The Patriots’ depleted linebacking corps suffered yet another crushing blow during Sunday’s loss to San Francisco.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is a master in multiple facets of the game, but his ability to overcome adversity is where he really separates himself from the other legends in his field. However, the team’s first six games of the 2020 season have steadily proven that not even a coach of his historic billing is capable of conquering the magnitude of roster turnover they endured this past offseason.
Following their 33-6 blowout loss to San Francisco at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, which stood as the most lopsided home defeat in the Belichick era, the Patriots are now 2.5 games behind Buffalo for the division lead and wouldn’t even come close to making the playoffs in the expanded field.
The continued struggles of Cam Newton and the offense as a whole — it totaled just 241 yards against the 49ers’ injury-riddled defense — will be the prominent topic of conversation this week, but that shouldn’t take away from the dismal showing from the defense, which was shredded to the tune of allowing 467 total yards (270 passing and 197 rushing).
Belichick obviously champions playing lights-out defense, and the group has held up surprisingly well in the wake of losing a number of key players to both free agency and opt outs. Given those departures, however, a performance like Sunday was a long time coming and we might see more of them moving forward as the defense suffered yet another crushing blow vs the 49ers.
Per multiple reports, linebacker Brandon Copeland suffered a torn pectoral muscle on Sunday and is done for the season.
Short of Belichick suiting up and taking the field, there is literally nothing more he can do to overcome these losses to the Patriots’ linebacking corps. Copeland was offering some desperately-needed experience at LB after the likes of Jamie Collins, Kyle Va Noy, Elandon Roberts and Dont’a Hightower all inked deals with other teams or opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns about the ongoing pandemic.
For the season, Copeland contributed 12 tackles and one pass defended while playing 16% of the defensive snaps. Those numbers are obviously nothing to write home about, but his impact went a lot deeper than stats and he played a massive role on the Patriots’ elite special teams unit, where he logged an 80% snap share.
In light of this news, the Patriots will probably have to turn to one (or both) of rookie linebackers Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche. However, the latter landed on injured reserve with a foot injury back on Sept. 26, and wasn’t activated this week despite being eligible to return for Sunday’s game vs San Francisco.
Though Uche could be cleared to practice this week, it’s unclear what kind of role (if any) he will be given when he returns considering he was a surprising healthy scratch in the season opener after garnering rave reviews throughout training camp.
That leaves Jennings, who just so happened to enjoy his best game of the season against the 49ers, racking up six combined tackles while playing 80% of the defensive snaps — which was his highest tally of the season by a wide margin — to take on a bigger role in Belichick’s defense.
The Patriots have embraced the next man up philosophy since the start of training camp, and Jennings’ performance on Sunday leaves him as the betting favorite to shine in Copeland’s absence.