FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Playing on Thanksgiving can be a pain or a privilege for NFL players.
For the Patriots, avoiding a Turkey Day kickoff this year was universally seen as a blessing.
The flu-stricken Pats likely would have been down several players and a handful of starters had they played on Thanksgiving. The team listed 17 players on its final injury report for Sunday’s game at Houston, including 10 due to illness. Bill Belichick openly admitted Friday that playing on short rest would have been problematic.
“We’ve had some guys miss, so we’ll see how they are today and re-evaluate it after today,” Belichick said Friday. “(It) would’ve been hard if we had played yesterday, I’ll say that.”
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins and safety Patrick Chung are questionable for Sunday. All participated in Friday’s practice, as did left tackle Isaiah Wynn, who missed two practices earlier in the week. Only linebacker Van Noy and tight end Ryan Izzo were absent Friday.
Izzo is the only player who’s been ruled out.
Never one to offer excuses, Belichick insisted the Pats are pressing forward regardless of the unprecedented spread of sickness in the locker room.
“It is what it is,” Belichick said. “We have players on the practice squad, we have players on our roster. If we need somebody to step into a spot, hopefully they’re ready to do it.”
Considering the team’s matchup with the Texans and All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins, arguably no player will be more pivotal than Gilmore. The league’s top cornerback shadowed Hopkins in the teams’ most recent meeting, a 27-20 Pats win in the 2018 season opener. Gilmore’s only improved since, earning his first All-Pro nod last year and thrusting himself into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation this season.
However, Gilmore’s mere presence won’t be enough to count on a lock-down performance.
His worst game last season occurred while he was under the weather. Titans wide receiver Corey Davis went off for six catches, 98 receiving yards and a touchdown against him. Davis was the 31st-best wideout in the league last season, per Pro Football Focus player grades.
Hopkins, of course, is an entirely different challenge; just as this week has been thanks to a flu bug now finally in retreat.