EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New England Patriots’ motto last year was “Do Your Job.” This year, it’s becoming “Next Man Up.”
The Patriots probably would prefer the first man stay up from this point forward, however.
The Patriots already have lost left tackle Nate Solder and running back Dion Lewis to season-ending injuries, and now it appears the team will be lucky to have Julian Edelman back for the playoffs. The wide receiver on Sunday reportedly suffered a “Jones fracture” in his foot, which will keep him out for eight or nine weeks. Eight weeks would place Edelman’s comeback in the second round of the playoffs — perfect timing if the Patriots earn a first-round bye.
Edelman, outside of tight end Rob Gronkowski and quarterback Tom Brady, is the Patriots’ most important offensive player. He’s the heart of the unit, and he’s Brady’s safety valve on third down. The shifty, undersized wideout finds ways to get open against any cornerback, and once he has the ball in his hands, he’s dangerous after the catch.
Edelman was on pace for his best NFL season with 61 catches for 692 yards and seven touchdowns through nine games, but now that will be put on hold.
The Patriots have an obvious replacement in Danny Amendola, who caught 10 passes for 79 yards in a 27-26 last-second win over the New York Giants. He’s not quite as shifty as Edelman, and he doesn’t have quite the same rapport with Brady, but Amendola signed with the Patriots two seasons ago to be “the next Wes Welker.”
His first season was plagued with injuries, Edelman stepped up, and Amendola became the Patriots’ third receiver, but it’s obvious he has talent, and in his last 14 games, including the playoffs, he has 63 receptions for 627 yards with five touchdowns. Not too shabby for a receiver who’s sharing targets with Edelman, Gronkowski, Brandon LaFell and the Patriots’ pass-catching running backs.
Amendola was huge in the Patriots’ game-winning drive Sunday, when he caught three passes for 32 yards, including a fourth-down conversion as his team was staring down the barrel of defeat.
Amendola typically is the Patriots’ slot man, but now he’ll be forced to play outside more in two-receiver sets.
“Everybody has a role on this team,” Amendola said. “Everybody tries to make that role expand. Julian’s one of our best players. … He’ll be back. We’re prepared to adjust at all times.”
Either Keshawn Martin or Aaron Dobson will be forced to step up in the third receiver role, and the keys to the offense will be handed to Gronkowski, LaFell and Amendola to move the chains.
It’s not ideal for the Patriots, whose offense really was clicking to start the season before injuries overtook so many key players. Now the Patriots are left wondering how many more injuries they can suffer and still continue their impressive tear.
The Patriots now are without their best wide receiver, their best running back and their best offensive lineman for the regular season, and three more starting offensive linemen didn’t make the trip to face the Giants because of injuries. They need to start getting healthy and stop suffering new ailments, or else there’s concern this could be a lost season for the currently undefeated Patriots.
Thumbnail photo via Jim O’Connor/USA TODAY Sports Images