The Patriots are heading into their Week 5 matchup against the New Orleans Saints with a lengthy final injury report for Sunday's game at Gillette Stadium.
Along with expected designations for Christian Gonzalez (shoulder) and Matthew Judon (elbow), who will likely land on injured reserve and are out indefinitely, the Patriots also listed nine players as questionable for Sunday's 1 p.m. ET kickoff against the Saints: DL Christian Barmore (knee), OT Trent Brown (chest), ST Cody Davis (knee), DL Trey Flowers (foot), DL Davon Godchaux (ankle), CB Jonathan Jones (ankle), OL Riley Reiff (knee), RB Rhamodnre Stevenson (thigh), OL Cole Strange (knee), and CB Shaun Wade (shoulder).
After all three returnees were limited this week in practice, the team has until the 4 p.m. ET deadline on Saturday to activate IR/PUP designated to returnees DL Trey Flowers, OL Riley Reiff, and ST Cody Davis.
Starting in the defensive backfield, head coach Bill Belichick offered a positive update on veteran corner Jonathan Jones, who has missed the last three games with an ankle injury. Belichick said that Jones is "a lot closer than he was this time last week. It will probably be today, maybe tomorrow, that we'll make a decision, but I'd say he's got a chance."
Following a devastating season-ending injury to first-rounder Christian Gonzalez, the Patriots will get a big boost if Jones returns to action after a three-week absence. According to reports, the expectation is that Jones will play vs. the Saints, barring a setback, which could give the Patriots secondary a very 2021 season feel with the return of former Pro Bowl CB J.C. Jackson.
After telling reporters in Los Angeles that he wasn't 100 percent recently, Jackson was a full participant in practice on Friday and doesn't carry a game designation into Sunday's game. According to Belichick, the Pats CB did participate some in Thursday's practice, but he was seen icing his surgically repaired knee in the locker room on Friday following a significant patellar tendon injury that ended his 2022 season.
Still, in 2021, the Patriots pass defense ranked fourth in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), primarily with Jackson, DB Jalen Mills, and Myles Bryant at corner. Assuming Jackson can play, the Pats will have those three, along with the veteran Jones, who missed most of the 2021 season. Given how successful a similar group was in 2020-2021, it makes you feel more optimistic about the outlook for a defense that lost two major pieces in Gonzalez and Judon last week in Dallas.
Moving over to the offense, New England listed lead-back Rhamondre Stevenson, G Cole Strange, and starting left tackle Trent Brown as questionable. Brown was a late addition to the injury report on Friday but was in open locker room after practice, which is usually a good sign.
After Strange sat out in Week 4, rookie G Atonio Mafi projects as a strong candidate to remain the starting left guard this week. Although it's difficult to say with Reiff potentially back in the mix, the Pats starting O-Line could look the same as last week: LT Trent Brown, LG Atonio Mafi, C David Andrews, RG Michael Onwenu, and RT Vederian Lowe.
However, the Patriots last-place ranking in pass-blocking win rate that sped up their quarterback in a 35-point loss to Dallas should lead to changes. Specifically, all options should be on the table at right tackle, where Lowe has allowed two sacks and 20 quarterback pressures in his three starts. Reiff, who began the summer at right tackle before moving inside to guard, is one option if he's activated, while another alternative is to move Onwenu outside to right tackle with Mafi, Strange, or Reiff filling the two guard spots.
Patriots offensive line coach Adrian Klemm might favor continuity over talent on paper, with the coaching staff hoping that starting the same five-man combination will improve on-field chemistry. But, at some point, the Pats might need to get their best five out there, which is probably some combination of Brown, Strange, Andrews, Mafi, and Onwenu.
Lastly, on Stevenson, the Patriots running back popped up with a thigh injury that limited him throughout the practice week. New England has running back Kevin Harris on the practice squad as a potential elevation, with Ezekiel Elliott and Ty Montgomery on the active roster, but there's reported optimism that Stevenson will be able to play on Sunday.
For the Saints, starting quarterback Derek Carr is officially listed as questionable with a shoulder injury to his throwing shoulder but Carr is expected to play. New Orleans also listed starting offensive lineman Andrus Peat (concussion) and James Hurst (ankle) as questionable.
As mentioned, New England has until Saturday at 4 p.m. ET to activate Davis, Flowers, and Reiff from the reserve lists to make them eligible to play on Sunday. Gonzalez and Judon being placed on injured reserve would create two open spots on the 53-man roster, meaning the Pats would need to create another roster spot to activate all three. We will also hear about any practice squad elevations late on Saturday afternoon.
The Patriots are expected to have several moving parts heading into Sunday's game vs. the Saints at Gillette Stadium – stay tuned for more updates.