Slippery field could trip up Colts

Updated: January 14, 2005, 4:38 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

FOXBORO, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are preparing what may be the best defense against Peyton Manning and his speedy receivers: a slippery field.

The team left the Gillette Stadium grass uncovered through Wednesday's rain and Thursday's fog. With more rain or snow expected Friday and freezing temperatures for the weekend, the Indianapolis Colts' prolific offense could find the footing funky in Sunday's playoff game.

Meanwhile, at Heinz Field ...
The Pittsburgh Steelers expect Heinz Field's playing surface to be in its best shape in weeks for Saturday's divisional playoff game against the New York Jets.

The middle of the playing field became bare after a succession of Steelers, University of Pittsburgh and high school playoff games in November, but unusually warm weather has allowed some grass to regrow. The surface is 95 percent grass, with 5 percent artificial fibers to help stabilize the grass.

High temperatures were in the 60s Wednesday and Thursday, though a cold snap Thursday night is expected to drop gametime temperatures into the low 20s, with a chance of snow flurries.

The playing field is heated, causing all but heavy snow to melt almost immediately. The field remained mostly snow-free during a January 2002 Browns-Steelers game played in a snowstorm.
-- The Associated Press

Patriots coach Bill Belichick knows a cold front may be as critical as his three-man defensive front in slowing down the Colts. But he certainly wouldn't turn the field into an ice rink or a quagmire just to help his team, would he?

"My job is not to pull weeds," he said Wednesday with an innocent-looking smirk. "I have a lot of other things to do. Or rake the field and all of that. I'm sure that will all be taken care of."

Belichick, who delves into the smallest detail, includes weather in his planning even though he may not have the final say on field maintenance.

"I'm sure he's consulted on it," team spokesman Stacey James said, "but it's a collaborative effort between our stadium operations people and the grounds crew."

NFL rules say the field should be covered on the day and night before a game if there is any chance of precipitation.

League officials examined the turf Thursday and judged it to be in excellent condition.

There's a 90 percent chance of rain or snow on Friday in the Boston area before a dry weekend with temperatures ranging from 20 to 34 degrees on Saturday and 16 to 33 degrees on Sunday, with mostly cloudy skies. There will be plenty of time for the moisture to turn to ice before the game's late afternoon start, at 4:45 p.m. EST.

There are heating coils beneath the field that could keep the turf from freezing, but they won't stop all that moisture from making the field slick, maybe even muddy.

"We feel like it's our nature" to play in inclement weather, Patriots linebacker Roman Phifer said. "We live up here. We play in it. We practice in it. So, obviously, that's something that we're used to."

Other Patriots think a slippery field won't make a difference to the fifth highest-scoring offense in NFL history with 522 points and three receivers -- Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokely -- with more than 1,000 yards receiving.

"They beat people in cold weather. They beat people on turf," strong safety Rodney Harrison said. "They're going to catch touchdowns. They're going to run the ball. It doesn't matter what surface they're playing on. They could be playing on hot coals. It doesn't matter."

Coach Tony Dungy said field conditions won't be a factor, even though his Colts play home games indoors.

The Colts, 4-3 this season when playing outside, felt temperatures dip below 65 degrees only twice. Indoors, they're 9-1.

Last season, the only two games the Colts played in precipitation were losses -- a light rain at Jacksonville and occasional snow at New England in the AFC championship game. This week, they worked out indoors because their practice field was wet, but they left the doors open for a blast of cold air.

"When the field condition is a little bit different than usual, I might change my game a little bit, but I'm still a ball player, I'm still going to go out there and perform," said Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, the NFL sack leader. "It's going to be slow for us, it's going to be slow for them."

Last season, the Patriots were 4-0 in rain or snow; this season they are 2-0 in the rain.

"It's January and we're in New England. It's not going to be 50 degrees," Patriots tight end Christian Fauria said. "Your best bet is just to hope it's not minus 10."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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