FOXBORO, Mass. — Past achievements earn you little on Bill Belichick-coached teams. Jabaal Sheard is the latest example of that.
After posting a career-high eight sacks last season and starting the first eight games of this season for the New England Patriots, Sheard found himself buried on the defensive end depth chart Sunday night.
He played just 16 defensive snaps (23 percent) in New England’s 31-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, tied for the second-fewest among all Patriots who saw action on defense. Only Nate Ebner, a core special teamer who played two snaps at safety, was on the field for fewer.
Sheard’s loss was Trey Flowers’ gain. The second-year pro started in Sheard’s usual spot opposite Rob Ninkovich and played a career-high 61 defensive snaps (87 percent) in the loss.
After the game, Belichick was blunt in his explanation for Flowers’ increased playing time.
“There’s really no difference for any players on the team,” the Patriots coach said. “Everybody earns their playing time. Players that play the best earn the playing time. If they play better than another player, then they play more than the other player. If another player plays better than them, then they play less than the other guy. You earn your opportunities. You earn your playing time. That’s the way it is.”
Flowers made the most of his first NFL start, sacking Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson twice to go along with three tackles. The 2015 fourth-round draft pick now leads all Patriots defenders in sacks this season with four all of which have come in the last two games.
“He’s played competitively for us all year,” Belichick said.
Ninkovich also contributed his first sack of the season in the losing effort, but Wilson carved up the Patriots’ defense throughout the night, completing 25 of 37 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions.
“He’s able to make plays with his legs and get guys to move around to make plays down the field,” Flowers said. “We knew that coming in, so we really tried to force that and practice that. But he’s a playmaker, so I have to give it to him.”
Sheard, New England’s sack leader entering Sunday with 3 1/2, finished the game without a tackle or a sack.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images