Blindside Hit: New England Finds Replacement on D in Unheralded Brandon McGowan

Sean CroweSenior Writer ISeptember 30, 2009

FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 20:  Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots talks with Pat Chung #25 and Brandon McGowan #30 against the Cincinnati Bengals during their preseason game at Gillette Stadium on August 20, 2009 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

One of the questions everyone asked about the Patriots defense coming into this season was who would step up and replace the retired Rodney Harrison.

The list of candidates was plentiful.

Brandon Meriweather was the obvious choice. He’s morphed into one of the better players on the Patriots defense the last couple of seasons. He’s definitely a leader in the secondary. But he’s not the physical player Rodney Harrison was.

James Sanders was resigned in the offseason and immediately became a candidate to replace Rodney Harrison. Sanders is a solid player, but he’s not spectacular. He’s not a playmaker. He’s just another guy.

You can’t replace Harrison with just another guy.

When the Patriots drafted Pat Chung everyone hoped he’d be the one to step up. He’s a physical player, he’s fast, and he was a playmaker in college. He has everything you need to replace a Rodney Harrison, except real NFL experience. Chung hasn’t been able to get on the field with the regular defense.

So who would replace Rodney Harrison?

Brandon McGowan wasn’t even in the conversation. As a matter of fact, some Patriots writers (ahem) even had him off the team as late as the third preseason game.

But here we are, three weeks into the season, and McGowan might be the best player on a pretty good defensive team.

Not only did McGowan take on Tony Gonzalez for a large chunk of the game (and shut him down), but he also put a game changing, fumble inducing hit on Michael Turner in the second quarter.

“I wouldn’t have done it without my teammates,” McGowan told reporters in the locker room after the game. “They held those guys up at the line and gave me a free shot to hit the running back and that’s what I did.”

Bill Belichick had nothing but praise for his new safety.

“It seems like he does a good job for us every week in the kicking game and on defense,” Belichick said about McGowan. “He’s involved in a lot of plays, makes tackles and is a good coverage player and he did. He had a lot of responsibility on Gonzalez today.”

When the Patriots signed McGowan during the offseason, there was barely a headline in any of the local newspapers (we had a headline here, but it certainly didn't do him justice). Apparently, there should have been headlines. Big ones.

And they should have read: Patriots find replacement for retired Rodney Harrison.

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