Get Ready For Second Half
By Site Staff
--The Patriots were the ultimate feel-good underdogs when they won their first Super Bowl after the 2001 season. But injured SS Rodney Harrison believes the country has grown tired of his team. If that's true, a lot of folks must be relishing New England's uninspiring 3-3 start.
"When you're the champ, people want you to fall," said Harrison, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 3. "People get tired of seeing the same old team on TV having success, the same old story. They get tired of that. People want a new story line. They want a new punch line. So they're going to try and attack us and break us down, and try to figure out what we're doing and our strengths as well as our weaknesses.
"That is just part of the deal when you are so-called 'on top.' You have everyone aiming at you. It really doesn't matter until the end of the season. We'll see here in the next few weeks exactly where we're at and what type of team we truly have."
--CB Hank Poteat is getting used to joining the Patriots in midstream. Last season the ex-Steeler signed on Jan. 10, just in time for the playoffs. He was in training camp with the Patriots this summer but got cut. Now he's back again, having re-signed on Oct. 19.
"Coming in this year, you're comfortable with the players, the atmosphere, coaches," he said. "You understand the system. It's not as tough getting familiar with everything."
Said coach Bill Belichick: "Hank is a smart player. He works hard. He is very diligent. He is a tough kid and he really puts a lot into the game. I have a lot of respect for him and he did a good job for us on short notice last year."
--CB Tyrone Poole was on crutches last week, his rehabbing of an ankle injury having hit a snag. Poole, who hasn't played since Week 1, had been practicing and had sounded confident that he could return soon. However, Belichick told a radio interviewer that Poole hadn't made the necessary progress and that the team's medical staff felt that the injury needed "time to quiet down."
--WR Andre' Davis, who was re-signed on Oct. 19, could take over the No. 3 receiver spot from Troy Brown, who is nursing a foot injury. Brown missed the Patriots' last game before the bye week.
--CB Asante Samuel has only one interception in his last 26 regular-season games.
--OLB Willie McGinest has a team-high 2.5 sacks.
REPORT CARD AFTER SIX GAMES
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- With 1,821 passing yards (No. 1 in the NFL through six weeks), QB Tom Brady is on pace to throw for the second-most yards in a season in NFL history. His projected total of 4,856 would be topped only by Dan Marino's 1984 mark of 5,084. So why does he only rate a B? Because the passing game, like the rest of the team, has been inconsistent. In the Patriots' three losses, Brady has submitted two good halves (the first half against San Diego and the second half against Denver). Part of the problem is that he has had neither a reliable running game nor a sturdy defense to back him up. Still, he has been terrific at times, directing two game-winning drives late in the fourth quarter and falling a yard short of authoring four 300-yard games. Receiver Deion Branch (37 catches for 437 yards, one touchdown) has been healthy, unlike last year, and is on track to blow away his previous career highs in catches (57) and yards (803). Receiver David Givens (31-355, TD) has been solid, and FB Patrick Pass (16-164) has filled in nicely for injured third-down back Kevin Faulk. Except for a big day in Atlanta, the tight ends have been quiet, with only 15 catches.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Go figure. RB Corey Dillon sets the franchise rushing record (1,635 yards) in his first year with the team but can't get started in Year 2. He's on pace to finish with fewer than 900 yards, and his average carry is 3.4 yards -- well below the 4.7 he posted in 2004. On the plus side, Dillon has five rushing TDs -- his most ever at this point in a season -- and he showed signs of emerging from his slumber in his last game, nicking the Falcons for 106 yards with a 4.6-yard average. Dillon sat out the next week with an ankle injury, and the Patriots are keeping their fingers crossed that he is rested and back in form for the final 10 games. The run blocking by the offensive line has been spotty at best, especially on the rookie left side (LT Nick Kaczur and LG Logan Mankins). The Patriots have remained committed to the run, but Dillon is still on pace to finish with almost 90 fewer carries than last year.
PASS DEFENSE: F -- Really, what other grade is there? With their secondary in tatters, the Patriots entered their bye ranked 24th against the pass (allowing 228 yards per game) and 30th in opposing passer rating (102.2). Opponents have completed only 54.3 percent of their attempts, but thanks to big plays of 85, 73, 72, 55, 53, 49 and 41 yards, they have been able to strike it rich. Amazingly, the Patriots still have only one interception (by OLB Mike Vrabel) and have allowed 12 TD passes. As a means of comparison, they surrendered only 11 TD passes during the entire 2003 season and just 18 a year ago. The loss of SS Rodney Harrison has proved to be crippling. Cornerback has been a problem area, too, with Tyrone Poole missing five games, Randall Gay sitting out three, and veteran Duane Starks (an off-season trade acquisition) struggling.
RUN DEFENSE: C-minus -- It looked pretty good in Week 3 when the Patriots shut down Steelers RB Willie Parker, who had been off to a sizzling start. But the absence of ILBs Tedy Bruschi (due to return from his stroke after the bye) and Ted Johnson (retired), combined with DE Richard Seymour's knee injury, has gradually taken its toll. Over the last three games, opponents are averaging 4.8 yards per carry. In that span, San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson (25 carries for 134 yards) and Denver's Tatum Bell (13-114) have run wild on the Patriots. A lot of the blame for New England's red-zone woes should be placed here, thanks to seven rushing TDs allowed.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- The Patriots got off on the wrong foot here. In Week 1 they had a punt and a PAT blocked, and in Week 2 they allowed a 76-yard punt return. Thanks to personnel changes, they've been able to tighten things up since then. The trio of kicker Adam Vinatieri, long-snapper Lonie Paxton and holder/punter Josh Miller have worked their usual magic with two last-second winning field goals. Vinatieri is 9-of-12 overall with two of the misses coming from 53 yards. Miller's net average took a beating early on, but he's been solid. And newcomers Tim Dwight (punts) and Ellis Hobbs (kickoffs) have spruced up the return game with some big plays.
COACHING: Incomplete -- It would be easy to point to the loss of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel as the reason for the Patriots' troubles. But it's been more about a brutal opening schedule and personnel upheaval. New defensive boss Eric Mangini kept an injury-ravaged secondary together last year as the DBs coach, but he's been unable to make new parts such as Starks and ILBs Chad Brown and Monty Beisel fit properly this time. The Patriots have been resilient, but this simply isn't the lineup anyone envisioned. If some of the injured players can return, we'll be better able to tell how the new-look staff is working out.
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