For Bodden, winning's a new world

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The holiday season can be a time for reflection, and veteran New England Patriots cornerback Leigh Bodden has reminded himself what a difference one year can make.

At this time last year, he was on the woeful Detroit Lions, a team headed toward the first 0-16 season in NFL history. Now, for the first time in his seven-year pro career, he is on the cusp of a playoff berth.

"To tell you the truth, I was just looking forward to being with my family and enjoying the offseason; football wasn't even on my mind," Bodden said this week when asked about his mindset at Christmas in 2008.

"Obviously, it was still my job and I still handled it professionally, going out there and practicing and playing hard, but you know you're not playing for anything. That's not really what football is about. There is more to it."

That's why, of all the players in the Patriots' locker room, few have as deep an appreciation for what the club can accomplish Sunday when it hosts the Jacksonville Jaguars (1 p.m. ET) -- the chance to win the AFC East.

Although this has been a topsy-turvy season by recent Patriots standards, it has been more like football nirvana for 28-year-old Bodden. Most anything would have been an improvement from 0-16, but it's opportunities such as this one that led him to New England in the offseason over other possibilities such as the St. Louis Rams or the Seattle Seahawks.

He has made the most of it, starting 13 of the team's 14 games and playing in 88 percent of the defensive snaps, the second-highest total on the team behind safety Brandon Meriweather. His 17 passes defended are easily a team high, as are his five interceptions, three of which came gift wrapped by rookie New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has called Bodden one of the team's most consistent performers in the secondary, also noting his intelligence and professionalism.

The closest Bodden has come to the playoffs was in 2007, when the Cleveland Browns finished 10-6 and needed the Indianapolis Colts to beat the Tennessee Titans in the final weekend to qualify. The Colts rested key players and lost the game, which sparked chatter in some circles as to whether clubs should play their top players when another team's playoff hopes were contingent on the result of their game.

So this is a position Bodden is unfamiliar with: If he wins, he's finally in.

"It would be great. I've always wanted to play in the playoffs, and everybody's dream is the Super Bowl. Knowing that if you win, you're going to that next step, it means a lot," Bodden said. "Guys maybe take it for granted when they go, but it's not something I'll take for granted. That's why I am going to go out and play like this is the championship."

As for his body of work this season, Bodden (6-foot-1, 193 pounds) is generally pleased with his combination of coverage and tackling. He said he feels that he's been put in good situations to make plays and that the overall confidence in the team's locker room also has helped him.

At some point, Bodden will have to consider his future plans because his New England deal is a one-year, $2.25 million contract. The Patriots agreed not to use the franchise tag, which will allow him to fully experience the free-agent market in the offseason if he so desires.

In retrospect, the contract has been a good one for both sides. It has helped Bodden put himself back on the NFL map, and the Patriots have received a significantly upgraded performance at the right cornerback spot previously occupied by Ellis Hobbs.

Bodden called the Patriots his preferred destination in 2010 and beyond, but acknowledged that he is unsure what the future will hold. At this point, the only business on which he wants to focus is on the field.

"This is exactly what I came here for. Other teams I've played for have had nothing to play for at this point, after Game 14," he said. "Thinking back to getting traded from Cleveland to Detroit, people were saying it was a bad thing, but I think everything happens for a reason. I went through that; I didn't get signed back there; and I got an opportunity to come to a team like this, where you're competing for the division and hopefully more.

"A year makes a lot of difference. I wouldn't say everybody, but a lot of people wrote me off because of the team I played on. I still feel like I played good over there, but it was overshadowed by the 0-16. It was like, 'Who could have done well over there?' So you look at it now, I'm just excited for this opportunity."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.