By: Ian Logue/
August 28, 2004

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FOXBORO, MA -- Forget the hype of who the two teams are playing tonight, the most important thing New England Patriots fans will be looking for is simply for some sign that last weekend's 31-3 beating they were dealt at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals was just a one-time deal.

After all, game three of the pre-season is generally considered to be the "dress rehearsal” heading into the regular season. All the glitches are typically ironed out, and at that point the execution is thought to be near "regular-season ready". After this game the starters then play a series or two in the exhibition finale before the remainder of players on the bubble get one last shot to prove they deserve to stick around.

However to go out against the Carolina Panthers and have their offense muster just a field goal again, along with the defense letting the Panthers march up and down the field at will would be a complete disaster. The good news is that before last week's game the team really hadn't had a very good week of practice, while this week the preparation has been better.

"Some things look better than others,” Belichick told the media earlier in the week regarding the team's practices. "More importantly, we'll see how we look [tonight]. I don't think last week was a great week of practice. I'd say this week's [practices], in some respects, have been better. Not perfect, but a little bit better."

Conditions in Carolina will likely include quite a bit of crowd noise as the game has been dubbed a, "rematch" and the players and fans in Carolina seem to be treating it as such. This will be the only shot their team will get this year to play the Patriots, and Belichick said he isn't expecting a warm reception when his team takes the field tonight.

"[We'll receive] Probably a parade when we land,” joked Belichick. "I imagine there will be a lot of cheering when they introduce us, I would think, maybe some fireworks. I bet they are going to be happy to see us.”

"I am sure it will be a real hostile environment. It is going to be what we would expect it to be. It will be loud. There will be adverse conditions. That is an enthusiastic town. They are enthusiastic about their team.”

"We will have to match that intensity and that energy level with a lot less support than what they will have. That is the way it is going to be eight times a year during the regular season for us. I think it is a great situation for us to go into especially after last week. To be able to look forward to that type of environment, that type of crowd noise, that type of hostility and really, to a degree, block it out and be able to focus on the team that we are playing and execute our game plan. It will be a big challenge for us, and one that we need to face and meet.”

Meanwhile regardless of what happens Belichick is expecting a tough match-up, but by the fourth quarter the starters for both teams will be sitting on the sidelines, and the players left on the field will likely be a group of players who's performance on Saturday night will likely decide the fate of their future with the Patriots. The first official cut-down day is Tuesday, when all NFL teams have to get down from 80 (non-exempt) players to 65. However, historically Belichick will likely announce a round of cuts as early as tomorrow.

A hostile environment with plenty of storylines surrounding it. Belichick says he's looking forward to the challenge, but he's simply hoping his team plays better this week.

"I am sure that we will have some problems,” said Belichick. "Hopefully we will be able to cause them a few problems, more than we did last week.”