A familiar face was in the Patriots locker room Wednesday, one even more familiar than wrestler-turned-football player Stephen Neal, whose re-signing was announced earlier in the morning.
Defensive lineman Chris Sullivan returned to his original NFL team Wednesday, filling the 53rd and final roster spot for the Patriots. Originally a fourth-round draft pick out of Boston College in 1996, Sullivan played four seasons in New England before signing as an unrestricted free agent with Pittsburgh following the 1999 season.
Last season Sullivan played 15 games for the Steelers, including two starts, and had 17 tackles. He was let go this season after suffering a wrist injury.
"Chris is a very versatile player who can play in a lot of different spots, both in regular and in sub-packages," Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "He's the kind of guy who can play in the kicking game, and we just felt we could never have too much depth on the defensive line."
Belichick said the Patriots considered bringing Sullivan on board earlier in the year, but because the wrist was not 100 percent they decided to wait. Now he is healthy enough to contribute, and the timing was better because New England had an open roster spot.
Sullivan had his best season in 1998, when he started 10-of-16 games and posted 36 tackles and three sacks. He also started 10 games in 1997 and had 25 tackles. In his four seasons with the Patriots he missed just one game.
Off to the Races
"If the season ended today…"
Patriots players will not get caught starting a sentence with that phrase if Belichick has anything to do with it. While the team is in position for a postseason spot, that is all they have done. Nothing is clinched yet, and at 8-5, New England can't afford a slip against the lowly Buffalo Bills last week.
In effort to downplay the significance of where the Patriots are in the current AFC standings, Belichick showed his players video of a horse race last week.
"We showed them a race, and we stopped it as all the horses hit the final turn and headed for home," Belichick said. "We asked, 'Okay, if the race ended right here, who would win?"
So what was the answer?
"Who cares?" Belichick said. "What difference does it make? Who cares what horse is ahead as they make the final turn and head for home? The only thing that matters is when they cross the finish line and who is in first. That's what matters."
For the record, if the season did end today the Patriots would be the fifth seed in the AFC.
The Patriots injury list was short once again. Cornerback Ben Kelly is out with a foot injury, which has landed him on injured reserve. The only others on the list are defensive ends Willie McGinest, who is questionable with his leg injury, and Anthony Pleasant, who is probable with a shoulder problem.