“There aren’t that many people who played in the last game four years ago,” Belichick said last week. “This team is this team. . . . This game, the elements of it, are what we have in front of us, not what happened two months ago or what happened two years ago or four years ago.”
Only eight Patriots players remain from the 2008 Super Bowl, when the Giants wrecked New England’s perfect season. That modest total includes center Dan Koppen, who is on the injured reserve list. The Giants still have 15 players who played in that game.
But as one of them, running back Brandon Jacobs, said: “That’s gone. This is a new year.”
Making tough decisions
Only two of Brady’s teammates, left tackle Matt Light and running back Kevin Faulk, have joined him for all five Super Bowl appearances in this dynastic run. Belichick has been willing to make the difficult, unsentimental decisions necessary in the salary cap era, and he has remade and reinvented the Patriots over and over again.
Four of the Patriots’ holdovers start on offense: Brady, wide receiver Wes Welker and the left side of their offensive line, Light and guard Logan Mankins. Wideout Randy Moss, a dominant receiver in the 2007 season, is gone, and the Patriots have reshaped their offense to emphasize the talents of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who arrived together in the 2010 draft. On defense, the only starter remaining from the Super Bowl four years ago is defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.
Belichick is known as a defensive guru. Yet this Super Bowl title, if the Patriots capture it, would be built around Brady’s passing. New England’s defense ranked 31st in the league during the regular season.
Belichick likes to stockpile draft choices, and the Patriots guess right on many of the picks they use. They famously selected Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. He is among the 24 players on the current 53-man active roster originally drafted by the Patriots. But New England also has experienced draft-day misses, for which the organization compensates by finding under-appreciated talent and getting the most out of the group it assembles. Of the 53 players on the roster, 18 originally entered the league as undrafted rookies.
Welker, who ranked second in the NFL in receiving yards this season, arrived via trade with the Miami Dolphins after he was waived by his original NFL team, the San Diego Chargers, and revived his career in Miami.