The elite teams in the NFL are able to plug in and keep rolling. Every team has to deal with injuries, but what separates the Patriots from other teams in the league is they can lose a player to injury, plug in a reserve and continue to win.
When you looked at the inactives heading into Sunday's rivalry game with the Jets, you could rightfully be a little concerned about the Patriots. RB Danny Woodhead, ILB Jerod Mayo, ORT Sebastian Vollmer, FS Josh Barrett and WR Julian Edelman were all ruled "out."
All the Patriots did was put together their best defensive performance of the season and beat the Jets at their own game by milking the clock with a punishing rushing attack.
You wouldn't expect that result with the players they were missing.
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Plug and play. No Mayo? Gary Guyton gets the start. No Barrett? James Ihedigbo fills in against his former club, and so on down the line.
This is a Patriots team that is already without C Dan Koppen for the season and has had a banged-up secondary and D-line all year, but this is not new to New England. The Patriots went 14-2 last season with starters Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden on injured reserve before the season began. They lost OG Stephen Neal, DL Mike Wright and RB Kevin Faulk in-season but still had the league's best record.
The Patriots' defense without Mayo was a concern heading in, but Guyton filled in admirably. He had nine tackles, including three noteworthy plays. Guyton stopped Jets RB Shonn Greene twice when Green was catching passes, holding him to five and four yards, respectively. He also pursued well to hold Jets RB Joe McKnight to a one-yard gain on a run to the outside.
Even though Ihedigbo maybe should have had better over-the-top position on Mark Sanchez's touchdown throw to Santonio Holmes, Bill Belichick raved about his performance. "James did a great job for us today in his overall communication and, of course, he was pretty familiar with the team we were playing. He's a smart guy that really works hard, communicates well and practiced well this week," said Belichick. "I thought he did a good job when he was in there, delivered a couple big hits and played well." Ihedigbo notched six tackles in his first-ever start.
The run game didn't lose a step without Woodhead, as BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a career game. The Patriots got TE Aaron Hernandez back, which helped make up for Edelman's injury, and rookie Nate Solder continued his steady play filling in for Vollmer.
That's just one more thing that makes this Patriots team so good, that it can make up for big losses on both sides of the ball. Guyton might be a downgrade from Mayo, but you didn't notice it too much Sunday. Ihedigbo's play may make him a consistent starter on a back end that has struggled this season.
Sure, Belichick would rather have a 100 percent healthy squad, especially with a tough schedule that has the Patriots facing Rob Ryan's defense next Sunday and the Steelers in Week Eight, but it's the NFL — injuries happen. Injuries have given backup players experience they need to step up when called upon. DT Kyle Love got significant playing time against the Jets, and he got good experience as an njury fill-in last season. Dan Connolly was simply a fill-in for Logan Mankins and Neal last season; now he's a versatile starter.
Some credit goes to the Patriots' systems, which allow players to be successful, but it's also crucial for the players to understand the complex systems and be able to execute when needed. The depth continues to help make this Patriots team one of the best in the league.
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