Two players who could benefit from the time off more than most of the Patriots are inside linebackers Bryan Cox and Ted Johnson.
Both were having strong seasons before injury setbacks. Neither has been a major factor over the last two months, and both find themselves doing more watching than playing despite being cleared to play. With strong play from Tedy Bruschi, Roman Phifer and Mike Vrabel, New England has not been forced to rush Cox or Johnson back to the field.
However, getting both back into the regular rotation couldn't hurt. Cox was among the top tacklers on the team with 47 through Week Seven. He suffered a broken leg against Denver, and after missing four straight games, he has just three tackles and was inactive once over the last four games.
Johnson appeared to be returning to form with 42 tackles through Week Nine, but then the injury bug got him. He missed games against St. Louis, New Orleans and the Jets, and he has just three stops in the last three games.
Head Coach Bill Belichick said performance has not been the overriding reason for the limited action Cox and Johnson have seen.
"We have Ted and Bryan and Tedy [Bruschi], they all are involved in the game plan and they all take turns defensively," Belichick said. "A little bit of how much their playing time is depends on to a certain extent a little bit of the situation in the game. For example last week against Miami we played a lot of nickel and dime defenses in the third and fourth quarter because of the game situation. Had the game gone differently they would have seen a lot more playing time because they are not very heavily involved in those situational defenses.
"I would say that how much they played last week was a little bit reflective more of the score then our desire to play them. Had it been a normal game they would have played more. If this is a normal game then I think, yeah, they will get more playing time. If it becomes more of a running game and field position game and that kind of thing then I am sure that they will be in there."
Seifert struggling to finish line
Watching Carolina Head Coach George Seifert lose week after week is almost painful. The same man considered a defensive genius with five Super Bowl rings, including two as a head coach, is in danger of setting the NFL mark for consecutive losses. It would be wrong to say Carolina has mailed it in, but the Panthers did not looked inspired in a blowout loss to Arizona in Week 16.
"We didn't play well last week," Seifert said. "We were uninspired and at least in most of the games that we've played, we've made ballgames out of them and there's been some suspense to it. I think we'd like to end the season on a positive note, but at the same time we know we're up against an awfully good opponent."
Asked about Seifert's plight, Belichick said you have to look at the different situations coaches find themselves in.
"Obviously George is a very experienced, good coach, I don't think there is any question about that," Belichick said. "I think when you are a coach to a certain degree sometimes you are a big part of the situation that you are. I think George was real fortunate when he took over the 49er job. He had a Hall of Fame quarterback [Joe Montana] and he probably had another Hall of Fame quarterback [Steve Young]. I would be hard pressed to name another coach who has coached back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks with a Hall of Fame receiver [Jerry Rice] all the way through there too. That is not always a bad position to be in. They had a good program and he won and won convincingly with it, probably as good a record as any coach in that time period."
Things are not the same in Carolina. The Panthers may have three Pro Bowlers this season, but the roster has been depleted with injuries and other situations.
"I don't think you can just put up the records, you have to look at the total situation," Belichick said. "They have a lot of salary cap problems, had to rebuild different parts of the team, but they have been very competitive all year. They have been in a lot of close games that have come down to the last play, the last quarter, I don't know whatever it is nine, ten games decided by a eight points or less or whatever the numbers are they all look pretty close. So if a few of those plays or games go the other way you are looking at a whole different story."
For the second straight day Belichick reported no injuries for the Patriots. The list is considerably longer for the Panthers. Wide receiver Isaac Byrd (concussion) and defensive tackle Sean Gilbert (elbow) and wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad (toe) are out and tight end Wesley Walls (knee) are doubtful.
Wide receiver Karl Hankton (arm) and linebacker Nate Hemsley (knee) are questionable. Finally, running backNick Goings(back) and wide receiverDonald Hayes(ankle) are listed as probable.