|Streeter Lecka/ Getty Images|
Now that the offense finally has all it's playmakers back, the Patriots secondary has been the latest group to catch the injury bug. With starting safety Steve Gregory (broken thumb) and starting corner Alfonzo Dennard (knee) already out, the Patriots already were in a bit of a numbers crunch going into last night's game. By the end of it, top cornerback Aqib Talib was on the sidelines, with the hip injury that had kept him out of their last three games flaring up again.
This left the Patriots precariously thin in the secondary. By the Panthers final, eventual game-winning drive, the Pats top three corners were Kyle Arrington (playing through a painful groin injury that caused him to leave the game briefly in the third quarter), rookie Logan Ryan and special teamer Marquice Cole. The result? Cam Newton calmly completed 5 of his 8 passes for 57 yards and a game winning touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr.
There's never a good time to have your secondary decimated by injuries, but there isn't a worse time than when Peyton Manning and his Broncos are next on the schedule. Manning's Broncos need no introduction, as they've dominated headlines all season with their juggernaut passing offense.
If there's any consolation, it's the fact that the Broncos are a little banged up too. Wes Welker sustained a concussion in the Broncos Sunday Night win. He's tentatively expected to play, but concussion clearance can be tough to forecast under the NFL's protocol. Emerging star TE Julius Thomas is also considered "day-to-day" with a hyperextended knee. Both could conceivably play Sunday, but both are also situations worth monitoring throughout the week.
However, the Patriots will need some big time performances if they intend to escape next week's showdown with a win. The health of Aqib Talib is especially important: not only is he the team's best cornerback, but he's the only one with the size to deal with the 6'3", 229 pound Demaryius Thomas.
If the forecast is looking poor on Talib or Dennard's availability, the Pats might have to hit the waiver wire just to have healthy bodies on the roster. Kyle Arrington has shown some great toughness in fighting through a groin injury (one of the toughest injuries for corners who have to constantly cut and change direction to play through), but last night was a reminder that his injury will be a threat to flare up again throughout the season. Logan Ryan has held up well, especially for a rookie, but one healthy, competent cornerback is three too few against Denver's offense. Marquice Cole plays hard, but really is more of a special teams player than a cornerback. If he's on the field, Peyton Manning will find him, and the result will be equivalent to stealing.
The Patriots have done an admirable job of fighting through adversity and injuries all year long. There's no doubt that they'll put up a fight against Manning's Broncos on Sunday. Whether the sheer volumes of injuries is too much to overcome is another question entirely.