FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England will welcome two of its starting offensive lineman back this evening versus San Francisco, and not a moment too soon. Over the past few weeks, the Patriots have reshuffled their O-line deck so many times because of various injuries it's difficult to keep track.
Today, however, they'll have some stability along the interior, as center/co-captain David Andrews (right hand) and right guard Shaq Mason (calf) are expected back in their normal spots.
Andrews is back on the game-day roster for the first time since Week 2, having been activated off Injured Reserve this weekend. He practiced all week, apparently well enough that his right hand injury is no longer an issue for him to play in a game. Mason, meantime, suits up again after missing the past two games. Their combined presence should allow the Patriots to run the ball more effectively and consistently.
On the other hand, a disappointing development for a pair of Patriots rookies. Safety Kyle Dugger, who's been a regular contributor as a defensive substitute all season, will miss his first action because of an ankle issue that limited his practice time all week. Were he active, he might have drawn the assignment to help cover San Francisco's star tight end, George Kittle. It'll be interesting now to see how the Patriots try to defend Kittle.
Meanwhile, Patriots rookie tight end Devin Asiasi is a healthy scratch for this game (not listed on the injury report). It's his first deactivation of the season, and it gives fellow rookie TE Dalton Keene a chance to make his NFL debut. New England hasn't had much production out of its tight end position thus far in 2020, so, perhaps Keene can provide a different dynamic today against the 49ers.
Once again, third-string QB Brian Hoyer is inactive, along with two more rookies – RB J.J. Taylor and DB Myles Bryant – and veteran D-lineman Carl Davis (concussion). Jarrett Stidham will back up starting QB Cam Newton for the second straight week, and the Patriots are deep at both running back and defensive back, so, Taylor and Bryant aren't significant absences. Davis, a recent signing from the Jacksonville practice squad has yet to suit up in a game and hasn't practice much since his arrival.
The Niners are a banged-up bunch entering this game. On defense, their most noteworthy absences today will be starting safeties Jimmie Ward, who came down with a quadriceps injury during Friday's practice, and Jaquiski Tartt (groin, didn't practice all week). With a vulnerable secondary, perhaps the Patriots will try to throw a bit more than they have in recent weeks. Starting LB Kwon Alexander (ankle, no practice time this week) will also expose San Fran defensively.