FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick sometimes has a funny way of managing players.
The Patriots acquired cornerback Eric Rowe in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles just days before their season opener against the Arizona Cardinals. He was a healthy scratch in Week 1, then hurt his ankle and sat out Weeks 2 and 3 because of injury. Rowe then was a healthy scratch in Weeks 4 and 5 before he finally was made active Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
His first assignment in a Patriots uniform: defend Bengals All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green.
“It’s a huge confidence-booster,” Rowe said Sunday after the Patriots’ 35-17 win. “It kind of reminded me of last year against Calvin (Johnson), and I had at least a pass breakup. Even if it was a little bit of a spotty game, it boost my confidence knowing I could play with these elite receivers like him and now A.J. Most importantly, it’s a confidence boost for the coaches. They can see I can get out there and play. So you know, I can get some more opportunities.”
Rowe definitely deserves more opportunities after personally holding Green to one catch for 9 yards on two targets in the second half. Rowe also let up a 1-yard catch to Bengals receiver James Wright.
Rowe’s best play came with 12:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton targeted Green while facing third-and-2 at the Patriots’ 7-yard line. Rowe followed Green into the end zone and batted the pass away, forcing a field goal.
“The key is you’ve got to get a jam on them,” Rowe said about his red-zone play. “I make sure each time I was lined up with him, get a hand on his chest because I don’t want a free release. That makes my down tougher. It’s then playing the ball in the air. Once I saw his eyes get big, I looked back for the ball. Then I turn into the receiver, too — no PI gets called on me. The main thing is just getting a hand on him.”
Rowe, who’s 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, will be valuable moving forward against tall receivers such as Green. Rowe and safety Duron Harmon are the Patriots’ only defensive backs over 6-feet. The Bengals had multiple receivers over 6-feet, which led to Rowe’s debut.
“That’s kind of what I’m best matched with, tall long guys like A.J. who like to run deep routes,” Rowe said. “I like to run, I can run with them. That kind of is a good fit for me.”
Rowe knew he’d cover Green entering the Week 6 matchup with the Bengals. It was only a matter of when.
“It was in the game plan this whole week of practice” Rowe said. “Whenever the coaches were ready to use it in the second half, they did. I came in knowing I was going to match with him.”
That wound up being in the second half. Green caught four passes on six targets for 56 yards in the first half and was held to two catches on four targets for 32 yards in the second half. That will boost any cornerback’s confidence.
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@Trags