Following the Patriots’ 30-23 win in Atlanta Sunday night, the team returned home to Foxborough with the biggest question being what will happen following the loss of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.
Wilfork was injured on the Falcons’ first drive of the game and had to be carted to the locker room. It was reported he had suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon and could be out for the rest of the season. Head coach Bill Belichick, in a conference call Monday morning, would not confirm any of the reports.
“I really don’t have a lot of information,” he said. “We got back late last night; I know they’re going to look at [Vince] and do some tests this morning… I really don’t know much right now, I haven’t had a chance to meet with our medical people and I don’t even know what they have done yet.”
The 10-year veteran and team captain has been a staple of the Patriots’ defense for the past decade, making the Pro Bowl five times. Wilfork is the only remaining Patriot from any of the Super Bowl championship teams besides quarterback Tom Brady.
Belichick knows what a big loss it would be if Wilfork cannot play.
“[Vince is] an outstanding player,” he said. “He gives us great leadership, is a strong contributor on and off the field, in the locker room, and everything else … Obviously if he’s not there then everybody [will have to] pull a little bit more weight on their end.”
One player who had to step in and try to fill Wilfork’s shoes was rookie Joe Vellano, who had a sack on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Vellano came in as an undrafted rookie and made the team out of training camp, getting opportunities to play in the preseason and making the most of them.
“Joe’s a hard working kid,” Belichick said. “He was a productive player in college; he played a lot of spots at Maryland: he played end, he played tackle, [and] he played some on nose … He’s got good instincts, kind of has a nose for the ball and a good feel for what’s going on.
“[There are] a lot of things he has improved [upon] in terms of technique and recognition and reaction and all that. He’s still got a long way to go, but [he’s] definitely making progress. He works hard every day: he’s usually the first one on, last one off the field or close to it, [and] puts in a lot of time trying to get better at the things he needs to work on and that’s helping.”
A bright spot on the Patriots’ defense has been the play of cornerback Aqib Talib. He recorded his fourth interception of the year on Sunday, and has made many key defensive plays this season, including Sunday’s breakup of an attempted touchdown pass to Roddy White on fourth and 7 from the Patriots’ 10 yard line that would have tied the game with half a minute to play.
“Aqib has done a good job for us,” Belichick said. “[He’s a] smart player, good communicator, really competes hard, [and he] really competes well every day in practice, competes well on the field [in] whatever he’s asked to do, [whether it be] man coverage, zone coverage, tacking, [or] special teams, whatever it is he really works hard and competes hard … He’s one of our offseason award winners. He’s put in a lot of work and has had some good results.”
The Patriots were given the day off on Monday, but will re-group on Tuesday to begin preparations for their Week 5 matchup against the Bengals in Cincinnati.