Pats rule out Aaron Hernandez, 5 others

Updated: December 25, 2010, 10:09 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was among six players who were downgraded to out Saturday night for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills. Hernandez has a hip injury.

In addition, starting right guard Dan Connolly (concussion), outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham (calf) and defensive linemen Mike Wright (concussion), Myron Pryor (back) and Brandon Deaderick (shoulder) have been ruled out.

That's a significant list of some key players for the Patriots, who can clinch the AFC East and the top seed in the conference with a victory.

Without Hernandez, the Patriots will have just two tight ends active against the Bills (Rob Gronkowski and Alge Crumpler). That could lead to some more pure three wide receiver packages with Brandon Tate and possibly Julian Edelman.

With Wright, Pryor and Deaderick out on the defensive line, the Patriots will likely have Landon Cohen active as sub rusher. The lack of depth also makes Ron Brace's status crucial. He is questionable with a concussion.

Second-year offensive lineman Ryan Wendell and five-year veteran Quinn Ojinnaka are the candidates to start at right guard in Connolly's absence.

And with Cunningham out, the Patriots lose their starting outside linebacker in the 3-4 alignment. Tully Banta-Cain, if healthy, will probably step in.

The Patriots will have to downgrade two more players 90 minutes before the 1 p.m. ET kickoff.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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