FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The stakes rise as the New England Patriots prepare for the playoffs. A player’s routine, veteran guard Brian Waters says, should stay the same.
If it worked during a season in which the Patriots got the No. 1 seed in the AFC, why change?
That’s the advice of the 12-year veteran to rookies and other teammates who reached the postseason for the first time.
“The routine is what saves you. It’s what lets you know that you’re prepared,” Waters said Tuesday. “If you fall off the routine, you’re going to always find yourself feeling like you left something out. It’s kind of like packing at the last minute. You always feel like there’s something you forgot.”
The Patriots don’t have to worry about forgetting their toothbrushes. They won’t be traveling since they have home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs for as long as they’re in them. Their opening game is set for Jan. 14 against Denver, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati.
“If you’re preparing through the course of this week and all of next week then I think you’ll feel really prepared going into the game,” said Waters, in his first season with New England after 11 with Kansas City.
Sound advice, says rookie tackle Nate Solder, the 17th pick of the draft, even if it’s the biggest game of the season.
“There’s been so many big games this year. We wouldn’t be where we are now without so many big games,” he said. “If that’s what (Waters) said, I’m learning from him.”
The bye week gives players extra time for injuries to heal. Going into last Sunday’s 49-21 win over the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots had two players listed as out and 16 as questionable, 14 of whom played.
But there’s not much that players can do before their next game to get rid of nagging injuries that piled up over a 16-game schedule.
“There’s not a lot of stuff you can do over the next week and a half that’s going to really make you feel like you had a couple of months off,” Waters said. “Don’t do anything different than what you’ve been doing all season. I think that’s the best remedy. You want to take care of your body as best you can but you should have been doing that all season.”
The Patriots won three of the last 10 Super Bowls but none of the past six. They didn’t reach the playoffs in 2008 then were eliminated in their first game the past two years.
Only 14 of the 53 players on their roster have won a postseason game. Sometimes experience helps, other times it doesn’t — like when the Patriots won the Super Bowl in the 2001 season with much less experience than the St. Louis Rams.
“You can find examples of both,” coach Bill Belichick said. “(It) certainly wasn’t important for us in ’01 to have a lot of playoff experience because we didn’t. We’ve won with experience, we’ve lost with experience. We’ve won without experience, we’ve lost without experience.”
New England won Super Bowls in the 2003 and 2004 seasons then lost it in the 2007 season with a veteran team.
“Every year is different,” Waters said. “You’ve got a lot of teams that are going to be in this that may be in it for the first time (and) are going to be really hungry. You’ve got a lot of matchups of teams that really don’t play each other a whole bunch. So having a lot of experience in the playoffs is a good thing to have, but it won’t be a key factor.”
How about a bye week? Shouldn’t that help?
“The last time I had a bye week it didn’t end up well for us,” Waters said.
That was in the 2003 season when the Chiefs won the AFC West with a 13-3 record, the same mark thePatriots have this season. But Kansas City never led in a 38-31 home loss in the divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Patriots also had the top seed last year but lost their first game to the New York Jets 28-21. That followed a loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card game the previous season. Both were at Gillette Stadium
“I wasn’t here so I really can’t speak to how things went the last couple of years,” Waters said. “I can say that there’s nothing but good teams left in this thing and there are some teams that really do well on the road.”