In Bill We Trust.

That has been the unofficial motto for New England Patriots’ fans for several years now. And why not?

This Bill Belichick guy they have put their trust in is only the head coach and architect of three Super Bowl championship teams, and a fourth that will go down as the greatest team to not win a Super Bowl.

Ah, but this year might just be his best, in terms of coaching and evaluating players.

The Patriots did not enter the 2010 NFL season ranked as a Super Bowl contender. Heck, they weren’t even picked to win the AFC East. Yet, heading into today’s game at Chicago against the Bears, New England is tied for the best record in the league (10-2) and is regarded in most regions as the best team in the land.

Obviously, it helps to have Tom Brady as your quarterback. In leading the Patriots to a 45-3 whipping of the rival New York Jets last Monday, when he threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns, Brady may have locked up his second MVP award.

But other than Tom Terrific, who are these Patriots?

Sure, you have slot receiver Wes Welker, who leads the team with 72 catches, and Vince Wilfork, a likely Pro Bowler at nose tackle, and linebacker Jerod Mayo, who is on pace to become only the third Patriot in history to have 200 tackles in a season.

But, again, other than those players, who are these Patriots?

Well, they’re a bunch of rookies who have played prominent roles in the team’s success: cornerback Devin McCourty, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham, and punter Zoltan Mesko.

They’re running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, undrafted out of college and/or cast off from another NFL team, now combining for 15 touchdowns.

They’re Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer, two previously unheralded offensive linemen who have stepped in to replace injured starters.

They’re linebacker Rob Ninkovich, cast off by three other NFL teams but now an integral starter.

No one could have foreseen the impact these players have had on this team.

“Nobody has a sense of (their contributions) early in the year,’’ said injured running back Kevin Faulk, who is still hanging around the team, offering his advice whenever it is needed. “That’s what you’re working for, that’s what you’re striving for, to have your team come together at the right time.’’

Faulk attributed the success of those and other players to the coaching and scouting of the Patriots.

And, as veteran running back Fred Taylor noted, we have seen this before. Belichick has a history of bringing in veterans who have been let go and turning them into stars.

“They do an outstanding job with that here,’’ said Taylor, who has been injured most of the season. “And, you have Coach Belichick. It’s no secret. That’s been happening here for years now. You’ve got to appreciate and admire someone has a feel for players like that.’’

But many people thought Belichick had lost his touch in recent years. Veteran free agents brought in didn’t pan out. Draft picks didn’t pan out.

And when he drafted McCourty out of Rutgers in the first round, people questioned that move. Didn’t the team need a linebacker or pass rusher, or a running back, or a wide receiver?

Well, McCourty now has six interceptions to lead the team and is becoming a lock-down corner.

“He’s got everything you want in a corner,’’ said Ninkovich, who has 42 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Then Belichick picked Gronkowski, who missed all of his last year in college because of a back injury, in the second round. He’s second on the team with six touchdown catches.

Spikes was another second- round pick. He’s second on the team in tackles with 71 and had a momentum-changing interception against the Jets last Monday. On Friday he was suspended for the final four regular-season games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Spikes, who will be eligible to play in the playoffs, released a statement saying the substance was a medication, not a performance enhancer or an illegal drug.

While his rookie season has stalled, he had a huge impact in the first 12 games. Safety James Sanders said it was obvious, upon first impression, that McCourty and Spikes were going to help the team.

“On top of being great athletes, they’re hard workers,’’ said Sanders. “Any time you put that combination together, you’re going to get very good football players, especially if they continue to be coachable guys, which they are.

“They go in the film room each day and they take coaching and apply it to the practice field, which in turn, they take into the game and continue to make plays for us. They’ve grown a lot since the spring and we need them to continue to grow because we need to be playing our best ball at this time of the year.’’

Beyond the draft, the Patriots retooled during the season. They traded away running back Laurence Maroney and wide receiver Randy Moss. In their place, they got old friend Deion Branch (third on the team with 36 catches) and Woodhead, a former Division II player who was let go by the Jets.

All Woodhead is doing is averaging 11.9 yards a catch, 5.4 yards a rush and has scored four touchdowns.

“All Danny needed was a chance,’’ said Ninkovich. “He’s taken that and run with it.’’

The Patriots also lost starting right tackle Nick Kaczur to an injury in training camp, and replaced him with the rather large (6-foot-8, 315 pounds) Vollmer, a native of Kaarst, Germany, who didn’t begin playing football until he was 14. And All-Pro guard Logan Mankins held out for the season’s first seven games while seeking a new contract. He was replaced by Connolly, who started at left guard and is now starting at right guard because starter Stephen Neal is out for the season with an injury.

“Danny has played his role perfectly,’’ said Mankins, who has solidified the offensive line. “You can’t ask for anything more.’’

No, you can’t. That may be the Patriots’ secret. They simply ask their players to do their job, play their role, and not worry about anything else.

“It says a lot about the organization in the sense that they ask you to do your role, to the best of your ability,’’ said Ninkovich, who still plays on special teams.

“Everybody is just trying to do their best to get the job done and we’re all working hard,’’ said Green-Ellis, who leads the team with 699 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. “It’s about 11 guys doing their jobs. You’ve got to do your job and trust the other 10 guys are going to do theirs. It really is a trust thing.’’

Mankins has seen enough roster shuffling in his six years to know what type of player Belichick is looking for.

“Bill’s not bringing in just anybody,’’ said Mankins. “He’s bringing in guys that he believes in.’’
In Bill We Trust.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]