Patriots preview: Patriots get a few breaks on injury front

Douglas Flynn

A team doesn't go 16-0 without talent and execution, and the Patriots possessed those attributes in abundance this season.

But the Pats will also be the first to admit that they couldn't have completed the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history without a few breaks - and fewer broken bones - along the way.

That included unlikely second chances against Baltimore after the Ravens called time out and the Pats jumped offside on a pair of failed fourth-down attempts, and more than a few balls that bounced just right for New England.

But most of all, the Pats' good fortune was reflected in the relatively short list of names on their injury report this year.

"I just think we've been fortunate this season in a lot of ways," said quarterback Tom Brady. "Along with a lot of hard work, you need quite a bit of luck, too. I think we've been on the good side of that, in terms of injuries and the ball bouncing our way at certain times."

Brady himself has been a fixture on that injury report, listed as "probable" with a shoulder ailment every week. But he's started 124 straight games, the third longest streak in the league among current quarterbacks.

"One thing Tom does, he trains hard, he works hard and I think he gives himself every opportunity to be as healthy and as physically in condition as his own personal body will allow," said Coach Bill Belichick. "I'm not saying he's the greatest athlete in the history of sport, but he works as hard as anybody does to give himself a maximum chance to be the best that he can be."

Others haven't been as fortunate, as the Pats did lose tight end David Thomas in October, running back Sammy Morris and linebacker Rosevelt Colvin in November and defensive lineman Mike Wright in December.

"Injuries happen," said safety Rodney Harrison. "It happens to everyone. There's not one team in the NFL that doesn't have a string of injuries. It's just something you have to adapt to, something you have to adjust to. It's a part of the game."

It just hasn't been as much a part of New England's game this year as in seasons past, or nearly as much as opposing teams have had to deal with this year.

The Patriots have faced three teams without their starting quarterbacks (Miami's Trent Green, Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb, Baltimore's Steve McNair), three more without their top running backs (Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson, Buffalo's Marshawn Lynch, Miami's Ronnie Brown), one without a future Hall-of-Fame receiver (Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison), one without a Pro Bowl tight end (the Giants' Jeremy Shockey) and another without a star defender (Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu).

And the Pats did more than their share of damage to add to their opponents' injury lists.

They knocked out Buffalo QB J.P. Losman just three plays into their first meeting, Cleveland's leading rusher Jamal Lewis after just one carry, Brown in their first game against the Dolphins and a quartet of Giants regulars in the regular-season finale.

The Patriots had plenty of bumps and bruises, and worse, themselves.

They lost just four players for the season to injured reserve, but have had a number of other key players miss games or play through injuries to help the team make history.

"There were a lot of trials and tribulations, a lot of tough times," said Harrison. "A lot of guys that had to fight through pain and injuries. It's just a very emotional time for us. It was tough."

The Patriots proved they were tough enough to handle everything thrown at them this season.

And talented enough.

And even a little lucky too.