FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Rodney Harrison’s shoulder blade caused little pain when he returned from missing six games because it was broken. His left knee that sidelined him most of last season felt better than it did two months ago.

And his mouth is as healthy as ever.

The New England Patriots’ trash-talking safety played in last Sunday’s 24-21 win at Jacksonville and went at Jaguars’ wide receivers verbally and physically.

“I guess that’s normal Rodney,” Harrison said. “I feel like a kid. I’m enjoying it. I’m having fun. I still have the passion.”

“The kid” turned 34 two weeks ago. He is the Patriots’ third-oldest player behind 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde and 35-year-old Troy Brown. But after two serious injuries in consecutive seasons, he has no intention of fading quietly into retirement.

There are plenty of hard hits coming from a player who was fined for some of them during his 13 NFL seasons, the first nine with the San Diego Chargers.

“I definitely want to continue to play,” said Harrison, who is signed through next season. “I know that’s a question of once you start getting a little older (and) you have a couple of injuries.”

Neither injury, though, appeared a result of his age. He noted that Washington cornerback Shawn Springs broke his shoulder blade last Sunday and is 31.

“Things like that happen,” Harrison said. “You definitely know you have a bright future, but I’m not done playing football yet. I’m excited about it.”

He was excited Sunday when he recovered quarterback David Garrard’s fumble with 1:46 left to clinch the victory. That kept the Jaguars from coming up with another big play – they already had scored touchdowns covering 74 and 33 yards – that might win the game.

“He’s a boost for everybody on defense,” said Artrell Hawkins, who started for Harrison late last season and in the playoffs. “He provides a morale boost whether he’s making a big hit or pushing somebody’s face mask into the ground. It kind of gets you motivated to go out and give it that little extra oomph that it takes to win in this league.”

Last year, Harrison tore three ligaments in his left knee at Pittsburgh in the third game and missed the rest of the season. He started the first eight games this season, then broke his right shoulder blade in a 27-20 loss to Indianapolis when wide receiver Marvin Harrison fell on his arm.

This year’s recovery was much easier. His knee also improved because he didn’t have to play on it for six weeks.

“I really didn’t have to endure what I endured with the knee,” Harrison said. “That was a nine, 10-month process whereas the shoulder was six weeks. It was frustrating because I felt like I was finally coming around, playing well, and all of a sudden you have another setback. But that’s what life is about: setbacks. It’s all about how you bounce back from them.”

The Patriots avoided another potentially serious injury last Sunday when Jacksonville linebacker Clint Ingram drove his helmet into the back of Tom Brady as the quarterback was running 7 yards for a first down. Brady returned after missing one play and is probable (right shoulder) for Sunday’s game at Tennessee.

That’s the same designation he’s had all season. But for the first time in 2006, he missed parts of practices on Wednesday and Thursday. Brady has said he’s eager to play Sunday, when the Patriots could move up one spot and be seeded third in the AFC playoffs if they win and Indianapolis loses to Miami.

New England also would set a team record of fewest points allowed per game if it gives up fewer than 24. The 2003 team set the current record of 14.88, a total of 238 points. This year’s team has allowed an average of 14.27 and a total of 214.

But Tennessee has scored at least 24 points in eight of its last 10 games.

“It would mean more to win the game,” Hawkins said.

Harrison gives them a better chance to do that.

“I’m just happy to be back and try to provide some type of spark,” he said.

AP-ES-12-28-06 1743EST

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