During my six NFL seasons, I played in four conference title games and three Super Bowls. Two of those Super Bowls were with Bill Belichick and the Patriots, in the 2003 season against the Panthers and the '04 season against the Eagles.
In the two weeks leading up to the game Bill is very regimented. He hates distractions. You'll come in on Monday after the championship game, and he'll say, "You'll get 15 tickets to the game and two plane tickets for your family. Take care of this s--- the next couple of days. I don't want to hear about it after this." When we got to the city, we'd have a little practice on Sunday and Monday, but we'd have those nights to ourselves, to go out and enjoy the experience. Bill gets it, that players need to do that. After Media Day on Tuesday, though, it's over. It's really game week then. Curfew at 10, practice at normal times. It's very strict.
Bill's biggest emphasis leading up to the Super Bowl is to be the best prepared team, not the one that all of a sudden does crazy stuff. Against the Panthers we had a badass 3--4. We were very confident going into that game. There weren't many wrinkles there. We had maybe the greatest nosetackle of all time with Ted Washington, and Richard Seymour and Bobby Hamilton were our defensive ends. Bill did throw a wrinkle in the Eagles game the next year—but for the Patriots it's second nature to tweak things from week to week. We came out in a 4--3, which we hadn't shown all year, with two linebackers standing in the A gaps. It threw the Eagles off, and we pressured Donovan McNabb a lot. In the first quarter they didn't know what was going on. Bill is about figuring out what the other team is going to do, and just destroying it.
I do think he'll have a slightly different scheme against the Giants than he did against the Ravens in the conference championship. Against Baltimore the Patriots used a lot of three-man rushes on third down, and I'm not sure why. If you give a guy like Joe Flacco time, he'll have a pretty good day. Everyone in the NFL can get open in five or six seconds. This week if they give Eli Manning that kind of time, you can forget about it—he's going to throw for 400 yards. You're going to see more blitzes, especially from linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who is really New England's best edge rusher. That's the key, in addition to stopping the run with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, which I think the Patriots will do. Belichick has always stressed setting the edge, which his outside linebackers have done better in the last few weeks. And the Giants prefer to run it inside anyway, which plays to New England's strengths.
There's no doubt in my mind that Tom Brady's not going to have two bad games in a row, and Belichick and the Patriots are great in pissed-off, revenge games. Bill's going to show every single Giants highlight. He'll say something like, "You think you're just going out there, slap it out there and win another ring? Well here, watch this. F------ Victor Cruz." He's going to get you so scared, so amped up to play. You don't want to be the guy who blows it.