Patriots quick to adjust without Bruschi

Around The League

NFL This Week

September 18, 2005

One constant with the New England Patriots is adaptation. Under coach Bill Belichick, they adapt to situational need better than any other team.

Absent the soul of their defense this year, the Patriots once again are reinventing themselves. This time it's to make up for the loss of inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi to a heart ailment. Although they technically replaced him with Chad Brown, it's linebacker Mike Vrabel who will most emulate what Bruschi did. And that is make the kind of big plays that Bruschi routinely made.

In their opening win over the Oakland Raiders, the Patriots switched from their 3-4 defense to a 4-3 in the second quarter. Only it looked like a 6-1, with outside linebackers Vrabel and Willie McGinest playing on the line. Belichick feels both former college defensive ends are most effective using their hands at the line and their athleticism to make plays.

Vrabel was equally at ease playing inside against the run or moving outside to jam slot receivers. Replacing Bruschi will be difficult, but the Patriots already have made the adjustment.

Storm warning

Commenting on an assault charge against Kansas City running back Larry Johnson last week, Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil seemed to miss the point when he said the team does a good job alerting players of the risks involved with their celebrity status.

"There's no place to hide in Kansas City," Vermeil said. "Our fans know our players. [We tell players] to use common sense and to be aware of the problem areas. Stay out of the bad areas. Be alert for certain things."

Johnson, already on diversion for domestic violence charges, allegedly shoved a woman and tried to drag her out of the bar he was in with another woman. Johnson admitted he was in the bar at the time but denied the altercation.

Vermeil should be more concerned with the behavior pattern of Johnson than trying to keep him out of the public eye. By the way, Johnson was the sixth Chiefs player to have legal issues since training camp.

Baiting game

The Philadelphia Eagles came away from their Monday night pre-game fracas in Atlanta with the feeling that former Eagle Ike Reese played a key role. Defensive end N.D. Kalu thought Reese encouraged his new Falcons teammates to stop the Eagles' two-year pre-game ritual of gathering at the 50-yard line for a rowdy team huddle.

"I knew [Reese] had something to do with it, because it was obvious they were finished with their pre-game warmups and it was almost like they waited for us to finish ours so they could meet us at the 50," Kalu said. "But they won the game, so whatever they did worked. ... You could tell they were waiting for us."

Eagles middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and Falcons nickel back Kevin Mathis were ejected after the fight.

Dead ends

Buffalo safety Troy Vincent had two interceptions as the Bills hounded Houston quarterback David Carr into a miserable 9-for-21, three-interception performance. Afterward, Vincent said Carr was "staring down the receivers," meaning he only looked for his intended target.

Here's Carr's version: "Troy's a good player, so if he says I'm only seeing one receiver, that's probably why he got a lot of plays on us. I feel like I was going through my reads. I just couldn't get anything done. We really just had one or two receivers going out on some of those routes. It's kind of hard to look at more than one receiver when you only have one going."

Two-minute drill

In his past four regular-season games, the Cincinnati Bengals' Carson Palmer has completed 77 percent of his throws for 11 touchdowns and six interceptions, and his passer rating of 113.7 leads all quarterbacks. ... The Bengals are 8-4 in their past 12 games. ... Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells takes a 13-6 career record against Joe Gibbs into tomorrow night's game against the Washington Redskins. ... The Bills' Willis McGahee has rushed for 100 yards or more in eight of 12 career starts. ... The New York Jets allowed just two runs of 35 yards or more last season. Last Sunday, they gave up consecutive 35-yard runs to the Chiefs in their first defensive series. ... The Jets' frustration was such that defensive tackle James Reed slugged linebacker Jonathan Vilma in a tussle along the bench. ... The Jacksonville Jaguars have beaten the Indianapolis Colts in two of their past three meetings and split the season series each of the past two years. Their strategy? Controlling the clock and keeping the ball away from Peyton Manning. They had nearly a 10-minute advantage in time of possession in last year's win, and an 11-minute edge in the loss. ... The Texans had the most 300-pound players (16) in the NFL on opening day, and the Arizona Cardinals the fewest (three). ... The Tennessee Titans have the youngest team in the league, averaging 24.98 years; the New Orleans Saints have the oldest at 28.17.

Last word

"They can keep the fleur de lis out of the end zone. We know it's a home game for the Giants."

- New Orleans coach Jim Haslett, on NFL plans to paint the team's logo in one of the end zones at Giants Stadium for the Saints' scheduled "home game" tomorrow night.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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