Look no further than the sheer volume of players on the New England Patriots’ injury report to see why they might be the most banged-up team in football right now. A total of 20 players were listed on both Wednesday and Thursday, making for the highest such count since the 2020 campaign.
Four of those players — TE Hunter Henry, G Riley Reiff, LB Keion White, LB Josh Uche — were unable to participate at all. Their absences combined with other injuries suffered over the course of the season so far have played a major part in the Patriots’ 1-5 start.
And while some players such as wide receiver Tyquan Thornton have successfully returned from their ailments, the sheer volume of players that are dealing with something is putting pressure on a roster that already is not among the most talented in football. Regardless of who the next men up are, the Patriots are calling on them to contribute now.
“Next man up. Everyone deals with injuries. It sucks, but it happens throughout the league,” said safety Jabrill Peppers, who himself is currently nursing a knee issue.
“Some are worse than others, some teams have more injuries than others. But you’re still expected to perform. The standard doesn’t change, expectation doesn’t change. Everyone has to prepare like they’re going to be the guy out there. Everyone does. Don’t miss a beat. Try to go out there in line to execute, and do what you got to do.”
Not all position have been hit equally hard by the team’s injury woes.
The cornerback group, for example, was without four of its nominal top five players at one point. And while some have been able to return to practice at least (Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones), others remain sidelined (Marcus Jones) or are expected to miss the rest of the season altogether (Christian Gonzalez).
The offensive line is another area of concern. The Patriots’ two starting guards, Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu, have played only 313 of a combined 790 total offensive snaps between them; the right tackle position continues to be a major question mark; and left tackle Trent Brown also had to sit out one game earlier in the year.
“You’re going to have injuries. You’re going to have people that get hurt. That’s just the nature of this game. There’s a 100 percent injury ratio among this game,” said defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, one of the 35 healthy players on New England’s roster. “It’s one of those things where it’s next man up.”
For Guy, who joined the NFL as a low-level draft pick, there is a silver lining in injuries: they give other players opportunities to showcase themselves they otherwise might not have gotten.
“We always talk about the next man up, the opportunity for another person to play,” he continued. “You have to take that as it is. When I was younger all I wanted was the opportunity. I think everybody that’s drafted, that comes here through free agency, gets picked up, gets traded here, regardless what it is, they just want the opportunity to play. There’s going to be some growing bumps here or there, but the opportunity to go out there and play is the best thing about it.
“When you look at, ‘Hey, we got injured people here. We got people on IR’ — I never looked at it and was like, ‘Man, that sucks.’ I was like, ‘OK, now somebody has the opportunity to step up, to go out there and show what they got; they can start their legacy in this game.’ The NFL is not a long career, and we all know that. So, when you get that chance to go out there and play is a wonderful thing.”
The Patriots so far this season have provided plenty of opportunity for such unheralded players. Whether it is rookie offensive linemen Atonio Mafi and Sidy Sow seeing extensive action with the starting unit, Anfernee Jennings becoming a prominent part of the edge rotation, or Jeremiah Pharms Jr. getting elevated from the practice squad in back-to-back weeks, New England is counting on its depth.
Given the natural drop-off in quality between starters and backups, the results have been mixed. But the team is trying its best to support those asked to step up in light of an injury higher up on the depth chart.
“That’s one of those things where we kind of just rally around the guys that are hurt to make sure they’re back on the field or keep their minds sharp,” team captain Deatrich Wise Jr. explained. “And then guys who are behind those guys, just prepare them so that they’re ready to move up.”
Based on the last two injury reports, the Patriots might ask a lot of people to move up for the upcoming game against the Buffalo Bills. As Jabrill Peppers noted, however, the injury report is not necessarily an accurate reflection of what game day reality will look like.
“It just matters who makes it to the game Sunday, so I don’t really care about the injury report,” he said. “Some guys are nicked up, some guys have a little thing that they deal with. But as long as you’re ready to roll Sunday, or whenever the game is, that’s all that matters.”