FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots have been abnormally fortunate from a health standpoint this season. Save for Rob Gronkowski, they should have every significant player healthy and ready to go for Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game against the Houston Texans.
But all it takes is one awkward fall, twisted ankle or overzealous hit to turn a backup into a starter, which is why Patriots coach Bill Belichick is requiring maximum focus from every player on his roster, active or not.
“Absolutely,” Belichick said Thursday morning. “Every player that’s on our roster, including the practice-squad players — and we’ve had guys in injured reserve, like (quarterback Jacoby Brissett), who wasn’t on the roster but could come back and did — absolutely, those guys are all important. And their role and their development is critical. They’ve been told that plenty of times. We spend a lot of time with those players.”
Even if the Patriots’ injury luck continues, they’ll still field several players Saturday who never have played in the playoffs. That includes young players like rookies Malcolm Mitchell and Joe Thuney and second-year pro Trey Flowers as well as previously unlucky veterans like Chris Long and Chris Hogan.
And since postseason game plans frequently are aimed at neutralizing a team’s top weapons, it’s not uncommon for players further down on the depth chart to make significant — and sometimes game-deciding — contributions.
“You never know which guy or when it’s going to be,” Belichick said. “You can go back and look at a lot of examples of players who have impacted our team that were in that role. So absolutely, we’ve talked about that ad nauseam. I’m sure they’re sick of hearing about it, but it’s the truth.”
As of Thursday morning, oddsmakers pegged the 14-2 Patriots as 16-point favorites over the 9-7 Texans, the largest postseason spread since 1998 and the fourth-largest in NFL playoff history. Belichick and his players are doing their best to ward off complacency.
“Every game is a do-or-die situation,” Belichick said. “There are no gimmes in this league.”
Thumbnail photo via Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports Images