Commentary

Patriots have no fear of the 'Wall'

Players say Jets' tactic not an issue for upcoming AFC playoff game

Updated: January 15, 2011, 11:17 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One week before the New York Jets' illegal "Wall" became known across the NFL -- a result of now-suspended strength coach Sal Alosi inexplicably sticking out his knee and tripping Miami Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll on a punt play Dec. 12 -- two New England Patriots players experienced its force first-hand.

Matthew Slater and Sergio Brown, gunners on the Patriots' punt coverage team, both were picked off by the Wall in the team's 45-3 win over the Jets on Dec. 6.

"I didn't realize it until I watched the film," said Brown, a rookie free agent from Notre Dame. "I was like, 'Dang man!'"

What Brown saw on the fourth-quarter play was a row of Jets inactive players lined up side-by-side as part of the Wall. One of the Jets' players lowered his shoulder, making contact with Brown after Brown had stepped to his left and was running out of bounds in front of the Jets' bench.

During the action, Brown had figured it was one of the two players who had lined up across from him impeding his path -- he spun out of it and was close to making the tackle -- but the film revealed something different.

"I'm locked in, trying to get to the ball, and didn't realize anything [out of the ordinary]," he said of the play, which came with 2:42 remaining in the game and the Patriots leading 45-3. "I guess it's a part of football."

It isn't anymore, with Alosi being suspended by the Jets and the NFL fining the team $100,000 after the tripping incident with Carroll (the Jets have appealed). The league also re-emphasized the boundaries in which players are allowed to stand on the sideline.

When Brown heard of the incident with Carroll, he said he "wasn't surprised." At the same time, when approached by a reporter this week, he didn't want to make a big deal of his encounter with the Wall leading into Sunday's playoff rematch against the Jets, perhaps because he feared it would add more sparks to the growing trash talk between the teams.

"All I worry about is playing football, I'm not worried about all that extra stuff," he said. "Players play football and whoever makes the rules worries about the rules."

Slater, who led the Patriots with 21 special teams tackles, had a similar outlook despite running into the Wall during a second-quarter punt return with 4:06 remaining in the Dec. 6 game. On his play, he bounced back on to the field and drew a block-in-the-back penalty against Jets receiver Brad Smith.

"I don't really want to comment too much on it," Slater said. "Fortunately, Carroll wasn't seriously injured in the game."

The Patriots had three punts in the Dec. 6 game against the Jets. On one of them, the Wall wasn't a factor because the gunners were not double-teamed and did not head to the sideline.

Slater, who, like Brown, got a better look at his play when watching a "cut-up" on film the next day, was asked if he had worried for his safety during the action.

"You can't really worry about that as you're playing," he said. "It is an unfortunate situation but I just don't feel too comfortable commenting. It's happened now and I'm sure it's being addressed by the league."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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