FOXBORO, Mass. -- Rodney Harrison could see the disappointment in New England last winter. That's what sold him on the place.
"I knew that they were a year removed from the Super Bowl and they finished 9-7," the Patriots safety said Wednesday as he prepared for the AFC Championship game. "I can't remember the last time I finished 9-7 - and it was disappointing to them."
Harrison, who spent his entire career with the San Diego Chargers before signing with New England as a free agent, is a big reason why there's little disappointment around Foxboro this winter. The Patriots will play the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday for the conference title, and Harrison is back in the playoffs for the first time since his second year.
This after a season in which Harrison led New England with 140 tackles and added three interceptions while helping instill an attitude in a defense that posted three shutouts in its last four regular-season home games. But with his reputation as a big - some say cheap - hitter and the fact that the woeful Chargers didn't want him, some of his Patriots teammates wondered what they were getting.
"With any free agent, you wonder how he's going to fit in. There's always questions at first. He answered those right away," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "I think, from Day 1, he's established himself as a force with big hits."
Actually, it was the second day of practice in training camp when Harrison belted New England receiver Troy Brown on a route across the middle. In case there were any doubts remaining, he had a team-high 11 tackles in the first week.
"I really can't comment on what San Diego thought," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "I just think Rodney Harrison is a good football player from 'A' to 'Z.' He's a pro - on the field, off the field. He has the ability to play in all situations - run, pass, blitz, tackle, special teams when he's been asked to do that.
"I think he is a complete player. He has had a good year for us, and he's had it in a lot of different areas. It's not all in the run. It's not all in the pass. It's not all on blitzes. It's on everything."
Since Harrison has forgotten: The last time he went 9-7 was in 1995, his second year in the league after a rookie year in which he led the AFC champions in special teams tackles.
But since '95, the Chargers haven't been back to the playoffs. So when they decided to start a youth movement last offseason - jettisoning Harrison and linebacker Junior Seau - he was happy to look elsewhere.
The Patriots signed him the day after they signed former Chicago Bears linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. Harrison liked the idea that New England was investing in its defense.
"They were a year removed from the Super Bowl," he said. "So I knew I could come here and be competitive right away."
Harrison became the leader of the secondary when the Patriots cut safety Lawyer Milloy five days before their season opener. Milloy signed with the Buffalo Bills and helped them shut out the Patriots.
But New England has lost only once since the, posting the best record in the NFL during the regular season.
"He's definitely brought an attitude, which was something Lawyer Milloy brought, too. But Rodney has brought another aspect - he's a physical presence," Patriots cornerback Ty Law said.
"We pretty much knew the type of player he was because he, myself and Lawyer hung out together at the Pro Bowl and that's one of the reasons he signed here because he thought it would be fun to play here, together."
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