FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ interior defensive line was in trouble when it lost defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to a season-ending Achilles injury, but it was in shambles once Tommy Kelly was placed on injured reserve.
Kelly was supposed to help fix the Patriots’ pass rush woes this season as he played defensive tackle next to Wilfork. But Kelly’s season ended abruptly in the Patriots’ Week 5 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, when he went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Kelly has been spotted periodically in the Patriots’ locker room this season since he was placed on injured reserve. He was at Gillette Stadium on Monday to pack his belongings with the rest of the Patriots. Kelly says he plans to return to the Patriots next season, but at 33 years old and on the books for $2,656,250 in 2014, the team might have other ideas.
“Oh yeah, that’s my play. That’s my play,” Kelly said. “Every day, just rehab, rehab, rehab.”
Kelly wouldn’t say how his knee is feeling or what his specific injury was, but he alluded to this season’s ailment being the same as the ACL tear he suffered in 2007 with the Oakland Raiders.
“To me, it’s all about how much you want it,” Kelly said about returning from injury in the twilight of his career. “If you want to keep playing — do what you gotta do. And plus, I done been through it before. This is my second one. So, it was a clean tear. I’ll be all right.”
Kelly signed with the Patriots in hopes of finally playing on a winning team. Through 10 years in the league, Kelly still has never participated in a playoff game. He said it was difficult to watch his team lose in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.
“It was hard to watch them because I know them,” Kelly said. “I hurt for them because I know how much work they put into it, and how hard our job is, how stressful it is. To get that close, you want to see them finish it out. I hurt for them.”
The Patriots will bring back defensive tackle Armond Armstead, who missed the entire season after surgery for an infection, next season. Rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones stepped up in Kelly’s absence, and third-year nose tackle Sealver Siliga became a star in place of Wilfork. The Patriots will have a crowded interior line to start the 2014 season. Follow @DougKyedNESN