Patriots Missing Harrison

The New England Patriots were indeed missing their team leader on defense Sunday against the Chargers. Drew Brees and the rest of the San Diego offense had little trouble picking apart the Patriots' secondary in the second half of the game. With Harrison out, the Patriots didn't play with the fire they normally do, which could lead to trouble down the road if someone else doesn't step up quickly to fill the void.

PHOTO: New England Patriots Rodney Harrison (37) and Eugene Wilson (26) break up a pass intended for Oakland Raiders Randy Moss (18) Sept 8, 2005 (AP Photo)

Patriots Missing Harrison
By Staff

Foxborough, Mass. - Rodney Harrison's first game with the New England Patriots and their first game without him looked remarkably similar.

Released by San Diego after the 2002 season, Harrison signed with the Patriots and became the glue for a secondary that helped New England win back to back Super Bowls and go 34-4, including playoffs, over the past two seasons.

It wasn't all fun and games, though. The Patriots were beaten 31-0 in the 2003 opener, just days after releasing safety Lawyer Milloy and watching him sign with the Bills. With Milloy out of the picture, Harrison's partner in that first game was Antwan Harris, who promptly lost his job the following week to then-rookie Eugene Wilson.

The Harrison-Wilson pairing was a smash hit and lasted until Harrison, 32, suffered a season-ending knee injury in a Week 3 win in Pittsburgh. Now Wilson, 25, is teamed with Guss Scott, 23, and so far the results are troubling.

Neither safety made much of a positive impact in a 41-17 blowout loss to the Chargers. Scott was boxed out by San Diego tight end Antonio Gates (appropriately enough a former college basketball star) on a 38-yard completion down at the Patriots' 1-yard line that set up the winning touchdown in the third quarter. And Wilson, who drew a 44-yard pass interference penalty, did not appear to direct traffic as efficiently as Harrison had done.

Do the Patriots miss Harrison that much? Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who coached and cut Harrison in San Diego, said yes.

Schottenheimer voiced what many are probably thinking right now about the Patriots -- that the loss of Harrison, coming on the heels of Tedy Bruschi's stroke, Ted Johnson's retirement, Ty Law's free-agent defection, and the departure of defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, is the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.

"I think his absence had to be significant," Schottenheimer said. "I think the loss is huge. He brings an intimidating presence to everything that goes on in the secondary. That guy back there is a force."

Although Wilson, a college cornerback, has warmed to the free safety role, it seems unreasonable to expect him to replicate Harrison's veteran savvy and leadership. Although Wilson said the Patriots' defensive backs were all on the same page against the Chargers, cornerback Asante Samuel disagreed, saying there was confusion on coverage schemes at times.

Better health at corner would help. Ankle injuries again sidelined Tyrone Poole (third straight game) and Randall Gay (second straight game). The Patriots' front seven also failed to pick up the slack, allowing RB LaDainian Tomlinson to gash them on the ground and failing to mount a pass rush against QB Drew Brees.

Safety isn't the only trouble spot for the Patriots, but until they submit a solid, post-Harrison performance, it will be the most popular topic of conversation around the team.

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