Bill Belichick rarely divulges anything about injuries on his team, so don’t expect the Patriots’ coach to offer much detail about the physical condition of his banged-up defense. But after getting some of his key offensive players back from injury in time for the playoffs, Belichick now faces problems on the other side of the ball.

Three key defenders were forced to leave New England’s 27-20 win over the Chiefs on Saturday, and there’s no telling what their availability might be for this Sunday’s AFC championship game against the Broncos in Denver. Linebackers Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo left the game against the Chiefs in the third quarter, with Collins suffering a back problem and Mayo injuring one of his shoulders. Neither returned.

Defensive end Chandler Jones, who started despite having been treated for a medical emergency at the Foxborough Police Station the previous weekend for an unspecified problem, also left in the second half with a right leg injury and didn’t return. And linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who has been dealing with a knee injury since Week 12, was in and out of the lineup.

Somehow, the Patriots patched things together well enough to hold off the Chiefs. Now the stakes get higher this week, and while Peyton Manning may not be as good as he once was because of age and his own injury issues, the Patriots will be challenged nevertheless. Manning was able to overcome the Steelers’ defense, which finally wore down near the end of a 23-16 loss on Sunday.

“It’s a testament to everybody,” veteran safety Devin McCourty said. “This whole team comes in and puts in a lot of work – injured guys, healthy guys, guys who haven’t played much. It’s all about how well you play against another good playoff team.”

Good coaching is certainly a help, and Belichick is the best there is in today’s game.


Or maybe in any era. The fact that he’s able to continue winning with a revolving door of players – with the notable exception of quarterback Tom Brady – is the best indicator of just how good a teacher and motivator Belichick has been over the years.

“Our depth at linebacker really came through (against the Chiefs) and like we talked about after the game, it’s one of those situations where everybody’s got to be ready to go,” Belichick said. “You never know how it’s going to go in the playoffs.”

The injuries on defense mean another collective effort will be needed against the Broncos. If the Patriots beat Denver they advance to their seventh Super Bowl appearance in the Belichick era.

“It is what it is,” Belichick said. “It’s the National Football League. Every team has an injury report. We have a lot of tough guys in this room, on this team.

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