When Chandler Jones missed Tuesday's practice, it wasn't initially seen as too big a deal by most observers. After all, veterans are often given extra days off on weeks when there are more than the typical three practices.
But then The Boston Globe reported that Jones wasn't on the field because of a hip injury he suffered against the Jets last Thursday night. The report went on to state that New England's top defensive end and pass rush threat could be sidelined for a month with the injury.
"We'll see come Sunday if he can't be out there," safety/co-captain Devin McCourty told reporters Wednesday, who then tacitly acknowledged that Jones would be out of commission.
"Just like anybody that goes out there for us, Chan's a really good player. He's made plays for us all year, so, guys will just have to step up. He's been good in the run game and the pass game. If he can't… we have guys that are ready to go. We'll see how that plays out throughout the week."
Check out practice and locker room photos from NFL Week 8 as the Patriots prepare to play the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium this Sunday.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis was more direct in conceding the temporary loss of Jones.
"The next guy has to step up," he stated. "You don't want to see injuries happen, especially with key guys on defense. But the next guy just has to step up."
Though Jones' injury doesn't appear as severe as the season-ending knee issues suffered by linebacker/co-captain and running back Stevan Ridley a couple of games ago, the Patriots could nevertheless be without the services of their most reliable pass rusher at a time in the schedule when they'll face some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
"There's nothing you can do," McCourty added. "We've had to go through some things, you know, losing Mayo and Rid is a challenge, but either you sit there and make an excuse why you lose games or you try to find ways to win games. I think this team is full of guys that want to win games. It's not just the leadership, but those guys that have to step into new roles. They take the challenge and look at it as an opportunity."
There's certainly an opportunity for newcomer Akeem Ayers. The outside linebacker arrived in Foxborough today after being traded from Tennessee Tuesday. He was on the Patriots practice field for the first time on Wednesday, wearing jersey number 52.
"He's trying to learn everything. It's a lot," said McCourty. "He was in Tennessee yesterday, now you're here. He seems excited for the opportunity to come out here and play."
Rookies Zach Moore and Dominique Easley are a couple of others who could stand to gain from Jones' absence. Easley, New England's first-round pick this year, has gotten a number of reps in games this season, while Moore – a sixth-round pick – was inactive in the first few games but has contributed of late.
Coincidentally, Moore grew up in Chicago and rooted for the Bears. He said some of his favorite players were Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, and one whom he'll see Sunday, linebacker Lance Briggs.
"It's crazy when I think about it," Moore said. "I was actually thinking about it today at practice, walking off the field – this time last year, I was playing at Division II college stadium in front of no more than 1,000 people. It's kind of a reality check. It's a blessing, a great opportunity. I'm very thankful to be here, proud to be a Patriot. I'll do the best I can and try to get a win for the team."
Bears' offense garners respect from Patriots
Chicago may come to Foxborough this Sunday with a 3-4 record, but all of the Bears' wins thus far have come on the road.
That fact alone could give New England cause for concern, but so does the potent Bears offense. Quarterback Jay Cutler has been turnover prone in Chicago's disappointing start to the 2014 season, but when he's clicking with his big-bodied receivers and his running back is churning out yardage, the Bears are a dangerous team.
Just ask any Patriots defender.
"We have a lot of respect for Jay Cutler, [wide receivers] Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, [running back] Matt Forte. I think those are the key guys," remarked Revis. "We know they have explosive players on offense."
Revis has faced Marshall four times in the past, when the two were on different teams, and each time, Revis has gotten the better of his opponent. But he was not taking anything for granted on Wednesday.
"Great receiver. We've got our hands full," Revis said of Marshall. "We're looking forward to it. It's football, man. You compete."
McCourty, meanwhile, was raving about the versatile Forte, who is more than just a ball carrier for Chicago.
"He's lined up at wide receiver a couple of times. Coming out of the backfield, it's like they have designed pass plays for him that aren't just screen plays," observed McCourty. "He's probably going to be the most complete back we've played this year. It'll be tough to stop him, but we're aware of the challenge."
AFC honors for the other Jones
Defensive lineman Chris Jones was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his blocked field goal at the end of regulation that sealed New England's 27-25 victory over New York last week. This is the second blocked field by New England this season (Chandler blocked one and took it back for a touchdown against Minnesota in Week 2).
"We work on it almost every day, actually," Chris Jones told the media Wednesday. "I wasn't the only guy in there pushing. I just happened to be the one that got my hand up there and blocked the field goal. It's an honor to win it, I guess."
Chandler Jones was the only player not on the field for New England on Wednesday. Revis returned after taking Tuesday off. When asked why he wasn't there yesterday, Revis would only say, "It's between me and Coach [Bill Belichick]."
Safety Nate Ebner, meantime, coming off a finger injury, was seen with a large black cast or wrap on his right hand. Media were ushered off the field when the stretching portion of practice concluded.