Patriots don't let injuries stop them

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Patriots don't let injuries stop them

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Tucked into an out-of-the-way corner in the Patriots locker room -- down where the cooler full of water and Gatorade used to be -- are four blue metal lockers.

Down there, three recently-signed players Chevis Jackson, Louis Leonard and Thomas Clayton have their football offices.

In a locker room as sprawling and well-appointed as the Patriots', isn't there room in the main joint for these guys?

No. There's not.

Between active players, practice squad guys and players who've been sent to injured reserve, the Patriots have 74 players currently on their team. So Clayton, Jackson and Leonard are relegated to the manger, as it were.

There are many fascinating aspects to the 2010 Patriots, but the way they've inconspicuously faced down the attrition of an NFL season is one of the most interesting.

When Jonathan Wilhite went to injured reserve on Wednesday, he became the 12th Patriot this year to have his season ended by injury, joining key players like Leigh Bodden, Kevin Faulk, Stephen Gostkowski, Nick Kaczur, Brandon McGowan, Stephen Neal and Ty Warren in NFL limbo.

With three games to go, the 12 players sent to IR exceeds the totals of the Super Bowl seasons of '01, '03 and '04 (10, 11, 11) and approaches the totals of 2008 and 2006 (14 and 13). The Patriots have already used 37 different starters, a total approaching the 2003 team (42), which was the highest number of starters used by a Super Bowl winner.

Two of the prominent IR guys Bodden and Warren were on IR before the season began. Kaczur never got on the field before he was sent there around midseason. As a result, you forget that these are starters that went down. Also overlooked is that would-be starters like Laurence Maroney and Derrick Burgess were traded and released (same with Randy Moss, but there's been no overlooking that).

The Patriots' locker room door is a revolving one but that hasn't stopped them from becoming again the league's best team.

"Every team knows that whoever the 53-man roster is that you have in September, it's probably not going to be who it is at the end of the year," shrugged Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a man who's proven incredibly adept at negotiating roster upheaval.

"It's a long season and there's certainly attrition to it . . . but, that's part of your depth: your roster, your practice squad, players that have been on your team that didn't make the final cut or other players that are available from within the league for one reason or another. That's part of the league," Belichick noted.

Hank Poteat, Kevin Kasper, Earthwind Moreland, Freddie Coleman, Brian Kinchen, Mike Cloud . . . remember those names? Those are ex-Patriots that jumped on a moving bus that was on its way to a Super Bowl championship. Guys who'd been cut or virtually scrap-heaped. Guys like Danny Woodhead, Eric Moore and, really, Deion Branch.

Aside from the guys they've added are the guys who've ascended. Guys like corner Kyle Arrington, guard Dan Connelly or running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

A player like Kevin Faulk, IR'd after Week 2, knows what's going on.

"It's a tribute to the scouting department and a tribute to the players they're bringing in," said Faulk. "Guys want to work. They want the jobs. That's what you want as a football team. As a scouting department, that's what you recruit these backups for. A starter goes down, you're able to have someone go in and do the same job the starter does. Look at Danny. He was cut the week before he signed with us. Guys stepping up know that the opportunity is there. Once you know that the opportunity is there, you gotta be able to go for it. Reach for it and you're gonna get it."

It's interesting to hear Faulk note that incoming players and scrubs understand that "the opportunity is there."

The Patriots are not a team married to its depth chart or to playing individuals based on draft position. The best prepared, the most effective, will play, even if he just drove in from the airport.

"It's somewhat unusual," acknowledges defensive lineman Gerard Warren, a man who's been in Oakland, Denver and Cleveland before coming to New England. "The only other place that came close to being this prepared was Denver when I was out there. The professionalism is what stands out in Denver and New England. In Denver, it's we called 'carrying no dead weight.' Everybody better be prepared to roll, your number could be called tomorrow."

And when it is, you won't necessarily get a watered-down level of expectation. Or be treated like a seat-warmer.

"Every team has a personnel department that has to keep on top of available players and has to make roster moves, whether it's from their practice squad or somewhere else," said Belichick, pointing to the branch run by Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio. "It's something you have to be able to do. The more your players can play multiple positions and do multiple things, then that gives you some degree of depth, but ultimately, you're going to have to fill players' spots with players. So, theyve got to come from somewhere. You have to try and figure out how to get the best out of those guys that are available."

The expectations for backups are high. And, at least in Faulk's case, the personal expectations for a player whose season has ended are high as well.

"There's a big influence," Faulk said when asked what an IR'd player can do for a callup. "It's all on you, it's all on them. They can ask you questions and you tell them what they need to hear. Maybe you're watching a game at home and you see something that may affect them later on in the season. You gotta be aware, you gotta be prepared."

And few do it better than New England.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Quirky Super Bowl schedule this time around for Patriots

Quirky Super Bowl schedule this time around for Patriots

The Patriots schedule for the next few days in Massachusetts and Super Bowl Week in Houston is a little quirky.

Players are off on Tuesday (media has conference call access to Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia). There’s no media access on Wednesday at all as the team begins getting introduced to the Super Bowl game plan that will have been partially formulated (and subject to tweaking). The players are in Thursday, Friday and Saturday for afternoon practices and there’s media access to the players each day. There’s no media access on Sunday.

The team will fly to Houston on Monday and – in a major departure – will do its media duties at night. The NFL has repackaged media day as Super Bowl Opening Night. It will be held at Minute Maid Field (home of the Astros) with access to the Patriots from 10 to 11 p.m. EST.

Tuesday, there will be access from 1:30 to 2:30 EST to Belichick and a handful of players at the Patriots’ hotel. There will be full access to players and coaches on Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 6:15 EST.

There’s no NFL-sponsored access of any kind on Friday or Saturday. Previously, there was a final press conference with the head coaches and a press conference with the NFL Commissioner. His name is Roger. Roger Goodell.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame committee meets on Saturday and will announce the 2017 inductees by the end of the day.

For those of you who like television - or who stream on your tiny devices – we’ll be all over this mess.

This week, look for Patriots Wednesday Live on Thursday at noon (hard to have Wednesday Live if ain’t nobody gonna be live from the team).

Mike Giardi and I will be down there Sunday so start looking for live reports and my giant nose in the great state of Texas at that point.

If we’re not live during media day in the evening, I don’t know what we’re doing with our lives. Quick Slants will be Tuesday night and Jerod Mayo will be down there.

Lotta podding planned. Lotta podding.

We’ll keep you updated.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.