FOXBORO Lets get this out of the way right now: The Patriots didnt take the Indianapolis Colts seriously.
In fact, they were so amused by the 0-11 Colts ineptitude that they stuck a wide receiverkick coverage guy at safety for the day, started two other players they just signed, started a linebacker who had barely played linebacker and had him play corner on the games first third down play.
It was such a walkover that even Shaun Ellis and Jermaine Cunningham got in and Chad Ochocinco had a catch (and an offsetting drop).
In short, the Patriots were able to treat a regular-season game like a preseason game and still win. Good for them? Great for them!
To be able to get players real-time reps at spots theyd never played in the month of December and still win? Any coach would leap at that opportunity.
The irony it all is that Bill Belichick spent the week acting like the media was high for disrespecting the Colts' 0-11 record. He then went out and shamed the Colts worse than the media ever could have with his personnel moves.
On Wednesday, Belichick did everything but take off his shoe and pound the table to make everyone understand what a difficult challenge his team faced.
Meanwhile, he was tapping Matthew Slater on the shoulder and saying, Wanna play defense this week?
He was sticking newly signed Nate Jones out at corner and just-activated Nick McDonald in at center and putting Niko Koutovides in at linebacker and splitting him out to cover a wide receiver.
And still they won. They scored 31 points in six drives and rolled up a 31-3 lead by the end of the third.
That Indy scored three touchdowns during garbage time to make the score less humiliating will cause hands to wring.
But consider this: If the Patriots thought the game was in doubt and that theyd actually lose, would Tom Brady have been taken out of the game in favor of backup Brian Hoyer and run the ball three straight times with three minutes left?
How badly can you eviscerate the players for letting up in garbage time when the coaches were experimenting and putting in the backup quarterback in garbage time?
Putting all that aside, how did it all work out for the Patriots, this depth-building exercise?
Pretty well. Three of the top five tacklers against Indy were new (Nate Jones, 9 tackles), new to the team (Koutouvides, 6 tackles) or new to the position (Slater, 7 tackles).
I just thank God for the opportunity to be able to get out there and help the team win a football game today, said Slater.. Im just so thankful for the opportunity.
Slater said he learned hed be playing defense just this week. But, he added, Ive known since Ive been here to just be ready to do whatever they ask me to do. They approached me with it this week and I know Im a role player on this team and whatever role they give me, thats what Im going to do.
My career has been about me doing whatever theyve asked of me, he said.
With Slater getting safety reps, the Patriots now have Patrick Chung (who missed his fourth game Sunday), James Ihedigbo, Sergio Brown and Sterling Moore to stick back there. Jones, meanwhile, showed to be an extremely sound tackler and a guy who plays fast. Hes now in the corner mix with Devin McCourty (shaky in his first game back from a shoulder separation), Kyle Arrington, Antwaun Molden, Moore, and another offensedefense convert Julian Edelman.
Bill always is saying that, anytime you can do more it helps the team, said Molden. If you can play different positions, it gives you a profound understanding of the game overall. I know that will definitely help us out in the long run.
Ihedigbo echoed that, saying, Versatility is a part of the game. The more you can do, the more you can help the defense . . . Whatever it is they want me to do, they do stuff in the best interest of us as players and us as a team.
When Belichick was asked why he had Slater at safety to start the game, he said, We tried to put the best people out there we could to be competitive. Its the same thing we do every week.
Asked if that meant that Slater is now better than other safety options, Belichick answered, We felt like that was the best thing we could do to win.
If putting a guy whos never played the spot before when regulars at the position was the quickest way to victory on Sunday, this teams in a bad way.
It took Ihedigbo to say what all the new faces in new places was really about.
Bill knows best, he said. Thats kind of the motto here and he knows what he wants to do in terms of getting guys reps and getting us as a secondary to have more depth and giving guys an opportunity to play. Its all in the best interests for our team and the best interest of our defense.