When an NFL player doesn't practice all week, he almost certainly doesn't suit up for the next game. Which means in all likelihood, safety Devin McCourty (concussion) won't be on the field for the Patriots this Sunday when they host the Buffalo Bills in the regular season finale.
McCourty and rookie receiver Josh Boyce (left ankle) were the only players not on the field for this morning's practice. Boyce, too, has been out all week and will likely miss his second straight game.
If McCourty indeed is inactive this week, rookie Duron Harmon will most likely take his place in the starting lineup. Harmon has gotten significant reps at safety this season and was called upon to fill in when McCourty went down against Baltimore last week.
Harmon was asked today if he's arrived yet at the point where he's reacting more than thinking when he takes the field during a game.
"I'm getting there. This game is difficult. It's a learning curve for me," Harmon answered. "I have to just keep staying in my [play]book, but I'm definitely getting more comfortable out there.
"It helps a lot, anytime you get any type of experience. It helps that I've been in that position… communication, getting a feel for the game. That's why you have to be on the sideline tuning into the game, so, you can get all the adjustments and see what the [opposing] offense is doing."
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich, meantime, was added to the injury report yesterday with an ankle injury. He was then seen in the locker room afterward with an ice pack wrapped around his left foot.
"I'll be all right," he told media later, when they asked about his availability for Sunday. "I'm gonna get ready to play a hard football game. Those guys are a tough team, they're playing well right now. I'm sure they'll want to come in here and try to affect our playoffs."
With a win over Buffalo, the Patriots secure themselves at least the second seed in the AFC (a Denver loss added to that would catapult New England to the top spot) and a highly coveted first-round bye in the playoffs. A loss could drop them to third or fourth seed, assuming both Cincinnati and/or Indianapolis win their respective games on Sunday.
In that event, the Patriots would host a Wild Card Round game next weekend. Needless to say, they'd like to take care of business this weekend to ensure a weekend off to help heal the 18 guys who are currently on the injury report.
"Yeah, when you can get a week, that's definitely huge for getting guys back," Ninko continued. "We're just really focused on Buffalo and what we need to do out there to win the game… You definitely have to keep the momentum we started from the Ravens game and just bring all that energy and the way we were playing into this game and hopefully just have that carry over into the rest of the playoffs here."
With Indy and Cincy kicking off at 1 p.m. EST, the temptation exists to "scoreboard watch" prior to New England's 4:25 start here at Gillette.
"You never want to watch the scoreboard," defensive end Chandler Jones insisted. "You just want to focus on your task at hand and your job. At the end of the game is when you look at the scoreboard.
"Personally, that [bye week] is in the back of my head, but as a team… it's the last game of the season, you want to finish the season strong."
"I think it's important," Harmon added about the potential for a bye, "because it gives us time to catch our breath a little bit before we go into the playoffs."
Before practice today, the Patriots made a few transactions. In somewhat of a surprise, veteran cornerback Marquice Cole was let go. He'd been cut and re-signed a few times earlier this season when he was dealing with a hamstring problem, but of late, he hadn't been on the injury report. New England also swapped practice squad running backs, letting rookie Cierre Wood loose and signing 24-year-old rookie Sam McGuffie from Rice, who had prior stops in Oakland and Arizona this year.
So, as of early Friday afternoon, the Patriots still had one open spot on the 53-man active roster. Chances are, a practice squad defensive back will be called up before game time to fill Cole's spot.