New England Patriots

Losing Cody Davis, seen here downing a punt vs. Miami in 2020, caused a lot of shuffling on Patriots special teams. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

  • As often as injuries occur in football, which at the NFL level is a game of attrition unfolding over 18 weeks, three words are constantly recycled from the mouths of the men who must play on.

    Next. Man. Up.

    That simple, right? Not really.

    In fact, as we’re reminded this week, sometimes it’s a lot more complicated. Consider an injury the Patriots incurred at Cleveland.

    But for the nameplate above the No. 22 on his back, Cody Davis had been virtually anonymous to casual fans since signing to play here as a free agent in 2020. He’d appeared on defense for all of one snap in 36 games; otherwise cast exclusively in a variety of low-profile special teams roles.

    His moments of most visibility were when he stood between long snapper Joe Cardona and punter Jake Bailey as the punter’s personal protector. His modest stat line included 30 tackles and a blocked field goal (at the Chargers in 2020) in however many of his more than 700 special teams snaps overall spent on kick cover and rush units.

    Last Sunday at Cleveland, Davis was covering a kick against the Browns when he suffered a non-contact knee injury. On Tuesday, he was placed on injured reserve. On Wednesday, NFL Network reported the injury to be season-ending.

    The Pats made it through their victory over the Browns by using three teammates, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Adrian Phillips and Pierre Strong, to fill the one Davis’s varied roles.

    “Without Cody out there we had to finish the game, and it’s a lot of people,” special teams coordinator Cam Achord said. “He’s a four-phase guy. Not only is he a four-phase guy, he’s one of the guys you rely on for (his) signal-caller ability, making calls, making checks, making adjustments. He does a lot for our football team.

    “He’s also on the field-goal rush team. He’s on the kickoff team. He’s the guy communicating on the punt team, as personal protector.”

    Head coach Bill Belichick later expounded on the domino effect of losing a utility man extraordinaire.

    “You lose that player on five different units. So each unit has its own dynamics. Each unit has its own responsibilities that come with what he does,” Belichick said on Wednesday. “Nobody can just plug in a guy and get out of Cody Davis what he has given us. That player would already be on the field and if you move that one to him, then you replace the other guy.”

    Here’s where it can get confusing.

    “So however it goes is some type of combination of maybe changing some responsibilities, maybe in certain areas, again you’re talking about five different units,” Belichick continued. “So the answer is really not the same for every unit that he’s on. But the question has to be answered somewhere along the line.
    “Then of course, there’s also the backup for those five spots. Once you identify who the person is that’s going to replace Cody, then there’s five people that have to replace him. Or one person has to replace him on five different units. However you want to look at it. But it’s five replacements that you have to come up with.”

    Got that?

    “That’s part of the challenge of special teams and certainly being a special teams coach. You have multiple units, a lot of moving parts, you can’t backup – you have 66 spots on the six special team units, not counting the ‘hands team’ and other situational plays like that, so forget about all those,” said Belichick, explaining that those 66 spots require 66 backups.

    Keep in mind, only 46 players are dressed and active on game day. Two are quarterbacks. A third is the place kicker. A fourth is the punter. A fifth is the long snapper. And a sixth is the injured player.

    So now you’re at 40 guys of different shapes and sizes, from offensive and defensive linemen to wide receivers and defensive backs, to cover all those roles. Good thing only 11 of the spots are on the field at once.

    “Obviously, you have to have multiple players backing up in some capacity, however you organize it,” Belichick added. “But that’s what you deal with. Then when you lose one or two players in a game or whenever it is, it just becomes exponential.”

    Shortly after Belichick signed off his media Zoom on Wednesday morning, we learned the Patriots had signed rookie Raleigh Webb off the Ravens practice squad.

    Webb was a wide receiver at The Citadel. With Baltimore, he was a part-time special teamer, appearing for 34 total snaps in two games, including Week 3 at Foxborough. With the Patriots, he’s likely to be used similarly and perhaps more extensively.

    Lest one think you can simply and seamlessly plug and play the next man up on offense or defense, center David Andrews shared how an injury can topple dominoes or cause them to be taken off the table altogether.

    “There could be a major injury that happens and that knocks you out of a personnel group that maybe you were going to spend a lot of time in,” Andrews said, citing the recent injury to Damien Harris that forced the team to play most of the game vs. Detroit with just one running back. “Anything we have with two running backs might change.”

  • roquan smith

    Linebacker Roquan Smith leads a Bears defense that’s allowed just 35 points in the second half. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    Second-half defense

    Chicago’s defense has allowed just 35 points after halftime in six games. Only Minnesota (Week 5) and Washington (Week 6) have scored touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters. 

    The Bears are one of four teams to yield two or fewer touchdowns in the second half. Buffalo (two), Denver (one) and Cincinnati (none) are the others.

    The Vikings drove 75 yards in 17 plays, consuming 7 minutes, to take a 29-22 lead with 2:26 left. Kirk Cousins scored on a one-yard run, before completing a two-point conversion pass to Justin Jefferson.

    The Commodores needed to cover only six yards in two snaps after recovering a muffed punt at the Bears’ six-yard line. Brian Robinson gave Washington a 12-7 lead with 7:21 remaining on a one-yard rush. The score held up as final.

    “They do a really good job in-game, adjusting,” Andrews says. “It’s not just a fluke to be as good as they are in the second half.”

  • Robert Quinn

    Robert Quinn and the Bears held Trey Lance to only 13 completions in the season opener. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    Passing thoughts

    Opposing quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions (five) than touchdown passes (four) against Chicago’s defense. Overall, the Bears are allowing just 178.7 passing yards per game, the third-lowest total in the league. 

    However, here’s how their stats differ from one three-game sample to another.  

    Facing Trey Lance (49ers), Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor (Giants) and Carson Wentz (Commanders), Chicago allowed a .515 completion rate (34-of-66) and 104.0 yards a game, with two interceptions.

    Opposite Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Davis Mills (Texans) and Kirk Cousins (Vikings), they gave up a .727 completion percentage (72-of-99), four touchdowns and 253.3 yards a contest, with three picks.

    Bob Socci is in his 10th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.