FOXBOROUGH - Pete Carroll will have a breakup meeting with his players this morning and also meet with the Patriots’ management team later in the day. The speculation is that Carroll will come out of the meetings without his head coaching job, and that he’s headed to either the Washington Redskins or the Seattle Seahawks to be an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.
His replacement was thought to be former Patriots assistant Bill Belichick, but people close to Jets head coach Bill Parcells said last night they expect him to retire today, handing the Jets job to Belichick. The Jets and the Patriots both finished 8-8 with wins yesterday, the Patriots taking a 20-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens before a crowd of 50,263. New England finished in last place in the AFC East, however, because of a poorer division record.
Patriots vice president of player personnel Bobby Grier also will have his fate decided in the next few days.
Carroll had at least three meetings with owner Robert Kraft yesterday, one in the morning, one after the game, and another after his press conference. Carroll described the first two meetings as "positive and upbeat," but the third might have sealed his fate.
Patriots executive vice president Jonathan Kraft wasn’t tipping his hand on what the family would do. Asked if there was a press conference planned for today, he said, "I don’t think so . . . you’ll have to check with Stacey [James, the Patriots’ director of media relations]."
The players were, for the most part, happy about finishing the season with a win in what was another strong performance by the defense. Linebacker Ted Johnson forced a fumble by quarterback Tony Banks that Chad Eaton picked up and ran 23 yards for a third-quarter score that sealed the victory.
If this was Carroll’s last game, he finished his Patriots tenure with a 28-23 record, a .549 winning percentage, which is second best in team history to Raymond Berry’s 51-41 mark (.554).
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe said he had no feel for whether he would be playing under a new coach, and yet another offensive system, next season. "I don’t know what the call is there. I don’t know if anybody has a feeling one way or the other," said Bledsoe.
Asked if it was fair that Carroll might be the scapegoat, Bledsoe said, "Was it fair? Probably not, but nobody said life is fair. But I think he understood coming in that it was going to be difficult. I think he did a good job with this team and we just let him down on the field. We didn’t make the plays. I didn’t make the plays. That’s what it boiled down to."
Bledsoe surely will be a part of the organization for some time to come, with a contract extension in the works that should provide the team some salary cap relief. But one player who may not return is Lawyer Milloy, New England’s top unrestricted free agent, who will study reasons other than strictly money as to whether he should come back.
"I want to win," said Milloy. "That’s going to be the No. 1 thing that weighs into my decision. I’m a sore loser. I’m not the best of people to socialize with after I lose, or after a losing season. A whole lot of scenarios have to be right to be wherever I’m going to be. Even if I was making Ty Law’s money, if I feel like I feel right now ...”
Defensive end Willie McGinest, who made it through 16 games without injury after some injury-plagued campaigns, said of his relationship with Carroll, "I just wanted to play hard for the guy. I’ve played hard for all of my coaches. I don’t think we ever quit. It wasn’t the coaches that lost it for us. It was technique and execution by the players. Those guys don’t play for us. They can’t go out on the field and get it done. If we don’t go out on the field and execute, we can’t win."
Was it his most frustrating season?
"No," said McGinest. "Six and 10 . Remember that?"
The offense, minus wide receiver Terry Glenn, who was suspended for violating team rules, was held to 151 total net yards. The Patriots excelled on special teams, where Troy Brown continued to make a case for a big payday in free agency, returning a punt 52 yards and returning kickoffs 54 and 49 yards. Brown had 192 yards of offense and even threw an incomplete pass on a flea flicker.
Adam Vinatieri kicked field goals of 25 and 51 yards, both in the second quarter, after last week’s debacle against Buffalo in which he missed a 33-yarder that would have won it in regulation and also missed a 44-yarder in overtime.
The Patriots led, 13-3, at the half as Brown’s 52-yard punt return set up the offense at the Ravens 23. The score came on a 1-yard pass from Bledsoe to Mike Bartrum with 5:04 left in the second.
The only scoring of the second half was the Eaton fumble recovery and run. The defense played without its three top cornerbacks - Law (hand), Steve Israel (ankle), and Tebucky Jones (knee). The Patriots registered seven sacks, Johnson and Henry Thomas leading the way with two, while Milloy, McGinest, and Ferric Collons each had one.
As the players left the field, the usually hostile crowd near the tunnel seemed tame. Carroll slapped the hands of some of the fans. He was smiling and having fun. As he left, a large sign could be seen. It said: "Hey Bob, no re-Pete."