Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan writes that Bill Belichick described the New Orleans Saints as "Big and Fast". ''Two words describe just about everybody on the team: big and fast. They have very good skill people. They run the ball well. The quarterback is athletic. They have speed. They have big-play people. The defensive line is as good and as deep as any in the league. It's a fast secondary. They do a great job jamming receivers. It's a good secondary. They've got some really good players back there. It's an extremely good offensive line. They just roll 'em out there. They play 'em all, and they're all good. There isn't anybody out there that has not had problems protecting [the passer] against this team. That goes back several years," said Belichick.
With center Dan Koppen lost for the season, Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that Russ Hochstein will be the new starting center for the New England Patriots. "I know Russ is very capable. Russ is going to be in there, and Russ is going to play well for us," Brady said. ''We just can't afford any more injuries. We just can't afford any more on offense. We hardly have enough guys to get out there and suit up." As much talk as there has been of defensive injuries, the Patriots' offense isn't far behind. With New Orleans visiting Sunday, Koppen becomes the 12th of the 23 offensive players on the opening roster to miss a game because of injury. Just 10 of 27 listed defensive players have missed a game. (Linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who was on the physically unable to perform list, isn't included in that count.) Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant offers a similar report on Hochstein.
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady must carry the team like never before. With so many offensive starters sidelined, he knows he'll be shouldering much of the burden, which will require an even greater degree of precision from one of the most accurate arms in the league. "It's hard as a quarterback to be perfect out there and I think every time you take the field – every play – there's an opportunity to make a play," Brady said. "You can make a good play and you can make a really good play. Some of the throws you might complete, but you might throw it slightly behind a guy and instead of it being a 10-yard gain, it's a 5-yard gain. Those mount up. The margin for error for this team right now is razor thin. One play here or there in the game, when you look back at it, if we make it, we win. If we don't, we lose. You don't like to be in that situation, but we haven't been consistent."
Jerome Solomon of the Boston Globe writes that the Patriots began serious preparations for New Orleans yesterday thinking about winning one game, a game that would mean the team's first winning streak of the season. "Win one, lose one, that's been our pattern," Tedy Bruschi said. New England (5-4) won the season opener against Oakland, and has managed to win every other game since. ''We haven't played well enough to win two games in a row," linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "We can't just say, 'Hey we've got momentum [and expect to win].' We've had momentum four other times and lost. There's no carryover."
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald writes that the Patriots put forth one of their most physical and aggressive efforts of the season last Sunday against the Dolphins. The signature play came when corner Asante Samuel blew up running back Ricky Williams, but there were other examples. Rookie corner Ellis Hobbs, making his first start, proved far more hands-on than his predecessor, Duane Starks. Backup Hank Poteat made a solid form tackle in the Miami backfield for a key 5-yard loss on the final series. Safety Mike Stone, also making his first start, showed some pop as well. Of course, when you give up 360 yards and 16 passing first downs to a quarterback like Gus Frerotte, the bottom line remains decidedly uninspiring. "It's something that we needed, because a lot of teams come in thinking they can rough up our DBs because we're not the biggest group," safety Michael Stone said. "So it was real important for a guy like Asante to make that kind of hit. It was huge."
Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald offers a story on the loss center Dan Koppen. As the team's center, Koppen was the chief communicator for the line. He reads what's going on in front of him with the opposing defense's front seven, then puts everyone in their place. "The center in any NFL offensive system has a certain degree of control over the offensive line," Pats coach Bill Belichick said. "Dan does a good job of that . . . that's part of the position. It's almost like a quarterback. If you're the quarterback, you're calling signals. If you're the center, you're making the calls." With the loss of Koppen, the Patriots lost one of their most intelligent players. "One of the best things was he was smart," Belichick said of the former Boston College standout. "He's very confident and made a lot of right decisions and was very definitive in the calls and that gave everybody else the aggressiveness to go out there and perform their job without having any second thoughts about, 'Is this the right thing or not,' because it always was." Russ Hochstein will fill in as the starting center and will have a tough act to follow. Karen Guregian also offers an article on Koppen's replacement Russ Hochstein.
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that running back Michael Cloud was an underrated presence on the Patriots' second Super Bowl championship team of 2003. Cloud has yet to get untracked in very limited activity this season. He has carried eight times for 3 yards, with five of those carries going for zero or negative yardage. "I believe I've gone in and executed the play at hand," Cloud said. "For whatever reason, things just haven't worked out thus far. But we're still working as a group. We have guys banged up in all different areas. We're just trying get on the same page and keep this offense rolling." Cloud led the 2003 Patriots with five rushing touchdowns. He had a memorable game against the Tennessee Titans, rushing for 73 yards on seven carries in a 38-30 victory. He hopes to make the most of a similar opportunity, should it arise. "If you catch a defense off guard and have everything clicking, anything's possible," Cloud said. "At this point right now, that's what we're trying to accomplish."
John Tomase of the Boston Herald * take a look at New Orleans Saints running back Antowain Smith. As he did so often in New England, Smith has answered the call. Smith became the starting running back for the Saints after Deuce McAllister blew out his knee in a 52-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He has rushed for 360 yards on 75 carries (4.8 average), scoring a pair of touchdowns for the 2-7 Saints. He leads a running back stable that also includes Anthony Thomas and Aaron Stecker. "Antowain has stepped in and done a heck of a job," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "At least we've got some guys that step in and build the offense and do a good job." Tom Curran of the *Providence Journal offers a similar report on Saints RB Antowain Smith.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.