Four days before the New England Patriots were to begin the 2005 season, and with a crush of local and national media invading the team's facilities before a practice, Tedy Bruschi walked through the locker room.
Not once mind you, but four times in 45 minutes. And we're not talking about a brisk walk, either. More of a casual, don't-forget-about-me kind of stroll.
Those actions seemed weird for a guy who had been so vigilant about keeping himself away from the media following his mild stroke and heart surgery nearly six months earlier. In hindsight, maybe we should have known right then.
Maybe we should have seen it as a subtle sign and figured Bruschi was going to play this year. But even then, it would have been hard to believe he would be returning to the team under these circumstances – to a defense limp from injuries and in need of some kind of emotional booster shot.
With Bruschi hitting the field Wednesday, there should be mounting temptation to dub him New England's savior. But these Patriots will need a lot more than Bruschi to turn their defense around.
The 3-3 Patriots aren't a team of dominance, but a team that seems to be holding its playoff hopes together by threads. Two of the three wins have come on last-second field goals, and New England appears more likely to win an offensive slugfest than a defensive battle. In this case, the stats don't lie: Playing through a tough schedule and facing some of the league's most offensively capable opponents, the Patriots have allowed an average of 27.3 points and 353.3 yards per game.
Which begs the question: What can Bruschi do to help it? Well, first and foremost, it depends which Bruschi the Patriots are getting. And that's something that won't be known until he sees some live game action. While the bye week makes it convenient for New England to get about seven full practices from Bruschi, it's still not a done deal that he'll be back against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 30.
"I'm going to participate fully now in every team drill, meeting, practice, whatever there is," Bruschi said. "And right now, that's all I am. I'm another player on this team and I'll get evaluated by coach (Bill) Belichick and the coaches to where (they say), 'We believe Tedy can help us here, so let's put him there.' When they see me and they evaluate me on how I look in practice, I'm sure that decision will be made.
"As the season started and we started game-planning for teams – (from) maybe about the third week of the preseason – I've been in virtually every meeting, hearing what the adjustments would have been, studying the offenses. I don't think I would have any doubts whatsoever mentally."
Physical condition is another matter. For Bruschi to have an impact on this defense, he has to bring the special play-making qualities the unit has seemed to lack. The things that set Bruschi apart from others at his position were his instincts and understanding of Belichick's system – a sense of timing and space that gave him big-play ability. Those qualities have been lacking from New England's current inside linebacker tandem of Monty Beisel and Chad Brown.
Certainly, Bruschi could be a huge help to what has become the league's 25th-ranked run defense. It wouldn't even be a stretch to imagine he could have the same effect Jeremiah Trotter had for Philadelphia last season. Trotter was inserted as the starting middle linebacker in the Eagles' ninth game and spearheaded a drastic improvement against the run.
"(The defense is) doing the same types of things that we've done in the past when we've been extremely successful," Bruschi said. "This season is still young. We're at a bye week right now at 3-3, but once again, we're not going to look back on how we've done. Right now, we're going to look at this bye week as an opportunity to rest and get better and get some guys back – me, hopefully – and go from there. The next opponent is Buffalo and I think we'll just focus on that and leave all of our focus on that. But I see fight (in this team), I see hard work, and I see a lot of things that make me want to play with this team right now."
But that doesn't mean Bruschi will be the answer to every problem, either. While the corps of linebackers has been a concern, the secondary needs the most help. In six games, the unit has been baseball's equivalent of a hanging changeup, giving up a ridiculous number of big passing plays (for the Patriots anyway), including catches of 55, 72, 53, 85, 38, 49, 41 and 73 yards.
That isn't surprising considering the realities facing the secondary. Safety Rodney Harrison is out for the year. Cornerback Chad Scott was a free agent bust this season and will finish the year on injured reserve. Cornerback Randall Gay's ankle is going to be a season-long problem, and nobody knows when Tyrone Poole will be able to get on the field, let alone contribute. Moreover, Duane Starks has played poorly and nobody has shown the ability to make game-changing plays.
Even a 100-percent Tedy Bruschi isn't going to solve all of that.
- A league source indicated Seattle Seahawks safety Ken Hamlin's career may be over due to the skull fracture and brain swelling that occurred as a result of an assault outside a nightclub earlier this week. Hamlin is listed in serious condition at Harborview Medical Center and, according to the source, has continued to experience memory loss and some blurred vision from his injuries. He could remain hospitalized through the end of the month.
There have also been some other developments in the investigation surrounding Hamlin's altercation early Monday morning. Seattle police are now investigating the murder of a man who may have been directly involved in the incident.
A police department spokesperson confirmed detectives are investigating the death of Terrell Devon Milam, who – according to claims Milam's family has made to police – is one of the men who scuffled with Hamlin outside "Larry's Nightclub." Milam has not been positively identified as one of the men who engaged Hamlin at the club, which is located a few blocks north of Qwest Field.
Milam was found shot to death in a Seattle park Monday morning, a few hours after Hamlin's altercation at the club. While they insisted the fight has not been linked to Milam's death and couldn't confirm Milam was at the club during the fight, police have not ruled out a possible tie between the two incidents.
There have been conflicting accounts regarding Hamlin's assault, in which he suffered a fractured skull and blood clot and was immediately taken to the hospital. While Hamlin has told police he can't remember what happened during the fight, his girlfriend told police that Hamlin got into a fight after accidentally bumping and then arguing with another man.
Security tapes from the club have been turned over to authorities and appear to show Hamlin as an active participant in a confrontation before the fight. Authorities won't release any details about the identities of individuals on the tapes, but multiple Seattle news sources have reported that other Seahawks players were at the club the night of Hamlin's fight. No other players have been accused of being participants.
Hamlin's agent announced Tuesday that Hamlin has retained a Seattle-area attorney.
- Go figure: The Baltimore Ravens' best offseason move may have been retaining running back Chester Taylor by matching the one-year, $3 million offer Taylor got from the Cleveland Browns. Taylor's average of 5.8 yards per carry has been a breath of fresh air this season as franchise running back Jamal Lewis has struggled.
Taylor will be going to the bank again this offseason, via a multi-year contract offer from – guess who – enamored Browns general manager Phil Savage. That would give Savage his Mid-American Conference backfield of the future with budding quarterback Charlie Frye of Akron, and Taylor, the former Toledo Rocket.
- Get ready for Gold Club, Part II. Minnesota police have opened a dialogue with Atlanta authorities to investigate the possibility that some of the girls who took part in the Minnesota Vikings' "sex cruise" may be part of a high-priced prostitution ring that has catered to Minnesota players – and possibly players from other NFL teams – in the past. Authorities in Florida may also become involved.
- Word out of Philadelphia is that Donovan McNabb has essentially crossed the point of no return in regards to hernia surgery. There was some thought that if the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback was going to have a medical procedure performed, it would have to have happened during last week's bye to give the Eagles time to prepare Koy Detmer and reduce the number of games McNabb would miss this season during recovery.
Apparently, the final decision on possible in-season surgery was left to McNabb, who insisted on playing through the injury the remainder of this year. Surgery is unlikely to come up again, unless the injury worsens or the Eagles are eliminated from playoff contention.
- With the firing of business executive Arnold Fielkow and marketing director Conrad Kowal, things are about to get a whole lot nastier with the New Orleans Saints' and their possible permanent relocation to San Antonio. The feeling is Fielkow and Kowal have been essentially thrown overboard for their anti-relocation views – and owner Tom Benson's reservations about progressing into the "deal" phase of a move with the pair still on the staff.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is keeping a close eye on what has become an escalating war of words over the franchise, including shots fired by the mayors of New Orleans and San Antonio. There is a belief Tagliabue will attempt to set up another meeting with Benson and state officials in hopes of salvaging the situation.
- You can forget about that rumored offseason trade between the New York Jets and San Diego Chargers that could potentially swap defensive end John Abraham for backup quarterback Philip Rivers. Chargers general manager A.J. Smith isn't interested in paying the $18 million to $20 million signing bonus Abraham wants with his new contract. And even if Smith was, he'd want more than Abraham. The asking price for Rivers is expected to be a healthy first-round pick and another quality starting player.
- Speaking of the asking price for future starting quarterbacks, it's going to take multiple draft choices to pry Matt Schaub loose from the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. Possibly as much as quality first-, third- and fifth-round picks.
- Though wide receiver Nate Burleson is slated to play in Week 7, his knee isn't the Vikings' biggest concern. Burleson's shoulder continues to give him trouble, and there is some thought that major offseason surgery may be needed.
- Regardless of this week's mind games, Dennis Green is going to give Kurt Warner another shot at the Arizona Cardinals' starting quarterback spot. Green still isn't sold on the long-term virtues of Josh McCown and would like to give Warner one last opportunity. If Warner flames out, the Cardinals are expected to make a rush at another long-term quarterback this offseason, either in the draft or via trade.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Give it up for Chicago Bears running back Thomas Jones, who is fighting his rear end off to keep his starting running back job. Jones surprised a lot of people in the organization by gutting out Sunday's win over Minnesota, and he has been the Bears' biggest bright spot all season, rushing for 502 yards and scoring six touchdowns in five games. With rookie Cedric Benson sitting, the situation sure looks an awful lot like San Diego's QB quandary with Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.