INDIANAPOLIS -- There are lots of ways to interpret "The Patriot Way" -- a credo and lifestyle that's been the basis for New England's consistent run of success under Bill Belichick, who's fostered a model that's widely copied. It's about players buying into the team concept and keeping all things Patriots professional and private. It's also about sticking to a plan, even if the results aren't immediate and, as it looks now, appear to put New England at somewhat of a disadvantage entering Super Bowl XLVI against the Giants.
Other than highly drafted safety Patrick Chung and cornerback Devin McCourty, New England's defensive backfield is a mash-up of hybrids and castoffs. Yet, they are the types of players Belichick wants. He jettisoned former veteran starters Brandon Meriweather and Leigh Bodden because the underdogs on the roster simply wanted it more and played better. If Kyle Arrington or Sterling Moore or Julian Edelman gets complacent, a replacement will be ready.
On the surface, it doesn't look like a fair fight against Giants wide receivers Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. The Patriots' secondary is arguably the shakiest part of a shaky defense. But guys like Arrington and Moore have made the big plays to get New England another shot at another Lombardi Trophy. Most notably, Moore's breakup of a potential game-winning touchdown pass to Baltimore's Lee Evans in the AFC Championship Game.
"We feel like we can develop players," Belichick said, adding that the Patriots might sacrifice short-term gains for potential long-term consistency. "We look at players that we think can work in our system. If they have enough talent, if they work hard, if they're smart and take coaching -- they can improve."
Moore, a backup safety that went undrafted then was released from the Raiders' practice squad, fits the mold. He has talent (there were Raiders coaches who liked him), versatility and immense desire. The Patriots moved him from cornerback to safety, a shift he said was difficult but one he had to make if he didn't want to be out of football. He embraced the culture of doing whatever it takes to get on the field and spent much of his free time with Chung watching film.
"We saw the type of team we could be if everybody buys in," Moore said. "You also know that if you don't buy in, you won't be here."
Belichick made that clear with the releases of Bodden and Meriweather, and also that of defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth in early November. Despite the fact that the Patriots were hemorrhaging on defense, ranking among the worst in the NFL in many categories at that point, Belichick stuck to his principles and let go of Haynesworth, whose forgettable production wasn't helping much anyway.
Safety James Ihedigbo was the opposite of Haynesworth. Cast aside by the Jets, Ihedigbo earned his role by remaining disciplined and playing as coached.
"[Belichick] told me when I got here, 'You'll be given an opportunity and what you do with that opportunity will determine more opportunities for you,' " Ihedigbo said. "I've really tried to seize it and do everything that I can to help us be successful, and as that role increased, I've just run with it."
Edelman bounces back and forth between offense and defense, the ultimate Rudy who'll do anything to get on the field. He also does it because other players from the past, like Troy Brown, have done it, and because the Patriots rarely put players in a position to fail. Hungry players are effective ones for the Patriots. But in the NFL, scrappiness can't overcome all shortcomings. Manningham has said more than once that New York hopes to see Edelman in the secondary because he believes the former college quarterback can be exploited. Baltimore's Anquan Boldin made some late catches against Edelman in the AFC Championship Game, and it is very likely the Giants have plays designed to take advantage of Edelman's inexperience as a nickel back.
Truth be told, New York's receivers provide quite a challenge for every secondary they face. Will the Pats' unit be able to answer the bell? Will Belichick be rewarded for another mix-and-match job?
Well, that'll be judged by one simple factor: whoever wins the game. Victories are the backbone of The Patriot Way. If New England loses, Belichick will re-configure things. (He always does anyway). However, a Super Bowl championship will prove that The Patriot Way was the right way.