FOXBORO, Mass. — The hits just kept on coming for the New England Patriots, even in Week 17.
Guard Logan Mankins (ankle), wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot), linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee) and cornerback Kyle Arrington (knee, groin, hamstring) all limped off the field at different points of the Patriots’ 34-20 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Mankins and Arrington were lucky enough to return to the field nicked up, but Dobson and Spikes stayed out.
For all four of those players, plus cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee, shoulder), safety Devin McCourty (concussion), wide receiver Josh Boyce (ankle) and countless others who are dealing with injuries and ailments, the first-round playoff bye is a life-saver. The week off probably won’t get any of those players up to 100 percent health — no NFL players can say they’re at that level by the end of the season — but it’s a break for this team that desperately needs one.
“It’s huge just to have that week there when you can get back and it definitely helps your team as far as getting as healthy as possible,” said defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who has a knee injury. “Again, we’re happy that we were able to get the win and give ourselves a little time here to recover.”
It’s a break in time and also a break in fortune. Every team deals with injuries, but few teams in NFL history have dealt with so many injuries to elite-level talent and still come out on top.
It’s incredible that this New England team wound up 12-4 with all the injuries it suffered, both season-ending and not. The ailments were unlucky, but the success had little to do with luck.
“I’m happy for them. They definitely earned it,” head coach Bill Belichick said. “Nobody gave them anything. They had to go out and earn it. Won 12 games, and a lot of them were very tough and competitive and came down to the wire. This team earned it, I’m happy for them.”
Arrington summed up the season with one word: resilient. Ninkovich said this is the most mentally tough team he has been on.
The Patriots might not be at full health in body, but they are in mind. Many teams — and this includes Patriots teams of the past few years — would have crumbled at some point in the season. But the Patriots withstood daunting halftime deficits to the Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos and Cleveland Broncos. And overcame them all.
“It’s good for everybody,” Arrington said about getting the No. 2 seed in the AFC. “Get some guys back who are banged up, get some other guys revitalized, whatever the case is. Just be very rewarding. This team goes out here and plays these type of 60-minute games, we play for each other. I couldn’t be happier around a great group of guys.”
New England won’t be getting back the four All-Pros it lost to season-ending injuries, but in the two weeks before the next game, the Patriots could see some key starters return and play at nearly full health for the first time in weeks. It’s scary that this team will only get better before it plays again.