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The grass isn't always greener for Belichick

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  January 6, 2010 12:21 PM

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The Patriots are back on home turf this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, and nobody is happier about that than coach Bill Belichick. It has nothing to do with the fact his team is 8-0 at home this year. No, it turns out Belichick is a regular green thumb, and he didn't find any splendor in the grass field at Reliant Stadium.

After watching the Texans' turf monster reach up and take his most valuable wide receiver, Wes Welker, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate and torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee a week before the playoffs, Belichick sparked something of a turf war while fielding questions about the Texans' natural grass surface during his paid appearance on WEEI's  "The Big Show" Monday.

Belichick never directly blamed the Texans' tufts of portable turf for playing a part in Welker's injury, but it wasn't difficult to connect the dots.

"The turf down there is terrible. It's terrible," Belichick told the station. "Well, it's just inconsistent. It's all those little trays of grass and some of them are soft, some of them are firm. They don't all fit well together. There are seams. Some of it feels like a sponge and some of it feels real firm and hard like the Miami surface and one step you're on one and one step you're on another. I think it's really one of the worst fields I've seen."

That's saying a lot because Belichick has been the head coach of teams that have fielded some questionable fields in the past.

In 1994, Belichick's penultimate season as Cleveland's coach, players in the NFL Players Association field survey rated the Browns playing surface as the fourth-worst in the league, behind only the green asphalt masquerading as AstroTurf that was being employed at cookie-cutter, multi-purpose facilities in Philadelphia (Veterans Stadium), Pittsburgh (Three Rivers Stadium) and Cincinnati (Riverfront Stadium).

In 2006, the final season that Gillette Stadium had natural grass -- it was switched over in-season after a quagmire of a defeat to the hated Jets -- NFL players rated it the worst grass field in the league.

Earlier this year when asked for his recollections of late Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, Belichick talked about how fast Thomas was coming off the edge and then drew chuckles when he referenced how Thomas seemed a step slower against his Browns due to mysterious moisture on the field at the old Cleveland Stadium.

The Indianapolis Colts were less than thrilled that before the Patriots and Colts met in the AFC Divisional playoffs at Gillette in 2005 that the Patriots left the field uncovered in the days leading up to the game, despite wet weather conditions. The Colts were chided as sore losers for insinuating that the slop contributed to the Patriots shutting down their high-powered offense (that was the year Peyton Manning threw 49 touchdown passes) in a 20-3 New England win.

When Belichick was asked about the unprotected state of the field leading up to that playoff game he slyly said: "My job is not to pull weeds. I have a lot of other things to do. Or rake the field and all of that. I’m sure that will all be taken care of."

If that's true, why the sudden interest in field conditions now?

What happened to Welker was unfortunate and it's possible that poor footing could have played a part in it. But it sounds like sod sobbing after a trip to Houston gone horribly wrong.

Belichick should not have put the Reliant Stadium field on blast. It was unfair to the Texans, who by all accounts are a class organization, and unnecessary with the Patriots preparing for the playoffs. He could have quietly requested the league look into the situation in Houston without embarrassing the Texans.

It's not that Belichick is completely wrong about the field. The Texans turf didn't look top shelf to me. There were patches that looked like they had been painted green, and the turf looked worn in spots. The field had hosted the Texas Bowl between Missouri and Navy three days earlier. Two games in three days is a lot of action for a field that doesn't have roots.

Still, seemingly singling out the field for blame in Welker blowing out his knee conveniently deflects criticism away from the argument of whether Welker should have been playing in the regular-season finale at all. That one is a matter of opinion.

I said before the game I wouldn't have played Brady or Welker.

You could also argue that if Belichick thought the turf was so bad then Welker never should have even been on the field in the first place. He could have called a last-minute playing time audible to protect him.

Belichick was asked on WEEI if he was concerned about the condition of the field before the game, when he was spotted discussing it with his players in pregame warm-ups.

"Yeah, absolutely. I walked out there. I thought it was terrible," he said.  

Explain then how even after he thought the field was terrible in pre-game and watched Welker go down, Belichick thought it was safe enough to send his franchise quarterback who returned this season from the same injury Welker suffered back out onto that same terrible field for four possessions in the second half.

The Texans, who have taken the high road in the turf tussle, have every right to tell Belichick to get off their, er, grass.

Belichick also took the high road yesterday. He said the Patriots had moved on to Baltimore, which is where their focus should be, not on disparaging someone else's field.

The good news is that there shouldn't be any field issues on Sunday against the Ravens. The Patriots play on synthetic grass at Gillette Stadium. Sweep the remaining snow off of it, vacuum it a bit, and the faux field is good to go.

But Welker won't be. That's not the Texans' fault or Belichick's. It's just a bad twist of football fate. 
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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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