Patriots don't let injuries stop them


Patriots don't let injuries stop them

By Tom E. Curran

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 Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett


Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett

PITTSBURGH – So far this season, Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski have combined for 39 catches, 644 yards and five touchdowns. Making the numbers that much more impressive is the fact the numbers were rolled up with Gronk inactive for two games and fairly useless in another thanks to his hamstring injury.

Will the Steelers slow the roll of Robellus Grennetski?

Hard to imagine. As Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out, Gronk alone has tuned up the Steelers with 26 receptions for 403 yards and seven touchdowns in six meetings.

Fittipaldo explored the strategies the Steelers defense may unveil Sunday afternoon when the Patriots and Steelers get going. He also pointed out that the return of linebacker Ryan Shazier after a three week layoff and injuries for safeties Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden may put Pittsburgh at a disadvantage.

Said Shazier: “They have the tandem they want at tight end. Now they can use tight ends the way they want. You have to respect everyone on the field. Both of them are good blockers, good pass threats and great at running after the catch.”

Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said Pittsburgh will alter its approaches.

“We have to be able to play more than one defense,” Butler said. “They’re very good and they’ll pick you apart if they can figure out what you’re doing. We just have to execute the defense more than anything else. If we can do that … that’s been our problem for the most part. Some of the things that went on last week, we missed some things we should have made mentally.”

What “went on last week” was a 30-15 loss to the Dolphins.

Pittsburgh hasn’t been a big-play group so far -- eight sacks and three picks -- nor have they seen a gauntlet of great quarterbacks in the first six games. 

Interestingly, their losses have been to Ryan Tannehill and rookie Carson Wentz, probably the two quarterbacks one would figure Pittsburgh would do best against.
Between a smoking hot Brady and a can’t-be-stopped tight end tandem, there’s probably not a lot Pittsburgh can do aside from hoping for an off day.

Said linebacker Arthur Moats hopefully: “You have to continue to mix it up against (Gronkowski). You can’t give him the same look over and over. He has success on guys like that. If we disrupt him, and rush Brady and speed up his clock, I definitely think that will help out.”

In theory, perhaps. In practice? We’ll see.

Game notes: Patriots vs. Steelers


Game notes: Patriots vs. Steelers

A quick look at the information you need to know about today's Patriots-Steelers game:

TEAM RECORDS: Patriots 5-1, Steelers 4- 2

GAME TIME: 4:25 p.m. EST


TV ANNOUNCERS: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms and Tracy Wolfson


NATIONAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Larry Kahn, Mark Carrier and Troy West

LOCAL RADIO NETWORK: Anchored by WBZ-FM (98.5 The Sports Hub)

LOCAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Bob Socci and Scott Zolak


LAST MEETING: Patriots 28, Steelers 21 on Sept. 10, 2015 at Gillette Stadium

* * * *
-- The Patriots are 8-11 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh in their history, but are 4-2 at Heinz Field. Included in those four Heinz Field victories are two in AFC Championship Games (in the 2001 and 2004 seasons).

-- Tom Brady is 8-2 against the Steelers in his career.

-- The last time Brady played the Steelers, in 2015, he set a Patriots franchise record with 19 consecutive pass completions.

-- The Patriots are 108-70 (.607) in road games since 1994, the best record in the NFL over that span. The Steelers (97- 82, .542) are second.

-- The Patriots have yet to throw an interception in 2016, setting a team record for consecutive games without an interception at the start of a season (6). The NFL record for consecutive games at the start of a season without a pick is 9, set by the 1960 Browns. The Patriots' franchise record for overall consecutive games with no interceptions is 8, set in 2010.

* * * *
-- Rob Gronkowski has 67 overall touchdowns and needs one to tie Stanley Morgan (68) for the franchise record.

-- Gronkowski has 66 receiving touchdowns and needs one to tie Morgan (67) for the franchise record.

-- Gronkowski has 22 100-yard receiving games, including two in 2016, and is tied with Jackie Smith for the third-most among all NFL tight ends. The only TEs who have more are Kellen Winslow (24) and Tony Gonzalez (31).