FOXBOROUGH — As expected, the Patriots will be without receiver Aaron Dobson Saturday night when they face the Colts in the AFC divisional round. Dobson has been ruled out with a foot injury that he aggravated in the regular-season finale against the Bills.
The rookie initially suffered the injury against the Broncos Nov. 24 and missed the next three games. He returned against the Ravens Dec. 22, and he was chasing down a deep pass attempt against Buffalo when he pulled up.
He has not practiced since, so New England will be without its tallest receiver (Dobson is 6 feet 3 inches) and best downfield threat.
New England listed fellow rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) as questionable, along with cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee, shoulder). Both players were limited in practice this week, and Dennard was given last week off from practice.
A host of players who dealt with injuries down the stretch are probable, including safety Devin McCourty (concussion), running back Shane Vereen (groin), cornerback Kyle Arrington (groin), and linebacker Dane Fletcher (groin). Offensive lineman Logan Mankins (ankle), injured against the Bills, also is probable.
The Colts declared one player out: wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring). Two starters, safety LaRon Landry (concussion) and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (rest), are probable.
Matter of trust
On Thursday, kicker Stephen Gostkowski was asked how his relationship with rookie punter/holder Ryan Allen has developed over the season and what goes into the operation on extra points and field goals.
Gostkowski’s answer was illuminating, highlighting aspects that are rarely considered.
“It’s a big trust thing,” he said. “If you don’t think about where the hold is going to be, if you miss the ball by inches or it leans a little bit forward or back or left or right or the laces are pointed toward the right or the left and the way the ball is, the laces and the weight of the ball in the wind — there’s so much stuff that goes into it.
“Ryan knows when it’s a certain wind to lean it a little more or to open up his body a little more. Maybe if the wind is blowing right to left, to put the laces a little bit more to the right so it will hold longer.
“With playing outside and in adverse conditions, there’s a lot more adjusting that goes into it. You can miss a kick on a good hold and you can still make kicks with bad holds, but the more the operation is perfect, the percentages go up and up.
“It’s 1.3 seconds from when the ball is [snapped] to when you want to try to get the kick off. But the time my first foot hits, you want to see the ball. If it’s late or something like that, it can just throw your timing off.
“Getting a rapport with [snapper and holder] and getting in rhythm and timing, it’s very important. He has done a great job.”
Perhaps even more impressive is that Allen was never a holder before this season, and he has been able to pick up all of the nuances on the fly.
Gostkowski, who was a baseball pitcher in high school and college, compared the holder to a pitcher’s preferred catcher, and said Allen has risen to preferred status.
“We’ve done a great job,” said Gostkowski. “It’s a week-to-week thing. A lot of it is about focus and putting the focus and attention to detail in.
“Anybody can just catch it and throw it down there, but to get it down where you want it every time . . .
“Ryan has done an absolute tremendous job, as well as Danny [Aiken, the long snapper].”
The Patriots and Colts were the least penalized teams in the NFL during the regular season: Indianapolis had just 66 accepted penalties, New England 69. The Colts’ flags totaled a league-low 576 penalty yards, and the Patriots’ penalty yardage was 625, which was third. However, the Colts had at least one penalty in every game, while New England had two flag-free games, at Cincinnati and at Houston.