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Patriots vs. Panthers injury analysis: New England’s running back depth takes some big hits in Week 9

Related: Patriots vs. Panthers snap count report: New England running backs dominate in 24-6 win

New England Patriots Vs. Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Winning three games in a row and improving to 5-4 on the year, the New England Patriots are in a good position halfway through the regular season. Still there are some concerns coming out of Week 9: not only did their offense play some sloppy football early on against the Carolina Panthers, the team also saw multiple players go down due to injury.

Let’s take a closer look at who got hurt, and what it might mean in the grand scheme of things.

Injury analysis

WR Gunner Olszewski: After gaining an average of 17.5 yards on his first two punt returns of the day, Olszewski ran a kickoff back 30 yards in the early second quarter. That runback was a costly one, however: the third-year man was hit hard on the play and slow to get up. Olszewski was later announced as questionable to return to the game due to a head injury; a short time later he was ruled out for the remainder of the contest.

WR Matthew Slater: Working in his usual role as a gunner, Slater was among the first down the field to stop the Panthers’ Alex Erickson on a punt return early in the third period. However, the team captain remained on the ground after getting hit in the back by teammate Jamie Collins. Crisis was averted, though, as Slater walked off under his own power and eventually finished the game tied for the team-lead in special teams snaps.

RB Rhamondre Stevenson: Stevenson remained down following an 11-yard gain in the early fourth quarter. The rookie, who was in the middle of his best game as a pro so far, hit his head hard on the turf while being tackled to the ground; he did jog off under his own power but went straight to the blue medical tent. Stevenson later left for the locker room and was announced as questionable to return due to a head injury. He did not take the field again.

TE Jonnu Smith: On the very next play after J.C. Jackson’s second interception, Smith was on the field as a blocker. However, the high-priced free agency addition appeared to tweak his shoulder on the play: he waved to the Patriots’ training staff and was later announced as questionable to return to the contest due to a shoulder issue. He never returned, but did remain on the sideline.

RB Damien Harris: New England’s number one running back remained on the ground for an extended period of time after taking a hard hit on a run play. Patriots head train Jim Whalen and team physician Dr. Mark Price tended to the 24-year-old. While he was able to walk off under his own power and was not immediately ruled out of the contest, Harris did not return due to the head injury suffered on the collision.

What this means for the Patriots

While the injuries suffered by Matthew Slater and Jonnu Smith do not appear to be serious, the other three will be worth keeping a close eye on over the coming days: Gunner Olszewski, Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris all suffered head injuries, which means that there is a chance they might find themselves in the NFL’s concussion protocol this week.

It remains to be seen whether that will indeed happen, but New England’s depth is still being tested by the injuries. On Sunday, the team turned to Jakobi Meyers and Stevenson as its punt and kickoff returners, respectively, in place of Gunner Olszewski.

At running back, Brandon Bolden finished the game as the only healthy option available. The veteran could be in line for more action this week, while second-year man J.J. Taylor — a healthy scratch against Carolina — is also offering additional depth behind him. If Harris and Stevenson are uncertain to play against the Cleveland Browns this week, however, New England might decide to bring in more running back depth via its practice squad.

“You never want to see anyone get dinged up or hurt. We’ll see how they go through the week but they’re tough as nails. They’re big assets to the football team,” said center David Andrews about the two after the game.

New England’s first injury report of the week will be released on Wednesday, and it should give us more clarity about Harris, Stevenson and Olszewski as well as any other injury situations.