Patriots

Patriots down: Amendola, Hightower leave season-opener with injuries

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Patriots down: Amendola, Hightower leave season-opener with injuries

FOXBORO -- When Julian Edelman went down with a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, it seemed as though there were a handful of other Patriots who had suddenly become indispensible. On both sides of the ball. 

The thinking went: One more injury to a key player, and the fate of the Patriots' season may be in jeopardy. 

Near the top of that list: linebacker Dont'a Hightower. 

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Hightower left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury after Chiefs offensive lineman Mitch Morse fell on the outside of his right leg in the third quarter. Hightower remained on the ground for a few moments before eventually getting to his feet and slowly walking off the field under his own power. 

Later, Hightower emerged from the injury tent behind the Patriots bench and made his way over to a stationary bike. His knee was wrapped heavily for a time, though he remained on the sidelines with his teammates. 

Should Hightower miss any significant portion of time, the Patriots front-seven would be without its leader, and the relatively thin Patriots linebacker unit would be thinned even further. 

To begin the game, the Patriots used safety Jordan Richards as a linebacker on the end of the line opposite Hightower. Newcomer Cassius Marsh, another edge player, saw significant work after being traded to the Patriots less than a week ago. Kyle Van Noy tied for the team lead in snaps played with 68. David Harris, meanwhile, saw just two snaps as the Patriots relied on dime packages for much of the night. 

The Patriots were dealt another blow on the injury front when Danny Amendola left the game with a head injury in the third quarter and did not return. The team's No. 3 receiver, and their primary slot option against the Chiefs, had six catches on seven targets for 100 yards and seemed to be shaken up after a punt return. 

Headed into the game, there was some question as to what the Patriots would do at their punt-return spot. Amendola was their most experienced returner, yet his importance to the offense -- as the No. 3 receiver on a team that had only three healthy wideouts with experience in the system -- may have made the injury risk of that job too great. 

Amendola was the choice to return, though, adding a few extra hits to the total he saw on Thursday with Edelman out. When Amendola left the game, Patrick Chung was used as the team's punt-returner. 

If Amendola is forced to miss time going forward, the Patriots would utilize Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett as their top three wideouts, in all likelihood. Malcolm Mitchell was placed on injured reserve Thursday, and special-teams ace Matthew Slater (who has been used sparingly as a receiver in the past) did not play against the Chiefs due to injury.

Amendola is also the team's top slot receiver in Edelman's absence, meaning tight ends and running backs may have to help shoulder the workload if Amendola needs to miss playing time in order to recover. 

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Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

None of us thought Johnson Bademosi would be starting this past Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the Jets because -- well -- that’s not what we perceive the 27-year-old to be. He’s a special teamer. It’s how he’s made his mark in the NFL dating back to 2012 with Cleveland. So why would that change in mid-October for a team he’s only been with for six weeks? Because Bademosi is -- and has always been -- intent on proving he’s more than a niche player.

“I see myself as a football player,” he said, “and whatever position they put me in, I’m going to try to be the best because that’s how I operate and who I am as a person. Whether that’s as a cornerback, on special teams, if they ask me to play wildcat quarterback. Whatever…”

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Bill Belichick and his staff asked for Bademosi to go on the field and not come off. He played 73 defensive snaps in addition to his usual core four special teams duties. 

“I felt like I played a whole game,” Bademosi joked, before saying, “I love playing football so I’m going to go out there and empty myself.”

He did just that, getting targeted only two times in the 24-17 win over the Jets. It was hoped that Bademosi would return to his normal specialist role, but with Stephon Gilmore still out with a concussion, it now seems more and more likely that the sixth year pro will have to be an ironman again Sunday night in primetime against the Falcons. Historically, the Pats have defended bigger receivers. That means Bademosi may be responsible for one of the most dangerous players in the league, Julio Jones.

“He’s an amazing player," he said. “We all know what he’s capable of. As a defense, we have to be prepared for him.”

The Pats were on Super Bowl Sunday and Jones still made a couple of ridiculous plays with either Logan Ryan or Eric Rowe in coverage with safety help over the top.

“He’s fast. He’s physical. He can jump. He can run. He’s smart. He’s everything you want in a wide receiver,” said Bademosi without blinking an eye. That’s the kind of confidence you want from a player at that position and facing this type of challenge. 

“You gotta believe in yourself,” he said “ I’m confident in my abilities. I work hard and trust my preparation.”

Being an elite athlete certainly helps. Bademosi was a scholarship football player at Stanford -- “some guy named Jim Harbaugh called” -- before ending up in the NFL. But it’s Bademosi’s willingness to go all in in the film room that impressed safety Devin McCourty. 

“…I think, honestly, the most work he did was probably with just himself jumping into the film, watching more stuff to exactly see,” said McCourty Thursday. “You know, when you’re a backup more, you’re kind of trying to see everything because you don’t know what role you might be thrust upon once you’re in the game. But, I think once he knew he was starting, it was kind of like, ‘Alright, let me focus in on this.’ I thought he did an awesome job of just being ready and competing.”

Bademosi will have to compete his ass off Sunday night, even against what has been to this point a physically compromised Jones. Based on what he did several days ago, there’s no reason to believe the Pats cornerback won’t bring everything he has, trying to prove again that he’s more than just a special teams whiz.

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