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Updated    12/05/10

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2006 Post Season


Click here for entire Bruschi Article Archive


Notes and Quotes

On The Playoffs:


"Absolutely, I think every team that's in the playoffs this year has a legitimate shot," says linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who has won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. "That's the goal, just to get in, because once you get in, anything can happen."


On The Jets:


Granted, the Jets operate out of a 4-3 scheme while the Patriots employ a 3-4 base, but…

“There are similarities, yes,” Patriots inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi said during his weekly appearance on Boston radio station WEEI on Tuesday. “I mean, of course with Eric Mangini being our coordinator last year, he's going to do a lot of things that are similar to what we did last year, similar to what we're doing this year.

“So, yes, you look at it, you remember the plays and you remember the calls, and you can see some of the similarities that their defense has to our defense, but they're done in different ways because every player has their different interpretation of how to get things done,” said Bruschi. “But, concept wise, there are similarities, yes.”





Patriots drive out Jets by winning chess match; Chargers up next

FOXBOROUGH -- Linebacker Tedy Bruschi called it a chess match, one of the most mentally taxing games he's been a part of over his 11-year career.

Not to say there weren't hard hits, or that physical play wasn't on display, but when the Patriots and Jets clashed yesterday in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs it was very much a thinking man's game.

The sides both wrestled to establish the tempo, making it hard for the other to substitute players. The Patriots opened the game with the no-huddle offense, snapping the ball at a rapid-fire pace. The Jets countered with their own no-huddle attack, with seemingly endless shifting and motion. Substitutions were made quickly. Timeouts were burned. Unconventional defensive schemes were utilized.

Such an approach was to be expected considering that both coaches -- the Patriots' Bill Belichick and the Jets' Eric Mangini -- know each other so well. And in the end, the Patriots called checkmate with a 37-16 victory that was closer than the score indicated.

As is the case in most chess matches, Bruschi said the key was to never lose their edge -- especially mentally.

"You saw the offensive line out there during a punt formation, and we had to run our defense on, then run our defense off, then run them back on. We got them with 12 men on the field once, and I think they got us with 12 men on the field. They had a lot of shifts and motions. You saw timeouts being called," he said.

"I think what we had to do was stay calm and let them do all their shifts and motioning, and trust our preparation to make the proper adjustment."

The Patriots made them, and ultimately made more plays to put away the pesky Jets and record their ninth straight playoff victory at home. The result catapults the team into the AFC divisional round, where the top-seeded Chargers await next Sunday in San Diego (4:30 p.m. EST).

The turning point yesterday came late in the third quarter, the Patriots holding a 20-13 lead but the Jets driving into New England territory.

When quarterback Chad Pennington dropped back to pass, he lofted an attempt in the direction of receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin batted the ball down, and many players on the field believed the play was over as a result of an incomplete pass, but not nose tackle Vince Wilfork. He picked up the loose ball and rumbled 31 yards to the Jets' 15-yard line.

Because it was not a forward pass, it was ruled a fumble and technically was recorded a rush by Pennington.

In a heady game, it was the most heads-up play of all.

"I think the big play was the Wilfork recovery of the fumble and him rumbling down the field," Bruschi said.

The Patriots outscored the Jets, 17-3, after the recovery, with a 13-play, 63-yard scoring drive that chewed up 6:23 of the fourth quarter helping the team pull away.

Quarterback Tom Brady finished 22 of 34 for 212 yards and two touchdowns, improving to 11-1 in the playoffs. His favorite target was receiver Jabar Gaffney, who totaled eight receptions for 104 yards. Also of prime importance was the time in which Brady had to throw, as he was sacked just once and hardly pressured, which was a stark reversal from the last time the teams met, on Nov. 12, with the Jets harassing Brady for four sacks in a 17-14 victory. The Jets, who made a remarkable run to the playoffs in their first year under Mangini after winning just four games in 2005, were kept on their heels by a Patriots offense that opened the game in the no-huddle. Belichick said the first drive was important because it established the way the Patriots prepared to play. Quickly.

"The whole game was a little bit of a tempo game, both ways, on the line of scrimmage and getting players in and out," said Belichick, whose offense ran an eye-popping 73 plays (38 rushes, 35 passes).

Added Brady: "I have never been in a game where it was like that. We were rushing to the line of scrimmage and rushing to run plays."

The Jets countered by attempting to confuse the Patriots' protection scheme, standing several players at the line of scrimmage and not declaring who would be rushing. In turn, the Patriots snapped the ball quickly to be the aggressor.

"They put a lot of pressure on us," said Jets linebacker Matt Chatham. "I think they countered it pretty well by playing quickly and not allowing for a lot of the disguise."

On the flip side, the word of the day for the Patriots' defense was patience against a Jets offense that relied on the short pass. While the Jets had success moving the ball, they were held to three field goals on three trips inside the red zone.

The Patriots opened a 7-0 lead on their first drive, marching 65 yards on 10 plays out of their no-huddle attack. Running back Corey Dillon capped the march with an 11-yard touchdown run off right tackle.

The Jets scored the game's next 10 points, a 28-yard first-quarter Mike Nugent field goal coming after a Dillon fumble deep in New England territory, and a 77-yard hookup from Pennington to Cotchery early in the second. The pass play was the longest completion in Jets playoff history, and was partially the result of a missed tackle by safety Artrell Hawkins.

The Patriots closed out the first half strong, however, with rookie Stephen Gostkowski tying the game at 10 with a 20-yard field goal, before Brady and Co. strung together an impressive 15-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Daniel Graham with 11 seconds left.

The teams traded field goals early in the third quarter, and with the Patriots holding a 20-13 lead, Wilfork came up with his big recovery with less than two minutes left in the period.

Gostkowski hit a 28-yard field goal, Brady hit Kevin Faulk for a 7-yard touchdown, and cornerback Asante Samuel returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown to account for the Patriots' final 17 points.

"I'm real proud of our team," Belichick said. "I thought they stepped up and played some of the best football that we've played all year as a team."

Smart football, too.

"I think you can most definitely look at this game as a chess match," Bruschi said. "The key for us was that we didn't panic and had everyone on the same page."

Belichick-mate - The Boston Globe


Tedy Bruschi Conference Call Transcript - 1/10/2007

New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi addresses the San Diego media during a conference call held on Wednesday, January 10, 2007.

Patriots Linebacker Tedy Bruschi
(Conference Call to San Diego Media)

When you came out of Arizona, did you expect you would be this good and your career would last this long?

"Actually no. When I got here and they told me I was going to play inside linebacker, I didn't even know what a ‘hook drop' was. So I had to start from scratch and focus on all of that; so the last thing on my mind was me possibly being someone that would be playing middle linebacker for over a decade."

This Chargers offense is obviously very explosive. What does it take to slow them down?

"You have to find a way to bring LT to the ground. What you see is defenders in good position but what LT does, is he puts them in bad positions on defense with his burst and his quickness. You talk about other running backs that have that burst and acceleration out of their cut but, when you talk about LT and his burst and his cut, they are just better than everyone else's burst and cut."

The Chargers and 8-0 at home, how do you feel about coming here?

"I feel like it's going to be difficult and we have to play great to win. I think we have been putting together good football the past few weeks and we are excited for the challenge, but we realize that this is going to be a huge challenge for us."

What are your impressions of Philip Rivers and are there ways that you can exploit the fact that this is his first playoff game?

"We don't really have that mindset regarding him. Of course it's his first experience in the postseason but he has had some time now to get acclimated at playing NFL quarterback. He has a handful of veterans there that he can speak to and he can confine in and they can relate to him what the experience is going to be like."

Is there a difference between regular season football and playoff football in your mind, especially for a quarterback?

"I think it is as big to a quarterback as it is to any player on the field. It's the finality of it all. Everything they have done on the field on Sunday can be the play that wins or loses not only the football game, but can prolong or end your season."

With the health problems you have had, how much fun are you having this season?

"I'm having a blast. When I came back last year I started having fun right away. Football is a game that I have always loved to play. I had to go through some adversity when I suffered my stroke but through perseverance, hard work, a little bit of luck, I was able to resume my career."

Do you think you are back to being the player you were before the stroke?

"I feel great. I am having fun, flying around out there. I feel like I am still making major contributions in helping this team win."

Can you talk about the offensive line of the Chargers and what makes them good?

"They are scrappy. They don't just stick on you but they push the pile very well. They stay on their blocks and let you know after the play is over that they have made their block because sometimes they are still there on top of you. I think they have great pride in blocking for a player like LT."

What is the secret to Belichick's success?

"I think it has been how we've reacted to our victories and our losses. We've never gotten too high when we have won and we have never gotten too low when we've suffered some demoralizing defeats. We have always had the mentality of moving onto the next challenge and simplifying it by not thinking of the next game, but of the next practice or the next meeting."

A lot of made is how good the Chargers' defense is, but how do you feel your defense stacks up in the big picture?

"I don't really care. I don't care how we are perceived of what kind of ranking someone wants to put us at and compare us to other defenses. All I care about is the next opportunity we have to step up and play football and that is going to be Sunday in San Diego."

Are you surprised how things went against the Jets as far as the second half?

"I don't want to say surprised, but we had a great week of preparation. That was like a divisional game for us but it was just in the playoffs. It meant a lot not only because it was a playoff game but it was a team that we have played twice a year, every year since I have bee here. It was like the 25th time I have played them and we really wanted to get this win because we knew we would be seeing them early in the year next year. There was a lot of underlined storylines with the game last year. Just to finish the way we did in the second half was extremely satisfying."

You were a spectator the last time these two teams played. What do you remember about that game?

"That they were able to do whatever they wanted, especially in the second half. That is a film we are studying to see where they had success against us and what we can stop this time around."

How important is playoff experience?

"I think it's good to have and if you don't have it, it is good to have the guys who do have it so they can talk to you about it and express to you what it is going to be like and what to expect."

Tedy Bruschi Conference Call Transcript - 1/10/2007


Patriots could use blast from past
Bruschi needs to make plays

Monitor staff

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - He is his team's leading tackler. He is the centerpiece of the league's second-best defense. And he is still as instinctually sharp as anyone in football.

But he is not the player he once was.

And that's why the San Diego Chargers could seek to attack him in Sunday's AFC divisional playoff.

No longer is Tedy Bruschi the game-changing playmaker he was for the Patriots at the peak of their dynasty, during the seasons in which he'd fill his stat line with an array of sacks, interceptions and passes defended, all while playing stoutly near the line of scrimmage and aiding New England's efforts to stop the run.

There are flashes of each of those elements here and there with Bruschi now, but this season his game has begun to take -

naturally - a step down from the summit of its prime. Despite playing in 15 games during the regular season, he registered only 1½ sacks, failed to force a fumble and had just one interception, that coming on a ball that bounced off Rodney Harrison's chest.
Those stats signify the lowest totals for Bruschi since 2000, and also suggest a certain vulnerability for a guy whose game has always been about making plays.

From the day he was drafted out of the University of Arizona as the NCAA's all-time leader in sacks, through the days when he dropped four quarterbacks as a rookie who didn't even start, through the 2003 season in which he got his hands on 16 passes, through the 2004 playoffs when he ripped the ball right away from the Colts' Dominic Rhodes, Bruschi has built an 11-year career by being the guy who changed the game on defense.

Now, though, opponents don't fear his ability to do that - so look for San Diego to try and test him. Among the Patriots linebacking corps, Tully Banta-Cain and Rosevelt Colvin are the pass rushers, so it's usually either Bruschi or Mike Vrabel pressed into pass defense from their spots on the inside. You can bet Philip Rivers will be trying to exploit the matchup should he find Bruschi in one-on-one coverage on league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson.

It's also almost certain that San Diego will attempt to run right at Bruschi. If the Chargers' five-man offensive line can push back the Patriots' three down defensive linemen, the onus then falls on Bruschi to step into the hole and stop Tomlinson. It seems simple enough, but he had a bit of trouble with that responsibility last week, getting blocked back on a couple of occasions when attempting to meet the Jets' Leon Washington.

As a competitor, of course, Bruschi would dispute all this. "I feel like I am still making major contributions in helping this team win," he told the San Diego media during a Wednesday conference call.

And, in many respects, he's right. But it's because of reasons far beyond his physical skills. Rather, Bruschi's most valuable role is as a coach on the field. Rarely are the Patriots caught in the wrong defense, and that's attributable largely to No. 54, who takes the cues from Head Coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Dean Pees and processes that information once he sees the offensive set across scrimmage.

For every gesture and gesticulation Tom Brady has to help call the audibles on offense, Bruschi has the same set of tricks for the Patriots defense. Every sack, every interception, every stuck-in-his-tracks stop on a running back has at least a little bit to do with Bruschi.

"Obviously he's their leader," Chargers Coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "Just understanding what's going on out there, he can coach them up and let them know what he's thinking. They didn't have that (when the teams met in 2005), but now he's back and you can see that he makes a lot of difference on their football team."

However, that difference is getting harder and harder to see with the untrained eye. Whether it's the aftereffects of his recovery from a stroke he suffered in February 2005, or simply that he'll be 34 in June, Bruschi just doesn't seem to have the same consistent knack for having his nose around the ball at the exact instant it needs to be there.

So nowadays we're more accustomed to seeing Bruschi half a step too slow or a split-second too late, allowing a catch or an additional yard before he makes a tackle. But still, that doesn't mean it'll be that way Sunday.

Remember, this is a guy who missed just six games after a stroke, after a recovery fueled by his fervent and fearsome competitiveness. On a team of guys that channel a challenge into productivity, he is the epitome of that spirit, and so as he's faced with the immense test of San Diego on Sunday, don't put it past him to whip up one more vintage performance.

In fact, the Patriots' season may depend on it.

(Dave D'Onofrio can be reached at ddonofrio@cmonitor.com.)

Patriots could use blast from past - A Concord Monitor Article - Your News Source - Concord NH 03301

Bruschi's return from stroke boosts defense


SAN DIEGO ---- Tedy Bruschi was a mere spectator the last time the Chargers and Patriots played. And, in his recollection, it wasn't pretty.

"They just had their way with us," Bruschi said, "especially in the second half."

The drubbing in question came in Week 4 of the 2005 season, as the Chargers marched into Gillette Stadium and beat the defending Super Bowl champions 41-17.

At the time, the Pro Bowl linebacker and mainstay on all three of New England's championship teams was stuck on the physically unable to perform list after suffering a stroke some nine months earlier. From the sideline, he was living and dying with every snap.

That Sunday in particular, he surely did more dying than living. Such experiences were part of what spurred him to press on in a comeback attempt few thought was possible ---- or advisable.

"Being out last year and just watching and not being able to contribute gave me a lot of motivation to come back," Bruschi said on a conference call Wednesday as he and the Patriots prepared for their rematch with the Chargers in Sunday's divisional playoff game at Qualcomm Stadium.

This season, the 11-year veteran might have reclaimed the level of play he was known for before his health scare. Bruschi followed up his much-chronicled comeback in 2005 ---- he returned to action less than a month after the Chargers' game and was named the Associated Press co-Comeback Player of the Year ---- with a team-best 124 tackles.

Does he feel all the way back? That's a question he has consistently declined to answer since his return.

But after his scare, he admits he's "having a blast."

"I feel great," Bruschi said. "I'm having fun out there, I'm flying around out there (and) I still believe that I'm making major contributions to make this team win."

LaDainian Tomlinson, who rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns last year against the short-handed Patriots, would agree. He knows the impact of Bruschi isn't merely statistical.

"Obviously, he's their leader," Tomlinson said. "He's the one that is able to diagnose a lot of plays and make plays for them. And also just understanding what's going on out there, he can coach them up and let them know what he's thinking.

"Before they didn't have that, and I think it hurt them at the time. But now he's back, and you can see he makes a lot of difference on that football team."

How much of a difference? Patriots coach Bill Belichick ---- hardly a sentimental sort ---- scoffed at the notion that having Bruschi on the field could have stemmed the tide of the 24 unanswered points the Chargers tallied after halftime in last year's meeting.

"They dominated the game and deserved to win and won convincingly," Belichick said. "I don't think one player would have made any difference in that type of outcome in the second half at all."

Bruschi is also well aware of the challenges he and his defensive teammates will face come Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.

No surprise, first and foremost on his mind is Tomlinson, who has rushed for a combined 351 yards in his past two meetings with New England. Bruschi marvels at the way the NFL's MVP puts defenders in bad position to make tackles, calling his cutting ability and burst of speed "just better than everybody else."

"You've got to find a way to get LaDainian to the ground," Bruschi stressed.

That won't be easy ---- even with Bruschi on the field this time.

But it sure couldn't hurt.

-- Contact staff writer Michael Klitzing at mklitzing@nctimes.com.

North County Times - Chargers - Bruschi's return from stroke boosts defense

Jan. 12, 2007
Schottenheimer feeling the heat

By Len Pasquarelli

The crucible of the postseason turns up the heat on everyone. But here are four men in the AFC playoff bracket who figure to be under extraordinary pressure in this weekend's division-round games:

ILB Tedy Bruschi (New England): There are going to be a lot of eyes on the Patriots' offensive tackle tandem of Matt Light and Nick Kaczur as it attempts to fend off the outside pass-rush of Chargers stars Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips, who combined for 28½ sacks in 2006. But the Pats haven't won many big playoff games without a big contribution from Bruschi, and Sunday's contest doesn't figure to be any different. Bruschi typically is a ball magnet, but recently his poles must be off-kilter because the 11-year veteran has been invisible for long stretches. Bruschi has just three takeaways in '06 -- one interception and two fumble recoveries -- and such a modest total is uncharacteristic for him. It's been 10 games since Bruschi recorded a takeaway and 14 games since he posted an interception. Bruschi is often required to drop and cover in the hook zones and between the hashes, and that could leave him matched up against Chargers tight end Antonio Gates or even against LaDainian Tomlinson in screen or dump-off situations. The Pats need him to be not only solid, but to author one of his trademark timely plays.

Read the rest of the article here: ESPN.com - NFL/PLAYOFFS06 - Pasquarelli: AFC figures under the most pressure

Bruschi, Pats ready

Sunday, January 14, 2007 12:10 AM EST

Tedy Bruschi and the Patriot defense will have its hands full with LaDainian Tomlinson this afternoon.

SAN DIEGO - During the past week, Tedy Bruschi had his game face on.

The veteran inside linebacker for the Patriots was an unusually rare sight in the team's locker room this week, preferring to bury his head in the game plan for today's AFC Divisional playoff game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium (1 p.m.; Ch. 4, 12) than to hang around and field repetitive questions from reporters.

But as a native Californian, Bruschi made himself available to members of the San Diego media for a mid-week conference call, and he offered his perspective on this week's encounter to them.

He didn't waste any time establishing what the No. 1 priority of the New England defense will be.

"You have to find a way to bring LT (running back LaDainian Tomlinson) to the ground," Bruschi said. "What you see is defenders in good position but what LT does, is he puts them in bad positions on defense with his burst and his quickness. You talk about other running backs that have that burst and acceleration out of their cut but, when you talk about LT and his burst and his cut, they're just better than everyone else's burst and cut."

Bruschi was still recuperating from a stroke when the Patriots and Chargers last met, a 41-17 trouncing of the Patriots at home, but he said he got a lasting impression of them from his vantage point.

"They were able to do whatever they wanted, especially in the second half," he said. "That's a film we're studying to see where they had success against us and what we can stop this time around."

Bruschi said it won't be easy.

"It's going to be difficult and we have to play great to win," he said. "I think we have been putting together good football the past few weeks and we are excited for the challenge, but we realize that this is going to be a huge challenge for us."

One of the big challenges will be getting to quarterback Philip Rivers through an offensive line that sacked him only 27 times in the regular season.

"They are scrappy," Bruschi said. "They don't just stick on you, but they push the pile very well. They stay on their blocks and let you know after the play is over that they have made their block because sometimes they're still there on top of you. They have great pride in blocking for a player like LT."

Rivers doesn't have any personal playoff experience, but Bruschi believes there are plenty of teammates who can clue him in about the difference in regular-season and playoff play.

"It's good to have," he said of playoff experience, "and if you don't have it, it's good to have the guys who do have it so they can talk to you about it and express to you what it's going to be like and what to expect.

"Of course it's his first experience in the postseason," Bruschi added, "but he has had some time now to get acclimated at playing NFL quarterback. He has a handful of veterans there that he can speak to and he can confide in, and they can relate to him what the experience is going to be like."


The Sun Chronicle Online - Sports


Brady To Bruschi: 'That Was Not Easy'
Pats Stun Chargers For Trip To AFC Contest

SAN DIEGO -- Tom Brady and Tedy Bruschi walked off the field together after stunning the San Diego Chargers, very much alive in their quest to get the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in six seasons.

"I said to Tedy, 'Man, that was not easy,' " Brady said. "He says to me, 'They never are buddy, they never are.' "

If not easy, then maybe expected from the Patriots. Despite a big game from league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson, the top-seeded Chargers made too many mistakes and the Patriots capitalized for a 24-21 win on Sunday to advance to the AFC championship game.

Brady was as cool as ever, delivering every time the mistake-prone Chargers handed him another chance. He overcame three interceptions, his career playoff high, to finish 27-of-51 for 280 yards and two touchdowns.

Already a three-time Super Bowl winner, Brady led the Patriots to 11 points in 3:26 late in the game. He and coach Bill Belichick now have a 12-1 postseason record together, and need to win at Indianapolis next Sunday to make their fourth Super Bowl trip in six seasons.

It was a gut-wrenching loss for San Diego and its coach, Marty Schottenheimer, whose job could be in jeopardy after his career postseason record tumbled to 5-13.

Tomlinson shattered several league records in helping the Chargers go an NFL-best 14-2, including 8-0 at home in the regular season.

Once it was over, Tomlinson, like Brady one of the most laid-back superstars in any sport, lost his cool. He went after an unidentified Patriots player and had to be restrained by a teammate and former Charger Reche Caldwell, who had a huge game for the Patriots.

Tomlinson yelled and pointed at the Patriots player, upset that some Patriots were dancing on the Chargers logo at midfield after they had silenced the record crowd of 68,810 at Qualcomm Stadium.

"I would never react in that way. I was very upset," Tomlinson said. "When you go to the middle of our field and start doing the dance Shawne Merriman is known for, that is disrespectful. They showed no class and maybe that comes from the head coach."

Merriman, nicknamed "Lights Out," did a spasmodic dance to celebrate each of his NFL-high 17 sacks.

"We lost to a better team today," Tomlinson said. "Hopefully the next opportunity we have we'll learn something from this."

Tomlinson ran for 123 yards and two scores, and caught two passes for 64 yards.

San Diego had nine players voted to the Pro Bowl team and five to the All-Pro team. And it had been supercharged by Tomlinson, who became the most prolific scorer in one season in NFL history with 31 touchdowns and 186 points while winning the rushing title with 1,815 yards.

But Brady is the one who's been there before in January. And nearly always has won -- it was Brady's sixth career game-winning drive in the playoffs, and his 24th overall.

The winning points came on a 31-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with 1:10 left. That capped a 72-yard drive highlighted by a 49-yard pass to Caldwell, who left the Chargers as a free agent after last season.

With the Patriots trailing 21-13, Brady threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to the wide-open Caldwell with 4:36 to play. The Patriots tied it on a tricky 2-point conversion, snapping the ball directly to running back Kevin Faulk, who was standing next to Brady and ran through the middle of the line.

San Diego's Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding was short on a 54-yard field goal try with 3 seconds left.

Schottenheimer will no doubt be criticized for going for it on fourth-and-11 from the New England 30 in the first quarter rather than having Kaeding try a field goal.

Philip Rivers, the Chargers' first-year starting quarterback, was sacked by Mike Vrabel and fumbled, giving the Patriots the ball at their 35.

Although Schottenheimer has a year left on his contract, at more than $3 million, he and general manager A.J. Smith have had an icy relationship for months, and the front-office felt this team was built for a Super Bowl run. The Chargers had four turnovers -- they had only 15 in the regular season -- and made other critical mistakes.

Punt returner Eric Parker had a double muff to give the Patriots the ball on their 31 late in the third quarter. Following a third-and-13 on which Brady fumbled and Matt Light recovered, Chargers cornerback Drayton Florence head-butted tight end Daniel Graham and drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. That led to Gostkowski's 24-yard field that pulled the Patriots to 14-13.

Tomlinson scored on a 3-yard run with 8:35 left in the game for a 21-13 lead.

On the next Patriots drive, Brady was intercepted on fourth down by safety Marlon McCree, who was hit by Troy Brown and fumbled, with Caldwell recovering.

Five plays later, Brady hit Caldwell and Faulk added the conversion.

"There was a lot of gratification," Caldwell said. "I had a chance to come home and show what I could do and I think I made plays."

Tomlinson scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter for a 7-3 lead. Later, he turned a screen pass into a brilliant 58-yard gain, leaving two defenders grasping at air while he scooted to the New England 6. His backup, Michael Turner, scored on the next play for a 14-3 lead.

Brady kept the Patriots in it by running the two-minute offense to perfection, pulling New England to 14-10 just before halftime. At the end of the 10-play, 72-yard drive, Brady had all day to throw a 6-yard pass to Jabar Gaffney in the back of the end zone.

Notes: San Diego lost its fourth straight postseason game dating to the Super Bowl following the 1994 season.

Brady To Bruschi: 'That Was Not Easy' - Sports


“This game just reaffirms everything I believe about us,” said linebacker Tedy Bruschi. “Our fight. We fought all year. The Chargers were the sexy team. Everybody in San Diego had their flights to the Super Bowl already planned. We know it’s about getting it done on Sunday, and we got it done.” “I don’t care how much talent you’ve got,” cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. “I don’t care if you’ve got 11 Goliaths out there. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t win. When it came down to situational football, we made the plays.”


Bruschi is 'the glue' of the Patriots defense
Big-play linebacker is chasing his fourth Super Bowl title with New England
By Howard Ukman

FOXBORO, Mass. - Tedy Bruschi sniffs out plays and smacks down runners the way he did the last time the Patriots won the Super Bowl.

That's pretty remarkable, considering he had a stroke in between.

"He is kind of the glue out there, just making the calls, getting the signals and getting the communication to the defense," fellow inside linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "That's a lot."

The honors might not have come Bruschi's way as they once did, but his teammates know he provides all they could ask for. He has the strength to stop the run, the speed to keep up with receivers and the smarts to direct one of the NFL's best defenses.

He'll need all three, plus his usual intensity, Sunday when New England visits the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game.

Running backs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes will try to elude him, tight end Dallas Clark will try to outmaneuver him, and quarterback Peyton Manning, a master at calling plays at the line of scrimmage, will try to baffle him.

All might find they've met their match in Bruschi.

"I played against him once," with Seattle in 2004, Patriots fullback Heath Evans said. "He was, on the offensive side of the ball, what we consider a complete linebacker. He could pass cover. He could rush the passer and he was a great run stopper. Now I know those things all that much better."

Not long ago, the versatile athlete had trouble just walking.

He had a minor stroke 10 days after the 2005 Super Bowl and three days after he played in the Pro Bowl. In the title game, he had a sack and an interception in the 24-21 win over Philadelphia that gave New England its third championship in four years. He is one of just 10 current Patriots who played on all those teams.

But as he left a Boston hospital after being treated, he walked tentatively with wife Heidi by his side.

Bruschi had surgery to repair a hole in his heart and missed the first six games last season, then played nine in a row before being sidelined for the regular-season finale and the first playoff game. He returned the next week for a loss at Denver that ended the Patriots season.

That setback left him "dissatisfied," he said last summer, "because I think toward the end I really started to play good football again and I just wanted to win another Super Bowl."

Beat the Colts on Sunday and he'll still have a chance. And he doesn't have to make eye-catching impact plays to help the team that allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL.

"Sometimes it's being in the right spot at the right time," defensive end Ty Warren said. "What leads up to that is your preparation."

Bruschi is a very instinctive player. His football sense combined with 11 seasons with the Patriots allow him to make snap decisions that usually are the right ones.

Evans, now his teammate, had the misfortune of facing Bruschi in 2004.

That season, Bruschi made his only Pro Bowl appearance, was second on the team in tackles and had an outstanding Super Bowl.

The previous season he also was second in tackles and made other big plays. The most memorable came Dec. 7 after a storm that ended shortly before the game dumped nearly 21/2 feet of snow on Foxboro.

Bruschi picked off a pass by Miami's Jay Fiedler and slalomed 5 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead midway through the fourth quarter of a 12-0 victory. Then he sank to his knees in the snow while fans flung fistfuls of it into the wind.

That week he was selected the AFC defensive player of the week.

This season, he didn't get that honor at all or make the Pro Bowl despite leading the Patriots with 124 tackles even though he missed the first game with a broken wrist. He also was their leading tackler in each of the first two playoff games.

"There's a lot of things that factor into players having Pro Bowl seasons or not Pro Bowl seasons. As far as I'm concerned, Tedy's had a great year," quarterback Tom Brady said. "He's kind of the centerpiece of that defense. He makes a lot of great reads and probably a lot of guys benefit from Tedy's play."

Bruschi should be healthy enough to face the Colts even though he canceled media availabilities Thursday and Friday because he wasn't feeling well. He did practice both days.

Come Sunday, he hopes to guide his teammates to another Super Bowl.

"Tedy is a leader," defensive end Richard Seymour said. "He is always in the right place at the right time to make plays. He is a guy you don't have to worry about."

Linebacker leads defense into AFC title game - Boston.com


PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK: Sunday could be last day; Talk swirls that Brown, Bruschi could retire if New England loses
The Patriot Ledger

FOXBORO - Could this be the swan song for Troy Brown and/or Tedy Bruschi?

Brown, who will turn 36 in July, is an obvious candidate for retirement whenever the Patriots wrap up the season, either in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis or in Super Bowl XLI in Miami on Feb. 4.

Bruschi, 33, would be a longer shot, but he has three Super Bowl rings and the knowledge that he battled back from an offseason stroke following the Patriots’ Super Bowl XXXIX win two years ago. Last week on FSN New England’s ‘‘4 Downs with Felger,’’ former Patriots tight end Russ Francis said he had heard rumors that Bruschi might call it quits after this season. However, a source close to Bruschi doubted the veracity of that report.

Brown and Bruschi each backed out of scheduled news conferences this week, citing the effects of what the team called the flu.

Asked if he could imagine the Patriots without one or both players, defensive end Richard Seymour said, ‘‘Troy has been here. Tedy has been here. And until I hear otherwise, I just go about our daily business.’’

Seymour called both Brown and Bruschi ‘‘men of character and integrity,’’ adding, ‘‘They’re hardworking guys that do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the situation. They’re guys that you can count on, that are dependable, whether you’re playing football or not. So I think that aspect is a major part of what we’ve built (with the Patriots).’’

For the first time in his 11-year career, Bruschi led the Patriots in tackles this season with 124. He also is their leader in the playoffs with 20 stops. He has only one interception over the past two seasons, but he did defend seven passes in 2006.

Quarterback Tom Brady called Bruschi ‘‘kind of the centerpiece of that defense,’’ noting, ‘‘He makes a lot of great reads and probably a lot of guys benefit from Tedy’s play.’’

Brown tied for third on the team with 43 catches for 384 yards. His four TD catches were his most since 2003 and tied Reche Caldwell for the team lead. Of course, he also had the play of the playoffs so far, stripping San Diego’s Marlon McCree on an interception return last week to set up the tying touchdown.

‘‘When you look up the New England Patriots in the dictionary,’’ Brady said, ‘‘there’s a big picture of Troy’s face. He’s everything we stand for.’’

The defensive linemen have been passing a toy professional wrestling belt among themselves - the top performer in a game gets to display it in his locker for the following week. After allowing San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson to rush for 123 yards in Sunday’s divisional-round victory, the D-line opted not to award the belt.

‘‘We’re putting it on hold right now,’’ Seymour said. Added defensive end Ty Warren, ‘‘We went into the season saying we didn’t want any 100-yard rushers. (But) it is the NFL, and that was LT. So they had some success against us. We felt we didn’t play our best game, our A game, and that’s why nobody got the belt.’’

Warren returned to practice Friday after spending two days back home in Texas after his mother was hospitalized. Warren said she was released Thursday night and is ‘‘doing a lot better now.’’

So, who’s the better short-yardage fullback, Seymour or ex-Patriot Dan Klecko, who fills that role now with the Colts? The Patriots used both players in that spot, but Seymour’s moonlighting days ended when he hurt his knee blocking for Corey Dillon against the Chargers last season.

‘‘I’m done with offense right now,’’ Seymour said with a laugh. ‘‘Dan, he’s a bowling ball back there. Me and Dan, we kind of switched off time at fullback while he was here (2003-05). And it was fun. I think as a defensive player you always want to go on the other side of the ball. But, you know, I don’t see that in the near future for me.’’

Klecko (5-11, 275 pounds) had a 2-yard TD catch against Miami in Week 16. Linebacker Mike Vrabel, who has caught eight career passes, all for TDs, as a goal-line tight end (although he hasn’t had a catch this season), joked that Klecko was a ‘‘shorter, chubbier’’ version of himself.

Colts cornerback Jason David this week said, ‘‘There’s no place like home.’’ That’s not necessarily true in AFC title games since road teams are 5-2 over the last seven years. The Patriots won two conference championships in Pittsburgh, following the 2001 and 2004 seasons. Tennessee (at Jacksonville after the 1999 season), Baltimore (at Oakland, 2000) and Pittsburgh (at Denver, 2005) are the other clubs who have punched their Super Bowl tickets in enemy territory.

The Colts are 9-0 at the RCA Dome this season, and Peyton Manning’s home/road splits are definitely in his favor. At home during the regular season he threw 18 TD passes and just two INTs, compared to 13 TDs and seven picks on the road.

Of course, the Patriots are 8-1 on the road and knocked off the Chargers in San Diego in the divisional round. The Chargers and Colts were the only teams in the league to go undefeated at home this season.

‘‘We know on the road that we have to bring the energy ourselves,’’ tight end Dan Graham said. ‘‘I think with road games as a team we ... I’m not going to say we don’t bond here at home, but on the road there is something different when you have to bring your own energy to the game. We have to do that again this week. It is going to be another hostile environment.’’

The Patriots are 13-6 all-time in Indianapolis and have won in their last two visits, in 2001 (38-17) and 2003 (38-34).

Strong safety Rodney Harrison (right knee) remained doubtful on the injury report. Brown, Ryan O’Callaghan and Mike Wright are questionable with the flu. Linebacker Rob Morris, one of the keys to the Colts’ improved run defense in the playoffs, was added to the injury report Friday. He is listed as questionable with a knee injury. The team said he missed a portion of team drills. The Colts list five other starters as questionable - right tackle Ryan Diem (shoulder), cornerback Nick Harper (ankle), linebacker Cato June (concussion), left guard Ryan Lilja (knee), and safety Bob Sanders (knee) … Former Patriot Andre Tippett, one of 15 modern-era finalists for this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame class, will serve as the Patriots’ honorary captain for the game. The Hall of Fame’s 40-member selection committee will meet in Miami on Feb. 3, the day before Super Bowl XLI, to select between three and six players for induction ... The first two rounds of this season’s playoffs have been the most competitive since the NFL went to a 12-team format in 1990. The average margin of victory in the eight wild card and division games was 7.3 points per game, the lowest margin since 1990. All four division-round games were decided by a total of 18 points, the fewest since that round began in 1970... The Patriots are 5-0 all-time in AFC championship games.

Eric McHugh may be reached at emchugh@ledger.com .

Copyright 2007 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Saturday, January 20, 2007

PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK: Sunday could be last day; Talk swirls that Brown, Bruschi could retire if New England loses


Versatile LB playing beside Bruschi
By Howard Ulman, AP Sports Writer | January 20, 2007

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. --Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi belong to a special group of players, two of just 10 who have been with the Patriots for all three Super Bowl wins in the past five seasons.

Sign up for: Globe Headlines e-mail | Breaking News Alerts That core gets smaller every year and one day they, too, will be gone from it. So Vrabel wants to grab as many titles as he can before his playing days are over.

Coach Bill Belichick has reinforced that desire since the season started.

"That's a message that Bill has given us since the beginning of the year," Vrabel said. "He has coached for 32 years, or however long it's been, and we've been lucky and these opportunities don't come along that often."

Vrabel, 31, is in his 10th NFL season and sixth with the Patriots. Bruschi has spent all of his 11 pro seasons with New England. They'll play side-by-side at inside linebacker Sunday in the AFC championship game at the Indianapolis Colts.

` `I think that whatever opportunity we can seize and whatever chance we can seize now, it's going to be good for us," Vrabel said.

Not long ago, it appeared that Bruschi's chances might be ending. Ten days after the Patriots won the 2005 Super Bowl, Bruschi had a minor stroke.

At first, he said he wouldn't play in 2005. But after being cleared by doctors, he returned for the seventh game. A calf injury sidelined him for the last regular-season game and first playoff game, and he returned just in time to play in Denver's 27-13 win that ended New England's season.

That loss left him "dissatisfied," Bruschi said last summer, "because I think toward the end I really started to play good football again and I just wanted to win another Super Bowl."

Vrabel, primarily an outside linebacker, moved inside last season because of injuries. He made the same move this season when Junior Seau went on injured reserve for the last five regular-season games.

Fortunately for Vrabel, he has Bruschi to figure out what the offense will do and call defensive signals.

"He is kind of the glue out there, just making the calls, getting the signals and getting the communication to the defense," Vrabel said. "That's a lot. I did that when he wasn't in there last year, so it's something that's different.

"I know that it's not an easy job to do what he does. It's a lot better with him out there than with him not there."

Bruschi led the Patriots with 124 tackles this regular season and had the most stops for the team in each of its first two playoff games. He didn't make the Pro Bowl as he did in the 2004 season, but his teammates know he provides all they could ask for: the strength to stop the run, the speed to keep up with receivers and the smarts to direct one of the NFL's best defenses.

He'll need all three, plus his usual intensity, on Sunday.

Running backs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes will try to elude him, tight end Dallas Clark will try to outmaneuver him, and quarterback Peyton Manning, a master at calling plays at the line or scrimmage, will try to baffle him.

All may find they've met their match in Bruschi.

"I played against him once," with Seattle in 2004, Patriots fullback Heath Evans said. "He was, on the offensive side of the ball, what we consider a complete linebacker. He could pass cover. He could rush the passer and he was a great run stopper. Now I know those things all that much better."

Vrabel has known them for a long time. Part of Bruschi's success is based on playing hard on each play and not looking ahead to the rewards those efforts might bring.

The man lining up next to him shares that focus.

"We've prepared each week very similar to how we do in a regular season. We give everything. We put everything into it that we can. We don't hold anything back," Vrabel said.

"It's not Little League where you try to save the best pitcher for the championship game. We're trying to get there."

At their advanced football ages, they may not have many more chances.

Versatile LB playing beside Bruschi - Boston.com

Shining examples: Troy, Tedy heart of team
By Karen Guregian
Boston Herald General Sports Reporter and Columnist

Saturday, January 20, 2007 - Updated: 09:04 AM EST

FOXBORO - Tom Brady says if you look up the New England Patriots [team stats] in the dictionary, there’s a big picture of Troy Brown’s face occupying the space where the definition typically sits. That’s because the wide receiver embodies everything the team stands for. He epitomizes the Bill Belichick-coached Patriot.

He’s right. And you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree. The man who made shouting ‘Bingo!” cool has three Super Bowl championship rings.

“Guys come in here and try and figure out what it means (to be a Patriot). All you got to do is look at Troy,” Brady said yesterday. “All the preparation he puts in each week, the way he lays it on the line. That play last week (against San Diego), that interception (and subsequent forced fumble by Brown) was the best play I’ve ever seen. He saved our season. That’s why we’re here today, working this week, because of his effort, his awareness, his sense of what it takes.”

Tedy Bruschi’s mug shot could also be right next to Brown’s in that fictional dictionary Brady spoke of. He fits the same mold. He defines being a Patriot.

We bring up these two players because it’s conceivable we might not be seeing them in a Patriots uniform in the not-so-distant future.

Brown, who this year became the Pats’ career receptions leader, is 35 years old. As we saw against the Chargers, he still has that knack for coming up with the big play. The question is, who knows how much longer he’ll want to put up with the daily grind?

Once again this year, Brown, who has played 14 seasons with the Pats, was asked to play both offense and defense on several occasions. It’s possible this will be his last year, although he hasn’t given that indication publicly.

As for Bruschi, it’s been a monumental struggle having to play with the broken wrist he suffered in the preseason. While he led the team in tackles during the regular season, he really hasn’t been the same playmaking force as in years past.

As it is, he already had to fight his way back from the mild stroke he suffered in February 2005. He defied all the odds, not to mention the skeptics and critics who thought he couldn’t (or shouldn’t) come back. In that way, he’s been an inspiration.

But at age 33, with 11 seasons in the books and a growing family, how much longer does he want to keep up the pace?

Former Patriot Russ Francis indicated recently on “4 Downs with Felger” that he’s heard from people around the team that Bruschi is considering retiring.

Given that both Brown and Bruschi were battling the flu all week, neither player was available to the media to address the future.

The point is, the chapter is starting to close for two incredibly special players.

Given their respective ages, 31-year-old linebacker Mike Vrabel thinks he and Bruschi are already living on borrowed time in the NFL. That said, he knows what will be missing when his good friend Bruschi decides to leave.

“I think Tedy Bruschi gives you everything you’d want out of a captain and a middle linebacker each week,” Vrabel said. “He practices banged up, he plays banged up and he plays with a lot of heart and intensity. He is kind of the glue out there, just making the calls, getting the signals and getting the communication to the defense. That’s a lot. I did that when he wasn’t in there last year. . . . I know it’s not an easy job to do what he does. It’s a lot better with him out there than with him not there.”

Brown and Bruschi. They are two Patriots players you’d want your kids to emulate both on and off the field. Last week, Bill Belichick paid Brown the highest of compliments when he described why the wideout has been such a good player.

“I’d say the three most important things for any football player, and Troy exemplifies them, (are) being well-prepared, which includes physical and mental conditioning, working hard and putting the team first,” Belichick said. “Any player who does that is a good team member. I don’t care what position they play or how many years they’ve been in the league or anything else.

“Players that are tough, smart and dependable, which he is, those are qualities that are desirable for any player that a coach has on his team, especially this team.”

Brown’s play against the Chargers? Bruschi’s play against the Colts, when he wrestled the ball away from Dominic Rhodes in the 2004 divisional playoff game? Look them up. You’ll find those plays in the dictionary under New England Patriots.

BostonHerald.com - N.E. Patriots: Shining examples: Troy, Tedy heart of team

Pats' Bruschi remains a force
The linebacker is beating the odds after having a stroke in February 2005.
By Jason Jones - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Friday, January 19, 2007
SAN DIEGO -- This moment wasn't supposed to happen.

The New England Patriots weren't supposed to win Sunday.

But less than hour after another playoff victory, Tedy Bruschi stood in front of his cramped stall in the visitors' locker room at Qualcomm Stadium describing the elation of reaching another AFC championship game.

"It was like against all odds coming in here," Bruschi said. "Playing the best team in the NFL with the league MVP, double-digit Pro Bowlers -- whatever you want to say."

That the Patriots overcame the odds and beat the top-seeded Chargers on Sunday is one thing.

That Bruschi was talking about the game is another.

Bruschi, the local prep legend from Roseville High School, is 33 years old and in his 11th season. For an NFL linebacker, that's the equivalent of nearing eligibility for a senior discount.

But Bruschi's age and NFL tenure aren't the most intriguing aspects of his play.

Watching the 6-foot-1, 247-pounder, it's easy to forget he suffered a stroke at his Massachusetts home in February 2005.

To most observers, that meant the end of Bruschi's career.

Who knew when Bruschi had his stroke that he'd be back on the field for the Patriots that year?

Bruschi did. And he's still playing at a high level.

He led the Patriots with 112 tackles this season and leads the team with 20 postseason tackles.

Bruschi said the mental hurdles were cleared Oct. 30, 2005, his first game back. The physical part is second nature.

"Ever since then, I've felt great," Bruschi said. "I've come back now, and I've got a couple of years under my belt since my stroke, and I feel great."

That explains why after a decade of tackling ballcarriers, Bruschi sees no reason to slow down.

After the Patriots' 24-21 triumph that earned a berth in Sunday's AFC championship game in Indianapolis, Bruschi didn't sound like a player near the end of his career.

"No, I don't think about that at all," Bruschi said of retirement. "I take the same mentality about my career as I do every season. It's always from week to week, game to game and day to day."

Hearing Bruschi talk about the Patriots' victory is to hear someone who personifies many of the traits players spoke of Sunday.

"At every position, you'd like somebody who is poised, somebody who has character and somebody you can count on," Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. "Tedy just exemplifies that."

That Bruschi would be in the middle of the action against San Diego didn't surprise teammates. Bruschi not only talks about taking things one play at a time, he backs it up consistently.

"There's a big accountability factor in this locker room, and he's definitely one of the main guys in here," Colvin said.

New England rallied from eight points down midway through the fourth quarter to beat San Diego. Bruschi said he expected nothing less.

"It just reaffirms everything I believe about us," he said. "We had to fight all year. Guys have had to step up, guys have gone down. It's who we are. No matter what situation we're in, we just play."

Bruschi doesn't see any reason why he wouldn't do the same for years to come.

Sports - Pats' Bruschi remains a force - sacbee.com

Bruschi to 'take inventory' before making call on future


New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi brushed off questions about his future following a 38-34 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, saying that he will need time before deciding whether to retire.

"In my past few years I've just gone year to year," Bruschi said. "I'm really emotional right now, so to say anything right now would be wrong. I need to sit back and reflect on this season."

Bruschi, 33, made five tackles in the loss as the Patriots failed in their attempt to make the Super Bowl for the fourth time in six years.

"Right now my plan is to reflect on this season," Bruschi said. "All I know is our season's over. We came up short, and I feel a little down. That's all I'm really thinking about right now."

A broken wrist in training camp kept Bruschi out of the season opener, and he left Sunday's game briefly in the second half with an apparent wrist injury.

"I know you can't play forever, but when you're out there and you get dinged and you're down and you know you're hurt, but you're not injured, you sort of take inventory," Bruschi said. "You see how you are. I got dinged a little bit on that goal-line play. I got up, ran to the sideline and realized I was OK. That's what all of us do at the end of every year, take inventory and see how we're feeling."

Bruschi has played his entire 12-year career with the Patriots, recording 823 tackles, 26.5 sacks, and 10 interceptions.

ESPN.com - NFL - 'Emotional' Bruschi to take time on retirement decision


Tedy to take time: LB unsure of future plans
By John Tomase/ Patriots Notebook
Boston Herald Sports Writer

Monday, January 22, 2007 - Updated: 03:58 AM EST

INDIANAPOLIS - Tedy Bruschi stopped short of guaranteeing he’ll return next season, saying he wants to “take inventory” over the next few days.

There have been rumors about Bruschi retiring, and the 33-year-old linebacker didn’t commit either way last night.

“In my past few years I’ve just gone year to year,” Bruschi said. “I’m really emotional right now, so to say anything right now would be wrong. I need to sit back and reflect on this season.”

After overcoming a flu bug that weakened him during the week, Bruschi finished with five tackles. He briefly left the game in the second half after appearing to hurt his wrist on a goal-line tackle attempt.

He echoed comments earlier in the week by fellow linebacker Mike Vrabel, who said that once linebackers reach their early 30s, they can see the finish line.

“I know you can’t play forever, but when you’re out there and you get dinged and you’re down and you know you’re hurt, but you’re not injured, you sort of take inventory,” Bruschi said. “You see how you are. I got dinged a little bit on that goal-line play. I got up, ran to the sideline and realized I was OK. That’s what all of us do at the end of every year, take inventory and see how we’re feeling.”

This has been a tough year for Bruschi. It began with a broken wrist in training camp and ended with the flu. He’ll take a few days to think things over.

“Right now my plan is to reflect on this season,” Bruschi said. “All I know is our season’s over. We came up short, and I feel a little down. That’s all I’m really thinking about right now.”

Tedy to take time: LB unsure of future plans - N.E. Patriots - BostonHerald.com

Asante, Tedy huge concerns
Sunday, January 28, 2007

When a season ends, the start of the next one seems so far away.

Except, of course, for those personnel people, coaches and players who must make the decisions that will shape that upcoming campaign.

The New England Patriots came within one game of reaching a fourth Super Bowl in six years, but instead a 38-34 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game pushed them to the sidelines - where the only thing to do is plan for next season.

Free agency, which starts in just over a month, marks the start of a new season as much as anything does. Cornerback Asante Samuel, tight end Daniel Graham and receiver Troy Brown are New England's most noteworthy free agents. The future of Tedy Bruschi, who like Brown may at least ponder retirement, will be another storyline to follow.

Samuel stepped up in the second half of the season to establish himself as a playmaking cornerback, and those are hard to find. He tied Denver's Champ Bailey, the world's greatest corner, for the league high in interceptions with 10. He has also scored three touchdowns on interception returns in only 11 postseason games, an indication that he does not disappear when it matters most.

Samuel made a mere $721,600 in salary in 2006, the last year of his rookie contract. As a fourth-round draft pick, he did not earn any staggering draft day bonus, so this is his chance - perhaps his only chance - to hit the jackpot. Late in the season, he expressed dissatisfaction to the Boston Globe with the team's efforts to re-sign him.

New England could place a franchise tag on Samuel, severely restricting his ability to leave, but that would entitle the corner to earn an average of the top five salaries at the one of the highest paid positions in the game. A handful of corners earned between $4-8 million in compensation last season, and the Patriots have often resisted long-term deals that lock up quite a bit of salary cap room for an extensive period of time.

Samuel's pending free agency is part of a landscape that indicates change is on the horizon in two of three defensive position groups.

The line has been a strength, a young group that should return intact and continue to anchor the unit as a whole. The linebackers and defensive backs, however, were vulnerable groups at times, and each area comes with its share of questions.

In the secondary, Samuel and Ellis Hobbs, who still has room to improve, could form a nice enough combination going down the road assuming Samuel comes back and continues his high level of play.

Teams, though, need at least three good corners to survive these days because of how often and effective offenses are spreading the field. Without Samuel, the Patriots would have holes to fill at one of the toughest positions to play.

Starting safeties Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson missed extensive time with injuries this season. Harrison, who missed most of last season with a torn-up knee, sat out a total of nine games this season with two different injuries.

Wilson, on the other hand, still has time to develop, but he did not blossom into an elite safety last season when Harrison went down. Like Harrison, he will have to recover from off-season injury issues (groin, hamstring).

Artrell Hawkins and James Sanders, who finished the season as the starters, can certainly both help, but this group still needs the determined Harrison to return in top form. If not, another answer will have to be found.

All the question marks above do not mean Samuel will hear the answers he wants from the Patriots. Remember, the Patriots traded away Deion Branch even when they seemed desperately short of receivers.

There is more uncertainty at linebacker. During his six years in Foxboro, New England coach Bill Belichick has never drafted a linebacker higher than the fifth round. He has opted instead to sign veteran free agents such as Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin, Chad Brown, Monty Beisel and Junior Seau with varying degrees of success.

The linebackers made plays this season, but the overall level of performance was not up to past standards. Vrabel, who shifted away from his natural outside spot in the 3-4 to the inside when Junior Seau was hurt, and Bruschi, who also played inside, did not have their best years.

The Patriots will undoubtedly want to move Vrabel back outside, but Bruschi's plans remain unclear, and aging free agent Seau has had numerous injury problems in recent years.

Tully Banta-Cain, another free agent, could be brought back, and the Patriots apparently thought enough of Eric Alexander to throw him in the mix at inside linebacker in the AFC Championship Game. Still, this is a linebacking group that needs a dose of quickness and big play ability.

On offense, there are fewer questions, but still some significant ones.

First, Corey Dillon shared time with Laurence Maroney this season, and the team will have to decide what, if any, role Dillon should play in 2007.

Second, Graham will attract attention in free agency, so the Patriots may be asked to balance need with cost. The former first-round pick is a respected player in the locker room, as well as an excellent blocker who mixes in big plays in the receiving game. Benjamin Watson is a better receiver, however, and rookie David Thomas showed promise.

Third, there is still a need to strengthen the receiving corps. Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney certainly made some nice contributions, but Tom Brady deserves more options at that position. Second-round pick Chad Jackson was a first-year flop, but he could always make something of himself.

Asante, Tedy huge concerns



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