When it comes to deciding who is going to play and who will sit in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Texans in Houston, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is well aware of the reality of the situation.
“Down in Foxboro, it’s not like it’s a democracy down there anyway. We don’t sit around and take votes to see what we’re going to do. It’s a one-man show,” Brady said of coach Bill Belichick. “He makes the decisions.”
And the guy who will be making the decision wasn’t tipping his hand Monday as to what he will do when New England takes the field against the Texans. With the division wrapped up — and a handful of players nursing various nagging injuries — do the Patriots play the starters in an attempt to keep the momentum of three straight wins? Or do they give those players a week off in hopes of healing up before the start of the playoffs?
“I honestly haven’t given it any thought at all,” Belichick said at a Monday morning press conference. “My thoughts are on Jacksonville. We knew that was a game we needed to win and we put a lot into that game, and I’m glad the results came out the way they did. Like I said last week, we’ll deal with next week next week, so we’ll deal with this week this week.”
One of those players dogged by injuries the last few weeks but who played against Jacksonville was Brady. The quarterback, who has suffered rib and finger injuries the last month or so, sounded like a man who wanted to play on Sunday, regardless of what was at stake.
“The reality is you can be hurt the first play of a playoff game. That’s just the way it is,” he said in his weekly appearance on WEEI (transcript here). “Hopefully, you have enough depth to overcome one injury or two injuries. It’s just a matter of us doing that.
“Who knows what Coach is going to do? I think we’re all preparing to play the whole game. And I think that’s what I would prefer to do.”
History seems to indicate that Belichick will go with his starters, at least at kickoff. In 2005, with a playoff spot locked up — and possibly looking to avoid the Steelers in the first-round of the postseason — Brady and the starters did start, but were pulled early in a loss to Miami. In the final regular-season game in 2006, the starters began the game, but were pulled down the stretch in a 40-23 win over Tenessee.
And in 2007, even after they had everything wrapped up, the starters went wire-to-wire in the finale against the Giants, a game won by the Patriots, 38-35, which allowed them to wrap up a 16-0 record.
“Whatever we did in any other year was whatever we thought was the best thing to do, whatever that was 2003, 2008, or whatever it was,” Belichick said. “We do what we thought was best, whether anybody agrees with it or not. But that’s what we did, and that's what we will continue to do.”
Other players, speaking Monday on WEEI, echoed Brady’s statements that the decision was out of their hands.
“Whatever the coaches decide is how I’m going to approach it,” running back Sammy Morris said. “I have trust in our coaches that whatever they decide will be the best for the team.”
“Ultimately, that's the coach’s decision to make,” said defensive lineman Ty Warren. “But in no way, shape or form do we plan on just laying down just because.”
In Houston, it sounds like they’re preparing to face the New England starters — Texans coach Gary Kubiak told reporters Monday he would be surprised if New England rested its starters on Sunday.
“That would surprise me,” Kubiak said. “I think the team I saw yesterday is getting ready to make a big run. They’re a great football team, and I don’t see them coming in here any different.”
Kubiak and the Texans have a sizable amount riding on Sunday’s game. They need some help — namely, a combination of losses from the Jets, Ravens or Broncos — but they can make the postseason for the first time in franchise history if they beat the Patriots.
“We’ve got a big game. We’ve got to beat, to me, the top franchise in football here over the last 10 years,” Kubiak said. “We’ve got to stay focused on us and make sure that we’re handling our business.”