© St. Petersburg Times, published September 8, 2002
It's supposed to be a new season. Things supposedly have changed. Maybe they have, but the Patriots wouldn't know.
The Patriots were constantly underestimated last season, up until they won the Super Bowl. A season later, not much has changed.
The Patriots return 20 of 22 starters, yet few people are giving them much of a chance to repeat. Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Miami and Tampa Bay are getting most of the attention.
"We let our play do the talking. And what do we need to say?" quarterback Tom Brady said. "We got Super Bowl rings, and I don't think we need to talk a whole lot. Some guys say they don't know what they're going to get from us, but they know. They know what they're going to get, and we know what we're going to get. They're going to get our best shot."
The Pats open at home Monday night, but are not favored against the Steelers, though they beat them 24-17 in Pittsburgh in last season's AFC Championship Game. Steelers fans said in the offseason they should have won that game, that they were the better team.
The Pats, meanwhile, have ignored the slights and gone about business as usual, determined to prove everyone wrong -- again -- starting with the rematch against the Steelers.
"We've been looking forward to this ever since the schedule came out," Brady said. "There's a little added meaning from the talk that goes on between the locker rooms. This is as big as it gets. Monday night football with the defending Super Bowl champs facing the team we beat in the AFC Championship Game. There was bad blood there last year, and I'm sure there's bad blood this year."
TRIVIA QUESTION: Who is the only 49ers quarterback to throw 30 or more touchdowns in consecutive seasons?
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Redskins coach Steve Spurrier, again answering questions about the effectiveness of the Fun 'n' Gun offense he brought from the Florida Gators that set scoring records this preseason.
"We haven't proved anything yet. Practice games are practice games. We've got confidence that we can play, (but) we're going to find out if we can or not (in the regular season)."
NO BUS STOP HERE: Monday's Pats-Steelers game has people recalling how Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, 30, was a nonfactor in Pittsburgh's AFC championship loss, which has prompted some to wonder how many miles are left on "the Bus."
"I think the man gets the short stick sometimes," tackle Wayne Gandy said. "After 11 games, the man was leading the league in rushing. Then he got hurt. All you saw was one game and all of a sudden he's a bum? How did he become a bum that quick?
"Before last season, it was 'Jerome's washed up.' What did he do? The season before that, 'Jerome's washed up.' So what did he do? The year before that, 'Jerome's washed up.' How many times is this man going to be washed up before people understand he's one of your top backs?"
WHY ALL THE HATE?: Expect Barry Sanders fans to try to rain on Emmitt Smith's parade as the Cowboys star closes in on Walter Payton's all-time rushing record. Sanders' father has gotten things started.
"I was watching some reporters talking about whether (Smith) was the greatest back in NFL history, and I felt like throwing a rock through my TV," William Sanders said. "I guarantee you this. Put Emmitt Smith in that Detroit system with that line and those quarterbacks and there's no way he could do what Barry did."
In 10 seasons with the Lions, Sanders totaled 15,269 yards rushing, 1,457 shy of Payton's record, then retired in 1999.
TICK, TICK, TICK: The Dolphins have a lot of high-priced veterans and likely will lose several for salary-cap reasons after this season, bringing some urgency to their Super Bowl hopes. "This has got to be our year," linebacker Zack Thomas said.
LOOKING TO CONVERT: The Eagles again have Super Bowl potential. The key, other than keeping quarterback Donovan McNabb healthy, is third-down efficiency. Last season, the Eagles were 29th in the league (30.9 percent), better than only Carolina and Arizona.
TRIVIA ANSWER: Jeff Garcia, who has 63 the past two seasons, the most in the league over that period.
-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.