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Patriots are beaten up but not out in AFC East

Farmer is a Times staff writer.

The remarkable thing about the New England Patriots is not how far they’ve fallen off last season’s historic pace, but the fact that -- after a slew of key injuries -- they’re still in contention for the AFC East title.

Every team loses players to injury over the course of a season, but the Patriots have been hit especially hard. Quarterback Tom Brady was finished for the season just minutes into the opener, and the team would later lose running back Laurence Maroney, linebackers Adalius Thomas and Tedy Bruschi and safety Rodney Harrison, among others.

“We’re in the business of quality depth management and having reserve power,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said last week. “It’s been a little bumpier than we’re accustomed to around here, but what I really like about this team is their resiliency and ability to bounce back.”

The Patriots, who play at Oakland today, are in a tie for the AFC East lead with Miami and the New York Jets. But because they lose all the tiebreakers, the Patriots need to win at least once more than the Jets and Dolphins in the last three games to win the division.

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Of the backups who’ve picked up the slack, Kraft said he’s most impressed with quarterback Matt Cassel.

“When you think about it, Matt Cassel is the prototype of backups stepping up,” he said. “It’s a powerful message to young kids to never give up.”

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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