Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe asserts safety Rodney Harrison will be one of the many veterans who aid the Patriots in weathering the current storm as they look to bounce back this weekend in St. Louis. "He will be the voice of reason this week in the locker room, not getting into teammates' faces, but just acting like the veteran with perspective. He knows he's one of many seasoned players on this team," writes Cafardo.
In his notebook, Cafardo reports on the injury to Ty Law that has Patriots Nation holding its collective breath. "It remained unclear exactly how he hurt himself as he was trying to cover Hines Ward in the first quarter," writes Cafardo. "Law has had a sore foot all season, and he also suffers from chronic turf toe, but this injury appeared worse."
Ron Borges of the Globe looks into the problems plaguing the Pats secondary, problems that could take center stage against the Rams accomplished passing attack. "If New England has to go into Sunday's game against the Rams' high-octane passing game with Asante Samuel and either Randall Gay or, more likely, Eugene Wilson, at the corners and Rodney Harrison at safety with either Wilson, Gay, or Dexter Reid next to him, one can only imagine how many times the pass-loving Martz will throw the ball," writes Borges.
Grades are in from Kevin Mannix of The Boston Herald, and the Pats better hope there is a curve. The results were not pretty in Pittsburgh, a fact well reflected on Professor Mannix' report card. Special teams and the receiving corps managed B's, but no other unit received higher than a D. Good thing this is just the mid-term.
Michael Felger of The Boston Herald writes that despite the Pats mantra of "No Excuses," it is awfully hard to overlook the current shortage of starters. Felger examines the possible adjustments that could be made, and notes Law might be missing for a while. "Law was spotted after the game on crutches with a hard plastic cast around his left foot/ankle, and he was nowhere to be seen yesterday. Not a good sign," Felger writes.
In his notebook, Felger reports on the terrible field conditions at Heinz Field, which, as no surprise, the Patriots refuse to use as an excuse. Felger also reports on the non-existent running game, one that produced five yards on six carries, or, in other words, about how much Corey Dillon gets on each carry.
Mike Reiss of The MetroWest Daily News provides his usual due-diligence in projecting the possible moves the Patriots will make to shore up the secondary. "A defensive back reconstruction appears to be in order, with coach Bill Belichick and defensive backs mentor Eric Mangini heading into the d-back laboratory to concoct a mix out of whatever healthy elements they have," writes Reiss. "Belichick has traditionally favored experienced players in his defensive backfield, which makes the situation a tricky one." Reiss proposes several in-house switches that could be made, and even looks at who might be available as a free agent to fill the void.
In his notebook, Reiss reviews some locker room commentary regarding the loss, the first start for Brandon Gorin, and an interesting sign that help may be on the way.
Michael Parente of The Woonsocket Call hands out his grades as well. Parente is not quite as ruthless as Mannix, with more C's than D's, but the results are obviously not good. "The Patriots were outplayed in all three phases of the game as they lost for the first time since September of 2003, snapping a record-breaking 21-game win streak. They had to lose sometime, and many thought this would be the week since the Steelers entered the game at 5-1, but no one could've anticipated it'd be this bad," writes Parente.
Parente also forecasts this weekend's game with St. Louis, whose offense has often been called "The Greatest Show on Turf." "At 4-3, the Rams are ranked third in the NFC in total offense and fourth in passing yards per game. They're also playing on turf, which makes things faster," writes Parente. "Gay and Samuel might not be able to keep pace with receivers Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce, who have combined for 1,126 yards and five touchdowns, so the Patriots might have to shuffle some personnel."
Kevin McNamara of The Providence Journal points out the dour mood that surrounded the Patriots as they returned to work at Gillette Stadium. "After six weeks of fun, games and dreaming about an undefeated season, the Pats now have a challenge staring them in the face mask," writes McNamara. "The players slowly wandered into their Foxboro Stadium locker room yesterday with a bad taste in their mouths for the first time in about 56 weeks, ready to watch some film and listen to their coaches dissect the ugliness."
Tom Curran of the Journal contends the Patriots have a different look to them after being pancaked by the physical Steelers. "Instead of being truly great, the Patriots are now merely good," writes Curran. "They are back in the bucket with the rest of the crabs -- clawing, fighting and pulling each other down. It never was easy for this team over the last 13 months even though it sometimes made it look that way. But on Sunday it was terrifically hard, and it's probably going to stay that way for the rest of this month."
In his notebook, McNamara points out that Harrison's career-high 20 tackles (by coaches' statistics) do not constitute a good thing. The first problem that made Harrison so busy was the staggering imbalance in the time of possession. "The other problem was a weak showing by the defensive line," writes McNamara. "The Steelers ran 49 times for 221 yards. The starting front three of Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork combined for fewer tackles (18) than Harrison made all by himself."
Alan Greenberg of The Hartford Courant believes things could get worse in a hurry for the defending champs should either Law or Dillon miss extended time. Though Dillon's injury is not believed to be as serious as Law's, Greenberg says both players are as important to the Patriots as Tom Brady or Richard Seymour.