FOXBOROUGH – In the year 280 B.C., King Pyrrhus of Epirus scored a major upset when he defeated the Romans at Asculum.
But his troops were so depleted as a result, he was forced to abandon plans to move on and attack the city of Rome. He was said to have remarked after the battle, "One more such victory and we are lost."
The Patriots can empathize.
For you see, their impressive 41-7 drubbing of the Denver Broncos cost them dearly. Whenever something good happened to New England, it seemed to be offset by something equally bad.
For starters, prior to kickoff, the team announced that they'd activated guard Stephen Neal off the PUP list, allowing him to see his first action of the season. But they also placed running back Laurence Maroneyon injured reserve, ending his season abruptly.
Still, the Pats moved forward with their game plan, which was to run, run, run against a weak run-stopping Broncos defense. And it worked. By halftime, backup running back Sammy Morrishad piled up a career-best 138 yards on just 16 carries.
The problem was, Morris was not seen thereafter. Reports were he suffered a knee injury at some point in the first half. Rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellisand veteran Kevin Faulktook turns picking up the slack, and admirably so. By game's end, the Patriots offense had rushed for its most combined yards (257) since 1985.
The Pats easily scored their highest point total of the season, with quarterback Matt Casseltossing a career-high three TDs (two to Randy Moss). Yet, Cassel was sacked 6 times, continuing a troubling trend this season. He's been brought down 25 times in 2008.
"Yeah, that always hurts, but I think sooner or later we'll get it figured out," Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankinspredicted. "It's not good right now. We need to eliminate that."
On defense, meanwhile, the Patriots forced five Denver turnovers (2 INTs, 3 fumble recoveries), leading directly to 20 of their 41 points. But on the final play of the third quarter came one of the more bizarre injuries you'll see.
Safety Rodney Harrisonwas attempting to tackle Broncos QB Jay Cutler, who'd scrambled out of the pocket. Replays on TV showed Harrison's left foot getting caught in the Gillette Stadium turf and his knee buckling under him. But when the team trainers came out to assist him, it turned out that his right knee was the one being given the attention. Harrison was helped up off the field and placed on a cart to escort him from the field. He left to a thunderous applause from a knowing home crowd.
"I don't know what's going on medically, but, you know, I'm praying for him," cornerback Ellis Hobbstold reporters at his locker. "I know the team is, too. We hope it isn't the worst-case scenario."
"I don't know. We will have to see how that is," head coachBill Belichickadded later, before acknowledging, "It doesn't look too good, but I don't have any update right now."
Nor did he have any news of Morris' condition. The Patriots can ill afford to lose him for any length of time, with fellow backup LaMont Jordanalready having missed several games with a calf injury and Maroney now done for the year.
In post-game interviews, Belichick and his players spoke about how good a week of practice they'd had following their embarrassing 30-10 defeat in San Diego a week ago. The defense gave up several big plays to the Chargers, and Belichick told his team this week that they had been playing with very little enthusiasm.
"We had our best week of practice and we played our best football tonight and we needed to," said Belichick. "I can't say enough about the way those guys went about it all week."
"The whole week in practice, [the message was] start fast and play with emotion. That's what we did," added safety Brandon Meriweather, who registered another interception (his team-leading third of the season).
"It was tough," Hobbs conceded. "We were having deep routes every other play [in practice]. Deltha [O'Neal]and I said after this week, we could run against [Olympic sprinter] Usain Bolt. We needed a couple good lashes on our back. The whole defense said, 'Let's just pick it back up.' The major thing is we had fun [Monday night]. I enjoyed myself. I haven't enjoyed a game in a long time, and it was fun.
"[Bill] said, 'Just go out there and have fun,'" Hobbs continued. "He showed us a couple of plays on film, and we just looked dead out there. Tonight, we made sure everyone saw us congratulating one another."
Unfortunately, their celebrations may be short-lived. On opening day, the Patriots beat the Kansas City Chiefs, but lost reigning NFL MVP Tom Bradyfor the season with a knee injury. And now, after bucking the Broncos, it looks like New England could be without Harrison from here on out.
The Patriots can't afford any more wins like these.