By: Christopher Price
November 05, 2004

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When it happened, reporters braced for the worst. After all, the last time the Patriots lost a football game was back on September 2003 -- when Britney Spears was still contemplating her first marriage and John Burkett was the fourth starter for the Red Sox. It had been 399 days since they had first experienced a losing Monday. Would the locker room still be standing? Any sense of panic in the air? And would the players even talk to a media contingent curious to find out just what it felt like to be in a losing locker room?

But when the New England media relations crew pulled back the door to the Patriots locker room on Monday, it looked strangely serene. Quiet, even. There were no explosions at reporters or Lombardi-like messages for players, save for a small message written on the white board in the middle of the room -- "Make sure you have your turf shoes this week (St. Louis),” a reminder for players to prepare for the quick surface at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Sure, they weren't the chattiest bunch -- most interviews were either politely declined or shorter than usual -- but for New England this week, everything appeared to be close to business-as-usual. The domino games still went on. The good-natured barbs were tossed back and forth. And no outward sense of panic.

"You see any frowns around here?” wide receiver Bethel Johnson asked with a grin.

The calmness can be traced back to a number of points, not the least of which is the fact that Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick have assembled one of the most veteran teams in the NFL. In the AFC, the Patriots have more players with 10-plus years of experience than almost any other club, except Oakland and Tennessee. The sure and steady hand of players like tight end Christian Fauria (in his 10th year in the league) and Rodney Harrison (currently in his 11th year in the league) mean that the highs aren't all that high and the lows aren't all that low. These are guys who have been through the bad and the good (in Harrison's case, more bad than good, especially when he played for the woeful Chargers) and can often help guard against overreaction '-- whether it is from players or fans.

"People in my building where I live, they're overreacting,” safety Rodney Harrison said earlier in the week. "They saw my wife coming, they're like, ‘Oh, it's so terrible.'

"We've got to keep it in perspective. It's one loss. We've got nine games left,” Harrison added. "What do you do? You can't just fold your tent and quit. I'm not going to. And I know none of these guys are.”

"I don't feel as bad as I felt when we played Washington, because that was miserable,” Fauria said when asked about losing for the first time in over a calendar year. "But it's weird, because we haven't lost in so long. It's not something I think we want to get used to.

"There's winning and then there's complete misery. I don't think there's any gray area.”

That sort of leadership can also come in handy when it comes to bouncing back from injuries. The Patriots were pretty banged up coming out of the Pittsburgh game, with running back Corey Dillon, cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole and wide receiver Deion Branch seeing little or no action on the afternoon. But most of these guys were here last year, when the injury list was longer than a Russian novel for most of the season. But if one guy goes down, it just means that it's time for another person to step up.

"We've been through so much as a unit,” said linebacker Tedy Bruschi. "Whoever goes down, we feel like whoever comes in can do the job, because that's what we've done in the past.”

"I think all the good ones get back up and keep fighting,” said defensive lineman Richard Seymour. "That's just the way we're going to approach it. That's just the way we're going to handle it. We just got knocked down, so we just have to get back up and keep fighting.”

Christopher Price covers the Patriots for Boston Metro and He can be reached at [email protected].