In his Wednesday press conference, PatriotsHead Coach Bill Belichick confirmed a number of reports released Tuesday night claiming that strong safety Rodney Harrison suffered a serious injury in the Colts game.
"Rodney [Harrison] is going to be out for this game, unfortunately," said Belichick in his opening statement to the media. "He was injured last week and we all hope he'll be back out there soon. Nobody worked harder to get back out on the field this year than he did after what happened last year. It's unfortunate, but I know he'll work hard and we'll just to do the best we can without him here."
On Tuesday night, Boston.com reported that a league source close to Harrison had said he sustained a broken right scapula in the Colts game. Since that time, a number of other reports have surfaced saying the same thing, though coach Belichick never confirmed the type of injury Harrison received.
Belichick wouldn't speculate about the severity of the injury, nor would he give a timeline for Harrison's return.
"If I knew anymore I would tell you," he admitted. "We've had injuries, and we've seen plenty of cases in this league where players have similar injuries and they're out different lengths of time. There's no way to predict it. I know we have a lot of experts out there that think everything can be very clearly stated, but the fact of the matter is that's just not the case. You see many examples of it throughout the league and throughout sports… I think he's a pretty tough player, mentally and physically – a tough player. I would say that, regardless of what the situation was."
The injury was sustained on only the third defensive play of the game, when Harrison tackled Indy wideout Marvin Harrison, falling hard on his right shoulder. Harrison took a few seconds to get up before leaving the field. His return to the game was initially listed as 'probable,' though he did not play another down. He recorded a pass defensed two plays earlier when he broke up Peyton Manning's first pass of the game, intended for tight end Dallas Clark.
Harrison, 33, is in his 13th NFL season. This is his fourth season with the Patriots, and he played for the Chargers during his first nine years in the league. He suffered a season-ending injury in last season's Week 3 game against the Steelers, when he tore three ligaments in his left knee. The injury was devastating and Harrison spent nine months recovering, though he was healthy enough to return to the field before Game 1 of this season. In fact, he started in the Patriots third preseason game against the Redskins.
The only defensive back in league history to record 25 sacks and 30 interceptions, Harrison has added to those totals in strong performances all season long. He currently has 28.5 sacks and 32 interceptions. He said earlier this season that he hopes to reach 30 of each before he retires. He suffered a fracture to his left shoulder in the '99 season when he was still with the Chargers. That injury sat him out for 10 of San Diego's last 11 games.
"Rodney had worked really hard to get back on the field from the injury he had last year. Our prayers are with him, my heart goes out to him," said fellow safety Artrell Hawkins on Wednesday.
The Patriots starting free safety, Eugene Wilson has been plagued by an injury of his own, only starting one of the last four games with Hawkins playing in his stead.
"We're all professionals, whenever your number is called you have to be ready to play, no matter who you are, it doesn't matter whether you're Tom Bradyor a practice squad player. When your number is called it's time to go out there and shine," said Hawkins. "I think whoever is behind him is going to get the game-plan in and we're going to work extra hard this week so we have our communication down, study a lot of tape, and we'll see what happens."
When Harrison left the Colts game, 10-year veteran defensive back Chad Scott filled in. Scott said he feels comfortable playing safety in Harrison's place, though he played cornerback for the Steelers during his first eight seasons.
"Playing cornerback is more like running a track meet every play, where playing safety is more about communication," said Scott on Wednesday, adding that he knows how to play football. Scott had the Patriots only interception in the Colts game, which was only Manning's third of the season.
"[Harrison] is a great leader and there's always a void when you lose guys like that, but there are some other veteran guys out there who are in those spots," said Brady in his Wednesday press conference. "Artrell [Hawkins] has been here for a while now and Chad [Scott] has been here for another year. Guys are going to have to pick it up. All of us on offense, defense. That's why it's a team and that's why there's 53 guys and everybody has to contribute. Everyone wants Rodney out there but when he's not out there -just like when other guys aren't out there- you've got to still find a way to get it done."
"I think we're prepared regardless," said cornerback Ellis Hobbs on Wednesday. "Our defense isn't based around one person. It's not based around Rodney Harrison. Rodney's a great person, he's a great athlete, he's a great guy. But he plays a role within the defense, just like I play a role, just like we all play a role in the defense. So when he goes down, we're not filling in a player, we're filling in a role."
Hobbs added that the individual performance of a player filling any role on the team can vary a little bit, but said he didn't think that variation would affect the overall strength of the defense much.
"Guys have to step up," said linebacker Tedy Bruschi in a conference call with the New York media on Wednesday. "We always pride ourselves on when one guys goes down, someone else has to come in and do the job. Losing Rodney is a big loss for us; he's a guy who did a lot of things for us. We have to move on and worry about the Jets right now and whoever is going to be in there for him, they have to do the job."
Comings and goingsThe Patriots claimed third-year safety Rashad Baker off waivers from the Vikings on Monday. Baker has played in 29 career games and is now in his third season in the NFL. He'll be wearing number 32 for the Patriots, and coach Belichick said Wednesday that the acquisition was in the works before Harrison went down. An undrafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee, Baker spent his first two seasons (2004-05) with the Bills, who released him prior to the start of this season. The Vikings picked him up the following day, on Sept. 3, 2006. He played in one game for the Vikings this season against his former Bills, recording a special teams tackle in that game. Over his career, Baker has recorded three starts, 53 tackles, one sack, two interceptions, two passes defensed, one foced fumble and 20 special teams tackles.
In addition to claiming Baker, the Patriots released cornerback Antwain Spann on Monday. The team re-signed him to the practice squad on Wednesday. The Giants originally signed Spann as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2005 season, though they released him before the season began. The Patriots picked up Spann last January, and he was allocated to the NFL Europe League, where he played in six games with three starts for the Rhein Fire. Spann was signed from the Patriots practice squad before October and played in four games this season for the Patriots, recording three tackles.
The Patriots also released guard Dan Stevenson on Monday. Stevenson was selected by the Patriots in the sixth round (205th overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. He's been on the practice squad since the season began.
On Tuesday, the Patriots re-signed offensive lineman Brian Barthelmes to the practice squad. Barthelmes had been released by the Patriots on the previous Tuesday after spending only six days on the practice squad. He was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent last May and hasn't been on any other teams' roster. He played in the first three preseason games with the Pats.
The Patriots held practice inside the Dana Farber Field House today, wearing shorts/sweats, helmets and shells. The only player not seen during the portion of practice available to the media was Harrison. Running back Patrick Pass, who's been on the PUP list all season with a foot injury, was back on the practice field today. The Pats have about three weeks to either sign Pass to the active roster or release him. … The Patriots Wednesday injury report was released this afternoon. Harrison is listed as 'out,' and nine other players are listed as 'questionable.' Brady is listed as 'probable,' and was the only player on the injury report who didn't miss at least a portion of practice today.