The New England Patriots are well rested and winners of three straight, but they will have to overcome the absence of yet another key player to keep that run going.
Sack leader Chandler Jones is expected to be sidelined for about a month beginning with Sunday's visit from the scuffling Chicago Bears.
New England (5-2) has been off since pulling out a 27-25 win over the Jets on Oct. 16. The Patriots were playing their first game without leading rusher Stevan Ridley, out for the season with an injured right knee, but Shane Vereen had 114 total yards and caught two of Tom Brady's three touchdown passes.
Middle linebacker Jerod Mayo is also out for the season with a right knee injury, and Jones has an ailing hip. The third-year defensive end has 4 1/2 sacks this season after a team-best 11 1/2 in 2013.
After acquiring linebacker Akeem Ayers from Tennessee on Tuesday, New England has reportedly signed defensive end Alan Branch to a one-year deal. Branch was released by Buffalo in August following a DUI arrest.
"You do the best you can with whatever the situation is," coach Bill Belichick said. "That's the way it always is, every day. ... You hate to see it happen. You hate to be without any player, but every week there's something you have to deal with."
The Patriots are trying to shore up their run defense after giving up a season-high 218 yards on the ground against the Jets. They allowed a combined 398 in losses to Kansas City and Miami.
"It was a lot of communication problems, so it wasn't just (Mayo) not being there," defensive tackle Casey Walker said. "Of course, we missed him being there, but it was a lot of communication, a lot of stuff that we did wrong, not as much as what (the Jets) did right."
New England now faces the fifth-leading rusher in the NFL in Matt Forte, who's run for 448 yards and also has a league-best 52 receptions for 436 yards.
"He does an excellent job of burst and explosion through the line of scrimmage," Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. "He has incredibly quick feet and some good quickness to get to the edge. ... They've also extended him out a little bit and put him in different positions where they can now feature him and give him the ball out in space."
Bears receiver Brandon Marshall confirmed Tuesday that he was heard yelling in the locker room following a 27-14 home loss to Miami this past weekend. Chicago (3-4) committed three turnovers that led to 10 points and was outgained 393-224 in its third loss in four games.
"The only thing I regret is that the door wasn't closed, you know, but I wouldn't change any of my reaction because it came from my heart, and that's how I felt and that's how I still feel," Marshall told Showtime's "Inside the NFL."
"I think that we have all the coaches we need, I think we have all the players that we need to get the job done."
The Bears are 3-1 on the road but will face a team that's won 12 consecutive home games. Chicago is 0-3 all-time in New England, suffering the most recent loss in November 2006.
The Bears have also dropped three consecutive overall matchups. Brady threw for 369 yards and two touchdowns in a 36-7 victory in the last meeting Dec. 12, 2010, while Jay Cutler went 12 of 26 for 152 yards and two interceptions.
Brady has 964 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions in going 3-0 against the Bears. Cutler has thrown for 320 yards, one TD and four interceptions in losing both of his games against New England, one coming in 2008 while with Denver.
Cutler has thrown all seven of his interceptions this season in his team's four losses and committed two fumbles. He's had one turnover in the three victories.
"I know he has some throws he would like to have back, but all of our players have had plays that they would like to have back," general manager Phil Emery told the team's official website.
The Bears are also dealing with some injuries on their defense with linebackers Lance Briggs (rib) and Jonathan Bostic (back) having missed the past two games. Safety Chris Conte (concussions, shoulder) also sat out last Sunday and first-round draft pick Kyle Fuller exited in the third quarter with a hip injury.
Chicago did get linebackers D.J. Williams (neck) and Shea McClellin (hand) back along with left tackle Jermon Bushrod (knee, ankle).