The Patriots will be without their best run-stopper for the remainder of the season after announcing Monday that linebacker Brandon Spikes had been placed on injured reserve.
Spikes, 26, has been dealing with a knee injury since at least the midway point of the season; a league source said a ligament problem was causing Spikes a considerable amount of pain and would likely require surgery once the season ended.
In an interview with the Globe on Dec. 27, Spikes said of his knee, “It’s pretty banged up, but this deep in the season, everybody’s banged up, so I’ve been able to deal with the pain and stuff like that.
“When I’m out there, my adrenaline is pumping and the thrill of it, but it’s part of the game. That’s what makes this game so good — you’ve got to be able to play through pain.”
Spikes left the Patriots’ regular-season finale against Buffalo in the second half and did not return. He was on the field for practices last week. During the season, he frequently spent time on the stationary bike during media-access periods and has been listed as limited on injury reports.
Despite the injury, Spikes did not miss a game for the first time in his career, playing nearly 700 snaps and recording 134 tackles (78 solo), with an interception, two pass breakups, and a fumble recovery.
The website ProFootballFocus.com had Spikes graded as the sixth-best inside linebacker in the NFL this season, and the best against the run.
The charismatic North Carolina native is the 11th player New England has placed on injured reserve, and the seventh player to start multiple games that was lost to a season-ending injury. Four of those seven are on the defensive side of the ball. Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, and Jerod Mayo were injured in Weeks 4, 5, and 6. Without Wilfork and Kelly in particular, the Patriots struggled against the run, but Spikes’s presence helped in that area.
Though New England finished 30th in the NFL in rushing defense, the number of ground yards given up over the final five weeks of the season dropped considerably in comparison with the middle third of the season, after Wilfork, Kelly, and Mayo went down.
With Spikes now gone, the role of linebacker Dont’a Hightower expands. Tackle Sealver Siliga, as well as linebacker Dane Fletcher and rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, may be asked to do more.
Spikes’s abbreviated game against the Bills may prove to be his final game as a member of the Patriots. A second-round pick out of Florida in 2010, he is in the final year of his rookie contract and is slated to become a free agent in March.
It will be interesting to see what the market is for Spikes, because he is so strong against the run but is not a three-down linebacker in a league that has seen some teams pass first and run second.
However, of the eight teams remaining, three were in the top 10 in rushing offense, and six were in the top half of the league, so successful teams haven’t completely abandoned the run. Five of the eight were also among the top 16 teams in run defense as well.
Indianapolis, the Patriots’ next opponent, averaged 108.9 yards rushing per game (tied for 20th overall), with Donald Brown and Trent Richardson splitting carries after Richardson was acquired from Cleveland. Quarterback Andrew Luck is also a threat to run.
In their 45-44 come-from-behind win over Kansas City Saturday night, the Colts had just 19 carries: 11 by Brown for 55 yards and a touchdown, seven by Luck for 45 yards, and one for Richardson that went for no gain.
The Patriots did not announce a corresponding roster move to fill the spot opened by the Spikes transaction.
Injuries piling up across playoff teams
Brandon Spikes became the fourth starter on the Patriots defense to be placed on injured reserve this season and the sixth starter overall (not including Josh Boyce, who was pressed into service), the most among the remaining playoff teams (* has been selected to a Pro Bowl):
|New England||6||DL Vince Wilfork*||LB Jerod Mayo*||DL Tommy Kelly||RT Sebastian Vollmer||TE Rob Gronkowski*||LB Brandon Spikes|
|Denver||5||LB Von Miller*||LT Ryan Clady*||C Dan Koppen*||DB Rahim Moore||DT Kevin Vickerson|
|Indianapolis||4||RB Vick Ballard||G Donald Thomas||LB Pat Angerer||WR Reggie Wayne*|
|Carolina||3||T Amini Silatolu||DB Haruki Nakamura||T Garry Williams|
|New Orleans||2||DE Will Smith*||DB Jabari Green|
|San Diego||2||LB Dwight Freeney*||WR Malcom Floyd|
|Seattle||1||WR Sidney Rice*|
|San Francisco||1||FB Bruce Miller|