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Injuries, as much as any foe, biggest obstacle facing unbeaten Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis remained down with a left knee injury in the third quarter of Sunday’s victory over the Washington Redskins, LeGarrette Blount came off the sideline and kneeled next to him.

Those are the moments when everything stops for players. They’re human, too.

“It’s tough to see that. He’s one of my closest friends. I was just trying to make sure he’s OK, and trying to check on him,” explained Blount, who then walked off the field with the visibly upset Lewis.

“It’s very tough,” echoed special teams captain Matthew Slater, one of the team's spiritual leaders. “As players, every time we take the field we know we’re putting our bodies at risk and we just pray that we get out of there unscathed. Whenever you’re in that situation and see something that like, it’s very tough mentally and emotionally to move forward. I guess that’s part of being a professional; you have to try to do it when you can.”

The Patriots did so in Sunday's 27-10 victory on a day when Lewis, starting left tackle Sebastian Vollmer (head/presumably concussion) and safety Duron Harmon (medical staff checked his leg) didn’t finish the game.

Of the three injuries, Lewis’ appears to be the one with the most serious long-range implications. The Patriots found out Monday afternoon that Lewis will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, sources confirmed to ESPN.

Injuries are one of the worst parts of professional football, and the Patriots have been hit hard by them in recent weeks. The injuries are, as much as any opponent remaining on the schedule, the Patriots’ biggest obstacle at this point.

Their ability to overcome them this season, calling on the “next man up,” has been impressive and a reflection of the quality of their depth.

On Sunday, it was running back Brandon Bolden stepping in for Lewis and catching an 18-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Entering the game, Bolden had played a grand total of 20 offensive snaps all season, his primary contributions coming on special teams.

“You put us anywhere, in any situation, we’ll figure out a way to come out [on top],” said Bolden, now in his fourth year on the club. “And it starts from the top with Bill [Belichick]. He prepares everybody for any and everything. That’s what you saw out there today. Anything can happen and a lot of stuff happened out there. But everybody was ready.”

Sure, it probably helped that it was the Redskins -- and not one of the NFL's better teams -- on the opposite sideline. They dropped too many passes and made too many mistakes to give themselves a chance to pull off the upset, even though they were catching the banged-up Patriots at the right time.

But when one considers that the Patriots entered the game with just six healthy offensive linemen, and played the second half with their fourth and fifth offensive tackles, that’s about more than just a weak opponent.

That’s a job well done, by the players and coaching staff.

The injuries are mounting, but the Patriots haven't broken stride.

“The team is very mentally tough and that starts back in our offseason workouts, minicamp, training camp,” said defensive end Rob Ninkovich, one of the team’s most tenured players after arriving in 2009. “That’s where you put in all that hard work and create that mentally tough attitude. It’s unfortunate that we’ve had some injuries, but you just have to look forward, continue to push, and have that next-man-up mentality.”