FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -Duane Starks was placed on injured reserve Thursday with a bad shoulder, ending the season for the cornerback who replaced Ty Law in the New England secondary.

The move further depletes an injury-riddled secondary that was just abused by the Indianapolis Colts. Starks was benched for the second half of Monday night’s 40-21 loss and was beaten for five touchdowns over the past five games and had allowed non-scoring passing plays of 72 and 55 yards in a Week 6 loss at Denver.

“The way I see it is, each man has to be accountable for himself,” rookie cornerback Ellis Hobbs said.

“But to sit here and blame everything on him, from an outside perspective, that’s wrong. Because it’s never one man out there. It’s an 11-man game.”

Law, a stalwart on New England’s Super Bowl teams, was released last offseason and signed with the New York Jets. Now five of the 10 defensive backs who were on the Patriots’ opening-night roster have been lost for the season.

Starting strong safety Rodney Harrison suffered a career-threatening knee injury in Week 3, and starting cornerback Tyrone Poole never played again after hurting an ankle in the opener. Reserve cornerback Chad Scott and reserve safety Guss Scott also won’t return.

The Patriots said Starks had suffered a shoulder injury, with coach Bill Belichick noting that Starks was “just not healthy.”

Asked if that contributed to Starks’ struggles, Belichick said, “I’m sure it was a factor. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.”

But Starks said after the Indianapolis game that he was not hurt.

“The second half I was on the sidelines,” he said then. “I could have had a camera in my hand, just watching what was going on.”

Starks, 31, was a disappointment in New England after being acquired in an offseason trade with Arizona. He picked off 25 passes in his first seven seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and Cardinals but had no interceptions in seven games with the Patriots.

His problems came to symbolize a crumbling secondary that has intercepted only one pass through eight games. The Patriots (4-4) have allowed 16 touchdown passes and 2,027 passing yards, putting them on pace to set franchise records in both categories.

Now they are down to four cornerbacks, only three of whom are healthy.

With Randall Gay nursing an ankle injury, the Patriots might have to pair regular starter Asante Samuel with either Hobbs or veteran Hank Poteat for Sunday’s game in Miami.

Belichick also would not rule out using receiver Troy Brown on defense, as he did last year.

Poteat, 28, was cut in training camp and re-signed last month.

“I’ve been in this situation before,” said Poteat, who first hooked on with the Patriots just before last season’s playoff run. “You have to continue to work hard and prepare as if something is going to happen, so that when you get the opportunity you’re ready for it.”

The Patriots also have question marks at strong safety, where they haven’t been able to find a replacement for Harrison. They have tried four different players in as many games and may turn to either rookie James Sanders or veteran free agent Michael Stone this week.

Stone, who signed on Sept. 28, has never started a game in his five-year career.

AP-ES-11-10-05 1511EST


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