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Until 2012 , getting placed on the injured reserve list ende
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Since then, however, the rules have changed drastically: nowadays, teams have the chance to bring up to two injured players back onto their active rosters following a minimum absence of eight weeks. Today, the New England Patriots handed out their first such designation
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of the year: they plan to reactivate cornerback Duke Dawson.Dawson joined the Patriots as a second-round draft pick earlier this year. He showed plenty of promise as a slot cornerback early on during offseason workouts and training camp but in mid-August started to be limited by a hamstring injury. Due to the issue, the Florida product was able to appear in only one preseason contest and in early September was finally placed on injured reserve as a candidate to be brought back at a later point.This point has been reached now: Dawson returned to practice earlier today and has officially been designated the Patriotsí first IR-return player of the season. Making his comeback today opens a 21-day window during which New England has to activate him to its 53-man squad. If this does not happen Ė as was the case with both of last yearís return players Ė Dawson will revert back to injured reserve and see his season come to an end.The rookie being back impacts the team in two obvious ways. First, it means that only one return designation is left: as things stand right now, running back Rex Burkhead appears to be the most realistic candidate to be brought back further down the line. Second, New England will have to make a corresponding roster move at one point to activate Dawson. As things stand right now, placing fellow cornerback Eric Rowe on injured reserve could be it. Back in August, the Patriots were trudging through training camp and we were concerning ourselves about the depth of this team
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, especially on the offensive side of the football.At that point, with Julian Edelman set to serve a four-game suspension, and Eric Decker dropping out at the last minute, as well as a handful of other receivers that had come briefly and gone quickly, it was hard to tell exactly where the Pats would be when we reached the first week of November.It was difficult to know if the Patriots would be at their normal 7-2 after the seasonís halfway point, or if their initial lack of depth would cause them to be at a disappointing (for New England standards) 5-4 or something like that. But after the Patriots took care of business in Week 9, defeating the Green Bay Packers 31-17 at Gillette Stadium, to move to 7-2 on the year ó a typical spot for them to be during this part of the season ó itís hard to imagine that depth was ever actually an issue for this team.Two months ago, I was worried that, even with the great Tom Brady at the helm, this offense would struggle to move the ball with such a depleted core of receivers
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, and with a rookie running back in Sony Michel getting most of the carries. But after New Englandís win against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, itís evident that this team is still more than capable of getting it done. After all, they beat Green Bay by two touchdowns without both Michel and superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski. Even without the teamís most clutch pass catcher, and even without the kid who has taken this teamís running game to a new level, Brady is still finding ways to get this offense moving.Almost as if on cue, Cordarrelle Patterson has suddenly become an integral part of this unit. He came to New England in the offseason, and it wasnít expected that he would be used for much more than a kick returner and an occasional target for Brady. Instead, heís become one of Bradyís most reliable targets, and is even now being used as a running back in the absence of Michel. And Patterson isnít just playing the role of a running back; heís doing it effectively as well. And of course, you can leave it only to Bill Belichick to bring in a train wreck like Josh Gordon and suddenly revive his career. As long as Gordon stays healthy ó and most importantly, stays out of trouble ó he might a big part of this Patriots offense for a few years to come.Nonetheless
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, however, itís incredible to see that the Patriots are exactly where they usually are at this time even with all of the questions marks coming into the season. The 2018 season is taking shape the same way every Patriots season does. And itís all happening with a 41-year-old quarterback, which might be the most amazing part of it all.Iím convinced that as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are around, the Patriots will never even come close to losing the AFC East. Even if they stick around for another 15 years, and Belichick is in his 80s and Brady is in his late 50s, would that even matter?Alright, Iíll try not to get ridiculous. Obviously, they wouldnít both still be able to do this at that age.Or would they?

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Until 2012 , getting placed on the injured reserve list ende 
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