Pats must confront more injuries heading into tough stretch
Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The Patriots have been pretty fortunate in regards to how their schedule has played out this season.
The final four games of the regular season could prove to be their toughest yet, though they may face one or more of them with yet another key player sidelined.
New England receiver and Danny Amendola left Sunday's 26-10 win over the Rams in the third quarter with an ankle injury, and was later spotted in the tunnel postgame walking on crutches.
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Should he miss any playing time, it would be the latest blow to a team that's already lost tight end Rob Gronkowski to season-ending back surgery last week. It also creates a hole on special teams, where Amendola also serves as the primary punt returner.
''Any time you lose a guy like Danny who's another big piece of this team, it's terrible,'' receiver Julian Edelman said. ''He's a good leader on this team. He comes in and he makes plays. He catches first downs like it's nothing. He makes big plays in the special-teams game. So it's gonna be tough.''
The Patriots will face three teams that currently have winning records over the next four weeks, beginning with a Monday night matchup with the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens and their always stingy defense.
The Ravens had no problem dispatching Miami, currently second to New England in the AFC East, in a 38-6 win on Sunday. The victory snapped the Dolphins' six-game win streak.
''Obviously, they're a good team,'' Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount said. ''Right now, we've got to make sure we stay on our P's and Q's, and cross our X's and just continue to do what we've got to do to make sure that we continue to win these games.''
The Rams return home with even more problems to work through on offense after managing just 162 yards of offense.
They did not cross midfield in the first half and didn't get inside the Patriots 25 until a 66-yard pass from rookie Jared Goff to Kenny Britt just after the two-minute warning to set up their lone touchdown.
''The elephant in room is the offense. I get it. We're working hard on it,'' coach Jeff Fisher said.
Fisher says not to blame Goff for the team's offensive struggles. The bigger problem was dropped throws and pass protection.
''When you hit someone in the chest with the football, you've got to hang on it, even though there is contact involved,'' Fisher said. ''He extended plays with his legs; he moved around. … Jared Goff wasn't the reason we lost this football game today.''
Goff completed 14 of 32 passes for 161 yards – 66 of them on a fourth-down throw to Kenny Britt to set up the Rams' only touchdown with just under 2 minutes left. He also had two interceptions, one on a tipped ball and the other when his arm was hit while he was throwing.
''We tip the ball and they catch it and then they tip a ball and they catch it. You know, that's the difference in the ballgame really,'' Fisher said.
TURNING A CORNER: The Patriots' defense may be coming together at the right time. After failing to force a turnover for 44 straight possessions, New England's defense has four over the past two games.
''Sometimes you have droughts and lulls, and there's a lot of things that you need: good breaks,'' defensive end Chris Long said. ''People outside the locker room may be panicking when we don't get them, but not us. ''
CLOSING IN ON 1,000: Blount rushed 18 times for 88 yards and a touchdown Sunday, leaving him just 43 yards shy of posting his first 1,000-yard season since 2010, when he rushed for 1,007 as a rookie.
Blount was placed on injured reserve last December with a hip injury, but said he isn't thinking about that even with a bruising running style that makes him more vulnerable to hits.
''You can't worry about injuries. You can't worry about last year,'' he said. ''You've just got to worry about what you can control. Injuries – you can't really control. You've just got to worry about what you can control.''
Rams punter Johnny Hekker didn't let it go to his head after usually tight-lipped Patriots coach Bill Belichick called him a ''tremendous weapon,'' ''dangerous'' and ''as good a player as I've ever seen at that position.''
''It was cool and a little flattering hearing that from a long-time ball coach,'' Hekker said Sunday. ''I would love to have him raving about some other players on our team, because we have guys that are worthy of that kind of stuff. But it is a difficult year for us.''
Hekker punted eight times for a net average of 52.9 yards on Sunday, including a 76-yarder in the fourth quarter than helped pin the Patriots at their own 5-yard line.
Belichick's comments made it all the way to Hekker's parents.
''It definitely gave them a proud moment,'' he said. ''They were able to send them to all of their buddies. They were all pretty excited about it.''
AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen contributed to this report.
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