Pats continue to work hard, focus despite loss of S Harrison
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rodney Harrison would race downfield with the kickoff team in practice, tackle the returner and stir up all kinds of mayhem.
As part of the group that mimics the New England Patriots next opponent on those plays, he showed the physical play and passion that was his hallmark until his latest, and probably last, injury as an NFL player.
"He goes on the scout kickoff team. He runs down there, makes the tackle every play, gets everybody in trouble," tight end Benjamin Watson said Wednesday. "Everybody's mad at him, but that's Rodney.
"That's just the kind of player he is."
Harrison's season officially ended Wednesday when the Patriots placed him on injured reserve. Realistically, his career almost certainly ended two days earlier when he tore the quadriceps muscle in his right thigh, an injury that usually takes eight to 10 months to heal.
Harrison turns 36 on Dec. 15. He is in his 15th season, the final year of his contract. And he suffered his fourth serious injury in four years on the final play of the third quarter of Monday night's 41-7 win over the Denver Broncos.
He wasn't in the locker room during the 40 minutes reporters had access Wednesday, but his lessons were: work hard and move on.
"He would say the same thing about anybody else [being sidelined]. We're not going to sit here and have a pity party," 25-year-old cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. "He's a loyal and dedicated player to the game, and the way he played the game is really how all of us should play it, man, 100 percent all the way."
Harrison, a two-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl winner, will be replaced by 2007 first-round draft choice Brandon Meriweather alongside safety James Sanders. The Patriots signed defensive back Antwain Spann to the active roster from the practice squad and added safety Mark Dillard to the practice squad.
"When tragedy falls upon you, we just keep on moving and just realizing that one person doesn't make this machine," Hobbs said. "Whoever's filling that spot, we're not asking to go out there and make miracles. Just do your job."
Meriweather, who dropped several potential interceptions last year, already has three this year. The 24-year-old Sanders is in his second season as a starter.
"We'll have to count on a lot of people to do some of the things that Rodney did," coach Bill Belichick said. "Rodney had a lot of different roles for us defensively."
Harrison is the third key Patriot lost for the season. Quarterback Tom Brady suffered a knee injury in the opener, and running back Laurence Maroney went on injured reserve Monday with a shoulder injury.
"Is there a breaking point?" Hobbs said. "Well, if there is, we haven't found it."
A few hours after Maroney went on injured reserve, the Patriots played their best game of the season by dominating Denver to improve to 4-2.
Last season, they overcame the adversity of Spygate -- the fallout from the season opener when they taped New York Jets coaches' signals during the game -- and went 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl on a last-minute touchdown.
"We just seem to know how to stay focused," Hobbs said. "We don't worry about what we can't control."
The loss of Harrison had players reflecting on his emotional style of play, leadership ability and the respect he commanded from teammates. He holds the NFL record for defensive backs with 30½ sacks and, with 34 interceptions, is the only player ever to have at least 30 of each.
"I wish I could be more like him on the field, someone that plays with his reckless abandon but still seems to find a way to be in control and make plays. I can't say enough good things about him," fullback Heath Evans said.
"This team always finds ways to rally around and finds ways to make plays and win ballgames when no one expects us to. So I'm sure that won't change. But if you talk about replacing someone like 37 [Harrison], that just doesn't happen."
The Patriots practiced Wednesday for Sunday's home game against the St. Louis Rams, 2-0 since Jim Haslett took over an 0-4 team.
They'll have to deal with dangerous running back Stephen Jackson and veteran quarterback Marc Bulger without having Harrison on the field.
"He would be the first one to tell you that the train's going to keep going," Watson said, "and whoever goes and plays for him is going to play well and he'll definitely be there cheering for us, and we'll still be looking up to him."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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