In a way, the Patriots’ embarrassing 38-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys felt like rock bottom for Bill Belichick’s club.

But that term suggests things won’t get worse for New England. And after losing two integral pieces of their defense, they very well could.

The injuries suffered by Pro Bowl edge rusher Matthew Judon (torn biceps tendon) and impressive rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez (dislocated shoulder) during Sunday’s loss are expected to sideline both players “indefinitely,” according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

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Their exact recovery timetables remained unclear as of Monday evening, but it certainly sounds like the Patriots will be without two of their best and most important defensive players for the foreseeable future.

Judon has the fourth-most sacks in the NFL since joining the Patriots in 2021. He’s the only true star on New England’s roster and the engine of its defense.

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Gonzalez isn’t nearly as established, but his career is off to a phenomenal start. The first-round draft pick navigated a gauntlet of top-tier receivers to earn NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for September and help the Patriots’ defense survive injuries that sidelined fellow corners Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones and Marcus Jones for multiple weeks.

Neither player will be easy to replace. But doing so will be imperative if the Patriots, who rank 31st in the NFL in scoring through four weeks, hope to be at all relevant in the AFC playoff race.

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Here’s a closer look at how the Patriots can fill these two massive voids:

Christian Gonzalez
If the Patriots can get Jonathan Jones and Jack Jones back in time for Sunday’s Week 5 matchup with the New Orleans Saints, they’ll be in pretty good shape. The former is New England’s No. 2 cornerback behind Gonzalez, and the latter showed flashes of Pro Bowl potential until an injury and off-the-field issues derailed his rookie season.

But while Jack Jones now is eligible to return from injured reserve, multiple reports indicated he might need a few more weeks to recover from his hamstring issue. And we still don’t know what’s up with Jonathan Jones, who’s now missed three straight games with a lingering ankle ailment.

The Patriots’ longest-tenured defensive back also missed a large chunk of training camp with an undisclosed injury. He played 80% of snaps in Week 1 but hasn’t seen game action since, though he has been able to practice in a limited capacity.

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Marcus Jones is required to miss at least three more games, and the Patriots’ comments about his injury suggest he’s looking at a long layoff.

The Patriots were down to their fifth- and sixth-string outside cornerbacks Sunday in Myles Bryant, a 5-foot-9 slot/safety who’s been playing out of position, and Shaun Wade, who’s been a healthy scratch for most of his three seasons with the Patriots. One hundred of Wade’s 143 career snaps came in the last two games.

Next up on the depth chart likely would be Jalen Mills. He’s been playing safety since the spring but started 26 games at cornerback for New England in 2021 and ’22. Mills and rookie safety/linebacker Marte Mapu handled the majority of slot duties against Dallas after Gonzalez went down.

The Patriots also have sixth-round rookie corner Ameer Speed on their roster, but they’ve viewed him as purely a special teams player thus far. That they didn’t give the rangy Michigan State product any defensive snaps after Gonzalez’s injury was telling.

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Practice squadders Breon Borders and Azizi Hearn round out New England’s internal cornerback depth. If they want to pursue external options, available free agents include Greedy Williams, Bryce Callahan, Casey Hayward and Bradley Roby.

Matthew Judon
Defensive end and co-captain Deatrich Wise called Judon’s injury — which very well could wipe out the rest of his season — “devastating” for the Patriots’ defense. He’s a cut above every other New England edge rusher and the most feared member of that front seven.

Fourth-year linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings are likely to take on more prominent roles in Judon’s absence, but both are limited players, specializing in pass rush and run defense, respectively. Jennings was a healthy scratch for the first two games this season before returning to the lineup for the last two.

The Patriots also could and should lean more on intimidating second-round rookie Keion White. A lot of his snaps this season have come as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive lineman, but losing Judon could prompt New England to deploy him more as a stand-up outside ‘backer.

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You won’t find many 6-foot-5, 285-pound defenders who are as fast as White, and the no-nonsense Georgia Tech product has shown game-wrecking potential in spurts this season. Among the highlights: the play against the Jets where he rushed off the edge and ran through three New York blockers to pressure Zach Wilson and force a near-interception.

Linebacker Jahlani Tavai splits his snaps between off- and on-ball alignments, so expect to see him play plenty on the edge, too. Ja’Whaun Bentley also plays there on occasion, though he primarily is an inside ‘backer.

If the Patriots seek outside help to bolster this group, the list of free agent edge rushers includes Melvin Ingram, Robert Quinn, Tarell Basham, Takkarist McKinley, Taco Charlton, Jordan Willis and Wyatt Ray.

Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images