Injuries force Pats to play without starters Neal, Kaczur

Updated: December 28, 2007, 9:35 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The New England Patriots will attempt to complete the NFL's first 16-0 regular season on Saturday minus the starting right side of their offensive line.

Guard Stephen Neal (shoulder) and tackle Nick Kaczur (foot) were downgraded by team officials to "out" for the prime-time matchup against the New York Giants.

The absences of the two offensive linemen are significant because the Giants lead the NFL in sacks, with 52, and New York players maintained this week that a key to slowing the top-ranked New England offense will be mounting a pass rush on Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady.

Seven-year veteran Russ Hochstein, who has filled in for Neal in the past, will start at right guard. Saturday will mark the eighth game Neal has missed this year. The likely starter at right tackle is second-year veteran Ryan O'Callaghan, who has not started at all this season, but who did start six games at right tackle in 2006.

O'Callaghan could play a key role on Saturday, since he will be matched against Giants left defensive end Michael Strahan, one of the leading sackers of all-time. A 15-year veteran, Strahan has 141 career sacks, including nine quarterback takedowns this season. Since he sometimes moves inside to tackle in obvious passing situations, it is possible that Strahan will be matched against Hochstein on some occasions.

This is the first game that Kaczur will have missed this season.

Brady has been sacked only 20 times in 15 games.

In addition to Kaczur and Neal, the Pats also ruled out tight end Kyle Brady (foot), cornerback Willie Andrews (elbow) and running back Kyle Eckel (stomach). With tight end Benjamin Watson also ailing, New England may have to play shorthanded at the position for a second straight week.

Losing Andrews will impact the Patriots' special teams, since he is on every kicking unit. The Patriots signed cornerback Antwain Spann from their practice squad and he could see action on special teams.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer with ESPN.com.