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The Patriots have developed and thrive on a reputation for being a team with few superstars.

But the cupboard isn't bare.

Cornerback Ty Law and linebacker Willie McGinest are veterans with six Pro Bowl selections between them. With a win today, quarterback Tom Brady would solidify special consideration for his three-year career.

There is one Patriot whose place among the game's best was not in question this season and does not appear to be in doubt for many to come, although few seem to know about him.

Defensive tackle Richard Seymour, a third-year player out of Georgia who attends his second straight Pro Bowl next weekend, has emerged as the team's most notable future star.

"The way he's going now, if he keeps his head straight, with his work ethic, he's going to be one of the best in the league," teammate Ted Washington said. "He's far ahead of great defensive linemen that I know and have played with."

A massive 6 feet 6 and 310 pounds, Seymour is a destructive force at the line of scrimmage but a player with sufficient versatility the Patriots can switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 and keep him on the field.

It makes him a perfect fit for New England's intricate defensive scheme.

"His skills speak for themselves," Washington said.

But at 24, Seymour would rather let his play and his team's results do the talking.

"We have a lot of guys on this football team that sacrifice a lot in order to win," he said. "They put a lot of their personal aspirations aside for the team's success. A lot of guys (around the league) don't do that. You have to be smart enough to know it's about getting the "W,' and that's why we're in the position that we're in two of the last three years."

Through three seasons, the sixth overall pick in the (2001) draft has started in 40 of 44 games, recorded 180 tackles and 16.5 sacks. After being selected for the Pro Bowl in 2002, Seymour followed with another high-caliber season, finishing 2003 with 80 tackles and eight sacks.

Still, he said, the focus should not be on him but on what his defensive front as a whole can do to thwart the premier Panthers running game.

"We understand what they're going to do," he said. "We understand that they're gonna run the football, and if we stop them running it, they're gonna run it from the other side. We understand the philosophy that they are coming with."

Primarily, the Panthers employ an up-the-middle running style that places significant responsibility on Patriots tackles. Running back Stephen Davis bashes his way through what often are gaping holes created by one of the game's better offensive lines.

"They're definitely a physical unit," Seymour said. "Any time you run the football you develop a mentality that you're gonna be physical up front. They bring an attitude, and that's a big part of your game."

If New England is going to limit Carolina's running attack, Seymour is going to have to play with a similar attitude, and the similar results he has had this season.

With that will come continued recognition.

"I tell you what, the more we win, the more we will get in the national spotlight like we are now," he said. "More people will want to know who the Patriots are."

Seymour did admit, however, that he does have some extra incentive for winning today.

"There's definitely a hunger because I gave the first (Super Bowl ring) to my dad, and I'm trying to get this second one for my mom," he said.

Richard Seymour deflects attention. "We have a lot of guys on this football team that sacrifice a lot."