The Patriots placed defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) on injured reserve Saturday, ending his season.
The 10-year veteran was injured against the Bengals in Week 5 and returned to practice last week. He was on the field Wednesday and Thursday, though on a limited basis, but he did not practice Friday, and the team declared him out for Sunday’s game vs. Pittsburgh.
It was easy to surmise then that he had suffered a setback in his return; now, he’ll be on the sidelines for the remainder of the season.
In the moments after New England’s defeat in Cincinnati, Kelly said he’d be fine, but that turned out not to be the case.
The loss of Kelly, which follows the loss of Vince Wilfork (Achilles’) in the Atlanta game, makes the Patriots’ acquisition of Isaac Sopoaga at the trade deadline last week all the more important. Sopoaga is an interior run-stopper, and while the team’s rookie D-linemen, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, have done an admirable job since being thrust into larger roles, Jones in particular has struggled against the run.
New England has allowed 156.5 rushing yards per game over its previous four games, dropping the team to the 31st-ranked run defense in the NFL.
Kelly signed a two-year contract with New England in the spring. Though he fit in quickly and played well when healthy, his base salary next year is $1.95 million; that might be more than the Patriots are willing to pay for a 33-year-old coming off a knee injury.
Kelly becomes the eighth player on IR for the Patriots, though running back Shane Vereen, who has returned to practice, was designated for return and is eligible to be activated in Week 10.
Offensive lineman Josh Kline was promoted from the practice squad.
Factoring in four exhibition games, receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and many of the other rookies will be playing in their 13th game when the Patriots welcome the Steelers to Gillette Stadium.
That’s the same number of games as Thompkins played in last year while a senior at Cincinnati. But in the NFL, this time of year barely marks the halfway point to the regular season. After Sunday, the Patriots have seven more regular-season games, and could play as many as four more in the playoffs.
The speed and skill of the NFL can be a challenging adjustment for any rookie. The physical toll can have an impact, too. Has Thompkins hit the proverbial rookie wall yet?
“Not at all. I’m grinding every day,” he said. “I don’t even look at it like, ‘How many games did we play?’ I’m just trying to finish the season out.”
Gone are the academic demands of college life, replaced by more meetings: team meetings, position meetings, mentally preparing for the next opponent, and making sure the body can physically handle the next game. That, more than anything, might be the biggest difference between college football and the NFL.
“Each point in the year, things change. Our schedule changes, our demands change, the weather changes,” coach Bill Belichick said. “The conditioning, the taking care of yourself, the dealing with the climatic changes, the hydration changes, the nutrition change, our regular-season training in the weight room and conditioning relative to our early-season or preseason training . . . those are all important, but they’re all different.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.