EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Analysis from the Patriots' inactive players tonight:
1. Vollmer the big surprise. Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who has been listed as questionable with a back injury all season, will not suit up for the first time this year. That's a big blow as Vollmer had been playing at a Pro Bowl level. In addition to the back, Vollmer had a knee injury added to his designation on Oct. 10. Still, this news was unexpected; it makes one wonder if the short week was the reason -- just not enough time for Vollmer to recover from the previous game. Second-year man Marcus Cannon should start in his place.
2. Connolly back at right guard. Starting right guard Dan Connolly, who missed last Sunday’s win over the Colts with a back injury, returns. Connolly’s presence is important as the Patriots have the change at right tackle with Vollmer not dressing.
3. Hernandez and Chung active. Tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) is active for the first time since Oct. 21 against the Jets, while safety Patrick Chung (shoulder/hamstring) is back for the first time since Oct. 14 against the Seahawks. Chung’s presence could have a trickle-down effect at safety, where Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory have started the last two games. Chung could replace Gregory.
4. Cole bumped out by Talib? Marquice Cole has been a solid special teams performer this season, but it’s possible that the presence of Aqib Talib has bumped him off the 46-man roster, as Talib showed up on the punt return unit last week. Also, with Chung active, it’s another player who factors into the special teams mix. And if Alfonzo Dennard replaces Kyle Arrington at right cornerback, Arrington could take on a larger special teams role. So from a pure football perspective, it looks like Cole just got caught in a numbers crunch.
5. Francis helps fill out DE depth chart. As expected, rookie free agent Justin Francis is active after he was a healthy scratch last week. The Patriots needed the depth boost with starter Chandler Jones (ankle) out. It’s notable that Francis gets the nod over third-round draft choice Jake Bequette, as he adds some special teams value (punt return unit).
6. Fells back at tight end. After he was a healthy scratch against the Colts last Sunday, veteran tight end Daniel Fells will dress as the Patriots attempt to fill the void without injured Rob Gronkowski (broken left forearm). Fells joins Hernandez, Visanthe Shiancoe and Michael Hoomanawanui on the depth chart.