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Season is over for Woody

Partially torn knee ligament puts him on sideline

FOXBOROUGH -- Asked Sunday about the status of injured left guard Damien Woody, coach Bill Belichick said, "He has a sore leg. We'll evaluate it. Like most players after the game, you're sore, you're stiff, and you have to wait a day or two to sort it out and see exactly where it is. If it was a broken leg, I would tell you it was a broken leg. It's not a broken leg. It's a sore leg, and we'll see what happens."

Belichick now knows exactly what happened to his lineman on the Patriots' first play from scrimmage in Saturday night's divisional win over the Titans. According to team sources, Woody tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee and will miss the rest of the postseason.

Woody suffered only a partial tear and will not require surgery, according to one source. MCL tears generally aren't as serious as anterior cruciate ligament tears, which can take six to eight months of rehabilitation. Woody's injury is expected to heal following four to five weeks of rehab. Fullback Larry Centers tore an MCL against the Giants Oct. 12, did not undergo surgery, and was ready to play six weeks later.

Russ Hochstein, who started for Woody at left guard against Washington Sept. 28 and played guard in six other games, likely will step into the starting lineup for Sunday's AFC Championship game against the Colts at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots signed Hochstein, 26, from the practice squad Sept. 14. A former fifth-round pick of the Buccaneers, Hochstein has played in 17 games, with one start, in three NFL seasons.

Woody was not available for comment yesterday. Efforts to reach Woody's agent, Ben Dogra, were unsuccessful.

Apparently, another player fell on Woody's leg during Antowain Smith's run up the middle on New England's first offensive play. Woody returned for New England's second possession and remained in the game until giving way to Hochstein in the third quarter. Hochstein seemed to hold up well against the Titans. The Patriots finished with 96 rushing yards against the league's top run defense and did not allow a sack of Tom Brady.

The Patriots will need another strong performance from their offensive line against the Colts. Indianapolis ranked 20th in run defense during the regular season, though New England gained only 56 yards and averaged 2.4 per carry in its Nov. 30 meeting at the RCA Dome.

Regarding Hochstein's performance against the Titans, Belichick said Sunday, "We talked about that this morning as a staff. I think when you look at all the players, nobody is going to grade out at 100 percent. Overall, I think we held up pretty well as a team. We didn't give up any sacks and threw the ball 41 times. Russ held up in there OK along with everybody else."

Woody, in his fifth year out of Boston College, was having what he considered his best season. After earning his first Pro Bowl selection last season, Woody became a full-time guard in Week 3 after Mike Compton's season-ending foot surgery. Woody started the final 12 games of the season at left guard and was a Pro Bowl alternate at center. He is in the final year of his rookie contract and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Woody's injury means the Patriots will start a different offensive line for the first time in 13 games, all victories. The line suffered through a rash of injuries early in the season. Woody bruised his sternum against the Bills in the opener and missed the next game, against Philadelphia, ending a streak of 64 consecutive games played while creating an opening for fellow BC alumnus Dan Koppen to start at center. Hochstein subbed for Woody (knee) two weeks later against the Redskins, when Tom Ashworth stepped in for the injured Adrian Klemm (knee) at right tackle.

Hochstein relieved Woody against the Bills Dec. 27 when Woody had his left ankle stepped on.

Woody becomes the seventh Patriots starter to suffer a season-ending injury. His absence leaves the team with seven healthy offensive linemen.

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