The New England Patriots are ring experts and wring experts.
Not only have they won three Super Bowl rings this decade, but they also have an uncanny ability to wring great performances out of onetime star players who come there in hopes of recapturing the magic -- and maybe winning a championship.
This season, they want to do the same with longtime Jacksonville standout Fred Taylor, who spent his first 11 seasons with the Jaguars and rushed for 11,271 yards -- third among active players -- with 62 touchdowns, before being released in February.
Now that he's on the inside, running back Taylor is already recognizing some differences about his perceptions of the Patriots and how they really are. He seems most struck by the play of quarterback Tom Brady.
"Playing these guys a few times in the playoffs, you look over and say, 'We can beat that team. What do they do that we don't do? We can go and win this game,' " Taylor said. "But then you get here and you see [Brady's] passion, you see the way he studies, you see how demanding he is of his players, the leadership. Right in front of you it just jumps out and you see why he's a proven winner."
*--* 2008 ATT YDS AVG TD Jacksonville 143 556 3.9 1 *--*
Taylor is one of many familiar faces in new places this season. Among the others:
WR Terrell Owens, Buffalo: How will the T.O. show go over with the Bills? So far so good. But that's his pattern; he's always a dream teammate in his first season with a franchise, before things go sideways.
*--* 2008 REC YDS AVG LG TD Dallas 69 1,052 15.2 75 10 *--*
LB Bart Scott, New York Jets: Scott was a smart acquisition for the Jets, who get an outstanding player and one who can help with the coaching transition from Eric Mangini (now with Cleveland) to Rex Ryan (Scott's longtime defensive coordinator in Baltimore).
*--* 2008 TCK AST SCK FF PD Baltimore 61 21 1.5 2 5 *--*
QB Matt Cassel, Kansas City: Cassel went from career backup -- both with the Patriots and before that at USC -- to the man of the moment. He did an outstanding job filling in for Brady last season, and now gets an offense he can help build from scratch.
*--* 2008 CMP ATT YDS PCT TD INT N. England 327 516 3,693 63.4 21 11 *--*
DT Albert Haynesworth, Washington: A one-man wrecking crew in Tennessee, Haynesworth got a $100-million contact from the Redskins with the expectation that he'll be a balance-shifter in the NFC East. Will he be a dream pickup, or another Dan Snyder fantasy-football fizzler?
*--* 2008 TCK AST SCK FF PD Tennessee 41 10 8.5 3 2 *--*
QB Jay Cutler, Chicago: Lots of teams were vying for the services of Cutler, among them the Redskins, Lions and Buccaneers. But the Bears got him. Now, he gets a chance to prove he can elevate the franchise, even though he won't have those excellent Broncos receivers or that Denver line that protected him so well.
*--* 2008 CMP ATT YDS PCT TD INT Denver 384 616 4,526 62.3 25 18 *--*
TE Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta: Great catch for the Falcons. They picked up the only tight end in NFL history to make 10 Pro Bowls. Gonzalez and Kansas City have been synonymous for years and years, but they both agreed it was time to split and move forward.
*--* 2008 REC YDS AVG LG TD Kan. City 96 1,058 11.0 35 10 *--*
WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seattle: In his last two seasons in Cincinnati, Houshmandzadeh caught a combined 204 passes with 16 touchdowns. He was courted by the Bengals and Minnesota, but decided to make the move back to the Pacific Northwest (he attended Oregon State) and surely will be Matt Hasselbeck's favorite target.
*--* 2008 REC YDS AVG LG TD Cincinnati 96 904 9.8 46 4 *--*