BOSTON (CBS) — Two days into the final week of what might be the last of his 13 regular seasons in the NFL, Andre Carter took time out of Christmas Eve to count his blessings before a congregation of reporters gathered around his locker.
Carter also shared reflections, briefly journeying down “memory lane,” as he put it, on the morning after perhaps the final game ever held at his first pro workplace as a San Francisco 49er, Candlestick Park.
What he wouldn’t do, being the polished second-generation pro that Carter is, while seemingly valuing every minute of a second chance with the New England Patriots, was look into the future beyond this weekend.
Though Carter played the last of his four lifetime playoff games six years ago, he wasn’t about to let his mind wander into the postseason that awaits the 2013 AFC East champions.
“Our only focus is Buffalo,” he said. “Everything else will speak for itself when this last game is done.”
Nor, nearing the end of a year in which he was let go by lowly Oakland before being picked up by the Pats, did Carter wonder what 2014 will bring.
“Next year will speak for itself,” he said. “Right now I tell everybody, ‘I just live in the moment.’ For me, just to play this long is definitely a blessing.”
Carter has outlasted every other 49er signed by the late Bill Walsh. He was the seventh overall pick in the 2001 draft, the last for the legendary Walsh as San Francisco’s general manager.
Five seasons in San Francisco preceded five more in Washington. His first two teams reached the playoffs but never the Super Bowl. He returned to the postseason, albeit fleetingly, with the Redskins in 2007.
Four years later, Carter joined New England as a free agent, recorded 10 sacks, reaching double figures for the fourth time in his career, and earned his first invitation to the Pro Bowl. But while Patriots were on their way to the Super Bowl, his season ended after 14 games. By late December, he was on injured reserve.
Carter returned to Northern California, as a Raiders free agent signee last year, before Oakland released him on the doorstep of this season. In late October, he returned to New England. Last Sunday, he took down Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, giving him 80.5 career sacks.
“This is an amazing time for me,” said Carter, whose father, Rubin, played a dozen seasons with the Denver Broncos, including the 1978 campaign under a young assistant coach named Bill Belichick. “I’ve told everybody, ‘There’s no place I’d rather be.’
“I still have that fire. I still have the love of the game.”
Carter understands the business that surrounds it.
Before opportunity called again from area code 508, he recognized the very real possibility that he would no longer stay in the game by playing it. So Carter reached out to contacts involved in other aspects of football like coaching, scouting and broadcasting.
They included Tim Ryan, an ex-Chicago Bear defensive lineman and current radio-TV analyst. Ryan was Carter’s position coach at Oak Grove High in San Jose, Calif.
“I was in a good place mentally,” Carter emphasized. “I still stayed in shape but I was slowly making that transition. At the end of the day, you’ve got to do something to occupy your mind.”
Less than two weeks before rejoining the Patriots, Carter shadowed Ryan during a radio broadcast of the Colts-Chargers in San Diego “to see how he works, to see what I need to work on to perfect that craft.”
More than two months later, work as a commentator is an afterthought to be considered with other career choices at a time far from being determined.
Today, Carter’s mind is occupied only by the regular season finale vs. Buffalo.
Following are a few other thoughts from Carter conveyed on Tuesday, all while looking his questioners squarely in the eyes and accentuated by his easy smile:
— On Bills running back Fred Jackson, who originally signed with Buffalo as a practice squad player in 2006, after grinding his way from tiny Coe College to the United Indoor Football League to NFL Europa. Jackson enters today with 5,067 yards rushing in his seven NFL seasons, including 836 in 2013. “I give him a lot of respect,” Carter says. “When you play this game for a long time, there’s players that have a story; whether they were never given an opportunity to play, whether they had to back up somebody for a long period of time (or suffered) injury. But that’s just something that makes the NFL so amazing.”
— On Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick, who each coached three Super Bowl winners. Walsh, whose 49ers teams won 102 games in his 10 seasons, was San Francisco’s general manager when Carter was drafted out of Cal-Berkley. “With those two particular coaches, there’s just an amazing work ethic. They always say, ‘Know your opponent more than you know yourself.’ Those two men, especially, who’ve been in the game such a long time they (know) their X’s and O’s to a tee; offense, defense, special teams. (They) know each player individually; when they were drafted, where they’re from, possibly where they’re born. That’s just something you don’t really see too often. Don’t get me wrong, there’s other great coaches out there, but I think just from understanding the game, the schematics of it all, those are by far two of the greatest coaches I’ve been around.”
— On Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, who has 11.5 sacks in his second season and is the favorite player of Carter’s six-year-old son, Quincy. “He’s doing well. I’ve very happy with him. … Getting double digit sacks in this business is hard. It is hard. I had four years to get them, and even at times I didn’t have them, (I) just pass-rushed my butt off. … It’s always based on the situation for the whole game. Do you have a lead? Are you playing from behind? How is the flow of the game going? Does the other team pass the ball? Are your main (players) healthy? There are a lot of factors. … He has a long prosperous career ahead of him if he stays healthy and does everything right. Hopefully, he’ll be here for a long time.”
Bob Socci is in his first season as the radio play-by-play voice of the New England Patriots. You can follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.