By Gregory Hunt
This week, the New England Patriots listed 21 names on their injury report, making it the largest report of the season, but it seems unlikely that any of those players will miss Sunday’s AFC Championship Game due to injury because all of them have been participating in practice this week. In fact, all 62 New England players currently on the active roster or the practice squad took part in practice on Thursday and Friday. It’s the first the Patriots have seen perfect attendance at practice since December 11.
The Patriots will need every available player in order to beat the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday. Not only do the Broncos have the top defense in the NFL, but they also have Peyton Manning back at quarterback after he missed six regular season games with a partially torn plantar fascia.
However, one New England player that will not play in that game is linebacker Jerod Mayo, who was placed on the injured reserve list after suffering a shoulder injury during last week’s 27-20 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium. It’s the third year in a row that Mayo’s season has been ended by an injury.
“I feel bad for Jerod,” said head coach Bill Belichick earlier this week. “Nobody’s worked harder than he has, and I know how disappointed he is and we all are. And I personally am because I’ve seen the hard work that he’s put in, so it’s very unfortunate.” Belichick had not filled Mayo’s spot on the active roster as of Friday morning, but expect Jamie Collins (back), Jonathan Freeny (hand), and Dont’a Hightower (knee) to be New England’s starting linebackers despite their injuries. A banged-up Darius Fleming (back/shin) should also see action at linebacker.
Safety Devin McCourty, a teammate of Mayo for the past six seasons, said, “Mayo is kind of the heart and soul of not just the defense, but really the team. He gets everybody going. Being able to watch him, he’s a special leader. Energy level is always high. No matter if it’s 6:30 in the morning and the training room is packed with treatments and guys are trying to get healthy. He’s usually in there getting guys going.”
McCourty is dealing with an injury of his own. He suffered a late-season ankle injury that kept him out of New England’s 20-10 loss in Week 17 to the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium, but he returned to the field for the Chiefs game and recorded five tackles and one pass defense. With a foot injury, fellow stating safety Patrick Chung also missed the Dolphins game, but came back to play against the Chiefs.
The blind side of quarterback Tom Brady should be well-protected as long as the ankle of left tackle Sebastian Vollmer holds up. He and the rest of the New England offensive line did not allow a sack against the Chiefs. Left guard Josh Kline (shoulder) and center Bryan Stork (ankle) also played against the Chiefs and will likely start against the Broncos.
Brady’s favorite targets, wide receiver Julian Edelman (foot) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee/back), have both been limited participants at practice, but both of them should be good to go against Denver. Gronkowski’s back injury is a fairly new one that caused him to miss a day of practice last week, but against the Chiefs he caught seven passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
Full participation in practice:
Tom Brady, quarterback (ankle)
Patrick Chung, safety (foot)
Josh Kline, guard (shoulder)
Brandon LaFell, wide receiver (foot)
Devin McCourty, safety (ankle)
Limited participation in practice:
Danny Amendola, wide receiver (knee)
Scott Chandler, tight end (knee)
Jamie Collins, linebacker (back)
Nate Ebner, defensive back (hand)
Julian Edelman, wide receiver (foot)
Darius Fleming, linebacker (back/shin)
Jonathan Freeny, linebacker (hand)
Rob Gronkowski, tight end (knee/back)
Dont’a Hightower, linebacker (knee)
Tre’ Jackson, guard (knee)
Chandler Jones, defensive end (abdomen/toe)
Rob Ninkovich, defensive end (shin)
Matthew Slater, wide receiver (shin)
Bryan Stork, center (ankle)
Sebastian Vollmer, tackle (ankle)
LaAdrian Waddle, tackle (shoulder)
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.