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Patriots must piece it together if Colvin's out

For comfort during this time of uncertainty, just remind yourselves, Patriots fans, of what Rosevelt Colvin said when he joined the team in March: "I'm just a piece of the puzzle."

We're about to find out just how big a piece he is. Last Sunday against Philadelphia, Colvin suffered a left hip injury while recovering a fumble in the second quarter. Tests Monday reportedly revealed a temporary dislocation, but as of last night, it was still unclear how much structural damage Colvin sustained and how long he would be out.

He was scheduled to undergo a second MRI yesterday or today, depending on the amount of swelling, with an official word to come sometime this week. Whatever the result, it's unlikely that Colvin will play in Sunday's home opener against the Jets.

Which means that another puzzle piece has been misplaced (Ted Johnson broke his foot in the opener). Those who find entertainment in assembling puzzles know that, most of the time, you still can make out the picture despite a couple of unsightly holes. So while the Patriots' front seven may not look as imposing without Colvin, they'll still be the same aggressive, active Patriots.

"Our defense has never been built around one guy since I've been here," said outside linebacker/defensive end Willie McGinest. "You've got a lot of guys that are multitalented that can do a lot of different things. Rosevelt, he was an added addition. What he brings to the game, it helps it. Hopefully he'll be back soon, but until then, the other guys have to step up and be more focused."

In Colvin's absence, the spotlight is on McGinest, who stole the show in Philly with 2 sacks, 3 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 1 recovery. He looked like the Willie McGinest who amassed 20.5 sacks over his second and third NFL seasons, the one who, in his day, was no less disruptive than, well, Rosevelt Colvin, who totaled 21 sacks over his third and fourth seasons.

But at 31 years old, McGinest no longer is the athletic equal of Colvin, who is five years younger. But that doesn't mean he doesn't fit just fine in Romeo Crennel's defense. Like Colvin, McGinest is an ideal 3-4 linebacker, one who can play over the tight end, is comfortable in space, and can, of course, rush the passer.

Even without their best pass rusher, or, at least, their most productive one over the past two seasons, the Patriots registered six of their seven sacks of Donovan McNabb in the second half: one each by Jarvis Green, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Matt Chatham, and the two by McGinest. It didn't hurt that the Eagles were in an obvious passing situation.

If the Patriots can create a similar advantage against the struggling Jets, they figure to have an even easier time getting the less-mobile Vinny Testaverde. In other words, if everything comes together, you may not even notice that the piece is missing. Obviously, though, New England's defense would look much better with Colvin in it.

"I think a lot of that comes down to team defense," Bill Belichick said of Sunday's performance. "I thought our defense as a team played well. It wasn't just any one single player. That is good any time you can get that kind of production from more than one person. It balances your rush and it keeps them honest. They can't just key on one guy."

That's because the Patriots don't necessarily have a "key" to their defense. No disrespect, but losing Colvin isn't like the Ravens losing Ray Lewis or Tampa Bay losing Warren Sapp. And the frustration is lessened when you consider the fact that we had yet to really see the 10.5-sack Colvin of 2002 during his first game and a half as a Patriot.

A scout on hand at Lincoln Financial Field, however, saw the same style of Patriot defense we've grown accustomed to seeing: rushers coming from every direction and every position, not just one outside linebacker.

"I don't think they lose much in terms of what they're going to do," the scout said. "From an ability standpoint, you might see a bit of a dropoff. Willie's a good fit. But you'd rather have three than two [McGinest, Vrabel] of those guys."

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