There’s no good time for a player to suffer an injury. But for Cole Strange, the timing is especially brutal.

Strange was carted off the field during the first half of Sunday’s home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs due to a knee injury. The Patriots guard quickly was ruled out for the rest of the game, an ominous sign. There wasn’t any update on Strange’s condition as of early Monday afternoon, but it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll miss the rest of the season and have his offseason training negatively impacted.

A first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Strange has been under the microscope since arriving in New England. And for a season and a half, he didn’t live up to the billing and battled multiple injuries.

But the 25-year-old was turning a corner before suffering his injury, a point Bill Belichick made Monday morning.

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“Yeah, a lot,” Belichick said when asked how much improvement he’d seen from Strange. “The more he’s been able to stay on the field, the better he’s gotten. I think he’s played better through the more recent weeks of the season. He missed quite a bit of time there early in the year in training camp, which slowed him down. But, I think he’s been playing his best football lately.”

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The eye test and numbers back up Belichick’s claim.

Strange was paying with far more confidence than he’d shown earlier in his career. He also was holding up better against larger defensive linemen, especially in pass protection.

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If you’re into Pro Football Focus grades, three of Strange’s five best single-game PFF grades came in Weeks 10, 12 and 13. His grade against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14 also ranks as one of his best.

The Patriots only can hope that Strange’s injury isn’t a long-term issue and won’t hurt his development. Either way, it looks like rookie Atonio Mafi will be thrust into a starting role for this Sunday’s road game against the Denver Broncos.

Whenever Strange returns, he’ll look to pick up from where he left off, which was the finest stretch of play in his young career.

Featured image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images