Patriots

Best of the Belichick Era: Number 11 -- Rodney Harrison

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Best of the Belichick Era: Number 11 -- Rodney Harrison

I'm spending 50 days ranking the top 50 players of the Bill Belichick Era, from No. 50 down to No. 1. (Click here for a criteria on how I made my selections.) 

Enjoy.

Today we reach . . . .

NUMBER 11: RODNEY HARRISON
Years With Patriots: 2003-2008
Games: 63
Playoff Games: 9
Honors: Super Bowl Champion (2003, 2004), All-Pro (First team, 2003; Second team, 2004)

The 2001 Patriots won a Super Bowl as a pack of gritty overachievers. They weren’t ready for what awaited in 2002 and they weren’t good enough to withstand every team’s best shot.

In 2003, they imported Rodney Harrison from San Diego.

The strong safety spent nine years playing with a ferocity that was right at the edge of propriety . . . and sometimes past it. When he got to New England, he was hungry in a way they 2001 Patriots may have been. He felt disrespected by the Chargers. He felt like he had something to prove. On the second day of training camp, he demolished Troy Brown and poked him in the eye. Brown whipped the football at him. A couple of days later, he hammered Brown again, then went head-high on Kevin Faulk. He and Matt Light grabbed facemasks after that and tussled and Tedy Bruschi came off the top rope to enter the fray. Everyone’s focus -- and intensity –-- had gotten a turbo shot courtesy of Harrison

I’m not sure what direction the Patriots franchise would have taken if it hadn’t added Harrison. But Bill Belichick gave an indication. After the AFC Championship Game takedown of Indianapolis -- just before the Pats won the Super Bowl by beating the Panthers, a game in which Harrison broke his forearm in the fourth quarter (and played another play, making a tackle after breaking it) -- Belichick embraced the veteran safety and said to him: “I sure am glad we got you.”

Harrison played 16 games in each of his first two seasons in New England, then, due to injuries and age, was only able to play a total of 31 regular-season games over his final four. But his performances in those first two seasons were the catalysts for both titles. He had four interceptions in the 2004 postseason, including an 87-yard pick-six against the Steelers and a game-sealing pick in the Super Bowl against the Eagles. He had seven picks in his nine postseason games for the Patriots.

When Harrison announced his retirement in June of 2009, Belichick said, "In the biggest games, in any situation and on a weekly basis, his production was phenomenal. Rodney embodies all the attributes coaches seek and appreciate: toughness, competitiveness, leadership, selflessness, hard work, intensity, professionalism -- and coming from Rodney, they are contagious."

Patriots downgrade S Patrick Chung, RB Damien Harris to out for Eagles game

Patriots downgrade S Patrick Chung, RB Damien Harris to out for Eagles game

The Patriots have downgraded safety Patrick Chung and running back Damien Harris from questionable to out for the game Sunday against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Chung has had heel and chest injuries but did play in the Pats' last game before their bye week, the Nov. 3 loss to the Ravens. Harris appeared on the injury report for the first time on Friday with a hamstring issue. The rookie third-round pick from Alabama has only been active for two games this season.

The loss of Chung could impact the Patriots most in their coverage of Eagles tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Taking on tight ends is something Chung has excelled at. 

ESPN Mike Reiss reports that Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse, out with a knee injury since Oct. 10, did travel with the team to Philly so he will likely be active for the game.

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Ten years ago today, on fourth-and-2, Bill Belichick made one of his most controversial decisions

Ten years ago today, on fourth-and-2, Bill Belichick made one of his most controversial decisions

It was one of the most controversial calls in Patriots history...and it didn't come from an official.

It was Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 in the final minutes against the Indianapolis Colts. And it was 10 years ago today.

THE DECISION

It remains Belichick's most talked-about moves this side of Malcolm Butler. In a Week 10 matchup in Indianapolis, the 8-0 Colts faced the 6-2 Patriots in a high-scoring affair. Leading 34-28 but backed up at their own 28-yard-line and needing two yards for a first down, Belichick chose to go for it on fourth down and try and keep the ball out of quarterback Peyton Manning's hands.

THE PLAY

Tom Brady completed a pass to running back Kevin Faulk, who was driven backward by the Colts' Melvin Bullitt. After a measurement, Faulk was ruled short of the first down. Three Colts plays later, a Manning-to-Reggie Wayne TD pass and extra point with 13 seconds left a 35-34 victory.

THE AFTERMATH

There was plenty of second-guessing of Belichick's move. Had he outsmarted himself? Why didn't he punt and show more faith in his defense? 

“We thought we could win the game with that play,” he explained at the time. “That was a yard I was confident we could get.” Belichick had maintained it was more like fourth-and-long-1, rather than 2. Where the ball was spotted after the Faulk play is still the subject of debate.

Those Pats would go on to lose two of their next three, finish 10-6, still win the AFC East but get smoked by the Baltimore Ravens 33-14 in Foxboro in a wild-card playoff game. Manning's team won its first 14 games, then rested its regulars and lost twice before reaching its first Super Bowl as the Indy Colts and losing to the New Orleans Saints. 

TODAY

When Indianapolis reporter Kevin Bowen tweeted about the play's 10th anniversary on Saturday, it stirred up memories for former Colts linebacker Gary Brackens, who recalled the disrespect he felt from Belichick's decision to test the Indy defense. 

To this day, "Fourth-and-2" means only one thing to most NFL fans.

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