FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sometimes the price of victory is high in the NFL.
On Sunday afternoon in the New England Patriots' dramatic, come-from-behind, last-second 30-27 victory over the previously unbeaten Saints, the cost came in the form of injuries to key players such as No. 1 cornerback Aqib Talib (hip), Pro Bowl linebacker Jerod Mayo (shoulder), top receiver Danny Amendola (head) and starting right guard Dan Connolly (head).
All four players failed to finish the contest, watching like the few fans remaining at Gillette Stadium as Tom Brady orchestrated the 38th victory of his career when either trailing or tied in the fourth quarter. Brady tossed a game-winning, 17-yard touchdown pass to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds to play.
The victory was a solid bounce-back effort after a lackluster loss a week earlier in Cincinnati in which Brady failed to a throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 52 games. New England's scoring output in the 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was its lowest since 2006.
As much as the win over New Orleans left coach Bill Belichick's team in a celebratory stupor, reality soon struck. If the four players who couldn't finish the game miss significant time, it would another big blow to a team that already was struggling with injuries early in 2013.
Rob Gronkowski, who missed the first six games of the season while recovering from forearm and back injuries, is just one of the many Patriots sidelined as Belichick guides his team through another successful start to the schedule.
Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork is lost for the year with a torn Achilles tendon. Third-down back Shane Vereen is on injured reserve with a designation to return in early November thanks to wrist injury suffered in the season opener.
Amendola missed three weeks with a torn groin and now is likely to miss more action after a vicious hit that left him with jelly legs as he tried to walk to the locker room.
New England's depth is a concern on both sides of the ball, and that will remain an issue in the coming weeks. However, the expectation is and always will be that the "next guy up" will get the job done. The philosophy is working so far.
Belichick was asked how he addresses the injury situation while keeping the team focused.
"I would say there are a lot of things that go into it, a combination obviously of medical clearance and making up the active roster for the 46 guys," Belichick said Monday. "Each week, we go through the process with all the players and do what we feel like is best for the team. Obviously, medical considerations are a big part of it, so we'll do that with every player."
In particular, is there some way he can get a feel for Gronkowski's progress in practice?
"Yeah, sure, that's what practice is for, part of it," he said. "But ultimately the players have to be cleared medically before we can put them in the game. There are a lot of players that practice that aren't ready to play yet, but they're ready to participate in practice. That's pretty common."
Belichick dismissed the notion than Gronkowski's situation is particularly frustrating.
"We have 53 players on the team," he said. "There's some element of that every week."
Brady was asked after another victory, one that was torn from the grips of defeat, how the Patriots were able to cull together the 5-1 start.
"That's a good question, that's a really good question," Brady told WEEI radio in Boston on Monday morning. "I think the expectation is for the players, and not the fact that you can use all the excuses that guys are hurt, we expected this thing to happen. And a lot of teams have guys that are hurt, and a lot of guys expect certain things to go their way and they don't. I think our team doesn't really take anything for granted, and we try to put the work in every single week."
Given the guys who got banged up Sunday, that work won't get any easier in the coming games, beginning with this weekend's trip to New York to take on the scrappy Jets (3-3).