By Gregory Hunt
Wild card weekend is over, and thanks to an improbable comeback from a 28-point deficit to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Indianapolis Colts will come to Gillette Stadium to meet the New England Patriots Saturday at 8:15 EST in an AFC divisional playoff game.
The Patriots have dealt with injuries to key players all season long, but in earning a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs, New England got a chance to heal and begin the playoffs with a healthier team. This was particularly important for veteran offensive guard Logan Mankins and rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson, who were both injured during New England's 34-20 victory against the Buffalo Bills in Week 17. Mankins suffered an ankle injury, but returned to the game after receiving treatment in the locker room. Dobson suffered a foot injury and did not return.
Dobson missed the first three games of December with a foot injury, but it was not clear whether the injury against the Bills was a new one or an aggravation of the old one. Neither Dodson nor Mankins were seen practicing with the team last week, although safety Devin McCourty, who missed the Bills game altogether with a concussion, returned to practice on Wednesday. Mankins was seen wearing a walking boot earlier in the week. Also missing practice was cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who had previously been hobbled by a knee injury, but is now also dealing with a shoulder issue.
Regretfully, one player who will not be returning to the team for the playoffs is wide receiver and kick returner Josh Boyce, who was placed on the injured reserve list last week. Boyce has not played since suffering an ankle injury during New England's 24-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 15. This season, the rookie has caught nine passes for 121 yards, and returned nine kicks for 214 yards.
To replace Boyce, the Patriots re-signed wide receiver Austin Collie, who now begins his third stint with the team this season. Collie played with the Colts from 2009-2012. He has played in seven games for New England this season, catching six passes for 63 yards.
At tight end, Michael Hoomanawanui missed several games due largely to a knee injury. He played in Week 17, but did not catch a pass. Matthew Mulligan played in 15 games, catching only two passes, but he should see some time against the Colts.
Expected to play on Saturday is cornerback Aqib Talib. In spite of missing three games this season with a hip injury, Talib was recently named to the Associated Press All-Pro team, along with Mankins and McCourty.
One area in which the Patriots are completely healthy is at running back. Shane Vereen missed eight games this season with a wrist injury, but he played in every game in December. Brandon Bolden, Stevan Ridley and LaGarrette Blount all have no apparent injuries, and Blount is coming off a career day in Week 17 in which he ran for 189 rushing yards and 145 kick return yards. The only real concern here is Ridley's penchant for fumbling. He lost four fumbles early in the season, and he was listed inactive for a couple of games as a result.
For more Patriots news and updates, visit Patriots Central.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He's also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women's college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.
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