Sobering news for the undefeated Patriots came Wednesday when The Boston Globe reported that left tackle Nate Solder will be out for the remainder of the season with a torn right bicep.
The veteran and first-year co-captain was injured in the final minute of the first half against Dallas while pass-protecting for Tom Brady. Solder was in obvious pain after the play in question, during which he was trying to block Cowboys defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford. Solder grabbed Crawford by both shoulders, and as Crawford made a move to the inside to shed the block, he appeared to bend Solder's right arm backward in an awkward way.
Solder's injury was originally announced by the team as an elbow issue, but the Globe added new detail today, saying it was Solder's bicep muscle. Regardless, it did not appear to be season-threatening. he returned to the sideline for the second half, still in full uniform, and spoke to the media after the game – behavior not normally exhibited by injured Patriots.
In response to a direct question about the injury, Solder said Sunday night, "It's too hard to tell. We're just going to go forward and see what happens."
Apparently, the Patriots will go forward without one of their co-captains for the remainder of this season.
The question now is, how will step in at left tackle. Veteran Marcus Cannon did so against Dallas, but it's possible right tackle Sebastian Vollmer could slide over to that side, with Cannon playing right tackle. Vollmer is the team's best offensive lineman and has the rare ability to play equally well on either side of the line. Cannon has experience on either side as well, but has been most effective in his pro career at right tackle.
"[Cannon] did awesome. Good for him," Solder said of his understudy's effort in relief. "He went in there and played great."
At practice Wednesday, Vollmer and Cannon were huddling with the starting offensive line, but it's unclear who was getting reps on which side. As of mid-afternoon, the Patriots had yet to confirm Solder's placement on season-ending IR.
Solder was the only Patriot not on the field for practice. LB Dont'a Hightower was a somewhat surprising participant after injuring his ribs early in the first quarter against Dallas. He was held out of the rest of that game and wasn't seen again until today.
Vollmer and Cannon were working at the start of practice with a starting o-line that also featured rookie guards Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason, with veteran/co-captain Ryan Wendell at center.
Five players, meantime, were awarded the black jersey for Practice Player of the Week: RB James White, rookie DB/LB Brandon King, practice squad TE Asante Cleveland, practice squad OL Cameron Fleming, and practice squad LB Eric Martin.
Just another game
As you might imagine, the media corps swelled Wednesday with non-sports reporters and other hangers-on coming to Gillette to try to advance the whole DeflateGate angle between the Patriots and Colts. New England players were well prepared for this eventuality with ready-made answers.
"We're just focused on the Colts, man. We're not worried about anything that happened in the offseason," said running back LeGarrette Blount.
"We're just going to go out there like any other game and play as hard as we can for 60 minutes," observed cornerback Malcolm Butler. "The past is the past. That's how you have to look at it."
"It's going to be a good challenge for us," said DE/co-captain Rob Ninkovich. "[Lucas Oil Stadium] is always a tough place to play. The fans are always into it. We just have to focus in on the job at hand. Not looking forward, not looking behind, just working on today."
OK, one reporter asked, isn't there any part of these players, as human beings, that wants to win this game more than any other on the schedule, simply because of the history between the Colts and Patriots?
"I'm not human," Ninkovich quipped. "So… I'm just going to focus on myself. I haven't played my best ball yet."
RB Dion Lewis is one of the few Patriots who knows what it's like to be on the other side of this rivalry. He was a Colt for all of six days last September before being released. Today, Lewis told reporters he couldn't remember much about his time in Indy.
"All my focus is on this week," he insisted.