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Bryan Stork's injury could cause shift

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Arguably the most significant injury-related question surrounding the New England Patriots is whether rookie center Bryan Stork will be available for Sunday's AFC Championship Game after injuring his right knee in the divisional round.

Specifics of Stork's injury are not known, but based on the fact he left the game in the second quarter and didn't return, and was nowhere to be found in the locker room when reporters were present after the game, it's not trending in the right direction.

Bill Belichick was asked Tuesday what Stork has brought to the team and how it might affect plans if he's not available.

"I think Bryan has done a good job for us. We finished the game without him last week, and if he wasn't available, we'd be in a similar situation this week," Belichick said. "Whether it would be the same [personnel] or different, I don't really want to get into that. But he's obviously done a good job for us and he's grown along the way."

When Stork departed in the second quarter, the Patriots shifted right guard Ryan Wendell to center, and inserted Josh Kline into the game at right guard.

Because the Patriots generally only dress seven offensive linemen on game day, the options are limited. But with a week to prepare for the possibility, the Patriots could explore some other options, such as rookie Cameron Fleming at right guard.

As for Stork, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels touched on his contributions to the team since emerging as a starter Sept. 29 against Kansas City.

"He's got a youthful approach to everything. When I say that, it's a compliment. Every day you see him walk in the building, every day seems like it's a great day. He's got a smile on his face, excited to come to work," he said.

"He’s extremely tough -- we knew that when we got him here. He hasn't let us down in that area at all. [He] works extremely hard at his craft, wants to be good and cares about trying to do his role to help our offense be productive and doesn't ever want to let anybody down. [He’s] really a pleasure to have here and coach.

"His demeanor, his work ethic, his toughness all fit in with that group in that room. I think he’s got a lot of veteran players in there to learn from, and he’s really tried to soak that in as much as he possibly could. He competed and improved and when he got his opportunity, he really has made the most of it. So, I have a ton of respect for the way he’s gone about his business as a young player, and he’s been a big part of our success this year."