Commentary

A perfect motivator for New England?

Protecting their 2007 undefeated record isn't driving the Patriots

Updated: November 29, 2009, 7:35 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The team that most recently completed an undefeated regular season will face a team six victories away from matching the feat. That alone -- the idea of protecting their historic perfection -- would figure to motivate the Patriots as they prepare for their Monday night clash with the 10-0 Saints.

Then again ...

"We're not worried about records or whatever happened two years ago with our team -- far from it," running back Kevin Faulk said. "We're in here just trying to win a football game."

"You don't play for those reasons," said kicker Stephen Gostkowski. "Whatever happened two years ago happened two years ago. We're just hoping to get a good showing against a good team on the road. There aren't too many motives outside of winning -- a win is a win no matter who it comes against."

Faulk We're not worried about records or whatever happened two years ago with our team -- far from it. We're in here just trying to win a football game.

-- Patriots running back Kevin Faulk

The words were echoing off the walls in the Patriots' locker room.

"We have a game this week against a good team, so we're preparing for them and not worrying about what happened two years ago," center Dan Koppen said.

"I kind of look at that season as a failure," added offensive guard Stephen Neal. "We didn't do what we needed to do, we didn't finish. If another team doesn't lose a game in the regular season, that's great. I could care less."

While not every player on the undefeated 2007 team was polled, those who were operated off the same script. And if they didn't mean it, they were pretty convincing in their delivery.

That includes players who are no longer with the team, or in the NFL.

"I don't even think that is anywhere in the equation; they wouldn't be looking at it from that perspective," said former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, now a refreshingly candid analyst for NBC's "Football Night in America" show. "They're not sitting back and saying 'We went undefeated and we want to knock somebody else off who has a chance to do that.' They just want to go in there and get a win against a team I feel is the best in football."

Part of why Harrison feels that way is the turnover in the locker room. Only 25 players who were on the active roster, injured reserve or practice squad in 2007 are still with the club in 2009.

"A lot of those players from that team are gone -- [Mike] Vrabel, myself, [Tedy] Bruschi, [Richard] Seymour. There are a lot of younger players now playing," he said. "The other part of it is that you are preparing to play the best team in football, so you can't be worrying about preserving your own streak. There are so many other things that you have to concern yourself with, like the X's and O's of how you stop Drew Brees."

The Saints have four players on their roster or injured reserve from that 2007 Patriots team -- cornerback Randall Gay, tight end David Thomas, and fullbacks Heath Evans and Kyle Eckel.

Most of the players from the 2007 team said that the pursuit of perfection wasn't a topic of discussion at this point of the season. Harrison remembers what coach Bill Belichick would tell the team around this time.

"Bill did a wonderful job and used to say things like 'You guys are 10-0, how could you even think about an undefeated season with six weeks to go? We're just over half of the season, so how could you even think about it with so many different factors that could come together in six weeks -- injuries, different situations, weather? Just worry about week to week and going out to get the victory.' Even as we got to 12-0, 13-0, it was just about keeping the momentum going. I think we all figured there would be time to reflect after the season."

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said this week that one of the things he remembers from the 2007 undefeated season is the confidence the Patriots had every time they took the field and "knowing that if we played a good game it was going to be almost impossible for teams to beat us."

But asked if there was a feeling this week of protecting what the Patriots accomplished, he said "not so much."

Perhaps Brady and the others will be saying something different if they win Monday night, but leading up to kickoff, it was a united front.

Simply put, there was no detection of protecting perfection.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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