FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots have already scored a victory this week as the club didn’t have to add any players to the Reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday.
The club did get a couple players back with running back Rhamondre Stevenson and linebacker Harvey Langi returning after bouts with the virus. Langi remains on injured reserve but can be activated at any time.
Receiver Nelson Agholor (concussion) and safety Joshuah Bledsoe (calf) were the only non-COVID absences from the only full-pads session of the week.
Rhamondre Stevenson (second back through drill) is back at #Patriots practice on Wednesday. Nelson Agholor (concussion) and Joshuah Bledsoe (calf) are the only non-Covid list (Hoyer, Judon, Bentley, Uche, King, and Wise) absences. pic.twitter.com/BrSNUfXa1c— Jim McBride (@globejimmcbride) December 29, 2021
Brian Hoyer missed his first practice of the season after the veteran quarterback was added to the COVID list Tuesday. Bill Belichick said the team hasn’t taken any extra measures, such as keeping Mac Jones or Jarrett Stidham away from teammates, to avoid being shorthanded at the position.
“We’ve tried to take the highest precautions that we can with everybody, not trying to single out one player and say the other players don’t matter because that’s not the case,” said Belichick. “We’ve tried to take the highest precautions with all of our players, particularly the ones who aren’t vaccinated. We’ve kind of approached it that way and we want to keep everyone protected.”
In addition to Hoyer, linebackers Matthew Judon, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Josh Uche, and Brandon King, plus defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr., are on the list. All six players have a chance to clear protocols and play Sunday against the Jaguars.
Dont’a Hightower said there have locker room discussions among the players about the spike in cases and “everyone is aware how contagious it is.” Protection and precautions have been the buzzwords.
“We’ve had the luxury these last couple of weeks of it not being here and seeing it hit other teams and seeing how it can tear a season down, tear a couple of weeks down and put [teams] in a tough situation,” said Hightower, who opted out last season over virus concerns. “We know what we have in front of us, so we’re hoping everyone does the right thing.’’
J.C. Jackson said the players have a “team first” mentality when it comes to dealing with COVID.
“Don’t do anything that will hurt the team or will hurt yourself,” he said. “Watch who you are around. Wear a mask at all times. Hey, it’s coming back out. It’s getting crazy. We see a lot of teams [with] guys missing games because of COVID.
“Here, we try and put ourselves in the best position, so we won’t get that and let our team down or have guys missing games. It’s the end of the season now, so we need everyone.’’
Next man up
Belichick declined to name a replacement coach if he was sidelined by COVID.
“We would do the best we could,” he said. “We have a good coaching staff with a lot of good coaches.’’
Though it would likely be a collaborative effort, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and senior advisor Matt Patricia have head coaching experience and would seem to be first in line to make game-day decisions.
The Patriots listed 10 players as limited on their first injury report of the week, including: running backs Damien Harris (hamstring) and Brandon Bolden (knee); receivers Jakobi Meyers (thigh) and N’Keal Harry (hip); center David Andrews (shoulder); defensive lineman Christian Barmore (knee); Hightower (knee); Jackson (elbow); safety Adrian Phillips (knee); and kicker Nick Folk (left knee) … The Jaguars put three players on the Reserve/COVID-19 (offensive lineman Cam Robinson, receiver Jaydon Mickens, and linebacker Dylan Moses) a day after adding 10 players… Hightower said the vibe in the locker room is that the time for talking is over. “It’s time to work and it’s always been time to work but there’s not more of the little cliché lines and all that stuff,” the captain said. “Now it’s really just about time to work. These last two games mean a lot to us and we worked really hard and let some games slip from our hands but hopefully we learn from that and we’ll get things going this week.’” … There are several scenarios for the Patriots to punch a postseason ticket, but the simplest are a win against the Jaguars coupled with a Dolphins loss; or tie against the Titans or a Raiders loss or tie against the Colts. There are myriad other possibilities, but they involve the Patriots tying the Jaguars and others that involve multiple tie games.