To play or not to play, that is the question facing Bill Belichick and the Patriots as they enter preparations for Sunday's season finale against San Francisco. New England is locked into the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and can do no better or worse regardless of Sunday's outcome. With a host of banged up players, Belichick spent much of Monday's press conference discussing his plans for the weekend.
"I'm not going to comment on that or make any decisions on that right now," Belichick said yesterday just hours after he and his team returned from the seven-hour bus ride back from New Jersey. "We're going to get ready to play the game, and whatever decisions we make will come later on. I haven't made them now, if there are any to make. Certainly the guys that aren't able to play, or are questionable to play, I think we'll take a longer look at whether or not we want to play those players."
That list includes many, but most notably defensive end Richard Seymour and cornerback Ty Law. The two marquee players are in much different situations with Law trying to return from an extended absence as a result of a broken bone in his left foot while Seymour continues to be evaluated after suffering a left knee injury Sunday in the win over the Jets.
Seymour's situation remains unclear. Jets center Kevin Mawae inadvertently rolled up on his leg while trying to block linebacker Mike Vrabel during the third quarter. Seymour stayed down for several minutes before helped to the sideline, where he spent the rest of the afternoon.
Seymour did not speak with the media after the game and he was walking with a noticeable limp in the locker room. ESPN's Chris Mortensen had a report that indicated Seymour suffered "a 3- to 6-week injury, but Belichick did not offer much light on the situation.
"I don't know that yet," Belichick said. "It's too close to after the game. We'll take a look and see where we are on Wednesday when we go out to practice."
Law's case is much different. Several weeks ago, the veteran expressed the desire to get some playing time before the playoffs began in an effort to shake off any possible rust. At the time he said he wanted to play in the last couple of regular season games. But now there's just one left and perhaps Belichick would rather not risk putting Law on the field against San Francisco with nothing to gain.
However, assuming he's healthy enough to play, Law could get a few series to get his feet wet under game conditions, which he hasn't experience since Halloween when he originally suffered the injury in Pittsburgh. Law was upgraded from doubtful to questionable last week leading up to the Jets game but remained on the inactive list despite making the trip to the Meadowlands.
Belichick cautioned not to read too much into the fact that Law worked out on the field before the game and simply said Law was "not close enough" to return.
As for the rest of the regulars, it will be interesting to see how Belichick handles them on a case-by-case basis. In last year's season finale against Buffalo, quarterback Tom Brady played well into the fourth quarter despite the Patriots 31-0 lead. New England did need to win the game to nail down the top seed in the playoffs, but the outcome had long since been decided when Brady went to the bench.
Corey Dillon also figured to have his workload monitored closely. He's been a workhorse with 331 carries already under his belt and most games feature him limping around at some point. It's conceivable that he could get the week off or at least see his carries reduced greatly.
The one matter of intrigue in that department is an incentive clause Dillon is nearing that would reportedly pay him $375,000 additional dollars if he reaches the 1,600-yard mark. He currently has a Patriots single-season best 1,519.
"We have a lot of guys on this team that are banged up. We've been in a long stretch of tough games. I think some of our players are getting worn down."
Former Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Ben Coates was named head coach at his alma mater, Livingstone College in Salisbury, S.C. Coates was an assistant at Livingstone since 2001 and was the school's offensive coordinator last season.
"It is my goal to return the program back to the previous success we had in the past," Coates said in an Associated Press piece. The school went 8-22 over the past three seasons and 2-8 this past year. Coates had expressed in an interest in coaching in the NFL and had internships with Dallas and in NFL Europe with the Frankfurt Galaxy in the past.