EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 23, 2010

Without Faulk, this could get ugly

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

FOXBORO — Forget the fearless blitz pickups on charging linebackers.

And the nifty, chain-moving hops, skips and jumps.

Kevin Faulk's absence will hurt most in the character department.

A team desperately lacking in it, which by its own admission spent the last offseason attempting to repair or restock it, lost its No. 1 source in the New Meadowlands Stadium Sunday.

Faulk absorbed a brutal sideline shot that cost him the season with a torn ACL or worse.

Losing Faulk should have Pats fans shivering like a December Monday night tailgate.

Who is going to police these guys now?

Just think about the character that has left since 2007.

Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Larry Izzo, Richard

Seymour, Ty Warren and now Faulk, the elder statesmen, one of the few cornerstones left.

"There's nobody like him. He's such a unique person, a unique talent, a unique spirit about him," said quarterback Tom Brady. "(Kevin) always provides great leadership, so it's a big loss for us. Knowing what he's going through, it's always a challenging time. Believe me, when you love football as much as Kevin does or you love the team as much as Kevin does, he takes it really to heart that he can't be out there with us."

You noticed Sunday as things unraveled for this team, which led 14-3 only to tumble hard, 28-14. Where was Faulk?

He stood, wincing like the rest of us, helpless on the sideline, unable to change the tide with one of those patented screen catch-and-runs.

Facing a monster schedule with a defense that can't stop the forward pass, who does Bill Belichick turn to now?

There's no need to take off the socks and count his toes. Belichick can count his reliable leaders on one hand.

You start with Brady, despite his waltz over to the dark side Sunday in Jersey. Tom's too smart and cares too much to continue with this personal crusade to get Randy Moss a contract extension.

The competitor in Brady has to kick in, and he'll revert to what works, that is reading, reacting and firing to the open man — not jamming it in to Randy so he can prove his worth to the organization.

Wes Welker? Absolutely, he's aces, just as long as that reconstructed knee holds up.

Vince Wilfork? Just look at the Super Bowl rings, the scowl when it counts and the effort.

Now, it's your turn. I'm waiting.

Dan Koppen or Matt Light up front on offense? I might have gone for this argument until the Logan Mankins holdout. Now we understand that he had grown into the leader of that unit.

And don't bother to look at the defense.

Jerod Mayo is the "captain." The third-year man might want to gaze at some Patrick Willis film for a lesson on leading by example.

But I do give Mayo credit. When the defense smells, as it did in New York, he offers no excuses and takes all the well-deserved shots with class. There is no hiding in him. But at some point, a leader has to deliver on the field. Folks in these parts are still waiting.

The leadership is in ruin, a product of some horrifying post-2004 drafting, age setting in on a championship roster and some strange financial decisions.

Without Faulk, hard times might lie ahead.

"He's very coachable and really cares about the game, his teammates and his team," said Belichick.

How do you remove Faulk from this equation and survive?

The answer is, of course, from Belichick.

We've seen Belichick the teacher since training camp opened in July. He's tried to instruct and nurture a young lineup.

Perhaps the coach might need to give a lecture or two about respect. Or maybe he just has to kick a butt or two.

Think of the message that is being sent to young, impressionable athletes right now at Patriots Place.

Logan Mankins — a starter every day of his professional life with Pro Bowl cache, no baggage, no nonsense, just a will to work and win — sits unwanted, unemployed.

Meanwhile, Moss earns $9 million or so per season, flashes his brilliance in the first half with one of the sickest catches you'll ever see, then shuts it down in the second half, to the point where his pass routes are a slow jog.

Is that the example you want to set for a Brandon Tate or Taylor Price from a guy this team once had as a captain.

Faulk's legacy here is well-documented. Once known mostly for his fumbling, he transformed into a lethal third-down machine.

More importantly, he grew into a leader on the field and in the community.

How important has Faulk been? Just watch.

Unless the coach takes a strangle-hold quickly, it's not going to be pretty.