Sunday, December 27, 2009

Meriweather once again playing with instincts

Brandon Meriweather sat down last week with Patriots coach Bill Belichick and defensive backs coach Josh Boyer to get himself back on track.

Meriweather had started the season on a Pro Bowl-type pace. He earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after he intercepted two passes against Tampa Bay in London, and he even prompted former teammate Rodney Harrison to rank him with Denver's Brian Dawkins as the two best safeties in the AFC.

But the third-year safety had taken it on the chin in recent weeks, getting beat badly on deep passes against both New Orleans and Carolina. One missed read against the Saints gift-wrapped a 75-yard touchdown pass for Devery Henderson, and a bad break against the Panthers did the same for Steve Smith.

Meriweather even made a bad misplay at the end of the Patriots' loss to Buffalo, bouncing off wide receiver Josh Reed and allowing the Bills to turn a short pass into a drive-sustaining 29-yard gain. If the Bills hadn't botched their onside kick, the missed tackle might have cost the Patriots the game.

The series of errors had Meriweather thinking too much, re-evaluating too much, wondering too much if he was doing the right thing. That's what Belichick and Boyer had to get him to stop doing.

"They just told me to get back to the basics, to trust my instincts and to stop trying to go out of my element to make plays," he said.

Meriweather's instincts told him to get himself up to the line of scrimmage when rookie wide receiver Mike Thomas broke toward the middle of the field on a third-and-1 snap in the first quarter. Thomas took a handoff from quarterback David Garrard and tried to get around the edge, needing just a yard to move the chains -- but Meriweather drilled him, knocking him back short of the line.

"I just trusted my instincts," he said. "That's what I was lacking the last couple of weeks."

On Jacksonville's next possession, Meriweather hung deep to guard against the deep ball. Maurice Jones-Drew had just run for an 11-yard gain to get the Jaguars across midfield, and the time was right for Garrard to take a shot. Torry Holt ran a post route down the left sideline, and tight end Marcedes Lewis ran a post route down the middle of the field.

Meriweather split the distance between the two -- and when Garrard overthrew Lewis, the safety had no problem drifting over to pick off the pass.

It was his career-best fifth interception of the season. It also was the play that all but ended the game before the second quarter began, especially after his 56-yard interception return set up a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Chris Baker.

"I've told them: They need to put me at punt returner, man," Meriweather said with a wide grin. "We need to try some things, but I ain't going to say nothing about that. I think y'all should bring that up with Coach Bill."

It also was just the sort of play Meriweather had been making back before he'd started to allow his confidence to get shaken.

"You trust coaching," he said. "You trusting coaching, and you do exactly what you need to do to get by."

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