FOXBOROUGH — One of the takeaways from the aftermath of the first Patriots-Broncos game was the need to change the team’s run defense.
The Patriots allowed a season-high 280 yards rushing to the Broncos in Week 12, the 10th most in franchise history and the most yards on the ground allowed since since 1990. In the blistering cold, the Broncos relied heavily on running back Knowshon Moreno (224 yards), who gashed the Patriots up the middle.
Despite coming out with a 34-31 overtime win, changes needed to be made, particularly up front where the Broncos were able to take advantage of a weak interior defensive line.
That’s when Sealver Siliga got his first shot.
The third-year defensive tackle from West Jordan, Utah, had been signed to the Patriots’ practice squad Oct. 24. But he’s bounced around. He was signed as a rookie free agent by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 after his junior season at Utah before he was released out of training camp. That’s when he was picked up by the Broncos and signed to their practice squad. He played one game for Denver in 2012.
The Broncos decided to trade Siliga to the Seattle Seahawks in training camp last summer before he was cut again from Seattle’s practice squad. That was Oct. 4, 2013.
Siliga has the distinction of having played for all four teams in the conference championship games.
He made his first appearance for the Patriots in Week 13 against the Houston Texans, one week after the game against Denver. Siliga recorded two tackles while playing only 16 snaps. The following week against Cleveland, he got his first start and played 53 of the team’s 76 defensive snaps, recording only one tackle. But he was solid against the run, holding his gaps.
Siliga had one sack against both the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens the next two weeks, but he didn’t really have a breakout effort until Week 17 — his fifth game and fourth start — tallying six tackles, all of which were either at the line of scrimmage for no gain or for a loss. His positive contributions have made him an integral part of the team’s defense that has held opponents to 111.2 yards per game rushing in his starts, a huge dip from the team's regular season average (134.1).
"He’s our run stopper," Patriots rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones said. "He’s good."
Siliga, 23, has the stamp of approval from his teammates, especially because of his journey from being a practice squad player to a starter for the Patriots.
"I've been in that same position where I was a practice squad guy and all you are doing is wanting a chance to show somebody that you can go play football," said Rob Ninkovich. "Sometimes it doesn’t happen the first or second year but you get a chance and you only have one shot so when you get that opportunity you can’t let it slip by."
With injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and unsatisfactory play from Isaac Sopoaga, Siliga has certainly made a case for himself to have a role on this team going forward. It’s that kind of opportunity, something he didn’t receive in his other three stops, that makes him so thankful. And it’s also why he carries a chip on his shoulder.
"Just because of where I started and where I’m at now, I'm always going to have something on my shoulder just to prove that I can play in this league, I have something to contribute and I have something to give," Siliga said.