The faintest of silver linings for the New England Patriots: their playoff fate is nearly assured, and they can use their season-closing games against the Jaguars and Dolphins as a chance to rest up and ready themselves for the postseason.
Unfortunately, none of that feels particularly comforting on Monday, as the league-wide COVID disaster has spread to the Patriots’ locker room and removed a Defensive Player of the Year candidate from the equation.
Add in all the baked-in stress of heading to Miami late in the season, and you can see why Pats Nation is now frantically Googling worst-case-scenario playoff projections and calculations.
Entering Monday, the Patriots in protocols were mostly on the offensive side of the ball, and very few names qualified. Wideout Kendrick Bourne was held out, yet he returned ahead of the team’s Week 16 showdown with Buffalo; Rhamondre Stevenson remains out of action, but Damien Harris gutted it out and dominated in his absence.
Unfortunately, two key names on the defense have now joined the reserve list, including the single most impactful addition of the offseason: Matt Judon.
Patriots star Matt Judon hits the COVID reserve list.
The Patriots will likely be down a legitimate defensive difference-maker this week; Judon’s 12.5 sacks in 15 games have him near the top of most Defensive Player of the Year ballots, rivaling Cleveland’s Myles Garrett and Dallas rookie Micah Parsons.
The only saving grace of this unfortunate update, assuming Judon is relatively symptom-free, is the timing. Theoretically, he’ll be clear for the playoffs and unlikely to face reinfection in that short time frame.
Additionally, the team on the other end of Sunday’s game added far more names to Monday’s NFL record COVID update. Jacksonville, in the midst of a full-on outbreak of the Omicron Variant, added 10 players to the Reserve/COVID list.
Ironically, Sunday might’ve been Judon’s weakest game of the season; he pressured Josh Allen just once, and was caught up in a dirty play controversy one week after Carson Wentz called his trash-talking into question.
New England is not alone in battling the newest wave of COVID-19, and in all earnestness has likely gotten comparatively “lucky” so far.
Now, containment remains the name of the game, as well as the dreaded “Next Man Up” mentality.