Patriots' Starks Still Hurting

The Patriots secondary has been under the microscope for their tendency to give up the big play. Most observers including the fans and the media have singled out Duane Starks as teh main culprit, but that view may be shortsighted. Starks has had trouble, but by no means is he the reason for all of the yardage given up by New England's secondary.

PHOTO: San Diego Chargers Reche Caldwell catches a 28-yard touchdown pass against CB Duane Starks #23 of the New England Patriots Oct 2, 2005 (Photo Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Patriots' Starks Still Hurting
By Site Staff

The bye week comes at an opportune time for the Patriots.

It gives linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who started practicing on Wednesday, some extra days to get ready as he tries to return to football after his off-season stroke.

It gives the M*A*S*H unit - including defensive end Richard Seymour, running back Corey Dillon, cornerback Tyrone Poole and receiver Troy Brown - time to heal various aches and pains.

It also gives cornerback Duane Starks some relief from the relentless criticism. Not to mention the endless passes that keep coming his way.

Starks was the Patriots' first significant off-season acquisition. When they traded a third-round draft pick to Arizona in March for him, they believed they were getting a polished veteran with some of the big-play flair for which former cornerback Ty Law was noted. Six weeks into the season what they have instead is an often-injured, often-burned defensive back who could really use a vacation to clear his head.

The Patriots' defense has sunk to a shocking level. They rank 28th in the NFL in points allowed. They are last, by a wide margin, in red-zone stinginess. And they have allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for 12 touchdowns and only one interception. Starks has had a hand in those last two numbers. Over the past three weeks he has been beaten for three scores and has dropped at least two potential INTs.

"It's the harshest thing you want to deal with going into a bye week," Starks said. "But I'm a grown man. I can deal with that ... I'm going to do everything I have to do to get better, do everything I have to do in the weight room, on the field and studying the books."

Starks, 31, is coming off a rough outing in Denver - one in which he was in coverage on both a 72-yard bomb to Rod Smith and a 55-yard strike to Ashley Lelie. Neither of those plays reached the end zone, although each helped set up touchdowns. Even worse, the plays came within the span of five snaps early in the second quarter.

Coach Bill Belichick said Starks was not the only culprit. "Anytime a play doesn't go well, there's usually more than one thing involved in the play," Belichick said, "and those plays (against Denver) are certainly no exception."

Whoever was to blame, the big plays were costly. The Broncos outscored the Patriots 21-0 in the second quarter, laying the foundation for a 28-3 third-quarter lead that shriveled but ultimately held up in a 28-20 win.

The Patriots had come into Invesco Field hoping to get to 4-2 heading into the bye week. Instead, they limped home 3-3, hounded by even more questions about their secondary, which already has allowed five pass plays of 50-plus yards - the same number the Patriots surrendered all of last season.

Starks hasn't been responsible for all of them, but after giving up two TDs to San Diego in Week 4, failing to hang onto the ball in Atlanta in Week 5 and then struggling in Denver, he has become Public Enemy Number 1 for Patriots fans.

This isn't something to which Starks is accustomed. The 10th overall pick in the 1998 draft, he starred for four seasons in Baltimore before signing a lucrative free-agent deal with the Cardinals in 2002. Starks helped the 2000 Ravens rule the roost, picking off two passes in the AFC championship game in Oakland and then returning a Kerry Collins INT for a touchdown in a Super Bowl XXXV blowout.

In New England, though, he has been unable to avoid the dark cloud that seems to be hanging over the secondary. The once-proud unit lost Law as a free agent in the off-season and has seen cornerback Chad Scott, strong safety Rodney Harrison and Harrison's backup, Guss Scott, all suffer season-ending injuries. The Patriots also have played without cornerbacks Randall Gay and Poole for most of year.

The Patriots liked their depth coming out of the preseason, but the two new veteran cornerbacks on whom they were counting - Chad Scott and Starks - have been hurt and ineffective. Chad Scott went on injured reserve on Oct. 12. Starks is still hanging in there - he missed three preseason games, sat out the opener and has been on the injury report every week with a thigh problem.

When the Patriots return to action by hosting the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 30, Poole and Gay could be back at 100 percent. With Asante Samuel and Poole as the likely starters, Starks could be reduced to the fourth cornerback. Whatever role he is given, the Patriots need him to start resembling the player they thought they were getting.

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