FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In his 18th season, Junior Seau is focusing more on covering receivers than knocking down the quarterbacks trying to pass to them.
The Patriots' linebacker is learning his role fairly quickly, although there's still plenty to learn -- like tucking the ball away when he's returning an interception instead of raising it in the air where it could be slapped away by a defender.
"He said he loved me, in his own way," Seau said Thursday. "It was fine."
Seau's teammates joked about it last Sunday after he picked off two passes -- showboating as he ran one of them back -- in New England's 34-17 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Seau spent most of his previous 17 seasons -- the first 13 with San Diego -- at outside linebacker. He had just 15 interceptions coming into this season, never more than two in a year. Now he's splitting time at inside linebacker with Tedy Bruschi and Adalius Thomas and finds himself in more pass coverage.
"If you would have told me 18 years ago that 18 years later I was going to be a subcontractor, in sub packages, I would think you're crazy," Seau said. "But that's where I am and that's my role. I'm happy with that. It's been working very well."
On Sunday he'll face the Dallas Cowboys' NFL-leading offense with quarterback Tony Romo, a much tougher challenge than he had against Cleveland and quarterback Derek Anderson.
"If you try to keep him in the pocket, that would be good," Seau said. "But our game plan is never changing. Disrupting his rhythm with his receivers is going to be a key factor."
"They have a quarterback who has a great rapport with his receivers," Seau said. "They see the quarterback running around back there and they know that they can break the routes off and find a spot in the zone and make a big play out of it.
"When you watch film, you can see these guys are playmakers."
That's what Seau was for most of his career.
He's been chosen for 12 Pro Bowls. He had seven sacks in a season three times with San Diego. "Junior brings a lot of energy to this team.," outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. "It helps everyone else get hyped up and ready to play."
Seau retired briefly after the 2005 season, his third with Miami. Then he signed with the Patriots, but his 2006 season ended when he broke his right arm against Chicago on Nov. 26, the third straight season that ended in November because of injury.
They brought him back this year and his teammates named him one of their captains.
"He has a great love for the game and a preparation for it as well," Belichick said. "He makes plays every week and a lot of plays, it's things where he'll draw (a blocker) so somebody else can make it. ... He might be one of the most unselfish players I've ever coached."
The rotation at inside linebacker keeps all three players more rested.
"It's working very well for us," Seau said. "The culture here is make sure that everyone's fresh. They do a great job of that."
So far he's doing a pretty good job of playing pass defense, even if it means learning how to do it.
"I had to go back in the library and check out a couple of books," he said. "It's working well right now."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.