Fresh off a successful trip to the Bay Area, the Patriots got some disturbing news Monday. According to an ESPN report, the NFL has suspended veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch for the next four games. Branch is said to have violated the league's drug policy after a positive test for marijuana, but plans to appeal the ruling.
Already thin, depth-wise, on the interior defensive line, the Patriots can ill afford to be without Branch, a reliable starter alongside Malcom Brown, for any extended period.
The only two players behind Branch and Brown on the depth chart are rookies Woodrow Hamilton and Vincent Valentine, both of whom have endured injuries and been unavailable as a result at various times this season. Hamilton, for instance, has been inactive on game days since Week 6 against Cincinnati.
If Branch's appeal is unsuccessful, his next game for New England would come on Christmas Eve against the New York Jets, who just happen to be the next opponent on the Patriots' schedule.