Eleventh in a series of positional reviews of the 2009 Patriots season:
Safety: Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders, Brandon McGowan, Pat Chung and Bret Lockett.
Stat check: Meriweather played more snaps than any defender (95.5 percent) and tied for the team high with five interceptions. McGowan started 11 games alongside Meriweather, before Sanders regained the starting spot late in the season.
First instinct: Meriweather was too up-and-down for a Pro Bowl player. His third-and-1 stop against the Jaguars was one of the best defensive plays of the season. On the flip side, his breakdown in fundamentals contributed to Ray Rice’s backbreaking 83-yard touchdown run on the first play of the playoff game against the Ravens. Those plays seemed to reflect his season -– sometimes terrific, sometimes a liability.
Storyline not to be overlooked: Shuffle between McGowan and Sanders. At the midpoint of the season, McGowan was one of the team’s surprise performers, helping to limit opposing tight ends and adding a physical edge after wrestling the starting job away from Sanders. But McGowan couldn’t sustain the momentum and Sanders was reinserted into the lineup late in the season.
Future: No free agents in the group. Sanders' salary spikes to $2.3 million and based on him being in and out of the lineup in 2009, one wonders if he'll be back in 2010 when factoring in salary considerations.
Final thought: Chung, the team’s top draft choice (34th overall), played in 20 percent of the defensive snaps (mostly between Games 6 and 11). With the top four players under contract next season, this doesn’t look like a primary position of need but one in which the Patriots will focus on getting more out of the personnel on the roster.
POSITIONAL QUICK HITS