December 21, 2012

Patriots' big man is best on a big stage

Vince Wilfork is one of the NFL's best nose tackles – especially when the pressure's on.

By MATTHEW CARROLL The Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - His numbers don't leap off the page. They never do.

Yet as he has done throughout his entire nine-year career in New England, Vince Wilfork is leaving an unmistakable imprint all over the Patriots this season.

The only defensive player still on the roster from any of New England's championship teams is once again living up to the billing as one of the best nose tackles in the league. Wilfork is a stalwart force in the center of the Patriots' defensive line who's been instrumental in their much-improved rushing defense.

"I could care less about stats," Wilfork said earlier in the year. "The only stat I care about is the W. We win, and I'm happy. We lose, and I'm not."

The 6-foot-2, 325-pound Wilfork wasn't too jolly following New England's 41-34 loss to San Francisco on Monday night that snapped the Patriots' seven-game winning streak.

After back-to-back games against two of the top teams in the league -- the first a possible AFC championship preview against the Houston Texans and last week's showdown a potential Super Bowl matchup -- New England travels to Jacksonville to face the struggling Jaguars.

And after playing two teams that have combined for 22 victories, Wilfork isn't about to look past 2-12 Jacksonville.

The Jaguars, like every other team on New England's schedule, likely will find it impossible to overlook Wilfork.

"A lot of people might look at their record, but you can just tell, they just line up and they play football. They're old school," Wilfork said. "They line up and they try to do things right and you can just tell, when they do the things right, they move the ball, they make plays.

"It's going to be challenging for us."

Attempting to block Wilfork is always a tall order.

Just ask Patriots offensive lineman Nick McDonald, whose job is to help handle Wilfork each and every practice.

"Going up against (a guy) like that, you've got to play your best football. He's a tough player to defend," McDonald said. "He's a great football player. He's a good leader. He's a guy that's been around the system for a long time and he does a lot of things well.

"He's a hell of a football player."

When the stage is biggest, Wilfork seems to shine the most. Take two weeks ago, for example.

The mammoth man in the middle was credited with four tackles, one for a loss, a sack, one pass deflection and a forced fumble, igniting a stunning blowout of the first-place Texans in front of a national television audience.

He also was almost single-handedly responsible for bottling up running back Arian Foster, who for the third straight season has eclipsed 1,200 yards but managed just 46 yards on 15 carries against the Patriots.

Wilfork didn't even need to be standing on his large feet to make one of the more memorable tackles of his season, either. On the second offensive play of the game, Wilfork was blocked to the ground, but still managed to clamp his massive mitts around Foster's shin, dragging him down for a 1-yard loss.

"He's a unique player," McDonald said.

Wilfork by no means is your average pass rusher, barreling down the middle rather than from the side, and has totaled fewer sacks in his career (15) than some players have this season alone.

But then again, nothing about the four-time Pro Bowler is typical.

The surprisingly mobile veteran is enjoying a standout season for New England with 42 tackles, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, a pair of sacks and six passes defended.

(Continued on page 2)

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