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On Football

Two old classics hold up

By Mike Reiss
December 8, 2008
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SEATTLE - Accounting for two plays in which offensive holding penalties were called, Patriots defenders were on the field for 57 laborious snaps yesterday.

Improbably, linebackers Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin were on for 28 of them - seven in the first half, 21 in the second.

The stat lines focusing on tackles and sacks won't show it. Neither will the television highlights of Seau faked out of his cleats by receiver Deion Branch on a 64-yard catch-and-run, or beaten by tight end John Carlson for a second-quarter touchdown.

But the performances of Seau and Colvin were, in a word, remarkable. They reflected the guts the Patriots displayed in their come-from-behind 24-21 win over the Seahawks.

Skeptics might scoff at the meaning of beating a team that entered the game with a 2-10 record playing with a backup quarterback, but given the cards the Patriots were dealt - such as losing three defensive starters to injury in the first half - it was a "football character" type of performance.

Seau (1 tackle) and Colvin (0 tackles, 1 quarterback hit) were improbable contributors, simply by their presence.

"It's like, 'Welcome back,' " said linebacker Mike Vrabel, who proved to be the glue of the linebacker corps in playing all but one snap and finishing tied for the team high with seven tackles. "They get thrown out there and they do a great job and compete. We needed them. We needed everybody."

The 39-year-old Seau had been surfing on the beaches of San Diego earlier this week, joining the Patriots on Friday after being out of football for the season. Colvin, 31, had been spending time with his family all season before signing on as an emergency replacement Wednesday.

So the plan entering yesterday's game was to use them sparingly, if at all.

Yet with rookie free agent Gary Guyton struggling as a fill-in starter at outside linebacker, the Patriots called on Colvin to replace him with 14:04 remaining in the second quarter. As Colvin arrived in the huddle, defensive lineman Richard Seymour turned to him and said, "Welcome home."

That came at the same time inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi remained on the Qwest Field turf, knocked out of the game from an injury after a teammate cut his legs out from underneath him on a running play.

So as Colvin raced onto the field, Seau was right behind. The two were regulars the rest of the way, playing 28 of the final 38 snaps - Colvin at outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment, Seau at inside linebacker.

"It was like old times out there," said Colvin, who didn't expect to assume such a heavy load. "I went into the game and asked Mike [Vrabel] which side he wanted, and he said, 'We're doing this old school.' "

Colvin then went to the right side, Vrabel went left, just as they did as teammates from 2003-07.

At one point when the defense was on the sideline, Colvin turned to Seau almost in disbelief at what was unfolding.

"In the middle of the third quarter, I said, 'Junior, what were you doing a week ago?' He said he was in Fiji, and I was in Missouri City," Colvin relayed. "Now we're out here playing professional football again. It's crazy."

"It felt great," said Seau, who credited teammates and coaches for "protecting him" within the 3-4 alignment. "This is a scheme we had last year, there were some wrinkles here or there, but for the most part the calls were the same. That was my training camp."

Coach Bill Belichick, who hailed the efforts of Seau and Colvin as the work of true professionals putting in extra time to prepare, acknowledged that the Patriots had to scale back their defensive plans because of their personnel shortage at linebacker.

The defense stayed in its base 3-4 for most of the action - even when the Seahawks went to multiple-receiver sets that normally would call for a sub package with extra defensive backs - and added a little bit of a wrinkle by shifting their defensive linemen at times. The idea was to give a Seahawks offensive line that was playing with four backups a few different looks, although it wasn't anything overly exotic.

It was a struggle early, with the Seahawks - led by backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, playing in place of the injured Matt Hasselbeck - slicing through the overmatched 'D' for touchdowns on their opening two drives.

From that point on, the defense hung on like a cagey boxer who had been in the ring for a few more career fights than his opponent.

The key was third down. Overall, the Seahawks were an impressive 7 of 12 on third down, but the Patriots came up with stops on four consecutive drives from midway through the second quarter to midway through the third to keep things close.

The Patriot 'D' absorbed what could have been a knockout when the Seahawks went ahead, 21-13, late in the third quarter - sparked by Deion Branch's 64-yard catch-and-run to set up a dazzling one-handed 4-yard touchdown grab by Branch. But again the defense rose up with a key third-down stop in the fourth quarter to turn the ball back to the offense for its clutch game-winning drive.

It took one final defensive stop after Sammy Morris's 1-yard touchdown run to seal it. Colvin and Seau weren't on the field for the final stand - a forced fumble from safety Brandon Meriweather - but they were right in the middle of a sideline celebration as the Patriots erupted.

"You've just got to get back on the bike and then you have to get going," Colvin said.

Certainly at times, it seemed like a mountainous climb. But in the end, after playing 28 more plays than either expected to at this time last week, Colvin and Seau both spoke with excitement about the chance to cycle another day.

"When I left my kids, no longer going to their volleyball and football games, that stuff was over," Seau said. "It is time to play football."

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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