FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots gave themselves a nifty Christmas present as they prepared for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the New York Jets.
Coach Bill Belichick spent his Wednesday media conference not answering a series of questions about the 39-year-old linebacker, just released by the Pittsburgh Steelers before signing with the Patriots — possibly weeks before New England (12-3) could be playing the Steelers for the AFC title.
“Well, we’re playing the Jets this week,” Belichick said. “I don’t really know what that has to do with it. Maybe I’m missing something. I don’t know.”
Asked to sum up Harrison’s career, the coach just said, “Good.”
Harrison, after agreeing to join the Patriots, sent out an Instragram picture showing him and his new favorite quarterback, with the words, “Finally … A teammate that’s older than me tombrady Gillette Stadium.”
Whether Harrison has much left in the tank won’t be known until Sunday at the earliest. But the thought of his knowledge heading into a Patriots’ rematch with the Steelers could be very helpful to his new team.
Later, on a conference call with the New York media, Belichick was asked again about Harrison.
“Yeah, we signed him yesterday,” he said
The follow-up asked him why Harrison was signed and what he might add.
“Yeah, we’ll see. I don’t know,” Belichick said. “We haven’t practiced with him yet. We’ll get out there this week and see how it goes. I’m not really sure how it’s going to go.”
Ben Roethlisberger, Harrison’s former favorite quarterback, was “shocked” when the Steelers let Harrison go, but was OK with him signing with the AFC perennial power.
“James has to do what James has to do,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s not like he called and asked me if he should or not. James was out there — he’s a free agent, he has to do what’s best for him and his family. I wish him the best. I’ve had a lot of good years with him.”
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said Harrison “erased his legacy” and insisted Harrison asked for his release to make $59,000 with New England.
The Patriots have won 10 of their last 11 games, one of those wins over the Jets, as they head into what should be the clinching of home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. New England is more than a two-touchdown favorite to end its season at 13-3 and drop the Jets to 5-11.
A loss by the Patriots would open the door for the Steelers to claim the top overall seed.
Dion Lewis, who ran for a career-high 129 yards and scored one touchdown on the ground and another on a screen pass, was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week — a week after Rob Gronkowski earned the same honor for his dismantling of the Steelers that all but wrapped up the top AFC seed.
Lewis had his big game and Mike Gillislee was brought back from six weeks of oblivion to score a touchdown — with Rex Burkhead and James White out with injuries.
White was back in “limited participation” but Gillislee was out with a knee problem Wednesday. Brady was missing for what is likely his usual maintenance day, but was listed as having left shoulder and Achilles woes.
These teams played Oct. 15 at the Meadowlands, the Patriots winning 24-17 as Brady set the record for regular-season wins by a quarterback — and New England surviving the first of what so far has been three controversial calls that took touchdowns away from the opposition.
Josh McCown was the quarterback for the Jets that day, but he’s gone for the year with a broken hand and Bryce Petty has played the last two games, both losses.
“Impressive. Big guy, has a good arm, has good mechanics,” Belichick said of Petty. “Athletic, kind of like McCown, has ability to get out of the pocket and extend plays, can run for first-down yardage.
“I thought he handled himself well the last couple weeks. I think he has good awareness of the protections and the coverages.”
Petty is 34 of 67 for 298 yards one touchdown and three interceptions in his two games since taking over for McCown.
“He’s growing every week,” New York coach Todd Bowles said Wednesday. “There’s some throws we’d like to have back and for him to set his feet a little more quicker and not rush his throws a little bit, but from a mental standpoint he’s been in both games, he knows where to go with the ball and he’s growing. We look for him to take a step each week so we look for him to get better this week.”
There’s also a chance Christian Hackenburg, a second-round pick in 2016, will make his NFL debut Sunday after watching for almost two complete seasons. He reportedly took his first snaps with the first team Wednesday
“We’ll see,” Bowles said. “I’ll decide during the game if I want to play him or not.”
Hackenburg will be active for only the third time in his 32-game stay in the NFL.
The Jets have lost three straight and five of their last six.
A loss Sunday would give the Jets their second straight 5-11 season, in Bowles’ second and third years at the helm. His future appears to be up in the air and there has been talk of the Arizona Cardinals wanting him if Bruce Arians retires.