NEW ORLEANS – Head Coach Bill Belichick returned from practice on Wednesday and went to the film room to evaluate the health of quarterback Tom Brady. He will wait until after meeting with Brady and Drew Bledsoe to make an official announcement, which he said will be done through a written statement at approximately 8:30 p.m. local time.
Brady received most but not all of the snaps with the first unit but Bledsoe got more than he had in most weeks since he returned to active status in Week 10. Patriots.com will update the situation immediately when the statement is released.
Patriots coaching assistant Ned Burke grew up in Wayland, Mass., and now finds himself on the staff of his hometown team while it plays for the World Championship. Burke played running back and quarterback at Cornell before teaching and coaching at Connecticut's Salisbury School. Now he coaches the Patriots running backs, a responsibility offensive coordinator Charlie Weis essentially handed to him when Weis was forced to work more with the quarterbacks after Dick Rehbein's death. But Burke nosed his way into pro football through a connection with defensive backs coach Eric Mangini. "When they were with the Jets, I actually met Coach Belichick socially and we started talking about lacrosse because I played lacrosse in college too," Burke said. "He gave me an opportunity to come down and work that summer with an internship in the personnel department. That winter I was hired by Scott Pioli in pro personnel and I worked with wit the Jets for a year before switching into coaching when Bill got the head job here." With his family of Patriots fans cheering on Sunday, Burke could help deliver the organization's first ever championship.
With all the hullabaloo in New Orleans during Super Bowl week, it seems like it could be difficult for the players to actually stay focused on the job at hand, which happens to be a football game rather than all the events surrounding that game. Willie McGinest, who will play in his second title game, isn't worried about that. "It's not that hard for me. This attention goes with the territory. You have to be able to isolate yourself when it's time to prepare and focus. You have to be mature. [The hype] is part of it. Guys should enjoy it. Guys should get involved with it, but at the same time understand when it's enough and it's time to get ready for the game."
"All this stuff doesn't mean anything if you don't win," Ted Johnson added. "A lot of people are satisfied with being here and I realize it's hard to get to this point. I've been second in a lot of things. I'm tired of being in second. I'd like to have a ring and be called a champion."
Faulk a chore
Belichick extolled the many virtues of Marshall Faulk during his daily press conference. But he began his compliment session when asked about the day Faulk was traded from the Colts to the Rams while Belichick was still coaching the Jets, an AFC East rival of Indy.
"It was one of the happiest days of my life," he said. "I was glad to get rid of him for two games a year. Of all the players in the league, Marshall Faulk is the hardest player to match up against. When he played for Lindy Infante in Indianapolis, Lindy used to split him out, and I thought he was better than their other receivers. That was before Marvin Harrison got there. To be the best wide receiver and the best running back, it really puts you in a bind defensively. If you put your nickel defense to try to match him as a receiver and they run their running game, you've got tough fits there. It's hard enough for the corners to cover him, let along the safeties and the linebackers. Mike Martz has done a tremendous job of using Marshall in ways that are hard to defend. It's hard to find him and when you do find him, it's hard to get the right matchup on him.
Punter Ken Walter was excused from Tuesday's Media Day because he went home to North Carolina to be with his wife, Chante, who gave berth to the couple's first son. Ken Walter Jr. was born on Tuesday and weighed in at 8 pounds 1 ounce. Walter was concerned throughout the playoffs that his wife would give berth on game day and cause him to miss a postseason game. To avoid any conflicts with the Super Bowl, doctors induced labor, all are doing well and Walter returned in time for practice on Wednesday.
It's no wonder why athletes often look at the media with such disdain. Kicker Adam Vinatieri, who was a major cog in the Patriots last Super Bowl team in 1996, was asked how he felt to be going to his first title game. Luckily for the ill-informed inquirer, Vinatieri is one of the classier members of the Patriots and politely reminded him that he'd already been here before.
Shortly afterward, Vinatieri talked about his enormous game-tying field goal in the snow against Oakland. "If it wasn't the biggest kick of my career, it was certainly one of the biggest. I really haven't had a chance to sit and watch it over again, but once the season is over you can bet the VCR will have that tape in it a couple of times."
One of the benefits of playing in the Super Bowl is the media gets a chance to chat with the assistant coaches, who are generally off limits during the regular season. The NFL requires all staff members to be available so a chat with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was a natural.
Scarnecchia talked about the development of his young offensive line and explained that there was still plenty of progress to be made.
"I don't think we're a perfect group," Scarnecchia said. "I think we have a long way to go. I think we have a lot of improvement to do. I'm not particularly satisfied with anything. I think it's a matter of hard work and it's keeping the same guys on the field at the same positions for a period of time. It would help anyone's offensive line to have the same guys playing next to one another."
Scarnecchia is a bit of an anomaly in today's NFL in that he's been with the Patriots organization for 18 years. Most assistants bounce from team to team as they move their way up the coaching ladder, but Scarnecchia is happy right where he is.
"To be with one organization this long is not a very common thing in our profession," Scarnecchia said. "Our family really appreciates the fact that we've been here this long and I think we're really, really blessed to be here this long."
The official injury report was released on Wednesday and only two Patriots appeared: quarterback Tom Brady is probable with a sprained left ankle and tackle Matt Light also is probable with a sore ankle. For the Rams, tackle Orlando Pace is questionable with a sprained knee and safety Rich Coady is questionable with an ankle injury. Wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim (ankle), quarterback Kurt Warner (ribs) and defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina (elbow) are all listed as probable.