FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Sept. 26, 2005) -- Rodney Harrison, the fiery leader of the New England Patriots ' defense, is expected to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury that further depletes a battered secondary.
"I feel so bad because he's one of the hardest working guys on the team," linebacker Willie McGinest said. "He puts everything into this game. He plays it with passion."
Harrison suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament that will sideline him the rest of the season, his agent, Steve Feldman, told the Boston Herald. The Boston Globe cited an unidentified team source in reporting the same information.
Feldman did not return several phone calls from The Associated Press.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick refused to disclose anything on Harrison or tackle Matt Light, who left Heinz Field in Pittsburgh with a cast on his right leg.
The loss of the Super Bowl champs' best defensive back could be costlier than last year's injuries to starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole that sidelined both for most of the season.
Harrison, a strong safety who started every game since he arrived from San Diego in 2003, was hurt in the first quarter of New England's 23-20 win when Pittsburgh wide receiver Cedrick Wilson hit his legs after being bumped by a New England player.
Harrison grimaced and was driven off the field on a cart. After the game, a cart was used to get him to the team bus.
"I went in at halftime and you could just tell that he was hurting," free safety Eugene Wilson said. "He had tears in his eyes because he loves the game so much and to go down and know that you might not be able to play, it hurts."
The loss of Harrison diminished the Patriots' enjoyment of a last-second win against a tough opponent after the Steelers tied the game at 20 with 1:21 left. Tom Brady completed all three of his passes to set up Adam Vinatieri's 43-yard field goal with 1 second left.
"You always try to know what you need, try to manage the game given the game situation," Belichick said, "and I think that's one of the things that Tom does best."
Harrison, whose physical style has led to numerous fines during his 12 NFL seasons, kept the patched-up secondary together last season. Now that task falls to Wilson, a starter since the Patriots drafted him in 2003 out of Illinois.
"Of course, Rodney was the leader back in the secondary and now I'm going to have to take on that void," Wilson said. "He's like a big brother to me out there. He's helped me along since I've been here."
Guss Scott, who missed all last season with a knee injury, replaced Harrison.
The Patriots also lost Light to what could be a serious injury. Like Harrison, he left the field on a cart. Light's agent, Ben Dogra, did not return a call seeking comment.
When asked if Harrison or Light would play against San Diego, Belichick said only, "We'll do the injury report on Wednesday."
Light was replaced by Nick Kaczur, a third-round draft choice who gives the Patriots two rookies on the left side of the line. First-round pick Logan Mankins has been the starting left guard all season and both played fairly well against Pittsburgh.
"We bring in smart guys here and guys that know how to play the game," center Dan Koppen said. "When they get in those situations, they're able to execute it out on the field."
The Patriots played without three injured defensive backs: cornerbacks Poole and Randall Gay and safety James Sanders. Cornerback Duane Starks was hurt on Pittsburgh's first series, but returned later in the game.
Scott "is smaller (than Harrison) but he also brings a lot of intensity, like yesterday. He made a lot of great plays," Wilson said. "Rodney, he brings different kind of intensity. He's like a wild man out there. Guss, he's a little more composed."
Last season, numerous injuries in the secondary led to Belichick's decision to use wide receiver Troy Brown at cornerback and linebacker Don Davis at safety. Still, New England won its third Super Bowl in four years.
"We don't pride ourselves on getting guys hurt and still trying to win games," McGinest said. "We need everybody we can (get). We just play hard and guys that are coming in have to just step up."