It's a recurring story in New England over the last few years. And it has hit again for the 2006 campaign. Whether it's something in the water or just bad luck, injuries and missing players seem to be just a part of life in the New England secondary.
Heading into last Sunday's game in Green Bay against the Packers, three of New England's four starting defensive backs were home in New England nursing wounds. So with Rodney Harrison (shoulder), Eugene Wilson (hamstring) and Asante Samuel (knee) all relegated to cheerleading from afar, the Patriots took to the field with a patchwork secondary that, as always, was looking to fill the void.
Hoping to help overcome the injuries, New England re-signed practice squad cornerback Antwain Spann to the active roster. The team then started Chad Scott and Ellis Hobbs at cornerback, while Artrell Hawkins and James Sanders manned the safety spots. And with the thin depth in the secondary, Troy Brown served what has now become a far more predictable role as New England's nickel back.
As has been the case so often in the past, the group stepped up and made the plays it needed to, along with the help of a stout defensive front, to shut the Packers out on the way to New England's 35-0 win. The defensive backs doubled Green Bay's most dangerous weapon, Donald Driver, all day long. Brett Favre (5-of-15 for 73 yards) never got things going and after he was sidelined with an elbow injury late in the first half replacement Aaron Rogers didn't fare any better. All told Green Bay completed just 9-of-27 passes for 105 yards with no touchdowns for a team passer rating of 46.1. And Driver (two catches for 42 yards) finished tied for a team high as just one of two Packers to catch more than a single pass.
Not bad for a secondary that included just one player projected to start at the beginning of the season and a wide receiver playing defense on key passing downs. Of course that sort of success has come to be expected in this type of situation in New England in recent years.
|Ahman Green #30 of the Green Bay Packers looses his grip on the football while being chased down by Richard Seymour #93 of the New England Patriots on November 19, 2006 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Patriots defeated the Packers 35-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)|
"Execution," Hobbs responded quickly when asked about the performance. "Our defense, our role players, we're role players but we play big. The thing about it is we let the front seven do their job and the back end does theirs. If we're all working together, working for one another, it's very hard to stop us. It doesn't matter who is back there as long as we're playing together as a whole - four guys communicating and just doing our job."
In the end the group did its job well enough in the New England secondary to hold the Packers' potentially big-play sixth-ranked NFL passing attack at bay. But the defensive backs were also quick to point out how well the New England front played and how much the Patriots' offense played.
"That's the best defense you can play, when the offense is scoring points and eating up the clock," Hawkins said.
Either way the performance the secondary put up was still impressive as it worked through the injuries. Of course, that's pretty much what's expected in New England as the team once again battles the injury bug in the defensive backfield.