Patriots first-round pick Devin McCourty has only played 13 games to this point in his NFL career, but he's already clearly established himself as a key part of New England's defense. He's been one of the few bright spots on a pass defense that's ranked near the bottom of the NFL for most of the season.
For that reason, McCourty's uncertain health status is a real concern for a defense that's still very much a work in progress and needs all of its pieces if a recent run of mild success is going to continue.
McCourty left the first half of Sunday afternoon's win over the Bears with a rib injury and didn't return.
The top pick had another big impact before leaving due to the injury. He notched his team-leading 14th pass defensed early in the win over Chicago and later stripped the ball from receiver Johnny Knox on a play that ended with a Gary Guyton 35-yard scoop-and-score touchdown.
McCourty not only leads New England with six interceptions, including four over the last month, but he is also ranked fifth on the team with 65 tackles. He's become one of the few constants for the New England defense.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick offered no update on McCourty's health Monday, giving his usual "We'll see on Wednesday" answer.
Sunday at Soldier Field, McCourty was replaced in the snow by former starter Darius Butler, a 2009 second-round pick. Butler started the first two games of this season before being benched after a dismal Week 2 performance against the Jets. He's worked hard to get back into the rotation and seems more than ready to fill in for McCourty on Sunday night against the Packers if necessary.
"It's business as usual for me," Butler said. "I just work to prepare myself to be a starter. I'll be ready when my number is called."
His coach also expressed confidence that despite seeing little action throughout the middle of the season, and even showing up as a healthy scratch for a Week 10 trip to Pittsburgh, Butler is capable of stepping in if McCourty can't go.
"Darius has played a lot of football for us over the last couple of years," Belichick said. "If we didn't have confidence in him, we wouldn't put him out there."
The Packers' passing offense obviously has its own health issue with quarterback Aaron Rodger dealing with his second concussion of the season. Regardless, the Patriots would much rather take on the Green Bay aerial attack with McCourty, a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, than without him.
--New England has now qualified for the playoffs 18 times in its 51-year history. The Patriots have earned 12 playoff berths in the 17 seasons since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994, a dramatic contrast to the six total playoff berths that the team earned in its first 34 years of existence.
New England has won 12 division crowns and has qualified as a wild card team on four occasions (1998, 1994, 1985 and 1976). The Patriots also qualified for the playoffs in 1982 as part of a 16-team tournament following a players' strike.
--The Patriots played the Bears under snowy conditions and improved to a 10-0 record under head coach Bill Belichick when playing in the snow. In the last three games played in the snow, the Patriots have outscored their opponents 142-14.
--The Patriots have scored at least 30 points without committing a turnover in each of their past five games to extend their NFL record.
No other team has scored at least 30 points without committing a turnover in four consecutive games.
--QB Tom Brady had a season-high 369 yards passing despite snowy, windy conditions in the win at Chicago. Brady also notched his ninth game of the season with a passer rating above 100, including each of his last five games, leaving him with a passer rating of 109.9 on the season.
--RB Danny Woodhead had his most quiet game as a Patriot, finishing with seven carries for 21 yards and two catches for just a yard in the victory over the Bears.
--RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis had game highs with 21 carries for 87 yards at Soldier Field, his fifth straight game averaging better than 4 yards a carry. He's had at least 18 carries in four of those five games. Through 13 games, Green-Ellis leads New England with 786 yards on 184 carries (4.3 average) with 11 touchdowns, and he has an outside shot at reaching the 1,000-yard plateau.
--TE Rob Gronkowski had five catches for 43 yards against Chicago, including a 7-yard touchdown to open the game's scoring. The rookie second-round pick is tied for the team lead with seven touchdown receptions on the season.
--WR Deion Branch notched a career-high 151 yards on eight catches in Chicago, including a 59-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half. Branch has found the end zone in each of the past three games and has five scores in nine games since returning to New England.
--WR Wes Welker surpassed 100 yards in Sunday's victory, his first 100-yard game of the season. Welker finished with eight catches for 115 yards. He now leads New England with 80 catches for 787 yards and seven touchdowns. With three games to play, he has a chance to reach the 100-catch mark for the fourth straight season, joining only Marvin Harrison with such a streak.
--S Patrick Chung led New England with six tackles in the win over Chicago, moving back into second place on the team with 75 tackles on the season.
--ILB Jerod Mayo had four tackles and a fumble recovery, improving his league-leading tackle total to 161 on the season.
--CB Devin McCourty continues to make plays as a rookie. On Sunday, he forced a fumble that was returned by teammate Gary Guyton for a touchdown, and he also broke up his team-leading 14th pass of the season.
--DE/OLB Eric Moore made his Patriots debut after joining the team from the UFL. He made an immediate impact with a strip-sack on Bears QB Jay Cutler.
--ILB Gary Guyton notched his second interception of the season and also returned a fumble 35 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of the win at Chicago.
--PK Shayne Graham hit all three of his field-goal attempts in the 30-50 mph winds at Soldier Field, hitting from 30, 25 and 29 yards, although he did miss a PAT wide right. Graham is now a perfect 8-for-8 on field-goal attempts since signing with New England to replace the injured Stephen Gostkowski.