Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that as bad as the injury situation has been, it got even worse yesterday when the Patriots put starting center Dan Koppen and defensive back Randall Gay on injured reserve, meaning they'll miss the rest of the season. According to reports, Koppen separated his shoulder against Miami Sunday. Randall Gay is the sixth defensive back on the team to go on injured reserve this season. The Patriots replaced the latest two casualties with defensive back Artrell Hawkins, an eight-year veteran, and offensive lineman Gene Mruczkowski. Michael Felger of the Boston Herald and Tom Curran of the Providence Journal also offers a similar report.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes that the Patriots have 13 sacks on the season, ranking them next-to-last in the NFL. They have none in their last two games. In their four losses, they have a grand total of two. The numbers are telling of defense that is clearly struggling. The Pats had 45 sacks last year, tied for third-most in the NFL. In 2003, they had 41, tied for sixth. Their pass rush dipped in 2002 along with the rest of the team (34, tied for 21st), but in the 2001 Super Bowl season they had 41, tied for 13th. So the threshold seems clear. When the Pats have a championship-caliber defense, they're in the 40s in team sacks. At their current pace, the Pats will finish with 23. That would be their lowest output since the dark days of Dick MacPherson, when they had 20 in 1992.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that cornerback Duane Starks was frustrated and disappointed about missing the rest of the season and about the beating he took from the media and fan base. Because of the Patriots' policy on not disclosing the extent of injuries, Starks had to take the criticism while not being able to reveal how hurt he was. "I knew the circumstances," said Starks. ''I took some garbage from people. Some media people took what I said and twisted it around to suit their stories, things like I couldn't play press coverage and things like that. Given my shoulder was what it was, there wasn't any way I could play a physical brand of football. I could run around and cover the best I could, and I did what the team wanted me to do. We had so many guys banged up, I went out there and did the best I could for the team. I had to stay in and stick it out."
Chris Kennedy of The Republican writes that running backs Heath Evans and Corey Dillon may not have much in common in terms of running style, but New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the team will not radically alter its approach, just because one or the other back is playing Sunday against the visiting New Orleans Saints. Evans, a 6-foot, 244-pound fullback, carried 17 times for 84 of his team's 91 rushing yards in Sunday's 23-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins. It was the second best day by a New England back this season, and the team's third most productive rushing game of the season. "I think we're pretty much going to run whatever we're going to run against the opponents that we play, based on what we think is best," Belichick said. "Whoever is carrying it is carrying it, whether that is Corey or it could be somebody else. I don't think you can have two guys that have much more of a different running style than those two, but I don't think you can do it (differently). You can't have one offense for this guy and one offense for that guy."
Gerry Callahan of the Boston Herald writes that at 5-4, the Patriots have yet to put together a two-game winning streak. They have suffered more setbacks than the cast of "Diff'rent Strokes," and they are one Tom Brady ankle sprain away from being the Jets. They are not exactly a mess, but neither are they planning to set this season to music and sell it at video stores. Still, as they proved in Miami Sunday, the Patriots can do themselves proud this year. They can still finish atop their division, which they had only done five times in 40 years before the Belichick/Brady era. They can still earn a home playoff game and they can advance to the second round and they can play hard and smart and they can go down fighting, which is probably the best you can hope for from a team that is just about out of halfbacks and safeties.
Eric McHugh of the Patriot Ledger writes that in the deafening silence of the locker room following last Monday's 40-21 spanking at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts, it was Troy Brown who uncharacteristically spoke up and said his teammates had been too emotionally detached. Sunday's 23-16 victory in Miami was - to borrow a coach Bill Belichick phrase from earlier in the season - no masterpiece, but in Brown's book it had the requisite oomph. Patriots players were not available to the media yesterday, but Brown told WEEI-AM that the Patriots were a little more emotionally invested in this one. "A blind man could see that we had more passion coming out from the first snap to the last snap,'' he said, ''and that's the way you've got to play this game. I'm not saying being excited and being passionate about what you do is going to win the game for you, but it definitely helps. It helps to keep the energy level up for 60 minutes."
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.