Gase declined to rule out surgery, but said he expects Howard back this season.
Howard was hurt when tackled returning an interception during Sunday’s 21-17 win over Buffalo . He missed one play and then rejoined the lineup, but the injury worsened after the game.
Howard has seven interceptions, including two in each of the past two games, and had two interceptions the previous time he faced Tom Brady. Howard seemed destined for his first Pro Bowl, and Gase didn’t try to sugarcoat the magnitude of losing the third-year pro.
“If you throw the ball at him and you’re inaccurate, he’s not just going to knock it down — he’s going to pick it off,” Gase said. “He’s one of our best players, if not our best player, on that side of the ball. You’re not going to replace him.”
The Patriots, already favored by more than a touchdown on the road, would love not having to worry about Howard.
“He’s an outstanding player,” coach Bill Belichick said before learning of the injury. “He’s got very good instincts, very good ball skills. The interception he made against us last year and the one against the Colts this year were two of the best plays a corner could make, getting in good position and then finding the ball late and making a good catch. He’s a playmaker.”
Led by Howard, the Dolphins (6-6) have used turnovers to stay competitive . They rank second in the NFL with 19 interceptions and third with 25 takeaways.
As a result, they’re on the fringe of the playoff race despite a depleted roster. Gase said weeks ago his team couldn’t afford to lose any more players, but the season-long wave of injuries has continued.
“We’re losing guys left and right,” he said.
Said rookie defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick: “It’s hard to win games without the people you started with.”
Eleven players have suffered season-ending injuries. McCain, for one, said Howard’s injury isn’t nearly that serious.
“He’ll be just fine, I promise,” McCain said. “Hopefully we can get him back Thursday or Friday.”
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