Phew. I don’t know about you guys, but I think it’s science that this was the longest 4-day week in history.
So, anybody want to talk about some football? You remember football, right? With the throwing, and the running, and the tackles and the interceptions and the touchdowns??
New England’s defense, aside from a nasty early-season case of looking like they wouldn’t know who to cover in a pickup basketball game at the YMCA, also got rocked by a 1-2 punch of injuries and guys that were supposed to be solid role-players not working out. Both of New England’s Crimson Tide alumni, one-man wrecking crew Dont’a Hightower and hopeful starter Cyrus Jones, are on injured reserve. The team’s highest draft pick at edge defender, Derek Rivers, tore his ACL before the season even started. Defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, linebacker Shea McClellin, and All-Pro special teamer Nate Ebner are all on IR.
And that’s just the injured list! Adding to that crew, New England rolling the dice on edge defender Kony Ealy and...whatever position Cassius Marsh was playing came up snake eyes both times.
The point here is that all those guys not contributing as expected has forced New England to get a little MacGyver-ey with their defense (and offense, for that matter) and find guys in trades, free agency, or even lower on the Patriots’ own depth chart that can man up and get things done. Just this year, we’ve seen it with Marquis Flowers, Eric Lee, and James Harrison, not to mention Jonathan Jones making it really difficult to keep him off the field. Then, that Monday or Tuesday or whatever, it’s the same cross-eyed shock from everywhere south of Connecticut every time.
“Where do they find these guys?”
“How’d they get them ready so fast?”
“If (whoever) is sooo good with the Patriots, what were they doing riding the bench in (any other NFL city)??!?”
Allow the master behind the madness, Bill Belichick, to hit you with some knowledge.
“So, the bottom line is you look at the window that you’re facing – the short window, so the immediate game or the immediate practice – whatever your first challenge is, and try to get the player ready to do that so that he can at least start to take some steps in the right direction,” Belichick said. “Then you build on that, and depending on what your time frame is, you adjust it accordingly. I mean, each situation’s different, each player is different, each position is different, and if the player’s role is let’s say definable, then you work on that role first and you get to the other potential roles or maybe backup roles as a secondary level of preparation.
“So, really, you do the best you can. The player does the best that he can. There are a lot of things that a player has to acclimate to on a new team. That’s not just the playbook. It’s teammates and the way certain things are done and practice tempo and all kinds of things. So, you try to pick out the ones that are most immediate, most important and build on those and go from there.”
Kind of puts a whole new spin on the Patriots’ classic “situational football”, right? That New England classic cliché normally gets read as “Ok, it’s third and goal at the three yard line, they’re running 11 personnel, and the quarterback is under center, and then the tight end goes in motion...” Here, we’re looking at players that, instead of trying to digest a massive playbook right away like it’s the Nathan’s Hot Dog competition, get plugged in at spots they’ve shown they’ve mastered in practice, and then if the team feels good about it, it’s on to the next assignment next week. You can see the snowball effect here (no pun intended).
And with late-season additions like the (in)famous James Harrison proving that even the new kid on the block can pick up a new scheme, that extra week of time that comes with a first-round bye may well prove to be just as critical for practice time as it is for the banged-up Patriots on the roster to get back in game shape.
So, sorry friends, but there’s no Patriots football this weekend. This, as it usually is in the first weekend in January, is a good thing.