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Pats are the focus in some NFL decisions

New England was a major player yet again at the NFL's Annual Meeting.

The Patriots organization always seems to play an integral role at the NFL's Annual Meeting. And this year's was no exception.

Having just concluded out in southern California, the gathering of NFL owners, executives, head coaches, and other league power brokers considered a host of ideas to change or modify various aspects of the game and the way the NFL does business.

A number of important decisions were made. Here is a recap of those which directly involved the Patriots:

The Tom Brady Rule

More of an adjustment than an actual change to the rules, this measure came about following the season-ending injury to the Pats QB last season. It will now allow officials to flag defenders who are knocked to the ground and continue to lunge at the quarterback.
Last year in Week 1, Brady was tackled by Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard, who lunged at Brady's legs after Pollard was thrown to the ground in the vicinity of Brady. The Pats QB fell awkwardly and tore several ligaments in his left knee.

The Wes Welker Rule

It's not being called this, but a perfect example of it came last season, when New England's star receiver was blind-sided by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark. Welker left the game and did not return as a result of the hit. You'll recall that the pass intended for Welker sailed wide after it was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Welker completed his route but slowed down when he saw the ball was uncatchable. But Clark did not let up in his attempt to hit Welker, launching himself at Welker and striking him under the chin with his forearm and shoulder. Beginning this season, hits of this nature, in which it appears a player is in a defenseless position, will be deemed illegal if the blow is delivered helmet-to-helmet (which was already on the books) or with the forearm or shoulder to the head or neck area.

The NFL Draft Order

Many Patriots fans were unhappy after the 2008 season when they learned their favorite team, which finished 11-5 but did not qualify for the playoffs, would be drafting later than teams with lesser records that did play in the postseason. NFL owners have decided to change that format. Starting with the 2010 Draft, non-playoff teams will select the first 20 picks of the draft (barring any trades, of course), while those that make the playoffs will choose from slots 21-32. Super Bowl participants would pick in spots 31 and 32, while the remaining 10 playoff teams would be sorted out based on where they finished in the playoffs. So, for example, if the rule were in place this year, New England would draft no further than 20th, while the 8-8 San Diego Chargers would draft later than the 12-4 Indianapolis Colts, whom the Chargers beat in the playoffs.

The 2009 Schedule

Though the full season slate is still being ironed out, the NFL announced – as it traditionally does at the annual meeting – its prime time offerings on opening weekend and Thanksgiving. New England will play the first game of a Monday Night Football doubleheader on September 14. They'll host the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium, kickoff at 7 p.m. Eastern. The rest of the schedule will be announced in early April.

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