The New England Patriots just can't seem to win a game without suffering some kind of loss.
They came out of Week 15 with a 33-16 win over the Tennessee Titans, but they suffered a few more key injuries along the way.
It didn't take more than two plays for the first injury to strike, with defensive tackle Alan Branch leaving the game with an arm injury. Wide receiver Danny Amendola and linebacker Dont'a Hightower both came into Sunday's game nursing knee injuries, and both men aggravated those injuries Sunday. Safety Patrick Chung also went down late in the game.
The Patriots entered Sunday's game without safety Devin McCourty and wide receiver Julian Edelman.
And those are just the recent injuries, not accounting for the high volume of injuries the Patriots suffered early in the year to the likes of left tackle Nate Solder, running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount and defensive tackle Dominique Easley—the latter two of whom were placed on injured reserve earlier this week.
Sprinkle in some stretches without the likes of offensive lineman Bryan Stork, wide receiver Brandon LaFell, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and other key players, and the Patriots are running out of ways to answer all the questions about the injuries.
"Only thing you can say is just, 'Next man up,'" said cornerback Malcolm Butler, "and whoever steps into that role, we've gotta have confidence in them. I don't think they'd be out there if the staff, organization and team didn't have trust in them. So we've just got to roll with what we've got and make the team work."
|Key Patriots injuries|
The Patriots do have to make it work, and with two critical games left on the schedule, their margin for error remains paper-thin.
The Patriots travel to take on the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins in the final two games of the season. Next week's tilt against the Jets at MetLife Stadium is essentially a playoff game for Gang Green, which could potentially miss the playoffs even if it finishes 11-5 by winning its final two games. And after the season the Dolphins have had, they'll be looking to save some face in any way possible.
But the 2014 Super Bowl champions can't let that happen if they want to defend their crown. The Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals are both breathing down the Patriots' necks in pursuit of the AFC's No. 1 overall seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
There's no time for making excuses, even though frustration sets in with each passing injury.
"It's frustrating just for the fact that you see these guys come here each and every day, work hard, trying to get better, and then an unfortunate thing like that happens," said safety Duron Harmon. "It really is sad, because you see the work that they put in each and every day."
These injuries give some players opportunities to polish their game. Harmon is one of those players, and the third-year safety could see even more playing time if Chung's injury is serious.
But no matter how you slice it, the Patriots just can't seem to get back to full health in time for the playoffs. The bye week in the playoffs is often seen as a luxury to give a team an extra week of rest before the elimination rounds begin, but for the Patriots, that luxury is becoming more of a necessity each week.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.