Patriots Depth Has Been Saving Grace

Considering the rash of injuries which have hit the Patriots in 2008, it's amazing they even have a winning record. Heading into Sunday's game against the Raiders, the Patriots are still in playoff contention despite losses of major contributors.

Sure, the schedule doesn't look too daunting with road games at Oakland and Buffalo separated by a home finale against Arizona, but the journey becomes that much more difficult with each passing day.

The New England Patriots may need to win out to make the playoffs and they'll have to do so without key players who have suffered injuries over the past few weeks.

This is nothing new for the Patriots during the Bill Belichick era (remember Troy Brown at cornerback?), but this might arguably be the most unlucky season they've had from a health standpoint in quite some time.

The problems began when quarterback Tom Brady tore up his knee in Week 1 and got progressively worse as the season wore on. Along the way they've lost Rodney Harrison, Laurence Maroney, Adalius Thomas and now perhaps Tedy Bruschi to name a few.

The teams they're facing down the stretch might not appear too difficult (other than the NFC West champion Cardinals), but the games are that much harder when you're dealing with the loss of your most important players.

Thank goodness for guys like Mike Vrabel, Brandon Meriweather and Richard Seymour, who are among the few on defense to survive this grueling season.

"Those guys are involved in a lot of the communication and some of the adjustments that we had to make by the nature of their position," Belichick said. "They were really solid that way, but Mike especially as the signal-caller.

"He's a guy who is involved in a lot of the adjustments we make and coverages. He is very good, probably as good as anyone could possibly be in that situation. He does a number of things and as well as he does doing it, he's certainly outstanding."

The Patriots are certainly aware of the playoff scenarios. They're on the losing end of most of the tiebreakers in the wild-card and division races, yet -- thanks to the suddenly slumping Jets -- might be better off aiming for the AFC East title.

The Jets still have to make a difficult trip to Seattle in two weeks while Miami has to travel to the Meadowlands to face New York in Week 17. Eventually, that three-way tie in the AFC East will be broken and the Patriots might be the last one standing based on their schedule -- assuming, of course, they can make it through December without some of their key components.

"All I know is there are a lot of teams that are in contention," Belichick said. "Right now, we are just worried about Oakland. We'll win as many games as we can. I'm sure if we qualify somebody will let us know."


--With two thirds of his defensive line on the bench due to injury last weekend, Belichick had to rely on contributions from reserves such as Mike Wright and Le Kevin Smith.
Both players were undrafted out of college, but are playing major roles this season as the Patriots try to move on from a series of devastating injuries.
"Mike and Le Kevin both did a good job," Belichick said. "They played hard and they played a lot of football for us. Thank goodness we had them. They came through with a lot of other guys on that side of the ball."

--The Patriots' 24-21 win over Seattle last week was Bill Belichick's 150th career victory as a head coach. He has totaled 135 regular-season wins and 15 playoff victories.
Belichick's career record stands at 150-90 (.625). Belichick is the 17th head coach in NFL history to record 150 or more wins. His winning percentage of .625 ranks fourth among all coaches with 150 or more wins, trailing only George Halas (324-151-31, .671), Don Shula (347-173-6, .665) and Joe Gibbs (171-101-0, .629).

--Sunday's game in Oakland will undoubtedly bring back memories of the Patriots' epic playoff victory in Oakland in 2001, which featured the modern-day popularization of the tuck rule, in addition to Adam Vinatieri's legendary game-tying field goal in the snow.
The two teams have met twice since the "Snow Bowl" with the Patriots winning both times.

--Kevin Faulk is one of just 11 players this decade to total at least 2,000 rushing yards and at least 2,000 receiving yards and is also one of only six players to have at least 2,000 rushing yards and at least 3,000 receiving yards.
Faulk joins an exclusive list that features Tiki Barber, Warrick Dunn, Marshall Faulk, Charlie Garner and Priest Holmes.

--Wide receiver Wes Welker leads the NFL in catches since 2007 and continued to add to his total last week with another historic performance. Welker now has 96 catches after Sunday's win in Seattle and is on the verge of his second 100-catch season with the Patriots. The team has only had two receivers accomplish that feat - Welker and Troy Brown.

--Since joining the Patriots as a fourth-round draft choice in 2006, Stephen Gostkowski has connected on 85.5 percent of his regular-season field goals (71-for-83), achieving the best field-goal percentage in Patriots history.
He has connected on 90.9 percent of his kicks this year (30-for-33). Additionally, he hit 17 straight field goals from Dec. 9, 2007 to Oct. 5, 2008, recording the third-longest consecutive field-goal streak in team history. He also leads the NFL in scoring with 117 points and has a league-best 30 successful field goals.

--Safety Brandon Meriweather leads the team with four interceptions and is tied for fifth in the AFC.
His four picks tie the highest total by a Patriots safety since Lawyer Milloy had six interceptions in 1998. Since then, Milloy (1999) and Eugene Wilson (2003 and 2004) have also had four interceptions in a season.

-- Richard Seymour needs 1 sack to set a new career high. He enters this week with 7.5 sacks and finished with an all-time best 8.0 in 2003.



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