Patriots playoff rematch means looking ahead

Patriots playoff rematch means looking ahead
January 6, 2013, 9:30 pm
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On December 6, 2010, the Patriots walloped the Jets, 45-3, on a Foxboro edition of Monday Night Football. Six weeks later, New York returned to Gillette Stadium for the Divisional Playoffs and whipped the home crowd into stunned silence by bouncing New England from the postseason. 
It will sound familiar to some.
Fans were already thinking back to that experience and its parallels to the Patriots' upcoming rematch with Houston before the media could even write it. 
New England demolished Houston, 42-14, on December 10, 2012. Monday Night Football. Some five weeks later, the Texans will return to Gillette for the Divisional Playoff. It's not hard to see why more melodramatic fans and analysts are salivating over the storyline. 
But ask Bill Belichick how he feels about the drama.  
"I think there's certainly a lesson there," he said during a conference call Sunday. "But the game that we play now doesn't have much to do with the game we played before, whether it's them or anybody else. It's an example we can point out. It doesn't have to be talked about that many times . . . There are a lot of other games that don't have anything to do with this game on its own. And that is, and will always be, the case. 
"But it's an example we can point out of how little relevance each game with the same team really does have."
The Patriots can appreciate a level of familiarity that December's meeting with Houston provides. Bottom line, however, is that enough has changed that neither team will depend on the tape. 
And this isn't a lesson Belichick learned from the Jets. 
"As we all know, when you play a team twice during the season the games are totally different; they never go the same way," he said. "We'll certainly be able to certainly look at some of the match ups individually -- guys that faced each other in the game -- but as far as plays and calls and things like that, I'm sure they'll have some new wrinkles. I'm sure we'll have some, too."
A few things can be gleaned from Houston's Saturday night Wild-Card game against the Bengals. 
Why that game? Because it's the most recent one. 
Houston fell into a bit of a funk after playing the Patriots, going 1-2 in its final regular season games. Also, the addition of a few parts -- linebacker Brooks Reed, defensive back Alan Ball, tackle Derek Newton -- has changed how the machine runs since it came to New England. 
But above all, Belichick emphasized the importance of getting a fresh start. Even this weekend's game between Houston and the Bengals gives limited insight because the Texans game plan was specific to Cincinnati. The work this week will be extensive, yet tailor-made for the Divisional Playoff.
"We've got to be ready for all the things that they do," Belichick concluded. "It'll just be a full week of preparation. We'll take from the Cincinnati game what we can -- there's some good examples of things we can learn from their game -- but ultimately our match ups are different than theirs."
New England's look back to Week 14 will be brief; the one to 2010, nonexistent.