If this is winning, I'd hate to see what losing looks like.
Vince Wilforkwas his smiling and upbeat self in the Patriots locker room on Wednesday as he discussed his meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodella day earlier. Wilfork expressed his gratitude that he had the opportunity to voice his side of the story regarding his dirty play possibly leading to a suspension or fine.
Wilfork avoided the suspension, but he will be lighter in his wallet, much lighter. According to profootballtalk.com, the Pro Bowl nose tackle was hit with a $35,000 fine for unnecessary roughness stemming from an elbow to the head of Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler. The fine represents roughly 40 percent of a game check based on his $1.4 million salary, which is a hefty charge and certainly an indication that Goodell is serious about wanting a cleaner game.
Still, Wilfork will be available for Sunday's game with the Colts, and that's the important thing for the Patriots. However, it's also quite clear that he'll need to avoid confrontation in order to avoid any future suspensions.
The Patriots and Colts are no strangers to one another, but in most of the previous meetings the Indianapolis offense earned top billing. That may no longer be the case for Tony Dungy's club, which has struggled throughout the first half of 2008.
Sure, the Colts still havePeyton Manningand a potentially explosive offensive to lean on, but thus far the unit has been sporadic at best. One week they're laying 31 on the board against Baltimore while in another they're failing to pick up a yard on fourth down in the fourth quarter of a tie game against Tennessee.
On the flip side, the Colts defense has kept them in games at times. The group has been much maligned over the year but was among the very best in football a year ago. They allowed a league low 262 points in 2007, and even though Indy's defense hasn't been quite up to those standards, it still boasts something that separates it from most others: speed.
Bill Belichick calls Indy's defense one of the fastest he has seen and cited bookend pass rushers Dwight Freeneyand Robert Mathis in particular.
"I can't think of two better edge rushers than that that we have faced," Belichick said. "The linebackers are active. They make a lot of plays from behind. They are very fast."
That speed could impact the guys up front for the Patriots, who not only will contend with the Colts pass rush but also will need to be quick in setting up for the many screens the Patriots like to run. Left guardLogan Mankinsalso talked about the need to be aware of safety Bob Sanders, who could return after missing five games with ankle and knee injuries.
"They like to move him around so whoever is assigned to block him has to be aware of where he's coming from," Mankins said. "It's also a little different with Indy because we're used to facing 300-pound guys inside but the Colts guys are smaller and much faster than we're used to seeing. It's a little unique."
The Colts rotate personnel up front with Raheem Brockoften lining up at end on early downs but moving inside in passing situations. The two starters at defensive tackle are rookie Eric Fosterand Keyunta Dawson. While the Patriots boast 300-plus-pounders in Richard Seymour, Vince Wilforkand Ty Warren, that trio checks in at 274, 265 and 254, respectively. But what they lack in girth the make up for in athleticism.
"When you watch them on film, that speed really comes through," Belichick said. "Their defensive linemen, on check downs, screens, even running plays to get through the line of scrimmage – a lot of time the tackle is made from guys coming from the backside after it looks like a guys has been blocked. The play they made against Houston when Mathis stripped [Sage] Rosenfels was kind of typical of how they play. It's hard running away from them."
One break the Patriots offense will get on Sunday is it won't have to face cornerback Marlin Jackson. Jackson suffered a knee injury at practice on Wednesday and is out for the season. The news was tough to take for Dungy since he was hoping to get his other corner, Kelvin Hayden, back from a knee injury. Now he could be dealing with holes at both cornerback spots. Nickel back Tim Jennings will start in Jackson's place.
On the home front
After missing yesterday's workout, Ellis Hobbsreturned to the practice field on Thursday. The team was back inside at the Dana-Farber Field House wearing shells and sweats for the second straight day. Also, running back LaMont Jordanwas present for his second day of work as he recovers from a calf injury. Running back Sammy Morris(knee), cornerback Lewis Sanders(hamstring) and linebacker Shawn Crable(shin) were not with the team during the media portion of practice.
A pair of Patriots earned awards this week as kicker Stephen Gostkowskiwon the AFC's Special Teams Player of the Month and linebackerJerod Mayotook home NFL Rookie of the Month honors. Gostkowski made 9 of 10 field goals in October and 16 of 17 overall on the season. He leads the team with 38 points.
Mayo posted 24 tackles in October, highlighted by his 11-tackle effort against Denver in Week 7. Overall, he's made 55 tackles this season to pace the club in that category. The last Patriot to earn Rookie of the Month honors was wide receiver Deion Branchback in September of 2002.