Over and over again, the Patriots had every one of their players on the 53-man roster out at practice. Day after day. Late in the season.
Their run of good health was bordering on baffling.
Leading up to the AFC Championship Game with the Chiefs, the Patriots consistently had perfect attendance on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. Only one player, Deatrich Wise, was listed on the injury report. And even he was a full participant.
Leading up to the Super Bowl, Malcom Brown dealt with a calf issue. Dont'a Hightower dealt with an illness. Both were full participants by Friday. There was not another Patriots player who showed up on the Super Bowl week injury report.
Most notably, Bill Belichick's most important players were available. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, James White, Sony Michel, the entire starting offensive line, Trey Flowers, Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Kyle Van Noy, Hightower...all were good to go for the most important games of the season.
What if I told you, though, that the Patriots actually lost more games to injury in 2018 than they did in 2017?
Hard to believe, right? Could it be possible that in 2017 -- a year in which Julian Edelman, Hightower and Marcus Cannon all ended up on injured reserve -- the Patriots had better injury luck than in 2018?
That's how Football Outsiders sees it.
The site has released its "Adjusted Games Lost" figures for 2018, which showed the Patriots were the 18th-healthiest team in the league during their Super Bowl run. New England's adjusted games lost figure sat at 78.6 for the season, an uptick of more than 17 games lost from when they had an adjusted games lost number of 61.3 in 2017.
OK, so what are "adjusted games lost," exactly?
From Football Outsiders:
"We have collected the data from the NFL's weekly injury reports for every season since 2002. This allows us to measure not just who played and who didn't, but who was able to play with injuries, even if those injuries meant the player was at something less than 100 percent. That's why we call this metric adjusted games lost -- in addition to players who missed games entirely, we also count those who hit the field after appearing on the injury report at an adjusted rate. Further, we track whether the injured player was a starter, a situational reserve, or simply bottom-of-the-roster fodder. Obviously, an injury to a starting tackle is more important than one to a guy who only plays on special teams."
(You can read "Part 1" of Football Outsiders' adjusted games lost piece here. There are several interesting nuggets therein, including the fact that 13 (!) NFL players who were listed as "out" going into a game last season actually played. There's also a note about how no team listed more players as "questionable" last year than the Patriots. Fifty-nine of their 85 questionable players played.)
How did Football Outsiders arrive at 78.6 adjusted games lost for the Patriots, then? They broke things down by position in "Part 2" of their adjusted games lost piece.
According to the site, the Patriots were hit hardest along the offensive line. That makes sense, if Isaiah Wynn was projected to serve in a significant role. Wynn, of course, was lost for the season when he tore his Achilles during a preseason game. Cannon missed three games to injury, and Shaq Mason missed two. In all, Football Outsiders had the Patriots missing 22.0 games along their offensive line due to injury. Having Trent Brown fill in and play 16 games -- he might've beat Wynn for the starting job even if Wynn had been healthy -- clearly helped make up for losses suffered there.
The Patriots were then hardest hit by injuries to their defensive backs, per Football Outsiders. Projected starter Eric Rowe played only four games in 2018. That was the biggie. Patrick Chung missed a game. Duke Dawson, a second-round pick, didn't play at all, which may have led to the 17.7 games lost number Football Outsiders settled on.
At linebacker the Patriots were listed as having 14.6 adjusted games lost to injury thanks primarily, it seems, to rookie Ja'Whaun Bentley landing on injured reserve.
Running back (11.4 adjusted games lost) was another problem area for the Patriots, who lost Jeremy Hill for the season in Week 1 and saw Michel and Rex Burkhead go down with injuries for stretches of the year.
They're all interesting numbers to parse through. In the end, you may come to the conclusion that Patriots success is more dictated by the quality of the players injured rather than the quantity of players who've gone down.
Belichick's team was in the bottom half of the league in terms of "adjusted games lost" last year, but its core was on the field when it mattered. The result? They walked away from the wreckage with their sixth Lombardi Trophy.
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