Patriots' Rhamondre Stevenson sprains ankle on hip-drop tackle

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots starting running back Rhamondre Stevenson sustained a right ankle sprain in the first quarter of Sunday's 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that sidelined him for the rest of the game.

Initial X-rays on Stevenson's ankle were negative, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter, but he will undergo an MRI to determine how long he could be sidelined.

The Patriots initially announced that Stevenson's return was questionable before declaring him out at the start of the second half. Stevenson needed help coming off the field and heading to the locker room.

Stevenson was the Patriots' featured offensive player in the first quarter, totaling 40 rushing yards on nine carries. But it was on his final carry when blitzing Chargers linebacker Tuli Tuipulotu came in unblocked and tackled Stevenson from behind, with his weight coming down on the back of Stevenson's right leg.

The tackling technique, often referred to as a hip-drop tackle, has been a hot-button topic around the NFL due to player safety concerns. Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews is among those sidelined by injury as a result of it.

Stevenson, the Patriots' leading rusher, fumbled the ball as a result of the contact, and Tuipulotu recovered it.

Patriots captain David Andrews, the team's longtime center, lamented Stevenson's injury but cautioned those looking to ban the tackling technique.

"It's the defense's job to tackle guys and I don't think people are doing that with malicious intent. It's an unfortunate reality of the game," he said. "If you keep taking away certain plays -- taking away this, taking away that -- what's going to be left of the game?"

Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers added: "People try to soften the game up, but it's football. Injuries are going to occur. There are but so many ways you can tackle these guys already; now they're [talking about] taking away [this type of tackle]. Rhamondre will be alright; he's a tough guy."

The Patriots were feeding the third-year running back up to that point in a run-first plan with quarterback Bailey Zappe making his first start of the season. Stevenson was on pace for his fourth straight game of 100 or more scrimmage yards, looking to become the first Patriots player to do so since Wes Welker in 2012.

Veteran Ezekiel Elliott stepped into Stevenson's role.