Absence of Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe could put Patriots' D in tough spot

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are looking at the possibility of playing Sunday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons without two of their top three cornerbacks, as Stephon Gilmore (concussion) and Eric Rowe (groin) remained out of practice for a second straight day.

If both aren't ready for Sunday, it would leave the Patriots with just Malcolm Butler, Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones as healthy cornerbacks, with Jomal Wiltz and Ryan Lewis candidates for a promotion from the practice squad. As they did against the Jets on Sunday, the Patriots could also tap their safeties in more cornerback-type roles, with Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty offering that type of versatility, with Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards and Nate Ebner also at the position for depth.

The challenge is how the Patriots will match up against the Falcons' three-receiver package of Julio Jones, Mohammed Sanu (if he is healthy from a hamstring injury) and Taylor Gabriel (slot).

If the Falcons want to hit at the Patriots' most vulnerable area, having those three players on the field at the same time might be the smart approach. To this point, however, the Falcons have been in three-or-more receiver sets 55.9 percent of the time this season, which is below the league average of 61.3 percent.

Gilmore missed last Sunday's win over the Jets after being added to the injury report the day before the game with a concussion. ESPN's Josina Anderson reported that Gilmore had been experiencing headaches since the team's Oct. 5 win over the Buccaneers as he had banged heads with receiver Mike Evans on a play. Gilmore had participated fully in practice last week, and based on the timeline of events, he apparently didn't report concussion-type symptoms until late in the week.

Rowe has been sidelined since injuring his groin Oct. 1 against the Panthers.