Team Notes: New England

It's time for the Patriots to dust off the horseshoes, dig out a rabbit's foot, and hold ceremonial sage burning sessions to rid their locker room of negative energy. The injury epidemic overtaking Gillette Stadium can only be blamed on a slew of bad luck. The amount of serious injuries suffered in a short span is mind boggling.

Bones are breaking so quickly in the Patriots' locker room that maybe the national "drink milk" campaign should pull the plug on Tom Brady's sponsorship in what could be considered guilt by association.

Hey, maybe Brady's battered right elbow would be added to the broken bones list if not for the calcium-laced milk mustache he wears proudly on New England billboards. But in three weeks, the Patriots have lost three defensive starters to fractures.

In Week 1, starting inside linebacker Ted Johnson broke his foot. In Week 2, starting outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin broke his hip. In Week 3, starting nose tackle Ted Washington broke his leg. There are also unconfirmed reports that starting outside linebacker Mike Vrabel suffered a broken arm against the Jets, while starting left guard Mike Compton missed the game with a broken foot that was reported only as a foot injury, but without further explanation.

Five players missed Sunday's win because of injuries (fullback Fred McCrary and safety Je'Rod Cherry joining Colvin, Johnson and Compton), but it's impossible to predict how many more will sit out in Washington this week.

Ted Washington will obviously be added to the list and watching Vrabel get dressed with only his left arm after the Jets game wasn't an encouraging sign for his prospects. Add wideout David Patten who left in the first quarter with a leg injury, right tackle Adrian Klemm who underwent X-rays after the game for an undisclosed injury, cornerback Ty Law who hurt his ankle but returned and Brady, and the injury list after just three games would best be described in epidemic proportions.

But since sympathy is short around a league where injuries are dismissed as part of the game, the Patriots will have to continue playing their schedule and trying to improve upon a 2-1 record despite the heavy odds stacked against them in the coming weeks.

"We've scheduled a lot of extra meetings with guys who have to double up or have had to move around," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday. "There is an additional time commitment for the players and coaches."

There is also increased pressure on a number of young players who now will be featured in more prominent roles. No less than six 2003 draft picks will play significantly in the coming weeks. Second-round pick Eugene Wilson has started the last two games at safety. Fifth-round pick Dan Koppen has started the last two at center.

Fourth-round pick Asante Samuel is already the team's top nickel back and fourth-round pick Dan Klecko, who was inactive in the first two weeks, will now be thrust into regular action at outside linebacker, which isn't even his natural position. Second-round pick Bethel Johnson and 2002 seventh-rounder David Givens will have to step up at wide receiver if Patten misses time as will second-year players Deion Branch and Daniel Graham, who are already featured parts of the offense. Inexperienced second-year tackle Tom Ashworth, originally an undrafted player, also could move into the starting lineup if Klemm's injury is serious.

"We've had guys go down," Brady said. "Guys are stepping in and trying to take advantage of those opportunities. Coach said, 'You wouldn't be in this room if we didn't think you could play and contribute.' So every guy that goes on the field should be able to make plays and contribute to winning football games."

That's admirable to say, but if talent deficiencies and inexperience lose football games, as they are wont to do, the Patriots are in serious trouble just three weeks into the season.


--Coach Bill Belichick offered no new injury updates except to reiterate that nose tackle Ted Washington has a broken leg and will miss a few weeks. LB Mike Vrabel (right arm), OT Adrian Klemm (unknown), WR David Patten (leg) and CB Ty Law (ankle) will all be evaluated over the next couple of days.

--DT Rick Lyle moved in for the injured Ted Washington and will start at nose tackle in Washington if the Patriots stay in a 3-4 front, which is becoming harder to do with each passing week and lengthening injury list.

--S Antwan Harris has fallen off the depth chart since starting the season opener at safety. When Law left the game with an ankle injury, Asante Samuel moved into the No. 2 cornerback spot and Aric Morris moved in as the nickel back. Morris was out of position and gave up a 29-yard touchdown pass in the win, however.

--LB Rosevelt Colvin was placed on injured reserve Monday with a broken hip, which means he cannot return this season. While the Patriots claim Colvin should make a full recovery, the injury could be career-threatening depending on how it affects the hip socket.

--FB Patrick Pass was re-signed to the roster to take Colvin's spot. Pass was released at the end of training camp.

--OG Mike Compton was placed on injured reserve Monday because of his foot injury, and the Patriots picked up OL Wilbert Brown on waivers from the Redskins.

--QB Tom Brady claims that his battered right arm is fine. "There is nothing to worry about," he said. "There are a lot of guys with bumps and bruises and that's the way the game is. It's not for the feint of heart. We have to fight through it."

--RB Kevin Faulk finished just three yards shy of his single-game career best rushing effort with 79 yards and the Patriots finished with 147, their most in the last 11 games. "Kevin is very versatile in the running game and passing game," offensive lineman Damien Woody said. "Everybody did a good job up front of moving the line of scrimmage and letting the backs make their moves."

--P Ken Walter continued his streak of shanking a punt a game, but his mis-hit on Sunday rolled for a 51-yarder. Walter's job security may be shaky, although kicker Adam Vinatieri's comfort level with Walter as his holder may be a factor in the punter getting extra rope.

--TE Daniel Graham tied for his career long reception with a 31-yard grab on the Patriots' first possession of the game, but his 31-yarder last year in Buffalo came on a tight end screen rather than a longer pass down the middle. Sunday against the Jets he showed good instincts when he broke off his route and ran down the middle as Brady surveyed the field and had no one open. Graham found a seam on what would be considered a scramble-drill type of route as Brady shuffled to his left and fired down the middle to Graham.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Coach made a good call and put me in the right position to make the play. It was a great feeling. I bobbled it looking toward the end zone. I just wasn't concentrating but I got myself together and caught it and scored." -- Rookie cornerback Asante Samuel on his first career NFL interception and touchdown.


PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Quarterback Tom Brady was far from perfect and his pass protection was even less so. Brady completed a pedestrian 15-of-25 passes for 181 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He did scramble for a touchdown, but also was sacked five times, pressured throughout and fumbled three times, losing one. The Patriots started the game with 60 percent of the offensive line undergoing change from its original starting lineup and it was obvious that it affected the protection. With the Patriots running the ball down New York's throat, there was no excuse for Brady to be under such duress. By the game's end, 80 percent of the line was different. With left guard Mike Compton out with a foot injury, Joe Andruzzi flipped from right guard to left guard. Center Damien Woody played right guard and rookie Dan Koppen played center. In the fourth quarter, right tackle Adrian Klemm was out of the game with an undisclosed injury, propelling Tom Ashworth into the lineup. But even with time, Brady missed some open targets with errant throws, but hung tough and made some needed plays despite a bruised and battered throwing elbow that is purple. One of Brady's fumbles came when the ball slipped out of his hands while he was throwing a screen pass. The grade received a boost because Brady used his successful running game to get the ball down the field, completing passes of 28, 31, 20 and two of 16 yards - a rarity in the team's dink-and-dunk passing attack. The tight ends made a huge contribution with five receptions for 86 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Check that. No it's really an A. New England came in with a game plan to run the football and did it all afternoon except when offensive coordinator Charlie Weis decided it was working too well. So with a seven-point fourth quarter lead, he called five straight passes, taking virtually no time off the clock. But the Patriots lined up and smashed the Jets in the mouth most of the afternoon. Kevin Faulk led the attack with 17 carries for 79 yards and Antowain Smith added 55 on 13 runs. Both averaged more than 4 yards per carry and the team ran it 36 times for 147 yards, its most since Week 8 of last season. The Patriots made nine rushing first downs in the game, which is highly unusual. The success made the downfield passing attack much more effective. Playing with a shuffled offensive line, the Patriots struggled in pass protection, but knowing it was going to be a day to run, the line came off the ball well from the start of the game.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- Vinny Testaverde may have completed 25-of-43 passes for 264 yards with a touchdown, but the Jets were just 1-for-13 on third down and Testaverde completed only 3-of-12 third-down passes with two of those short of the sticks. He did not complete a third-down pass in the game's final 36:33. One of his third-down passes was intercepted by Patriots rookie cornerback Asante Samuel and returned 55 yards for a touchdown that gave New England a 14-point fourth-quarter lead. Cornerback Ty Law, who injured his ankle near the end of the first half, returned later in the second half and continued his outstanding play. The Jets tested him deep following the injury by running a go route when Law was on burner Santana Moss. Law ran stride-for-stride with Moss and broke up the pass. Other than that play, the Jets stayed away from Law, instead choosing to attack Tyrone Poole, who gave up a couple of catches on fades down the sideline, but wasn't beaten for a big play. The Patriots did not sack Testaverde, but did apply timely pressure. Dime safety Aric Morris was caught out of position on a 29-yard Testaverde-to-Wayne Chrebet touchdown pass.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- New England set the tone on the game's opening possession when it stuffed Curtis Martin on a third-and-two play on which the Jets tried to establish their physical presence, but failed. Nose tackle Ted Washington broke his leg on the play, but the Patriots managed without him. Martin finished with 15 carries for 53 yards while dodging Patriots defenders to get what he could. The Jets front struggled and the Patriots had penetration on several run plays, which made it difficult for Martin to maneuver. Linebacker Tedy Bruschi had another strong day and Rick Lyle filled in admirably on the nose. In a game that was close throughout, the Patriots did the job against a running back who came in averaging 94 yards per game in the 10 games against the Patriots since he left New England to join the Jets.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- Nothing exciting happened on special teams for the Patriots. The Jets failed to convert a fake field goal, but center Kevin Mawae was open on the play and dropped the ball. Kicker Adam Vinatieri was 3-for-3 on field-goal tries. Punter Ken Walter had a long of 51 yards, but it rolled half that distance on what was a shank. He continues to struggle. The kickoff coverage was suspect and Santana Moss out-raced the punt coverage team across the field to turn nothing into a 15-yard pickup. Troy Brown had an impressive 23-yard return. The Patriots had six penalties in the kicking game, including two personal foul calls. That sort of undisciplined play is inexcusable and lowered the grade substantially.

COACHING: A-minus -- In last December's 30-17 loss to the Jets, New York smothered the Patriots' short passing attack. Sunday, the Patriots got physical. The game plan was brilliant because it was actually executed. New England pounded the ball at the Jets front seven and then used that running game to actually throw the ball downfield. The Patriots were ready to play despite an epidemic of injuries that forced them to count on several rookies and young players. The fact that those players were well prepared is a credit to the coaches. Neither side of the ball was dominant, but the Patriots played with a certain toughness and made the plays when needed. Rookie defensive backs Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel lauded the defensive game plan after the win with Wilson calling Bill Belichick "a mastermind." The Patriots forced the Jets to use a valuable timeout late in the game when they shifted out of a punt formation into a regular offensive set with Damon Huard under center. Before Huard could get the snap and sneak for a first down on the fourth-and-one play, the Jets burned a timeout and the Patriots punted the ball away. New England led by seven at the time and was kicking the ball back to the Jets, who needed all their timeouts to drive the length of the field. It was a brilliant tactical decision by Belichick, but ultimately didn't matter when the Jets failed to mount any substantial threat on their final possession. On the other side, the Patriots, up by seven with 7:10 to go, threw three straight passes on a day when the running game was almost dominant. New England took exactly 23 seconds off the clock when all three attempts fell incomplete. That can't happen.

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