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Ex-Patriots assess their former team

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – After playing four years for the New England Patriots and helping them win a Super Bowl last season, Shane Vereen will face his former team for the first time Sunday when the defending champions face the Giants in MetLife Stadium.


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"I'm not saying it's just another game," Vereen said this week. "Obviously, for those guys who were on the team last year, I'm sure it's a little more special. I know, for me, it is. But we're going to go out, we're going to play Sunday just like we would any other Sunday. We've got to prepare, we've got to get ready to go this week more than ever."

He'll get no argument on any of those statements. New England is 8-0 and playing at least as well as any NFL team. The Giants are 5-4 and trying to hold onto sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

"We're going up against the best team we've played so far this season, obviously undefeated," Vereen said. "So it's a great test, a great opportunity, I think. It's a great chance for us to test what we've got up against an undefeated team.

"Honestly, you could look across the board and try and find a weakness and your guess is as good as mine. Defensively, offensively - I'm looking at the defense, they're strong, all the way around. So we're going to have to play well.

"(Their defense is) physical. They play physical, they play strong, they play tough and they try to come at you from all different angles."

Linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who also played on the Patriots' 2014 championship team, has the opposite challenge – trying to slow down Tom Brady and the NFL's highest-scoring offense.

"The interesting thing about New England is they game plan every week, and every week is different," Casillas said. "They attack teams differently. They run everything on offense, so it's like they have tendencies, but they're not as strong as other teams. A lot of teams stick to their tendencies and they do it like that, and that's how they beat you. New England picks a weakness, or they see where they have favorable mismatches, and they attack them. You won't really know their game plan until the day of the game, and then you realize what they're trying to do. That's how you have to play them, because they're so good and the offense is so broad and wide, and Tom Brady has been doing it for 15 years. It's easy for him to just attack a team one way and then the next week play totally different; passing, then suddenly you're running the ball 35 times, so they can do that."

Vereen believes an effective offense can be a big part of establishing a good defense.

"I think we're going to have to get first downs to keep Tom Brady off the field," Vereen said. "Whether we run it, whether we pass it, we're going to have to get first downs, stay on the field, convert the chains, and score points at the end of the day."
Vereen helped New England do exactly that in its 28-24 victory over Seattle last February. His 11 receptions were a Super Bowl record for a running back. Vereen was one of seven receivers to catch at least one of Brady's 50 passes (37 completions).

He insists his high catch total was not the result of the Seahawks' inability to cover him.

"I just felt like we had a good handle on what they were going to do defensively, where the soft spots were in the defense," Vereen said. "I had a good feeling of that. And then we just went out and played."

The Patriots trailed by 10 points early in the fourth quarter before Brady threw late touchdown passes to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, who remain the team's most productive wideouts.

"(Brady is) encouraging, focused - that'd probably be the biggest word, focused," Vereen said. "And he came back and put two drives together, we put two drives together and went down to win."

It's that kind of consistent success in game-deciding situations that the Giants must combat on Sunday.

Asked if this is one of coach Bill Belichick's best Patriots teams, Vereen said, "I don't know where it ranks among the teams that he's had. They've contended ever since coach Belichick has been there, really. I know they're good, I know they're undefeated, and I know we're going to have to play well."

He'll get no dissent from Casillas.

Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants face the New England Patriots this Sunday

"Every game is big, but arguably the best team in the NFL is coming to our stadium, and it's going to be a big game," Casillas said. "Tom Brady has played a lot of big games, and he's won a lot of big games on the road as well as home games. He's consistently done it, and they're riding high right now. Their offense is a well-oiled machine, they can run the ball, pass the ball, inside, outside, their tight ends are good, they use all the receivers, so we have to be on point.

"Last week, we did last week, we had a great week of practice leading up to the game (a 32-18 victory at Tampa Bay). We had a good showing, and we have to do the same thing this week. New England is never not going to be a difficult task, and that's a tribute to Tom Brady, Bill Belichick as the coach, and all the guys that move around in and out the building. They just do a great job, and we're definitely going to have to play lights out to beat these guys at home."

•  Five Giants have been declared out of Sunday's game: cornerback Prince Amukamara (pectoral), tight end Larry Donnell (neck), linebackers J.T. Thomas (ankle) and Uani 'Unga (neck), and wide receiver Victor Cruz (calf).

"(Amukamara, who will miss his fifth consecutive game) improves, he keeps improving and getting better," coach Tom Coughlin said. "The medical people have got a strong hold on his position."

Cornerback Leon McFadden (groin) is questionable, while guards Justin Pugh (illness) and Geoff Schwartz (ankle) are probable.

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