The New England Patriots had hoped to have both their starting cornerbacks return from injuries in time for the playoffs and the defense of their Super Bowl crown. Turns out only one of them has a chance to get back on the field for 2004.
In a somewhat surprising roster move, the Pats on Friday placed starting right cornerback Tyrone Poole on injured reserve, ending his season. The maneuver, which came less than a week after Poole made a cameo appearance in last week's victory over Cincinnati, was announced in rather cryptic fashion.
Poole, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee back in October, had missed seven games before playing less than 10 snaps in a reserve role against the Bengals. The suggestions, in the wake of the appearance, were that Poole's playing time might increase in Monday's game at Miami, but instead he is shelved for the rest of the season.
"It was a situation where medically we felt he needed more time
to really get over the hump and we were running out of it,"
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "It's unfortunate but that's what we had to do. If
it was the second week of the season, maybe it would be
The club's other cornerback, All-Pro performer Ty Law, remains sidelined as he recovers from a broken right foot sustained on Oct. 31. He has not played since that game against the Steelers, the Patriots' lone defeat of the season, but probably will return for at least the season finale. Law's status was upgraded to "doubtful" for the Monday night game, but he is not expected to play.
With his two cornerbacks out of action, Belichick has done a remarkable job of juggling his secondary, combining young players with a giant dose of ingenuity. Second-year veteran Asante Samuel, the New England "nickel" corner in 2003, has replaced Poole as the starter in most games. But the Patriots have also used Randall Gay, an undrafted free agent rookie, journeyman Earthwind Moreland, and normal starting free safety Eugene Wilson at the position.
The Pats have also deployed 12-year veteran wide receiver Troy Brown as their "nickel" cornerback, and he is tied for the team lead in interceptions, with three.
But while New England coaches scrambled to jerry-rig the secondary, there was always the expectation that Poole and Law would return at some point. Now, with the Patriots having gone 6-1 during his absence, younger players on the rise and Poole due base salaries of $1.5 million each in 2005 and 2006, it is uncertain if the nine-year veteran will even be back next season.
Poole, who turns 33 in February, started all 16 games in '03, his first year with the Pats, and contributed mightily to the team's Super Bowl championship effort. He posted 64 tackles and tied Law with a career-best six interceptions, along with 21 passes defensed. In his seven previous seasons, he had recorded only 10 interceptions.
He injured his right knee in an Oct. 17 games against Seattle and, although the team did not announce the procedure at the time, had arthroscopic surgery a few days later. In his five appearances this season, Poole had 13 tackles, one interception and two passes defensed.
For his career, Poole, a first-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in their inaugural 1995 draft, has appeared in 129 games. He has played with Carolina (1995-1997), Indianapolis (1998-2000), Denver (2002) and New England (2003-2004). The former Fort Valley State star sat out the 2001 campaign to spend more time with his family. He signed a four-year contract with the Patriots in the summer of 2003.
Poole's career numbers include 490 tackles, 17 interceptions, 132 passes defensed and five sacks.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.