By Howard Ulman
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — No visits to California wine coun-try. No cross-border romps to Tijuana.
Maybe the Patriots could take in San Jose’s NHL opener Thursday night. They’ll be in the area anyway, practicing at San Jose State. And the Sharks’ Mike Grier’s father is former New England vice president of player personnel Bobby Grier.
Nope. No time for any of that.
This is a business trip for New England, a serious 10-day visit with the aim of bringing back two wins, at San Francisco and San Diego, and showing that the 25-point loss to Miami in its own stadium was a fluke.
“Team bonding? I don’t know if we are going to get in a circle and sing ‘Kumbaya’ or anything like that,” quarterback Matt Cassel said Thursday.
He has a bigger challenge: getting in a huddle, relaying the play call and scoring enough to calm concerns that the loss of Tom Brady to a season-ending knee injury will lead to a string of losses on the field.
The Patriots planned to leave Friday, then complete preparations for Sunday’s game against the 49ers.
New England is 2-1, better than the 2-2 mark of San Francisco and San Diego. But that single loss was a shocker: 38-13 against a Miami team that was 1-15 last season.
Even worse, the memory lingered because the Patriots had a bye.
“The majority of the team wished we were probably still playing (last weekend) to get that taste out of our mouths,” cornerback Deltha O’Neal said.
At least they can get back in a routine without making two cross-country flights.
“I’m not a guy that really likes to fly a whole lot anyway, especially four or five hours in the air,” defensive end Richard Seymour said. “I think we just have to be aware, obviously, it didn’t work out too well for AZ.”
That’s the Arizona Cardinals.
They made the reverse journey, staying on the East Coast in Tysons Corner, Va., between their last two games. They lost 24-17 to Washington, then 56-35 to the New York Jets after starting the season at 2-0.
Going west may not be as difficult.
“I’ve been on the East Coast when we’ve came out a week in advance,” San Francisco coach Mike Nolan said. “You can come out here and get a lot of work done because the weather and the climate back east sometimes limit you.”
The Patriots also will leave a day earlier than they normally do for a road game to help them adjust to the three-hour time difference.
“I’m just excited to get back to playing again,” cornerback Ellis Hobbs said, “because this is a team I’ve never faced, a stadium I’ve never been in.”
The last time the Patriots played in San Francisco, they lost 28-3 in their third game of 1995.
They could make a similar two-game trip when they play at Seattle and Oakland on consecutive Sundays in early December.
Cassel was born in Northridge, Calif., in the Los Angeles area, and was a quarterback at Southern California. He backed up Carson Palmer, then Matt Leinart and threw only 33 passes for the Trojans. He’s thrown 72 in three games this year for the Patriots, including his only two starts in four NFL seasons.
He’ll probably throw more passes in his home state than he did in his entire college career.
“But,” he said, “it’s a business trip. I don’t think I am really going to get to experience the California scene or spend as much time with my family as I would like to.”
He’ll spend much of it with coach Bill Belichick and his professional family, preparing to get the Patriots back on track.
It’s a trip the Patriots are taking in stride.
“I don’t think it’s any different for us,” linebacker Mike Vrabel said. “We’re going to go out there on Friday, and I’m sure we’ll practice somewhere on Saturday and then get ready to play the 49ers on Sunday.”
Then it will be the Chargers, the team safety Rodney Harrison played with for nine seasons before joining the Patriots in 2003.
“To know we’re going out there for a week and a half and we get a chance to just chill and practice and relax and work,” Harrison said, “I like that idea.”