Five players are down and out
NASHVILLE -- The Patriots will be without nose tackle Vince Wilfork and tight end Benjamin Watson for today's game, as both players were downgraded to out on the injury report.
Wilfork (right ankle) and Watson (left knee) have been sidelined since suffering third-quarter injuries in the team's loss to the Dolphins Dec. 10.
The Patriots also downgraded running back Kevin Faulk (knee), defensive back Chad Scott (back), and wide receiver Bam Childress (ankle) to out for today's game.
Second-year defensive lineman Mike Wright will likely make his third straight start in place of Wilfork, while rookie tight end David Thomas -- who is coming off a career-high five-catch game -- projects to see expanded playing time.
Without Faulk, who often plays on third down, the Patriots lose their top running back in the passing game. Rookie Laurence Maroney will likely pick up some of those duties.
Scott, who has made nine starts (eight at corner, one at safety), came off the bench last week and split snaps with Ellis Hobbs at cornerback. Childress played in his second game of the season last week and made two catches. The Patriots still have five other receivers on their 53-man active roster.
"We're much more efficient in the passing game, as evidenced by last week," said Brady, who connected on a season-high 71.8 percent of his throws in a 24-21 win over the Jaguars. "I think we're playing as well as we have all year. We're really starting to put some pressure on defenses, and that bodes well for us going into this part of the season."
Regardless of how much Brady plays today, it's clear that last Sunday's performance has given the Patriots confidence heading into the playoffs. Brady noted how his completion percentage has risen steadily over the year.
In the team's first five games, his completion percentages were 47.8, 51.7, 56.4, 57.7, and 55.2.
In the last 10 games, Brady has completed more than 60 percent of his passes eight times, with his only sub-60 percent performances coming against the Colts and Dolphins.
"The offense has evolved," said Brady, adding that a reduction in turnovers and penalties also has been a key factor. "We can run it. We can throw it when we need to. We have a bunch of playmakers on offense, and all are capable of catching the football and getting open."
The 6-foot-5-inch, 272-pound Conover originally was signed by the Titans as a free agent May 5. At Bucknell, he played in 36 games, with 34 starts, and finished his career with 142 tackles (33 for losses) and 17 1/2 sacks (fifth in school history).
Conover, 22, was a Shriners all-star selection as a senior at Whitman-Hanson.
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.