FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots’ secondary will be down at least two starters against the Panthers, as safety Steve Gregory (finger) and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee) have been ruled out for Monday night’s game.
Gregory suffered a broken thumb against the Steelers and has not practiced since, so it was not expected that he would play this week. However, Dennard was listed as limited in practice on Thursday and Friday before not practicing at all Saturday.
The severity of Dennard’s injury is unclear. He was not listed on the injury report before this week for knee issues; earlier this season he was listed with an ankle injury and he missed time in training camp because of a leg injury.
The Patriots list cornerbacks Aqib Talib (hip) and Kyle Arrington (groin) as questionable, though signs point to Talib’s return after a monthlong absence.
Running back Leon Washington (ankle) is also listed as questionable. Quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder), wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin), tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring), and wide receiver Matthew Slater (wrist) are probable.
The Patriots removed running back Brandon Bolden (knee) from the report.
Meanwhile, Carolina will be without linebacker Chase Blackburn (foot), tight end Ben Hartsock (knee), and guard Chris Scott (knee).
Top cornerback Drayton Florence (groin) was added to the Panthers’ report Saturday and did not practice. However, coach Ron Rivera told reporters that he expects Florence to play and that he was held out of practice as a precaution.
Monday won’t just be the first time Brandon Spikes will be playing in his home state as a professional football player, it will be the first time he plays a game in North Carolina since his days in Shelby with the Crest High Chargers ended in 2006.
The Patriots’ linebacker left to play four years with the Florida Gators and was drafted by New England in the second round in 2010.
Spikes expects 50 friends and family at Bank of America Stadium, making their way from Shelby, about 45 miles west of Charlotte.
“I’m extremely excited and I’m excited for my family, for the people that aren’t able to travel because of their jobs and stuff like that,” Spikes said. “But I’m still going to take the same approach — it’s a business trip for me, I’m going to go down and play well, play at a high level.”
And this is just the type of game Spikes likes. The Panthers have the NFL’s 10th-ranked rushing offense, averaging 127.8 yards per game, and Spikes is one of the game’s best run-stoppers.
“They’ve been having a lot of success this season running the ball, controlling the clock, stuff like that, so I’m looking forward to it being a physical game, an electric atmosphere,” he said.
“[The Panthers] have been playing great the last five games and Cam [Newton] does a phenomenal job of getting everybody involved and himself making plays,” Spikes said. “I know he’s going to be excited because it’s a Monday night game, he likes the spotlight, he’s always been like that. He’s the quarterback, he gets everybody going, and I feel like we’re going to get their best shot.”
The Patriots last played the Panthers in 2009 in Foxboro.
“It’s a long time coming,” Spikes said, adding that he’s long been getting questions about when he’ll be playing back home. “But it was scheduled this year, a Monday night game — it couldn’t be better.”
First and long
The Panthers’ defense has been pretty stingy, surrendering 115 over the first nine games (12.8 per game), the second fewest in the league.
But where the unit has really shone is in the first two quarters. The Panthers have allowed 42 total first-half points, with the team outscoring opponents, 103-42.
Carolina has yet to surrender a first-quarter touchdown, giving up 6 points, on field goals by the 49ers and Bucs.
Those statistics, in part, are why Carolina leads the league in time of possession.
“They’ve played from ahead quite a bit,” Bill Belichick said this week. “Any time you play from ahead, in the second half of the game, you normally would have a time-of-possession advantage, just because of the situation in the game. They’ve been in that position a number of times.”
The Patriots have done well in the first half, outscoring opponents, 125-77. But they’ve struggled in the third quarter, when they’ve been outscored, 58-29.