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Bill Belichick was desperate. Injuries had ripped apart his secondary, and he needed someone, anyone, to help contain the potent St. Louis attack. Troy Brown, his veteran wide receiver, had worked out at defensive back in the summer, just in case. So Belichick walked over to Brown on the sideline and asked how he was doing.

"Look, I'm a football player," Brown said. "It's football season. I am going to play football. Put me wherever you want."

So Brown went in at defensive back Sunday and played capably as the New England Patriots drilled the Rams, 40-22. Belichick, not one for overstatement or revealing statements of any sort, later called it "probably as complete a team victory as I've ever been around."

That's saying a lot, when you consider Belichick has been coaching in the NFL for 30 years and has been part of four Super Bowl champions. It epitomized what the Patriots have become under Belichick -- a selfless, resourceful and tough group of athletes with a simple common objective, to win football games.

New England has become the competitive standard. As Brown said, they play football. They play smart. They do whatever it takes. If that means playing another position, so be it. Brown, a 12-year veteran, caught 101 passes in a season once. Age and injuries have reduced his role, but he has accepted it without complaint. He's here to play football.

Mike Vrabel is a starting linebacker. He lined up as a tight end in the St. Louis game and made a sensational touchdown grab on a pass from Tom Brady. Adam Vinatieri, the place-kicker, threw a TD pass to Brown on a fake field goal. Whatever it takes, right?

Bills coach Mike Mularkey is fond of using players on the opposite side of the ball. Though some of Mularkey's moves have been curious, you have to admire his guts. He's certainly in good company. Belichick has been doing it for years. No one ever accuses Belichick of outsmarting himself because it always seems to work.

"Whatever you think the best thing is, that's what you try to do," Belichick said Thursday. "You give your team the best chance to win."

After two Super Bowls and an NFL record 21 straight wins, you get the benefit of the doubt. Throughout their winning streak, the Pats insisted the streak didn't matter. But it can't be coincidence that, one week after losing to Pittsburgh to end the streak, they responded with the most inspiring team effort Belichick can remember.

Maybe a winning streak didn't matter, but a one-game losing spell sure got their attention. Even after the St. Louis win, they still seem more like a team on a losing streak than one that has won 21 out of 22. When you've gone more than a year without losing, I guess it takes more than a few days to get that rare defeat out of your system.

That's what the Bills are facing Sunday night on national TV -- the best franchise in the NFL, maybe in all of pro sports, playing as if it has something to prove, striving to live up to its own incredibly high standard.

"We try to emphasize it's a team effort," Belichick said. "The players take it to heart. Regardless of the score or situation, we need to play the same all the time."

You'd think it would be impossible to maintain that standard in the era of free agency and high salaries, at a time when conflicting egos and agendas make it difficult to uphold the notion of a true "team."

"It's not hard for us," Vrabel said, "because when you're successful, people buy into the system. If we were not winning games, it'd be a different story. Guys would be complaining. There would be issues and problems. But when you buy into a system and it works, everybody is happy."


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