Bruschi holds Pats’ ‘D’ together

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Tedy Bruschi sniffs out plays and smacks down runners now the way he did the last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl.

That’s pretty remarkable, considering he had a stroke in between.

“He is kind of the glue out there, just making the calls, getting the signals and getting the communication to the defense,” fellow inside linebacker Mike Vrabel said. “That’s a lot.”

The honors may not have come Bruschi’s way as they once did, but his teammates know he provides all they could ask for: the strength to stop the run, the speed to keep up with receivers and the smarts to direct one of the NFL’s best defenses.

He’ll need all three, plus his usual intensity, on Sunday when New England visits the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game.

Running backs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes will try to elude him, tight end Dallas Clark will try to outmaneuver him, and quarterback Peyton Manning, a master at calling plays at the line of scrimmage, will try to baffle him.

All may find they’ve met their match in Bruschi.

“I played against him once,” with Seattle in 2004, Patriots fullback Heath Evans said. “He was, on the offensive side of the ball, what we consider a complete linebacker. He could pass cover. He could rush the passer and he was a great run stopper. Now I know those things all that much better.”

Not long ago, the versatile athlete had trouble just walking.

He had a minor stroke 10 days after the 2005 Super Bowl and three days after played in the Pro Bowl. In the title game, he had a sack and an interception in the 24-21 win over Philadelphia that gave New England its third championship in four years. He is one of just 10 current Patriots who played on all those teams.

But as he left a Boston hospital after being treated, he walked tentatively with his wife Heidi by his side.

Bruschi had surgery to repair a hole in his heart and missed the first six games last season, then played nine in a row before being sidelined for the regular-season finale and the first playoff game. He returned the next week for a loss at Denver that ended the Patriots season.

That setback left him “dissatisfied,” he said last summer, “because I think toward the end I really started to play good football again and I just wanted to win another Super Bowl.”

Beat the Colts on Sunday and he’ll still have a chance. And he doesn’t have to make eye-catching impact plays to help the team that allowed the second fewest points in the NFL.

“Sometimes it’s being in the right spot at the right time,” defensive end Ty Warren said. “What leads up to that is your preparation.”

Bruschi is a very instinctive player. His football sense combined with 11 seasons with the Patriots allow him to make snap decisions that usually are the right ones.

Evans, now his teammate, had the misfortune of facing Bruschi in 2004.

That season, Bruschi made his only Pro Bowl appearance, was second on the team in tackles and had an outstanding Super Bowl.

The previous season he also was second in tackles and made other big plays. The most memorable came on Dec. 7 after a storm that ended shortly before the game dumped nearly 21/2 feet of snow on Foxborough.

Bruschi picked off a pass by Miami’s Jay Fiedler and slalomed 5 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead midway through the fourth quarter of a 12-0 victory. Then he sank to his knees in the snow while fans flung fistfuls of it into the wind.

That week he was named AFC defensive player of the week.

This season, he didn’t get that honor at all or make the Pro Bowl despite leading the Patriots with 124 tackles even though he missed the first game with a broken wrist. He also was their leading tackler in each of the first two playoff games.

“There’s a lot of things that factor into players having Pro Bowl seasons or not Pro Bowl seasons. As far as I’m concerned, Tedy’s had a great year,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “He’s kind of the centerpiece of that defense. He makes a lot of great reads and probably a lot of guys benefit from Tedy’s play.”

Bruschi should be healthy enough to face the Colts even though he canceled media availabilities Thursday and Friday because he had cold-like symptoms. He did practice both days.

Come Sunday, he hopes to guide his teammates to another Super Bowl.

“Tedy is a leader,” defensive end Richard Seymour said. “He is always in the right place at the right time to make plays. He is a guy you don’t have to worry about.”

AP-ES-01-19-07 1952EST

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