Knee injury sidelines Pats’ Harrison

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – All the Patriots were back at practice Wednesday except for one important player. Not having Rodney Harrison there is becoming painfully familiar.

Even worse for New England, it won’t have its hard-hitting safety for Sunday’s wild-card playoff game against the New York Jets.

“It’s always a big blow for a guy like that that brings so much intensity and leadership to the team,” cornerback Asante Samuel said, “but coaches do a great job preparing the backups to be ready.”

They’ve had to, at least at Harrison’s position.

He missed the last 15 games last season, including both playoff contests, after tearing three ligaments in his left knee. He was back in time to start the first eight games this season, then missed the next six with a broken right shoulder blade.

He returned for the next to last regular-season game and made three tackles in a 24-21 win at Jacksonville.

“That’s what life is about: setbacks,” he said three days later. “It’s all about how you bounce back from them.”

Just four days after that, in a 40-23 win at Tennessee, Harrison’s philosophy would be tested again. Running toward Titans ball carrier Travis Henry in the second quarter, Harrison was blocked on the right leg by wide receiver Bobby Wade. Henry ran 9 yards for a first down and Harrison fell, pounding his hand on the ground. He hurt his medial collateral ligament.

Coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday Harrison won’t play Sunday, but there was no word on whether he’d be available if the Patriots advance or whether he’d miss the playoffs for the second straight year.

“He put a lot of work in and he deserves to experience this,” linebacker Mike Vrabel said, “but he’ll get back and he’ll be better. Knowing Rodney, however long it’s going to be, just cut (his recovery time) in half.”

Several Patriots were incensed at Wade’s low hit. But Mike Pereira, the league’s director of officiating, said the block was not illegal because Wade was blocking upfield and not back toward the ball, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Belichick avoided being drawn into the controversy.

“We’re on to the Jets,” he said Wednesday. “We’re done with Tennessee.”

Second-year safety James Sanders, who started the six games Harrison missed this year, probably will start again. Artrell Hawkins, the primary starter when Harrison was sidelined last season, has started 12 games this year with Eugene Wilson, the other first-stringer, having missed all but four games and being placed on injured reserve. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork and tight end Ben Watson practiced Wednesday after being sidelined the last three games. So did running back Kevin Faulk, who missed last Sunday’s game after hurting his knee two weeks earlier in a 40-7 win over Houston. All three were listed as questionable for the game, meaning there’s a 50-50 chance they’ll play.

“I’m going day-to-day,” said Faulk, who hurt his knee. “I’m working hard to get back out there.”

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