FOXBOROUGH — Injuries have yet to put the Patriots at full strength at any point this season, and despite handing the Saints their first loss of the season with a 30-27 win at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, the injury list continued to grow.
Cornerback Aqib Talib, instrumental in shutting down Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (no catches), left the game in the third quarter with what the team said was a hip injury. He slammed his helmet to the turf after trying to make a tackle and walked into the locker room minutes later. He did not return.
Danny Amendola, who returned last week after missing three games with a groin injury, was hit hard on an end-around rush on the Patriots’ next offensive drive. Saints safety Rafael Bush made contact with Amendola’s helmet, and the receiver appeared to be knocked out before he hit the turf. Amendola left the game, and also did not return.
Two other starters left the game. Linebacker Jerod Mayo was forced out with what looked like a shoulder injury late in the fourth quarter. In the first quarter, right guard Dan Connolly suffered a head injury, and was replaced by Marcus Cannon.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones limped off the field on a fourth-quarter interception by Kyle Arrington, but he was back on the next series.
A week that began with multiple reports saying that Rob Gronkowski was expected to make his season debut ended with him missing his sixth straight game to start the season. The tight end was one of the Patriots’ seven inactives, along with receivers Matthew Slater and Josh Boyce, defensive back Tavon Wilson, running back Leon Washington, offensive lineman Chris Barker, and defensive lineman Tommy Kelly.
Those decisions allowed Austin Collie to make his Patriots debut. The receiver was signed on Oct. 3, but didn’t play at Cincinnati. He was instrumental in Sunday’s win. Both of his catches came on the winning drive, including a 9-yard grab on fourth and 4.
Boyce, a rookie drafted in the fourth round, had played in the first five games, but only had one catch. Boyce had not been listed on the injury report, so he was a healthy scratch, as was Barker, who now has been inactive three straight weeks. Slater has a wrist injury and Wilson has a hamstring issue. Washington (ankle), and Kelly (knee) had been ruled out on Friday, with Gronkowski listed as questionable.
According to a league source, Gronkowski’s father, Gordon, is heavily influencing his son’s decision. Multiple reports last week said that Dr. James Andrews has been brought in to serve as an independent medical advisor who has to clear Gronkowski before he can play.
Michael Hoomanawanui tried to fill the void left by Gronkowski, and had his best game in his two seasons with the Patriots. Hoomanawanui caught all four passes thrown his way, for 57 yards. His longest gain went for 19 yards. Clutch, because it was a third-down play when the Patriots needed 18.
“From the moment I got here, ‘whatever it takes’ has been my role and my thought going into it,” said Hoomanawanui, who had four catches for 38 yards in the first five games. “I was able to get some good catches, some key catches to keep some drives moving, so it’s all good.”
Julian Edelman had an uncharacteristically bad day as a punt returner. He dropped from the No. 1 spot in NFL career punt return average after getting a total of only 20 yards on his three returns. That left his average at 12.65, now behind George McAfee and Jack Christiansen.
Edelman probably doesn’t care about the record, since he can do something about it next week. But he almost committed a turnover deep in Patriots territory when he fielded a first-quarter punt, took a few steps to the right, then tried to throw a lateral to Talib. The throw short-hopped Talib, but he recovered the lateral and saved what would have been a sloppy turnover.
Edelman was asked if the play called on the sideline was for him to lateral, or if he saw something on his own.
“Unfortunately I threw that ball by design, but that was horrible football, and I’m probably going to hear about that,” Edelman said. “I should have just kept that, and thank God Talib, being the player he is, got on top of it and took me out of the doghouse.”
Stephen Gostkowski set a personal best with a 54-yard field goal, one of three he had in the game. The third-quarter kick also let Gostkowski snap a tie with Adam Vinatieri. Both had eight career field goals of at least 50 yards, sharing the franchise record. Now Gostkowski, who also hit from 35 and 23 yards, has it all to himself . . . Bill Belichick earned career win No. 210, which moved him past Chuck Noll and into fifth place on the NFL career list . . . Spotted on the stadium’s videoboard during a break in the action was former Patriots defensive end Jarvis Green sitting in the stands wearing a — wait for it — No. 97 red Jarvis Green jersey . . . Chandler Jones upped his team-leading total to 4½ sacks with one more against Drew Brees . . . Kyle Arrington’s interception extended the Patriots’ streak of forcing at least one turnover to 33 games . . . Three starters — receiver Lance Moore (hand), safety Roman Harper (knee), and offensive tackle Zach Strief (ankle) — were among the Saints’ inactives, which also included 2009 Heisman Trophy-winning running back Mark Ingram . . . Tom Brady passed Vinny Testaverde for eighth place on the league’s career passing list with his 23-yard strike to Edelman to start the winning drive.