Owens, the Buffalo Bills' newest wide receiver, and Springs, the New England Patriots' first-year cornerback, will meet for the 10th time Monday night when the teams open the regular season at Gillette Stadium (assuming, of course, Springs overcomes his knee injury and takes the field).
The pair has followed each other around the NFL since Springs was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 1997, and they have played in the same division in every season since 2002. Owens, a third-round draft pick in 1996, played with the San Francisco 49ers through 2003. He left the Bay Area to join the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, the same season Springs signed with the Washington Redskins, where he stayed through 2008. After Owens was suspended and released by the Eagles, he signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 2006. Owens and Springs were each released last winter, and they in turn signed with their respective AFC East teams within a four-day stretch in March.
“I think [Patriots head coach Bill] Belichick knew with me coming to the Bills that he had to find somebody to check me,” Owens said last week, “so he went out and acquired [Springs].”
Springs has developed a reputation as a T.O. stopper throughout his career, which made the Patriots’ acquisition of him that much more intriguing. While Belichick might have had Owens in the back of his mind when he signed Springs, it’s more likely just a coincidence, as the Patriots badly needed to improve their secondary after the 2008 season.
Springs and Owens have played against each other nine times, with Owens’ teams winning five of those matchups. In those games, Owens has caught 47 passes (5.2 per game) for 592 yards (65.8) and nine touchdowns (1.0). Throughout his career, Owens has averaged 5.0 catches, 74.7 receiving yards and 0.74 touchdowns.
While the numbers might not validate Springs’ reputation, they also don’t take into account how often he was covering Owens. Plus, Springs earned the moniker earlier in his career, and Owens’ statistics weren’t as gaudy in those matchups. In their first six meetings, Owens had 25 receptions (4.2 per game) for 272 yards (45.3) and three touchdowns (0.5). Owens has really thrived in their last three meetings with 22 catches (7.3 per game) for 320 yards (106.7) and six touchdowns (2.0).
“I wouldn’t call it a rivalry or anything like that,” Springs said. “I think both of us are just competitive athletes trying to do the best for our team, whether it’s San Fran. and Seattle, whether it’s Washington and Philly, Washington and Dallas, or whether it’s New England and Buffalo.
"Obviously, he’s a great player. You’ve seen what he’s done over the years, and his numbers speak for itself. When you’re playing against a guy like that, you’ve just always got to try your hardest.”
The two have also become friends along the way, and they’ve spent time at each other’s houses away from the field. Because of that, Springs has gotten to know Owens beyond the controversial wideout’s reputation.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand him because you hear all about his personality things, all of his antics and stuff,” Springs said. “I don’t think people really understand how hard the guy works, one, and two, I don’t think you understand he’s actually a smart football player [in addition to his physical skill]. A lot of people don’t know about him, but he knows things. He’s pretty smart, and he knows how defenses play him, and he makes different adjustments and stuff. He knows how to make plays.”
Springs said he enjoys the challenge that Owens brings.
“The good thing about going up against T.O. is when you play a guy like
that, you at least see where you’re at because you know he is always
going to try to dominate any opponent,” Springs said. “He comes out,
and he works really hard. You have to be ready playing him. The good
thing about him is either you’re going to be the bug or the windshield,
one of the two with him. He’s so competitive, and you’ve got to like
playing against guys like that.”
Though the Patriots and Bills will also meet Dec. 20 at Buffalo, Springs is hopeful he can take the field Monday and is excited to add another chapter to their growing history.
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