Vince Wilfork, the 350-pound heart of the New England Patriots’ defense, is likely out for the season with a torn Achilles.
Head coach Bill Belichick said at his press conference Monday the Patriots were still gathering medical information, but later in the day told WEEI it was “unlikely” Wilfork would play again this season.
“We’ll just have to see how things turn out here. But he’s an outstanding player, we all know that,” Belichick said. “He gives us great leadership and he’s a strong contributor on and off the field and in the locker room and everything else. We’ll just have to see how things come together for him and also what, obviously if he’s not there, it will mean everybody having to pull a little bit more weight on their end.”
Wilfork was carted to the locker room with the injury Sunday night at Atlanta. He missed only six of his first 147 career games but was listed as questionable last week with foot injury.
He reportedly tore his right Achilles tendon.
Backups Michael Buchanan and Joe Vellano performed well at Atlanta. Both Buchanan and Vellano recorded sacks of Matt Ryan.
“Joe is a hard-working kid,” Belichick said. “He was a productive player in college and he played a lot of spots at Maryland: he played end, he played tackle, he played some on the nose. He has good instincts, kind of has a nose for the ball and a good feel for what’s going on. He’s really worked hard to, of course, come in and as an undrafted player and earn a spot on the roster. He’s had an opportunity to get some playing time as we went through preseason and he took advantage of those opportunities, made a few plays, had some production and it probably led to a little bit more opportunity and so forth.”
Linebacker Jerod Mayo said the Patriots talk regularly about the “next man up” stepping in, but the locker room was clearly in a state of mourning over Wilfork’s expected loss. He’s not only a massive body to occupy blockers and a playmaker who rarely leaves the field, the five-time Pro Bowl defender is a co-captain and the voice of the defense.
“Obviously Vince has been a staple for a long time and he rarely goes out with injuries so it was very shocking and surprising to see my friend go down like that,” Mayo said. “… It definitely caught me off guard a little bit because I’m used to always having him in there with me.”
Tight end Rob Gronkowski’s health and playing status remain a question in New England. Recovering from multiple offseason surgeries on a broken/infected left forearm as well as a summer back procedure, Gronkowski has been practicing on a limited basis all season.
According to the Boston Herald and ESPN, there is a divide between the team and the player in regards to his status. The Patriots reportedly feel the Pro Bowler is ready to play, and began feeling that way as early as Week 2. But Gronkowski and his “inner circle” are taking a more cautious approach that has led to him being inactive for the first four games.
But Patriots president Jonathan Kraft downplayed any potential rift between the team and one of its biggest stars.
“There is absolutely no disagreement between the team and Rob Gronkowski,” Kraft said on his weekly pregame radio interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub on Sunday.
“There is no dissension between Rob and the Patriots. … He’ll come back when everything is right for him to come back.”