They played the Broncos without Corey Dillon, Matt Light, Tyrone Poole, Troy Brown, Richard Seymour, Marquise Hill, Guss Scott and Kevin Faulk. Rookie James Sanders, filling in for Rodney Harrison and Scott, couldn't finish the game because of leg injury. In the backfield, Tom Brady was handing off to Patrick Pass and Amos Zereoue, who just joined the team. Arturo Freeman was signed last week and finished the game at safety.
The Patriots don't have enough healthy defensive linemen for a 4-3 or a 3-4. Vrabel played his first full game at inside linebacker -- ever. Linebackers Willie McGinest and Monty Beisel played the game wearing casts to protect broken bones in their hands.
Before the season, I thought the biggest losses the Patriots would feel would be Charlie Weiss and Romeo Crennel (under Weiss, Notre Dame's only losses have come in overtime against #22 Michigan State and in a barn burner against the reining champs, #1 USC). The Patriots' success has come as the result of smart coaching and the ability to plug holes and get adequate performances from replacement players.
After the win at Pittsburgh, everyone wanted to know when the raft of injuries would finally catch up to the Patriots. Well since then they got pasted by the Chargers, barely beat a Vick-less Falcons team, and then were dominated by a clearly superior Broncos squad. The injuries have caught up.
The way things are going, I would consider it a moral victory if the Pats can finish the season 8-8. The crazy thing is that could be enough to get into the playoffs. Consider the competition:
- The Bills are on a winning streak, but look who they've beat: Miami and the Jets. Plus, their coach is named Mike Mularkey.
- Although Miami beat two teams that beat the Pats (Denver, Carolina), they've also lost to the Jets and Buffalo. Their best player doesn't want to be playing.
- The Jets have a good program, but they've suffered losses arguably greater than the Patriots', losing not one but two quarterbacks.
The Pats have a much needed bye week coming up, and all their division games remaining. If they can get some guys back on the playing field, they might still be able to salvage a winning season and a playoff berth.