Unfortunately, it looks like that might have been the case, with Jerod Mayo placed on injured reserve after surgery on his pectoral muscle and Aqib Talib likely to miss some action due to his hip flexor according to Steven Burton of WBZ.
Patriots Offense vs. Jets Defense
Look for the Patriots to push the ball down the field against the aggressive Jets defense. With Kyle Wilson, Dee Milliner, Darrin Walls and Antonio Cromartie all nursing injuries, the Patriots are going to have a chance to get over the top.
As hard as the Jets defensive line and linebackers charge after the ball—both against the run and the pass—they are just asking to have some misdirection, screen and play-action plays run their way.
If Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and perhaps even Josh Boyce are able to get a clean release, look for Brady to try to connect with them down the field.
It is tough sledding running the ball inside against the Jets, but the Patriots will have to be able to gain positive yards there to set up the play-action game and keep the defense honest.
Patriots Defense vs. Jets Offense
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) via Erik Frenz of the Boston Globe, Geno Smith completes 70.2 percent of his passes without pressure, while only completing 39.4 percent under pressure.
How much should the Patriots blitz Geno Smith?
If that is the case, the Patriots certainly want to be dialing up some blitzes, especially with Jerod Mayo—perhaps their best cover linebacker—out of commission.
However, with the middle of their defense ailing, the Patriots will have to be cognizant of the Jets running attack. Bilal Powell has already racked up close to 500 yards this season. The Patriots will need to keep him under 100 yards this Sunday. Look for Brandon Spikes to play an even bigger role in stopping the run for the Patriots with Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo on injured reserve.
What They're Saying
Nick Underhill from MassLive.com had this to say about Dont'a Hightower leading the defensive huddle against the Jets.
It's not exactly new terrain for Hightower. While prior to Sunday afternoon he had never worn a helmet with a green dot, which indicates that a player is wearing a communication device, he led the defensive huddle at times during the preseason and sometimes practices it during the week.
Hightower believes those experiences will prepare him to carry the burden alone on Sunday. And it can be quite a burden. As the signal caller on defense, he will be responsible for knowing all the intricacies of the game, where guys are supposed to be lined up, and when to make checks, among other things.
Head coach Bill Belichick doesn't leave things to chance. Hightower has prepared for this situation, and it has come to pass. I, for one, think he'll be up to the task.
Tale of the Tape
Geno Smith has shown plenty of moxie—leading the league with three game-winning drives in his rookie season—but he isn't ready to go toe-to-toe with Tom Brady. Even without Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, Tom Brady is still getting things done when it counts.
Stevan Ridley has returned to health and will be needed to compete against the stout Jets defensive line. LeGarrette Blount is a bit too indecisive while Leon Washington can't get healthy. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory have played fine, but they aren't the dynamic option that Ridley brings to an offense.
If Santonio Holmes is unable to play, Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill—two second-year players—will be trying to best Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins—two rookies—and the versatile Julian Edelman. While the four youngsters have all had their ups and downs, the Patriots duo seems to be starting to click with Brady.
Each team is missing its top option, with Rob Gronkowski yet to take the field and Kellen Winslow Jr. on suspension. Michael Hoomanawanui and Jeff Cumberland have both played well in their stead, but neither is a focal point of his offense. Former Patriot Zach Sudfeld—if he sees the field—could be interesting to watch.
The Patriots offensive line has shown some cracks this year—especially at guard—but have kept Tom Brady upright for the most part. Vlad Ducasse has been the weak link for the Jets, as Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson have played up to their billing.
Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson might be the best defensive line duo in the AFC. Damon Harrison has also been very stout at the nose. With Vince Wilfork out and Tommy Kelly ailing, this comparison isn't even close—despite the good production from Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich this season.
Jerod Mayo will be missed. Demario Davis and David Harris are both very good. That said, Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes have both met every challenge this year. Add in some more work from the versatile rookie Jamie Collins, and the Patriots are able to keep this category even.
As I mentioned earlier, the Jets defensive backfield is a walking infirmary. Even when healthy, the Jets have only come up with one interception all year. If Talib isn't able to play—which seems likely—Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan have played excellent this year. If Ryan is able to play outside, Arrington is far more natural in the slot.
Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen are performing incredibly well—booming punts and kickoffs and consistent on field goals. Ryan Quigley and Nick Folk haven't been bad, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better trio than Gostkowski, Allen and Danny Aiken in the NFL right now.
The tale of the tape is distinctly in the Patriots favor, but a lot of the matchups are very close. The game could very well be determined by each team's best group—quarterback for the Patriots and defensive line for the Jets.
Wednesday's Injury Report Analysis
Limited Participation: Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Brandon Bolden, Matthew Slater, Devin McCourty, Tavon Wilson
Full Participation: Kyle Arrington, Rob Ninkovich
Will Rob Gronkowski play on Sunday?
Tommy Kelly and Aqib Talib are the biggest issues here, as the defense is already reeling with season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.
As previously mentioned, it is highly unlikely that Talib will play this week. If that is the case, look for Alfonzo Dennard to take on his role as shutdown corner, with Logan Ryan seeing an increase in his snap count.
If Tommy Kelly is unable to go on Sunday, look for Joe Vellano, Chris Jones and Marcus Forston to hold down the fort until he gets better.
On the Jets side of the equation, receivers Santonio Holmes and Greg Salas did not participate, along with cornerback Kyle Wilson. Fellow corner Dee Milliner was limited, along with receiver David Nelson.