But did his return come too late? At 7-5 the Patriots are a game out of the final AFC wildcard spot, and they don't stack up well in tiebreakers against the Bills and the Dolphins, the 8-4 teams they are trying to catch. Plus, New England has already lost to another 7-5 team, the Chiefs.
Next up for the Patriots is a road game with the high-powered Colts, not a good matchup for a struggling New England offense that can't walk and chew gum at the same time. "We lose one more game," said New England cornerback Ty Law, "and we'll have all off-season to think about what went wrong."
Bruce Matttiews's Record
Titans Guard Not Done Yet
Titans guard Bruce Matthews likes to get a game of tape-ball going in the locker room of the team's spacious new practice facility. He'll pitch a ball of athletic tape to his broomstick-swinging offensive linemates, not satisfied until he blows a fastball past a batter or breaks off a nasty curve. Keeps him young, he says.
On Sunday against the Ravens, the 38-year-old Matthews, who has played all five line positions in a 17-year career, broke former Ram Jackie Slater's NFL record for most games played by an offensive lineman, appearing in his 260th. "You can't be Satchel Paige in this game," says Bucs director of player personnel Jerry Angelo, "but Matthews is about as close as you can come."
Perhaps genetics has something to do with it. Matthews's brother Clay played 19 years at linebacker, mostly for the Browns, before retiring after the 1993 season. "I work out and I don't eat bad," says Bruce, "but I'm not a workout or nutrition freak. I've just been blessed with a body that can take a pounding."
Since breaking into the Oilers' starting lineup as a rookie guard in 1983, Matthews has missed only eight games, the result of a holdout in '87 Matthews's durability and athleticism have enabled him to thrive even in an era when a lineman maybe asked to block a nosetackle on one play and a blitzing safety on the next. And what about his plans for the future? "The good Lord willing," he says, "I'll be back next year."
Sharpe's Denver Days Numbered
Though the Broncos say they will try hard to keep him, look for tight end Shannon Sharpe to sign elsewhere in the off-season. The 31-year-old Sharpe, out since breaking his collarbone on Oct. 10, thinks he has a couple of great years left. He could land in Seat-tie, where Mike Holmgren needs a receiving tight end.... Take this to the bank: The Cowboys won't allow wideout Michael Irvin, placed on injured reserve last Saturday with a narrowing of the spinal column, to play for them again. This is a permanent condition, not something that gets better with treatment.... Of all the crazy numbers in the NFL, the craziest might be that Cleveland has more touchdown passes (14) than Denver (11).