NEWS

Patriots preview: Greybeards may be saving best for last

Douglas Flynn

The Patriots enter the postseason three wins away from the ultimate perfect season.

But for several prominent Pats, a Super Bowl title could also be a perfect ending.

The first 19-0 campaign in NFL history would be a tough act to follow. With a number of Patriots winding down their illustrious careers, at least a few might choose not to try to follow up with an encore next season, preferring instead to walk off the field and into retirement on the highest note of all.

The Pats have eight players who have played 10 more years in the league, led by 18-year veteran linebacker Junior Seau. He came to New England last season in search of the one thing that eluded him through 16 seasons in San Diego and Miami - a ring.

He returned this year after having his first season in New England cut short by a broken arm, the third straight season the 38-year-old ended on injured reserve list.

The string of injuries and his advancing age could be bringing Seau close to the end of his time in the NFL, though he hasn't shown many signs of decline this season.

"I don't want to say he doesn't look his age, but (when) you watch him on the football field, you don't look at him and say, 'Wow, there's an old man. It looks like he's getting ready to retire.' I don't think anybody thinks that," said Coach Bill Belichick. "You just don't see it. You don't see it on the practice field, you don't see it on the game field.

"I think he has as much energy out there as anybody. I wish we had more (guys) who had the same kind of energy he does, to be honest with you, that are half his age or not much more than that."

Seau himself isn't ready to talk about hanging up his cleats, at least not until the Pats finish their title quest this season.

"To celebrate that we're here (in the playoffs) is not why I came back," said the 12-time Pro Bowler. "There is more to this journey than to talk about how appreciative and grateful I am. That will be a story that will happen in weeks to come."

If Seau does close the books on his career after a super finale this season, the guys who have played alongside him would be hard-pressed to see a better teammate get to go out on top.

"I'm just extremely happy for Junior and the opportunity he's gotten here," said safety Rodney Harrison. "He's played so hard and played so well for so many years. Then to come here and continue that and get an opportunity to win and be in the playoffs ... he's so much heart and soul. I'm just so pleased to have him here and be a part of it."

Harrison played with Seau for nine seasons in San Diego before being reunited in New England last year, and he's not ready to see his old friend head off to retirement just yet.

"There's nothing wrong with having a chance," said Harrison. "And that's all Junior wants. He wants a chance to go out there and play football and show what he has. And obviously he has a lot."

"He brings a lot to the table - all the intangibles, leadership, experience, consistency. I'm just elated to see Junior Seau here." The Pats are happy to have all their veterans around, even if it might be the last time for all of them to be together this postseason.

While Seau is searching for his first ring, 15-year vet Troy Brown already owns three. But a knee injury limited him to just one game this year, an appearance in the home finale against Miami that could be his final appearance in a Patriots uniform.

Special teams captain Larry Izzo and linebacker Tedy Bruschi, both 12-year veterans, and even 14-year man Harrison could also be reaching the point where they would consider heading off into the sunset with another Super Bowl win.

If nothing else, the veterans certainly are grateful for the chance to play for another title and understand just how special their run at history this year is.

"No question, I didn't appreciate it the first year I went to the Super Bowl in San Diego in '94," said Harrison. "I tell a lot of these young guys, 'Hey man, you better enjoy it now, because this is not the norm.'

"To come in, to go to the playoffs year in and year out, to go to Super Bowls. You have to appreciate the opportunity that you have because you never know when it's going to come again."