taciturn Belichick, who plans to announce after tomorrow’s practice whether Brady or Drew Bledsoe will start against the NFC champion St. Louis Rams. “There are a number of things involved with that. It’s not even 24 hours after the game.”
Belichick wouldn’t comment on the status of Brady’s ankle other than to say he didn’t think the quarterback had undergone an MRI. Brady, who had played every snap since relieving injured ninth-year starter Bledsoe in the Week 2 loss to the New York Jets, was hurt when tackled by Pittsburgh safety Lee Flowers with 1:40 left in the first half of Sunday’s 24-17 upset of the host Steelers at Heinz Field.
The Patriots went 11-3 in the regular season with Brady at the helm and won the AFC East. If Brady replacing Bledsoe was the Patriots’ first major turning point, Belichick said that their 17-16 victory in the Nov. 18 rematch with the Jets was the other one.
“The Jets were leading the AFC East and to come back from a 13-point deficit and beat them in New York, that kept us in the race,” Belichick said. “That’s probably the point where we saw the opportunity [to make the playoffs] start to materialize.”
While the favored Steelers had announced their travel plans for New Orleans before Sunday, the Patriots weren’t thinking about being here.
“We’re still flying high,” Belichick said. “We haven’t done anything at all in terms of preparation for the Super Bowl with the players or even as a coaching staff. Our focus was totally on the AFC Championship game so we’ve really been scrambling.”
And without the usual week off between the championship games and the Super Bowl, Belichick’s assistants remained behind in Foxboro to work on the game plan and won’t arrive in New Orleans until today. The scenario reminded Belichick of 1990 when he was the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants, who won the NFC Championship game in San Francisco and then flew to Tampa for the Super Bowl against Buffalo. The Giants had lost to the Bills 17-13 in Week 14, but that would be their last loss. New York won the Super Bowl 20-19. That bodes well for the Patriots, who lost to the Rams 24-17 on Nov. 18 to fall to 5-5. They’re 8-0 since.
But that’s not why New England Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Milloy was rooting for St. Louis to beat Philadelphia in the NFC Championship.
“It’s definitely an advantage than if we had to play Philadelphia because this is a team that we’re very familiar with,” Milloy said. “We lost to them, but it was a definite confidence-builder for us. We hung in there with ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.’ As far as the evolution of this team, that was a [performance] that we needed to have. We went into the locker room [after the loss] and nobody had his head down. We knew we had a good team.”
Eight Patriots are back from the New England team that lost Super Bowl XXXI here to Green Bay 35-21 five years ago.
“Last time, we were more or less happy to be here,” Milloy said. “I didn’t realize what I had just lost. How can you when you’re a rookie? But when you decline each year after that, it’s a very humbling experience and you wonder if you’re going to get a shot again. We have enough guys left over from the last time. This one is going to be more business-like.”
Added middle linebacker Tedy Bruschi, also a rookie in 1996, “We’re not awestruck. It’s nice to be familiar with your surroundings and a little bit ironic. The bus routes, the police escorts and Bourbon Street is the same as it was.”
The other Patriots still on hand from 1996 are Bledsoe, Pro Bowl receiver Troy Brown, cornerback Ty Law, kicker Adam Vinatieri and backup linebackers Willie McGinest and Ted Johnson. Belichick (then the defensive coordinator), offensive coordinator Charlie Weis (then the receivers coach), defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel (then the defensive line coach) and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia (then the linebackers coach) were all with New England as well.