By: Bob George/
November 02, 2002

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Bill Parcells might not have wanted to win the game, but he did have a sage bit of advice prior to Super Bowl XXXI.

Asked "What did you tell your players in the locker room?", the Big Tuna responded with "Don't concern yourself with winning the Super Bowl. Just concentrate on beating the Green Bay Packers." Parcells hated Bob Kraft so much to want the former, so he told his gang to try and beat a team that had them overmatched on paper.

For Super Bowl XXXI, it was just the right thing to say. Just think what awful things would have happened if Parcells had told them to try and win the Super Bowl. Parcells would have had his destiny sealed (first coach to win Super Bowls with two different teams), but he would have walked away from the Patriots knowing he had made Kraft happy. Plus, Parcells would have been vilified worse for walking away from a Super Bowl champ versus a Super Bowl runner-up.

With that as a backdrop, we offer this bit of advice to Bill Belichick.

Don't concern yourself with beating Drew Bledsoe. Concern yourself with beating the Buffalo Bills.

Where: Ralph Wilson Stadium
Orchard Park, N.Y.
When: Sunday 11/3/02
1:00 PM EST
Television: CBS
WBZ Channel 4 in Boston
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 709, 930
2001 Team Records: Patriots 3-4
Bills 5-3
Latest Line: Bills by 2 1/2
That is the one and only thing that matters on Sunday. Let Bledsoe put up great numbers. Let Bledsoe stay on course to break Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record. Let Bledsoe be the first half NFL MVP, or whatever some publication said recently. As long as the Patriots get the W, nothing else matters.

All the focus this week, whether real or fabricated by the media, is on Belichick and Bledsoe. It is as big a macho thing as it gets. Both men burn with the desire to kick the tar out of the other. Think Curtis Martin hates the Patriots? Hah. That's nothing compared to this.

Bledsoe was and is a proud man, and personified the Patriots for nine great years. But he was cast aside as if he were Scott Zolak, Scott Secules, or Scott Millen (okay, his first name was actually Hugh, but it makes for a cuter sentence). The team was handed over to Tom Brady, and the Patriots went on to win a Super Bowl. Bledsoe's days as starting quarterback in New England were over, simply put.

All the while, Belichick rode the crest of this success to the pinnacle of the NFL coaching world. Belichick finally put to rest that he is nothing more than a defensive coordinator. He is now a Super Bowl winning coach, and nothing anyone says or writes can take that away from him. Belichick is the unchallenged leader of this team, despite the awful things written about him by media types who think they know better.

All right, now, everybody listen up. Take these last two paragraphs and toss them in the dumpster. Here is what is really important about Sunday's game.

Pass rush. Are Anthony Pleasant, Bobby Hamilton and Willie McGinest finally too old to play at their previous high levels? All men are 30-something, and have looked every bit as old these last few weeks. Lawyer Milloy may not be able to pick up the slack on pass rushing, because he'll either be needed in run stoppage or helping out one of the poor overmatched cornerbacks. These men responsible for rushing the quarterback had better suck it up and have a great day. Pressuring Bledsoe is the one key element in defeating him, and there absolutely must be pressure on Bledsoe.

Travis Henry. Forget Priest Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams, Ahman Green and Clinton Portis. This guy absolutely must be stopped. The Patriots cannot spend all game long worrying about the run, or else Bledsoe will kill them. The Patriots have been mulling a 3-4 base defense for this game; if that be the case, it is time for Ted Johnson to put in the past all that has bothered him and have the game of his life. Or, if that is asking too much, have a game worthy of his best days in 1995 and 1996 when we had this guy pegged for annual trips to Honolulu.

Cover, don't hold. Ty Law needs to play within himself and have a huge day. He will likely draw Eric Moulds. He can't spend the whole day getting yellow flags thrown in his face. Play Moulds tight and don't give him any cushion. As for Peerless Price, if Otis Smith cannot keep up with him, don't hesitate to see what Terrell Buckley can do. And tell Buckley that he did a terrible job of defending Ed McCaffrey last week, and that he needs to show everyone that he can still play in the NFL.

Pull out the offensive game plans against Pittsburgh, the Jets or Kansas City, and follow them. This is a defense that you can deal with. The Bills are 24th against the run and 17th against the pass. Only Kansas City has given up more points than the Bills in the AFC. This is not the same defensive dynamo like last year when the Patriots scored only 33 points in two wins. Charlie Weis needs to come up big with just the right mix of run and pass. Antowain Smith absolutely must have a great day against his old mates.

And Brady needs also to be told to focus on beating the Bills and not Bledsoe. Brady's concern is not Bledsoe. Brady's concern is Antoine Winfield (listed as questionable for Sunday's game) and Nate Clements. Brady's concern is London Fletcher and Pat Williams. Brady's concern is to make third downs and finish drives. Brady's concern is to play within himself and regain his impeccable leadership skills.

Nothing about this game has to be about Belichick versus Bledsoe. Whichever team makes it such might as well spot the other guy 14 points. If there is ever a time when the team should tune out the media, this is it. The media is doing its little best to blow this rivalry up because it makes for great reading (or so they say or think) and is something they simply have to do because it's their job. But when it comes down to it, the Patriots simply have to beat the Buffalo Bills to save their sinking season.

Belichick needs to have a great day against Bledsoe, that much is true. His team does need to play solid and stay within themselves. The Patriots may not have the material to "confound" Bledsoe like the Jets were able to do in the late 1990s. What will get the Patriots by on Sunday will be to play hard and smart, and not so much cute and finesse-based.

If the Patriots do win, all Bledsoe will say is "Hey, they beat us, they're a great team, we'll get 'em in Foxborough." He won't mention Belichick. And if the Bills win? "We played well, but the Patriots are a great team, they'll be ready to get after us in the rematch in a few weeks." He won't mention Belichick.

And what will Belichick say? "It was a (bad/good) game…we (lost/won)…all we are concerned with now is the Chicago Bears." He won't mention Bledsoe.

So, it really matters not that "We kicked Bledsoe's butt!" or "Jeez, what a crummy trade that was!" The principals won't even acknowledge each other.

So, forget these two men, and let's just win the game.