By Mary Paoletti
FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick -- surprise, surprise -- doesn't care that the Patriots are 5-1 and the Vikings are 2-4.
"They are very good in all three phases of the game. They've lost a couple close games. They were right there on every last position, right there every time,'' he said on Wednesday. "So I have a lot of respect for them, a lot of respect this team. We're going to have our hands full on Sunday."
And that's with or without Brett Favre.
The Minnesota quarterback recently added a sprained ankle to his list of problems and is not sure if he or backup Tavaris Jackson will start against New England. Of course, Belichick will prepare for everything and anything.
"We've got to be ready for all those guys, whether they are the guy listed first on the depth chart or not,'' he said. "If they're on the 45-man roster, or even if they're on the practice squad, they can easily be elevated up to the roster and play against you.''
It doesn't help that the Patriots will be without starting safety, Patrick Chung. Chung suffered a knee injury in the first half of Sunday's win over the Chargers. Sergio Brown, originally called up on Saturday because of an injury to Jarrad Page, will need to step up yet again to help fill the void left by Chung.
Belichick said that the rookie has potential.
"We talked to him at the end of training camp about things that he needed to work on and improve on things on special teams and things on defense and he's done that. He had an opportunity to play and he took advantage of it and did some good things. It wasn't perfect; there are a lot of things that he can do better and learn from, but he definitely helped us.''
The lines have seen more than a few changes. Injuries have been the bad news (Leigh Bodden, Nick Kaczur, Kevin Faulk, Brandon McGowan, Julian Edelman, Taylor Price). The good? This team can handle some shuffling. The defense has been especially impressive to New England's head coach.
"Its a very flexible group. Those guys have a lot of versatility," Belichick said. "I think part of it is by playing another position they understand how that affects their position and what responsibilities the position next to them has and that probably helps them a little bit. It gives us depth and gives us some flexibility in terms of where we want to deploy those guys on different packages or different calls."
Belichick had a lot to say about the special skills of his players. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork was another guy earning a gold star going into Week 8.
"He not only plays his position, but helps the other guys play better. I think thats really the mark of an outstanding player: a guy that can elevate the play of the players around him, either with what he's doing or in doing things that help other guys and give them better opportunities. Hes very unselfish about that."
So with all the praise for his men and those with the Vikings, was there anything the coach didn't want to get into?
It seemed like Vikings coach Brad Childress was trying to bait Belichick on Monday by calling the Patriots the all-time great signal stealers." Apparently, he underestimated the ever unflappable Bill.
"I'm not really too worried about 2006,'' he said. "I'm worried about this Sunday against Minnesota. I'm not worried about next Sunday, last Sunday, '06, '02, '89. Really, its just this Sunday."
It's not like the past is completely off limits. Belichick just has more important things to think about.
"We've talked about some other games before, but really, my focus is the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon. That's what I'm here for."