FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – The Patriots played one game with a 3-4 defense and another with a 4-3. More importantly, they’re 2-0.

Their ability to succeed at both could pose problems for Denver when it visits New England on Sunday night eight months after neither alignment kept the Broncos from knocking the Patriots out of the playoffs.

“It gives us a chance to be versatile upfront,” said Richard Seymour, a defensive end who also lined up at tackle in last Sunday’s 24-17 win at the New York Jets. “This week coming up it may be different. It could be the same. You never know. Take a guess.”

In his previous six seasons as coach of the Patriots, Bill Belichick relied on an alignment of three defensive linemen and four linebackers. That’s the formation he used in the season opening 19-17 win over Buffalo in which New England overcame a 17-7 deficit.

But on Sunday, Jets quarterback Chad Pennington glanced across the line on his first play and saw four linemen and three linebackers.

Were the Jets surprised?

“Maybe you have to ask them,” Seymour said with a smile.

Three of the starting linemen were first-round draft picks – ends Seymour and Ty Warren and tackle Vince Wilfork. The fourth, second-year pro Mike Wright, wasn’t even drafted. The Patriots signed him as a rookie free agent out of Cincinnati and he played in 13 games last year.

The 4-3 alignment, with the extra tackle, gave him a chance to make his first NFL start surrounded by three excellent players.

“It does feel great, but it was also a feeling of, I want to show what I can do and show everybody in New England that I can help this team even though I came up from the bottom,” Wright said.

Coach Bill Belichick already knows that.

“He had a great offseason program. I think he learned a lot last year, just in our style of defense,” Belichick said. “He’s moved his game up and he’s fighting for playing time and he’s getting it and he’s earned it.”

The Patriots also have a solid backup lineman in Jarvis Green, who had six tackles against the Jets.

Belichick finished with one quick handshake with New York coach Eric Mangini, the Patriots defensive coordinator last year. Cameras surrounded them to record the warmth, or coolness, of their on-field meeting moments after the game.

“You can scrutinize it all you want. Knock yourself out,” a relaxed Belichick said Monday. “It’s really not that big of a thing. I was thinking about the game, thinking about our team, thinking about what we need to do to win. That’s what my job is about. That’s what I care about.

“Let me know the next time you see two coaches kiss out there at midfield.”

New England led 24-0 midway through the third quarter before New York threatened with two big scoring plays that had more to do with the pass defenders than the linemen rushing at Pennington.

Jerricho Cotchery scored on a 71-yard pass-and-run when he barely avoided hitting the ground with his elbow or knee after being pounded by two defensive backs. Then Laveranues Coles eluded several would-be tacklers after catching a pass on his 46-yard touchdown with 50 seconds left in the third quarter.

“We have that kind of lead, we’ve got to really put the dagger in them and don’t give them any hope that they can come back,” said linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, whose playing time decreased in the 4-3 defense. “If we’re already playing good, play even better.”

The Patriots played much better in the fourth quarter. Mike Nugent did kick a field goal for the Jets with 9:20 left in the game, but New England didn’t give up the ball until 1:05 remained.

Belichick was pleased with that but hardly satisfied that the Jets came back.

“Every player that participated in the game and every coach who participated in it looks back at their game and says, ‘these are things I could have done better, these are things I need to work on,”‘ he said. “I think we’re all saying that today. I’m glad we’re saying it at 2-0, not 0-2.”

The Patriots had stressed avoiding giving up big plays but failed on the two touchdown passes.

“We missed a couple of tackles. They scored two touchdowns,” linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. “Everybody took a part in sort of letting them back in the door. So we’ve got to try to keep that door closed.”

Their next chance comes Sunday night when they could try to slam it on the Broncos with their usual 3-4 defense or the 4-3 approach or both.

“I’ve always liked having four defensive linemen,” Seymour said, “just more beef up front (to) shut down the running game. But I think the 3-4 defense presents a lot of problems as well so, all the teams out there, you have to prepare for both”

AP-ES-09-18-06 2118EDT


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