Earthwind lights Patriots' fire

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:09 AM ET

Other than possessing a name that's hard to forget, there isn't a whole lot memorable about Earthwind Moreland's NFL career.

Since graduating from Georgia Southern in 2000, he has been on the roster of seven different NFL teams and before last month had dressed for just three games.

He was even a training camp cut of the Montreal Alouettes in the summer of 2003 and had a stint with the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe.

So what did New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick see in the young man named after his mom's favourite group (Earth Wind and Fire, of course) that Als coach Don Matthews did not?

It was the kind of move the Patriots have become famous for as Belichick and player personnel guru Scott Pioli have made the rigid NFL salary cap their friend.

The biggest stars -- the Tom Bradys, Tedy Bruschis and Corey Dillons -- will get their money to make sure the team has the big-play performers. But to be successful, the Patriots feel they have to build depth from the bargain basement.

Enter Moreland, a cornerback who has seen significant playing time in the last four Patriots win. In all likelihood, when injured defensive backs Ty Law and Tyrone Poole return to active duty, the unheralded pro will return to the bench. For a kid who needed an opportunity though, the work stint since he was activated on Nov. 6 has already paid off.

Moreland is valuable to the Patriots because he fits into the plan. So does Randall Gay, an undrafted free agent from the NCAA champion LSU Tigers, who has played a similar role in the defensive backfield.

They are the types of players Pioli and Belichick continually bolster the roster with, guys that can be coached up and are willing to buy into the overall team concept.

"I look at is and I see Randall Gay playing corner and Don Davis playing safety ... we really play as a team," veteran linebacker Bruschi said following Sunday's game. "That's what I love.

"You don't have to be an all-star on this team. Everybody in this locker room is a good football player."

COULDA, SHOULDA:

With each win the suddenly impressive Buffalo Bills put up, the more two losses stick out as season killers.

After their demolition of the Seahawks on Sunday, Buffalo has won five of its past six to keep alive extremely slim playoff hopes in the excruciating AFC.

But losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens -- two teams in the wild-card hunt -- will in all likelihood be the death of a miracle comeback from an 0-4 start.

Don't be surprised if the Bills continue their solid run, however. The next four opponents -- Miami, Cleveland, Cincinnati and San Francisco -- have a combined record of 11-33.

The Bills' final game of the season should mean something, too. Coach Mike Mularkey will face his former team, Pittsburgh, in a game the Steelers may need to wrap up the top seed in the AFC.

MOANING MARINO:

He had half a smile on his face when he said it, but Dan Marino couldn't resist a dig at Peyton Manning when the two appeared together on the CBS pre-game show set on Sunday.

A classless Marino caught Manning by surprise when he pointed out that four of the touchdown passes the Colts quarterback has thrown this season have been from the one-yard line. Makes you hope Manning doesn't just pass Marino's record of 48 TD passes, but that he smashes it.

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SNAP JUDGMENTS

ROB LONGLEY LOOKS AT THE WINNERS AND LOSERS OF WEEK 12

BILLS (5-6): If they were in the NFC, they'd be favourites to grab a wildcard playoff spot.

EAGLES (10-1): Clinching a playoff spot early gives them plenty of time to prepare.

PATRIOTS (10-1): Offence, defence ... they humble all comers and are hitting their stride.

GIANTS (5-6): Eli Manning had as many completions (six) as his brother's TD passes.

BRONCOS (7-3): The snowjob loss to the Raiders could hurt their playoff hopes.

JAGUARS (6-5): Those miracle wins early on were nice, but the magic has worn off.


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