Sorting Out Their Backers

With the healthy scratch of Adalius Thomas, the return of Junior Seau, the release and resigning of Tully Banta-Cain and Eric Alexander, is it any wonder why the Patriots linebacker unit is hard to quantify? Factor in the retirement of Tedy Bruschi, the trade of Mike Vrable and trade for Derrick Burgess and your head really starts spinning.

The Patriots are trying to get their linebacker corps in order in advance of this week's trip to London for a game against Tampa Bay.

Much of that uncertainty at the position has to do with outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, who was a surprise healthy scratch against the Titans.

After the game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick confirmed that Thomas was not injured in any way that would affect his status.

"We just went with the players we thought would have the bigger role in the game," Belichick said of a game plan that included New England primarily playing 3-4 fronts for the first time this season.

Against Tennessee, Jerod Mayo returned to the starting lineup on the inside next to Gary Guyton, while Pierre Woods and Derrick Burgess got the starting nods on the outside. Junior Seau, Rob Ninkovich and Tully Banta-Cain all saw reserve action for the linebacker group, all with the former Pro Bowler and high-priced free agent addition Thomas watching from home.

A day later, after watching the game film, Belichick went into some more detail as to why that group gave the Patriots a better chance than Thomas -- who'd started the previous five games this fall in a 4-3 front and had started 24 of the 25 games he'd played in over his previous two seasons in New England.

"It's a combination of all the things on defense and on special teams and third down. When you look at what the roles for those players were on all four downs -- first, second, third and fourth -- they each contributed in at least one and two areas pretty strongly," Belichick said. "Again, every player has value. If we could have brought more than 45 players to the game, I'm sure we would have and I'm sure they all would have played. It's just we had to select the ones that we felt would have the bigger role in the game, so that's what we did."

Beyond that, Belichick was non-committal on Thomas' status moving forward, a strange state for a $30 million-plus free agent addition from just two seasons earlier.

"I don't know. It was one game. We'll evaluate it this coming week against Tampa like we always do. This week's different from last week," Belichick said before throwing some general praise in Thomas' direction. "I've said many times, I think he's a good football player. He's versatile. He's made some big plays for us, and he's done a lot of different jobs and we have a lot of confidence in him. If that wasn't the case, then he wouldn't be here. I'm glad we have him. I think he can help us, I think he will help us and he has helped us, and I feel that way about our other players as well."

Making things even stranger at linebacker right now for the Patriots is the fact that the team released Banta-Cain on Monday, just a day after he'd been active while Thomas sat out. Banta-Cain was re-signed Tuesday. In his second tour of duty in New England, Banta-Cain has played in all six games this season and is tied for the team lead with three sacks.

Banta-Cain called the situation "kind of crazy."

With Thomas having been benched, the situation at the linebacker position is as unsettled as any on the team, and as unsettled the usually veteran-based group has ever been in Belichick's tenure in New England.


--WR Joey Galloway, who had been on the inactive list the past three games, was released by the Patriots. Galloway had just seven receptions for 67 yards this season. The Patriots also released TE Michael Matthews.
--LB Eric Alexander re-signed with New England a day after being released, according to the Boston Herald.
--WR Sam Aiken signed a two-year extension that puts him under contract through 2011.
--QB Tom Brady set an NFL record for touchdown passes in a quarter with five in the second quarter of Sunday's blowout of the Titans. Brady tied a New England franchise record with six touchdown throws on the day, doubling his season total. He now has 12 touchdown passes in six games.
--RB Laurence Maroney's 123 yards against the Titans, including a 45-yard touchdown run, put the back over the 100-yard plateau for the first time since back-to-back 122-yard efforts in the playoffs following the 2007 season.
--WR Randy Moss had three touchdowns in the win over Tennessee among his eight catches for 129 yards. His 38 receptions for 496 yards and four touchdowns lead the New England passing attack through six games.
--WR Wes Welker had a career-high 150 yards on 10 catches, including a pair of touchdowns in Sunday's win over the Titans. His 48-yard touchdown was the longest play for the Patriots this season.
--S Brandon McGowan continues to make plays for the New England defense, leading the team with seven tackles, including a tackle for a loss, while adding a quarterback hit and a forced fumble against Tennessee. McGowan is third on the team with 33 tackles this fall, and he has a team-high two forced fumbles.
--S Patrick Chung saw his most extensive defensive action of his rookie season in the second half against Tennessee and took advantage by recording his first career interception.
--LB Tully Banta-Cain was released by New England on Monday, but he re-signed with the Patriots the next day. Banta-Cain has played in all six games this season and is tied for the team lead with three sacks.
--S Brandon Meriweather leads the Patriots with 42 tackles through six games.
--RB Sammy Morris left the first half of Sunday's blowout of the Titans with a knee injury. He did not return, and his status moving forward remains uncertain. New England is already thin at the position with Fred Taylor missing extended time after undergoing ankle surgery.

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