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Vince Wilfork remembers rookie debut against Peyton Manning but isn’t thinking about Wes Welker

09.06.13 at 9:52 pm ET

FOXBORO — When Peyton Manning matched an NFL record by throwing for seven touchdowns Thursday night against the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens, many football fans recalled another time when he appeared in the prime time NFL season opener against a defending champ.

The year was 2004 and the defending champions were the New England Patriots. Only on that night, Manning did not have such fond memories. The Colts were trailing 27-24 and had 1st and goal from the Patriots 1 with just under four minutes left. Edgerrin James was drilled by Eugene Wilson and coughed up the football and it was recovered at the 1 by a Patriots rookie named Vince Wilfork making his NFL debut.

“Well, playing Thursday night against the Colts, Peyton Manning and one of the biggest plays in that game was a goal line stop when Eugene Wilson hit Edgerrin James in the end zone and made him fumble and I picked it up and tried to run. I will never forget that because that was my first game, playing against one of the best quarterbacks in my first NFL game. I’ll always remember that.”

Patriots fans will always remember Mike Vanderjagt missing wide right from 48 to seal the season-opening three-point win that night at Gillette Stadium.

Another player who made a debut of sorts Thursday was Wes Welker in a Broncos uniform. He had nine catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns. Wilfork was asked if he saw it.

“No. I was sleeping,” Wilfork said.

Wilfork was asked why he wouldn’t be interested in watching his former teammate.

“I’m not worrying about nobody but the Buffalo Bills and the Patriots right now,” Wilfork said. “I’m so far from anyone else. My hands have to get ready to slow down C.J. Spiller and [Fred Jackson] and this Buffalo team so I don’t have any time to pay attention to nobody else and what they have going on. Trust me, my hands are full right now.”

As for containing the Bills, that starts with the running backs tandem of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and receivers Stevie Johnson and tight end Scott Chandler.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us, going on the road against a division opponent that always plays us tough,” Wilfork said. “Trust me, our hands are full. I’m pretty sure they’re going to give us everything we can handle.

“[Spiller] is a big challenge. When you talk about a guy who touches the ball 80 percent of the time, they made it clear that’s their guy. They’re going to try to get the ball to him in the run game, in the pass game, and why wouldn’t you? He’s an explosive guy. He can hurt you anywhere on the field. We have to do a really good job up front, just being responsible for our gaps, understand where he can hurt us, and that’s everywhere.”

“Everybody is at the point of attack with this guy,” Wilfork said. “We’ve seen these guys before and they’ve given us some problems before and they gave us some problems. First game of the season, on the road, they have everything going for themselves. At the same time, we’re going to have to go there and play some good football if we want to win.

“The biggest thing is we’re on the road against a division opponent and it happens to be the Buffalo Bills. Every time we play these guys there’s some kind of new run or new wrinkle that they show us. They always give us a tough time. We understand that. We understand how important it is for us to start fast.”

Wilfork said he is very excited about the development of second-year players Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower.

“They had a great offseason,” Wilfork added on Friday. “They had great preseason games and you could just see these guys growing into their own. We’ve seen some big plays from them during the season and I’m expected some big plays this year. They’re both excited and we’re all excited but those two, with Chandler in my defensive line room and Hightower being part of the front seven, we have high expectations for all of us but those two alone mean a lot to our defense. The more they can play good, they better we’ll be as a unit. And it’s vice versa, the more I can do for these guys and help these guys and understand how we all need to play. We’ll be pretty good but as soon as somebody starts lacking or we do some things we don’t have any business doing, we’ll come back to reality.

“But for the most part, the focus level has been there. They’ve grown, they’ve grown into leaders, they understand the game, how to play it, the passion for the game and just being professional. That’s the one thing I see out of all of these guys, especially these guys coming into their second year now, they’re learning how to be a professional. When you’re a rookie, you kind of don’t know because it’s new to you but now with two years under their belt, they kind of understand how it goes and what they need to do to be good on and off the field. Look for big things from them hopefully.”

Read More: Buffalo Bills, chandler jones, Denver Broncos, Dont'a Hightower



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