Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Super Bowl XLII: New England Patriots

DID YOU KNOW?

The Patriots and Giants have finished the preseason and regular season against each other, and will now finish the postseason together. The Patriots beat the Giants 27-20 in the preseason finale Aug. 30 at Gillette Stadium and 38-35 in the regular-season finale Dec. 30 at Giants Stadium.

CITY OF TRI-UMPH?

For a city with an inveterate inferiority complex, Boston has been feeling awfully superior lately. The Red Sox just won a second World Series in four years after an 86-season drought. The Patriots, already winners of three Super Bowls this decade, are storming into Sunday's game on an unprecedented 18-0 rampage. And the Celtics, only months after being accused of trying to finish with the NBA's worst record, have the league's top mark at 34-8.

No city has ever fielded a threesome in the most popular national team sports as dominant as the current Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics. The closest – fittingly – was New York from 1969 through 1970, when the Jets won Super Bowl III, the Mets won the 1969 World Series and the Knicks won the 1970 basketball title.

But New York had multiple baseball and football teams, which Boston does not. That inspired Carl Morris, a statistics professor across the Charles River at Harvard, to calculate the chances of a monofranchised city having the three best teams in one year: about 1 in 29,000.

“I'm not sure if people here realize how unlikely this thing really is,” Morris said. “No city is ever going to see anything like this again.”

MEET A PATRIOT

Mike Vrabel, a 6-foot-4, 261-pound linebacker, was one of the free-agent signings that helped the Patriots to their first of three Super Bowl rings this decade back in 2001. He has been on both of the franchise's Super Bowl-winning teams since.

Vrabel, 32, moved from inside to outside linebacker in 2007 and had one of his best seasons. He tied a career high with four forced fumbles and was named to his first Pro Bowl. He frequently lines up as an eligible receiver in goal-line situations and is more than a decoy. He has caught eight career passes, all for touchdowns.

The pre-med major at Ohio State, now considered one of the league's more physical players, is interested in coaching after his playing career.

STAT OF THE DAY

The Patriots' 4.1-yard rushing average this season was their highest since 1985. They have averaged 4.9 yards in their two playoff games.

DAILY INJURY REPORT

Tom Brady participated in his first practice since injuring his ankle in the AFC Championship Game, though to what extent was not revealed. He did have his right ankle heavily wrapped.

Patriots will have to wait until start of free agency to re-sign Moss

The chances seem good that Randy Moss will re-sign with the New England Patriots for 2008, and probably beyond that, and perhaps even finish his NFL tenure with the franchise that this season helped resurrect his slumping career.

In fact, Moss said as much here Tuesday during the Media Day session for Super Bowl XLII.

"I would love to finish my career [in New England], just for the fact of they have everything you want in a football organization," Moss said. "They handle things from the top, all the way to the bottom, and they do a good job of that."

But short of designating their star wide receiver as a franchise player, the Pats cannot preclude Moss from at least testing the unrestricted free agent market on Feb. 29, if he so desires.

As part of the April 29 trade that brought Moss to New England, the club adjusted the existing contract that he had with the Oakland Raiders, which had two seasons remaining on it. Scheduled to earn a base salary of $9.75 million in 2007 under that deal, Moss signed a one-year contract with the Patriots which included a signing bonus of $500,000 and a $2.5 million base salary.

He also earned performance and Pro Bowl bonuses totaling an additional $2 million.

But a technicality in the collective bargaining agreement, NFL and team officials confirmed on Tuesday, prohibits the Patriots from again adjusting Moss' contract before the start of free agency this spring. There were reports during the season that the Patriots had presented Moss and his representatives with a contract extension proposal late in the year, but that was not the case, since the club could not do so.

So unless New England uses the franchise tag to limit Moss' mobility, a move that can be made Feb. 7-21, he will be available as an unrestricted free agent and able to solicit offers from other teams.

The tender level for a franchise-designated wide receiver for 2008 has been set at $7.848 million.

New England is not opposed, recent history demonstrates, to employing the franchise marker to retain a player's rights, and the team did so last spring with cornerback Asante Samuel. But the Pats also experienced the downside of using the franchise designation, and the acrimony that often accompanies such a move, with Samuel.

The standout cornerback sat out all of the offseason activities and training camp before signing a one-year qualifying offer of $7.79 million just 12 days before the start of the regular season.

It's not known how Moss would react to the franchise tag. But coming off a career season, one in which he broke Jerry Rice's single-season record for touchdown receptions, he reiterated on Tuesday how much it has meant to him to play for a franchise that emphasizes common goals.

"The team concept is not just on the field, it's inside the locker room," Moss said. "For me to be able to say that I would love to become a New England Patriot and finish my career here... that is something that I can really believe in."