Commentary

How important is playoff experience?

Half of Patriots' roster has none, but Belichick says 'So what?'

Updated: January 10, 2010, 10:06 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots could host an intrasquad scrimmage with the players on their 53-man roster divided nearly equally between those who boast playoff experience and those who don't.

There would be 27 players with at least one playoff game under their belts on one side of the field and 26 about to experience their first taste of the postseason Sunday against the Ravens on the other.

On the surface, that appears a daunting statistic. The Patriots' playoff teams of recent years have been stocked with veteran, postseason-tested presences.

But don't equate experience with success.

[+] EnlargeVince Wilfork
David Butler II/US Presswire"It's just bringing them on board and letting them know that it's a one-game season now," says Vince Wilfork of the Patriots' players without playoff experience.

The Patriots won their third Super Bowl of the decade in the 2004 season. Since then quarterback Tom Brady has accumulated eight of his 17 career playoff appearances, but it hasn't resulted in another crown.

New England might never have been more experienced than from 2005 to 2007, and they posted a 5-3 postseason record in that span.

"I don't think [experience] matters," coach Bill Belichick said. "In 2001, we didn't have any playoff experience and we were OK. We had playoff experience in other years -- 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 best on Sunday."

The breakdown of playoff experience is a bit misleading, anyway. Of the projected 11 starters on defense, only Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton and Leigh Bodden have never appeared in the postseason.

The other eight starters have combined for 70 playoff appearances, including a handful who are already in double digits like Vince Wilfork (11), Ty Warren (14), Jarvis Green (14), and Tully Banta-Cain (10).

On offense, the only players without playoff experience that figure to see extended roles are rookie Julian Edelman and 10th-year running back Sammy Morris.

"[Experience] is nice to have; we're not going to turn it down, but as far as that goes, it comes down to performance," said linebacker Junior Seau, the 19-year veteran who boasts experience in nine playoff games. "You have to go out there and perform. There's no ifs or buts. There's no gray area; it's just black and white. Either you win or you lose and, obviously, we know what happens to losers."

Echoed defensive back Shawn Springs, who has started all four playoff games he's appeared in: "Honestly, I think you throw [experience] out the window in the playoffs. I think all it comes down to is -- whether you're a young guy or whether you're a guy like Junior, who's been in the league for 20 years -- I think it's just about how you perform on Sunday. You can talk about experience -- and I'm sure it does play a factor -- but for the most part, you've just got to get it done that week."

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If the young players are concerned about their first foray into the playoffs, they don't seem to be seeking out the veterans for guidance. On Wednesday, Tom Brady was asked what advice about the postseason he had dispensed to young players this week.

"Nobody has really asked me at this point," Brady said.

OK, but what if someone did?

"In the experience that I've had, you realize you have to play a really good game of football to win," Brady said. "You can't go out there and play subpar and expect to advance, so that's really what we're focused on: playing a great game."

The veterans on the Patriots' roster are taking a lead-by-example approach.

"I think [the young players] see from the veterans, from the guys who have been around here a while, just how we carry ourselves and the preparation that we put into it," said defensive tackle Wilfork. "It's just bringing them on board and letting them know that it's a one-game season now."

Among the 26 players without playoff experience, 12 are rookies or first-year players. It's a safe bet that most -- if not all -- of the eight inactives for Sunday's game will come from that group without experience. Even so, there are 68 total seasons of NFL experience among the group.

For all the worry that exists outside the Patriots' locker room, there seems to be very little concern inside it. Mayo simply shrugged his shoulders when asked about the postseason and said he's ready for whatever lies ahead.

"I don't really know what to expect," he said. "I just know how to play football, and that's what I'm going to do."

Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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