As the disappointment slowly dissipates into reality in New England following last Sunday night's home loss to the Colts, one of the lingering issues from that game remains the health status of Patriots strong safety and defensive captain Rodney Harrison.
Harrison injured his right shoulder making a tackle following a long pass play from Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison early in the first quarter. While he was originally listed as probable for a return to action by the Patriots, the veteran safety never stepped back onto the field. Patriots coach Bill Belichick offered no update on the hard-hitting playmaker following the loss and had little to add during his regular Monday press conference.
"I think we have a lot of guys on the team that are sore," Belichick said at the time. "It was a physical game. I would put him in that category."
Updates from Harrison's medical tests indicate that the two-time Pro Bowler has a broken Collar bone and is listed as out for Sunday's game against the New York Jets. According to a report by Dan Pires of the Standard-Times, the injury is not severe enough to require surgery. Harrison will likely make a return in 4-6 weeks, or in other words, just in time for the playoffs.
Because Harrison can't play in this week's meeting with the Jets in Foxborough it will clearly be a blow to the New England secondary. With him out of the lineup, and free safety Eugene Wilson still sidelined with a lingering hamstring problem, the Patriots allowed a season-high 301 yards of net passing against Manning and the Colts passing attack.
Against Indianapolis, veteran Artrell Hawkins started his fourth game of the season for Wilson. Veteran cornerback Chad Scott then moved in to fill Harrison's safety role, while Ellis Hobbs came off the bench to play the corner. While the Patriots will never use injuries as an excuse, something they refused to do last season when Harrison himself missed 13 games with a severe knee injury, the changes do have an effect on the unit as a whole.
|Marvin Harrison #88 of the Indianapolis Colts goes up for a ball against Ellis Hobbs #27 of the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on November 5, 2006 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)|
"It's always affected tremendously when a starter goes down and somebody has to come in and substitute," cornerback Asante Samuel said. "When somebody goes down who's a key part of your defense things kind of change a little bit. You can't just be your normal defense. You have to kind of make up for that. But you know when guys come in we just have to adapt and make plays."
And Belichick has a high level of confidence in the versatile veteran pair of Scott and Hawkins.
"Chad is very professional. He works hard. He knows what's going on," Belichick said. "He's a real pro. You can give Chad a lot of different things to do and he's always prepared. He kind of takes a lot of personal pride in it and he's a guy that we all have a lot of confidence in, as does Artrell. They're two of our best."
So with Harrison's injury severe enough to keep him out of the lineup for a while, Belichick will send Scott, Hawkins and Co. to the field with the same high expectations he'd have of Harrison, the team's fourth-leading tackler heading into last week. That's just the way things work in New England, a team that has overcome major injury problems in the past on the way to ultimate success.
"What's new? Same story here. Guys get hurt," said Hobbs, who has missed just one game but continues to recover from late September surgery to repair a broken wrist. "It's the NFL. It's part of the game. That's why everybody gets paid. Everybody has to come in and be ready."