The Patriots downgraded three additional players to Out after flying to Buffalo on Saturday in advance of Sunday's game against the Bills.
Safety Patrick Chung (hand), defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth (back) and wide receiver Taylor Price (hamstring) are officially Out for Sunday's game.
The team had previously listed tight end Aaron Hernandez (knee), tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) and defensive lineman Mike Wright (concussion) as Out on Friday's injury report.
Though I'd held out hope that Chung might be able to tough it out to get on the field in Buffalo less than a week after a reported surgery on his right thumb, that clearly won't happen. The third-year safety returned to practice on Friday wearing a black cast on his right hand/thumb but apparently wasn't ready for game action.
With Chung out, the Patriots are dangerously thin and inexperienced at safety. Josh Barrett has started the first two games of the season – his first two games in a Patriots uniform. Sergio Brown has also gotten playing time in the first two weeks, in just his second season since joining the team as an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame off the practice squad midway through last year. James Ihedigbo also has seen some run in the early going. Ross Ventrone was promoted from the practice squad this weekend. But none of the mix could be considered a known commodity or proven playmaker. Barrett seems to have the most potential of the group, but let's not forget he's already playing with a cast on his right hand, while Ihedigbo is more experience on special teams than defense in his career.
With the way the Bills like to spread the field on offense, the lack of depth and experience at safety is a major concern heading into this meeting with an offense that has scored more points than Tom Brady & Co.
Taylor Price being inactive for the third straight game this season – and for the 18th time in 19 chances in his year-plus career – is a major disappointment. With Hernandez sidelined, there were more chances for pass catchers up for grabs this Sunday. It could have been a chance for Price, last year's third-round pick, to get his feet wet. Instead it's another missed opportunity for the young receiver who's career just can't get going.
It does point to the fact that Chad Ochocinco could take on a larger role in Week 3. With just three catches through two weeks, No. 85 could pick up some of the slack in Hernandez' absence. Julian Edelman may also have an increased role on offense, but still look for Ochocinco to get the most run of his young career working with Brady. As he works to build his knowledge of the offense, his rapport with Brady and his own confidence, this could be a very telling week for the former Pro Bowl star.
Haynesworth, New England's other big trade acquisition, has also been somewhat slow in his first few games with the Patriots. Though he was on the field for the first two weeks, he hasn't exactly been the dominant force that many fans hoped he'd be. Now, missing time to injury after missing much of the preseason for unspecified reasons, he's also coming along much slower than might have been ideal. And with Myron Pryor having already landed on injured reserve and Wright out of the equation with his second concussion in less than a year, New England's rotational depth on the defensive line is getting thinner by the week. Bills running back Fred Jackson has been off to a fast start with two 100-yard games in two weeks. Vince Wilfork remains in the middle for New England, but Kyle Love may need to see more run than has been the case in the first two weeks of heavy interior line rotation. It's also possible that Shaun Ellis could bump inside to tackle now that Jermaine Cunningham is back in the mix at end.
With six players having been downgraded to Out by Saturday night, New England will have only one other inactive player named on Sunday. And with 15 players on the injury report as of Friday, the Patriots clearly will have plenty of guys playing through adversity on Sunday. The team will also be dangerously thin at a number of positions, most notably offensive tackle. Nate Solder will get his second career start at right tackle in his third week as a pro. That leaves little behind him should another injury on the line pop up during the battle with the Bills. Thomas Welch had been activated to the roster from the practice squad for a similar si8utaiton in Week 1, but that did not occur this time around. Should either Solder or Matt Light get hurt, there is a chance we could see Logan Mankins play some tackle, or maybe Donald Thomas.
And with Hernandez out, Dan Gronkowski cut and Solder starting at right tackle, Rob Gronkowski is the only healthy, active tight end on the roster. That's a far cry from a week ago when New England not only continued to use plenty of two tight end sets with Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, with Solder serving as a third tight end in jumbo packages. That strength, and versatility, seems gone for at least a week.
Are you starting to get concerned with the injuries? Which missing player concerns you the most? Let us know with a comment below!