Jabaal Sheard played in just 16 snaps against the Seahawks on Sunday night, and only four of those came in the second half. It was a eyebrow-raising use of personnel given that Sheard, who was not dealing with any apparent injury, is perhaps the team's most physically-gifted defensive end.
After the game, Sheard had no explanation for the amount of playing time he was given.
"That's just the game, man," Sheard said. "[That's] how the game goes . . . I'm just upset we lost, man. Try to bounce back and get ready for San Fran next week."
In Sheard's place, second-year player Trey Flowers saw 61 snaps and found himself in the Seahawks backfield on two seaparate occasions for sacks. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the game that Flowers, like any player, earned his playing time.
"There's really no difference for any players on the team," Belichick said. "Everybody earns their playing time. Players that play the best earn the playing time. If they play better than another player then they play more than the other player. If another player plays better than them, then they play less than the other guy. You earn your opportunities. You earn your playing time. That's the way it is."
When asked about the time Sheard's usage during a conference call on Tuesday, Belichick declined to provide specifics.
"Yeah, well again, that’s the kind of question that I get every week," Belichick said. "If one player’s numbers are a little bit higher and then others’ are a little bit lower, it’s basically the same question that you just asked, but change the players’ names around and it’s a weekly question. Again, there are a lot of things that go into our decision-making, game plans, matchups, the way the game unfolds, the type of game it is, which we could talk about a number of different things that fall into that category.
"In the end, we play the players that we feel like will give us the best opportunity in any given situation in a particular game, or the way that that game happens to unfold based on what our opponents are doing and how the game situations play out. Players that play, they play. The ones that are inactive are inactive. To a point, play time is based on performance, but it’s also affected by situations and the type of game and type of matchups that that particular game, that are particular to the characteristics of that game."
Going into Sunday, Sheard had started in every game this season and played in 70 percent of the team's snaps. When Belichick was posed a follow-up about the surprising nature of his decision to keep Sheard out -- though Sheard didn't do much with the snaps he saw -- the once coach once again deflected.
"We’ll have the same conversation next week about two or three other players, and then the week before and the week after that," Belichick said. "So that’s the question, that’s my answer. Sorry, that’s the best I can do."