Blue moons, Halley's comet, and Bill Belichick offering unsolicited injury information – all events whose occurrences are noteworthy in an of themselves, but also because of their rarity.
Today, the Patriots head coach, in his opening remarks on a conference call with local media, appeared to confirm what has been feared since last night – that Dane Fletcher is out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee.
The third-year linebacker started the preseason contest against New Orleans on defense, and was covering a punt in the first quarter when he hit the deck and didn't get up. New England's medical staff immediately went over and examined his left knee. When Fletcher finally got up, he required the aid of two staffers. As he limped off the field, even a layman could tell it serious.
Belichick's remarks today certified that conjecture.
"The news on Dane doesn't look very good. Looks like he'll be out for a while," the coach proclaimed. "It's unfortunate. He's worked hard throughout the offseason and training camp."
Fletcher himself, commenting via Twitter, gave thanks to his family, friends, and fans for their support. He wrote little more, but the message was clear: he was saying farewell for now.
Belichick, though, would not say just yet whether Fletcher would be placed on injured reserve.
"I'm not trying to speculate on his injury… He's going to be out for a while. We'll see exactly what that means."
The next time the Patriots took the field on defense against the Saints, rookie Dont'a Hightower had moved from the SAM (strong-side) linebacker spot, where he'd started the game, to Fletcher's MIKE position in the middle. Veteran Bobby Carpenter replaced Hightower at the SAM.
Both players had been seen at the various linebacker positions throughout training camp, but the move last night was clearly a reaction to losing Fletcher, who himself was getting the start in place of injured incumbent Brandon Spikes. Depth, needless to say, is even more of a concern now at linebacker.
Carpenter's versatility and experience should help ease the pain somewhat, as Belichick explained.
"He's played inside and outside in a 3-4, he's played the different positions in a 4-3 and nickel defenses, has a lot of experience in the kicking game. He's done a lot of different things."
Carpenter and Hightower will certainly continue to play active roles, as they have throughout camp, but the opportunities will increase for someone like Mike Rivera, a first-year player out of Kansas who was a part-time practice squad player in Foxborough last season.
"Mike's a player…. wasn't in training camp for us, but had a good year on the practice squad. He did enough things that we decided to re-sign him. He's been very competitive in camp. We're trying to give him some opportunities to see what he can do and how effective he can be doing it. He's certainly well ahead of where he was last year because of the spring practices, the OTAs, and being here in training camp.
"So, he knows our system a lot better," added Belichick. "He's a hard-working kid who's shown up in the kicking game and on defense. He's done some good things, but still has a long way to go to establish himself as a veteran NFL player, which, I think, Bobby's done that."
The head coach and his staff will have about 48 more hours to figure out how they'll deploy their defensive personnel, minus Fletcher. New England did not practice Friday and will not be back on the field until Sunday evening, when they resume training camp and begin preparing for their next preseason opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles. That game will be at Gillette Stadium a week from Monday.
In the meantime, after watching film of last night's game, Belichick said he was pleased overall with his team's performance in that affair, but also in the two previous days of joint practices with New Orleans.
"Yeah, it was great to be with them. I think we got a lot out of it, absolutely. They're a good football team, and they're good to work with… I'm glad we did it."