Ageless James Harrison prepares for showdown with 'monster'

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- James Harrison, a 39-year-old linebacker, looked up and saw his 40-year-old quarterback walking by in the New England Patriots' locker room on Friday.

"Look, there's Tom Brady," the media-shy Harrison said, perhaps hoping the group of reporters at his locker would leave him alone and chase down "The Gloved One."

No such luck. The crowd stuck to him.

While the pregame attention has focused on Brady's injured right hand/thumb -- it's "handemonium" in the New England region -- it would be wrong to dismiss Harrison. The recently signed Harrison will play an integral role in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

The Jacksonville Jaguars got this far, in part, because of their smash-mouth rushing attack. Harrison became one of the best linebackers of his generation because of his smash-mouth attitude as a run defender.

It's a classic matchup: The rocked-up, 242-pound Harrison, who probably can bench press a Zipcar, will go head-to-head with running back Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville's 228-pound rookie stud.

"It's another monster that we've got to try to contain," Harrison said.

Since being released by the Pittsburgh Steelers and landing with the Patriots, Harrison has played 57 out of a possible 126 defensive snaps (45 percent) in two games as an edge-setting outside linebacker. In the divisional round, he helped the Patriots contain Derrick Henry, the Tennessee Titans' bruising runner. Now they face a similarly powerful rushing attack in Jacksonville.

"It's their will against our will," Harrison said.

Harrison is not shy in the will department. No player, especially a linebacker, can last 16 years in the league without an indomitable will. Harrison has played in 193 regular-season games, plus another 20 in the postseason. At his age -- he turns 40 in May -- he literally takes it one game at a time. Sunday could be his farewell game. Who knows?

"I approach every game the same, except now it's single elimination," he said. "If you don't get everything done to an appropriate level now, you go home."

The younger players, meaning everybody on the roster except Brady, enjoy having him around because of his knowledge and intense work ethic. Rookie defensive tackle Adam Butler credited Harrison with teaching him how to develop a stronger "rip" move, a pass-rushing technique.

"When he speaks, you can definitely tell he's been in the game for a while," Butler said. "Listening to him and how he pass-rushes and some of the things he looks at when he pass-rushes, it's amazing."

Outside linebacker Trevor Reilly, a member of the practice squad, said it's awesome to be in Harrison's presence.

"He's what I aspire to be at 39," Reilly said. "He's one of the greatest players in the history of the game. ... He's a guy who has a lot of knowledge. He's played linebacker for what seems like forever, and he's won a lot of football games."

Harrison won most of his games, including a Super Bowl, with the Steelers. Everybody figured he'd face his old team in the conference championship, which would've created a terrific storyline. Ah, but the Jaguars ruined that, with some help from the Steelers.

Harrison said he didn't watch the Steelers-Jaguars game, also claiming he hasn't talked to any of his former teammates this week. Asked if he's disappointed by not getting a shot at his old team, Harrison -- serious as ever -- said, "I'm just happy that we're here and playing somebody."