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PFT’s Week Four picks

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Getty Images

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have complained about the Monday night debacle.

After all, I picked the Seahawks to win by a point and, thanks to the replacement officials, Seattle won by two.  Since MDS picked the Pack, it allowed me to win the weekly contest with MDS by two, 9-7 versus 7-9.

Given the crazy, upside-down games from Week Three, I’ll take a winning record and run with it — as quickly as the Seahawks ran with their unwarranted win.

For the season, I’m now 27-21, and MDS is 26-22.

This week, we disagree on three games.  All 15 of our picks appear below.

Browns at Ravens

MDS’s take: Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has actually looked decent the last two weeks, after a disastrous Week One. But the Ravens’ defense will bring far too much heat for Weeden to handle. I look for Haloti Ngata to pound Weeden into the turf a few times on Thursday night.

MDS’s pick: Ravens 27, Browns 6.

Florio’s take:  The Browns are another close loss or two away from imploding completely.  They won’t have to worry about another close loss on Thursday night.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 31, Browns 13.

Panthers at Falcons

MDS’s take: I still don’t believe the Panthers are as bad as they’ve looked this season, and that by the end of the year they could be fighting for a playoff spot. But Atlanta is the wrong place for the Panthers to try to get back on track.

MDS’s pick: Falcons 23, Panthers 17.

Florio’s take:  The Falcons have beaten the Panthers four straight times, scoring 31 points exactly in each game.  Atlanta could be on track to clinching the division by Thanksgiving.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 31, Panthers 14.

Patriots at Bills

MDS’s take: This is a fascinating game in the AFC East race, one that could establish the Bills as the favorites to win the division. I’ve been saying all year that the Bills have made the right moves to become playoff contenders this season, but I just think the Patriots, with their backs against the wall, are going to come out focused and ready to play their best game of the season.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 24, Bills 14.

Florio’s take:  The Bills have beaten the Pats only once since the last time the Pats had a losing record.  Buffalo is moving in the right direction, but New England needs this one badly.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 30, Bills 23.

Vikings at Lions

MDS’s take: Another fascinating divisional game, as the Vikings have a real opportunity here to establish themselves as surprising contenders in the NFC North. However, I see far too many matchup advantages for the Lions’ receivers against the Vikings’ secondary.  Not just Calvin Johnson (who has a matchup advantage over every defensive back in the league) but also receivers Nate Burleson and Titus Young and tight end Brandon Pettigrew should be able to get open and get points on the board in Detroit.

MDS’s pick: Lions 28, Vikings 24.

Florio’s take:  The Lions have won three straight in the series, but the Vikings are gaining confidence,  The Lions continue to be more flawed than anyone realized.  Receiver Jerome Simpson returns from suspension in time to help the Vikings take advantage of Detroit’s biggest weakness.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Lions 16.

Titans at Texans

MDS’s take: The Texans are the best team in the AFC South by such a large margin that the question for me isn’t whether they’ll win the division but how quickly they’ll clinch. My guess is some time around Week 11. This win will be another step toward that.

MDS’s pick: Texans 34, Titans 10.

Florio’s take:  Yeah, I picked the Titans to win the division.  And if they upset the Texans on Sunday, the Titans will thrust themselves into the conversation.  And if they upset the Texans, it will mean that I picked this specific game incorrectly.  Despite last weekend’s epic in Nashville, the Titans aren’t nearly as good as I thought they’d be.  The Texans are much better than I thought they’d be.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 24, Titans 13.

Chargers at Chiefs

MDS’s take: The Chiefs looked pretty good against the Saints on Sunday, and the Chargers looked pretty bad against the Falcons on Sunday. But I’m expecting the Chargers to win, in a game that I have a hunch will come down to special teams, where the Chargers will make plays and the Chiefs will make mistakes.

MDS’s pick: Chargers 28, Chiefs 21.

Florio’s take:  One week often changes everything.  Last Sunday, the Chargers went from elite to “meh” status, and the Chiefs showed they’ve got some fight.  Home team gets the edge in this one, especially if Jamaal Charles saved some yards for Sunday.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 24, Chargers 22.

49ers at Jets

MDS’s take: If not for the injury to Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, I’d be very tempted to pick the 49ers to lose their second straight road game. But that Revis injury is devastating to the Jets not only because it radically changes what they can do on defense, but also because while seeing players and coaches on the Jets talking this week, you could practically feel the entire locker room deflating at the loss of their best player. I think the Jets are going to come out looking very bad on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: 49ers 27, Jets 14.

Florio’s take:  The difference between the 49ers defense and the Jets defense is that the 49ers didn’t put all their eggs in one island.

Florio’s pick:  49ers 20, Jets 13.

Seahawks at Rams

MDS’s take: The Seahawks don’t have any time to send thank-you notes to the league office for their gift on Monday night, because they’ve got a road trip to St. Louis on a short work week. I like the way Jeff Fisher’s defense is playing, and I think Russell Wilson will feel a lot of pressure, but Seattle’s defensive line will have Sam Bradford under pressure, and the Seahawks will win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 10, Rams 9.

Florio’s take:  Short week, significant travel, improving opponent, and guilty conscience add up to trouble for the Seahawks in St. Louis.

Florio’s pick:  Rams 14, Seahawks 12.

Dolphins at Cardinals

MDS’s take: It’s taken me a while to learn to believe in the Cardinals, but I’m there now. Which probably means they’re going to lose. But I’m picking them anyway.

MDS’s pick: Cardinals 24, Dolphins 7.

Florio’s take:  This has the potential to be one of those early-season “correction” games.  But how can the Dolphins win if they can’t score any offensive touchdowns against once of the best defenses in the league?

Florio’s pick:  Cardinals 17, Dolphins 6.

Bengals at Jaguars

MDS’s take: I loved the game Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden called on Sunday against the Redskins. Look for Bengals receiver A.J. Green to have another big day against the Jaguars.

MDS’s pick: Bengals 28, Jaguars 24.

Florio’s take:  It would be fitting for the Bengals, a week after finally winning a game they were supposed to lose, to lose a game they’re supposed to win.  But the Bengals are better than the Jaguars on both sides of the ball — and the Jaguars will have a hard time keeping up with a suddenly dynamic and diverse offense.

Florio’s pick:  Bengals 24, Jaguars 14.

Raiders at Broncos

MDS’s take: It says something about what we’ve come to expect from Peyton Manning that he had 330 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers on Sunday against a very good Texans defense, and yet everyone is talking about how he’s just not the same. Playing a weak Raiders defense will result in Manning looking a lot better, and the Broncos improving to 2-2.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 35, Raiders 14.

Florio’s take:  Peyton Manning won’t need much arm strength to move the ball against a defense that can’t do much to stop him.  Or anyone.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 27, Raiders 17.

Saints at Packers

MDS’s take: Raise your hand if you predicted these two teams would be a combined 1-5 heading into this game. I see the Packers’ problems as much more correctable than the Saints’ problems, and I see Aaron Rodgers having a big day against a shaky Saints defense.

MDS’s pick: Packers 27, Saints 17.

Florio’s take:  The Saints can thank the Seahawks and the replacement officials for what they’re about to endure.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 45, Saints 17.

Redskins at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: The Bucs have a bad offense and a good defense; the Redskins have a good offense and a bad defense. I like Tampa Bay’s defense to keep it close and the Redskins’ defense to give up a big play at the wrong time.

MDS’s pick: Buccaneers 14, Redskins 10.

Florio’s take:  That win over the Saints in New Orleans is looking less impressive by the week.  And the Bucs are better than their record would suggest.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 20, Redskins 16.

Giants at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Eagles need to bounce back in a big way after laying an egg against the Cardinals. I think they’re going to, with Michael Vick finally making it through a game without a turnover.

MDS’s pick: Eagles 24, Giants 21.

Florio’s take:  Eagles coach Andy Reid does his best work when his back is against the wall.  And his back is already against the wall.  And he said just enough this week to put his quarterback’s back against the wall, too.

Florio’s pick:  Eagles 27, Giants 24.

Bears at Cowboys

MDS’s take: As impressive as the Bears’ defense has been, I think they’ll struggle with the explosiveness of Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, who should have a huge game in a Dallas win.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 34, Bears 20.

Florio’s take:  If the Cowboys can keep Tony Romo in two or fewer pieces (factoring in the possibility of the partial loss of an ear), the Cowboys should win this one.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 26, Bears 17.

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Ravens win on blocked field goal return as time expires

Mike Pettine AP

The Browns had lost a game in just about every way possible.

Then Monday night happened.

With their game against the Ravens tied at 27 and three seconds left, the Browns lined up for a 51-yard field goal try from kicker Travis Coons, who hadn’t missed a field goal all season.

The kick was blocked by Ravens defensive end Brent Urban, and picked up by Ravens safety Will Hill. After securing the ball Hill basically had one man to beat on the sideline, and he returned it 64 yards for a touchdown.

The Ravens took a knee instead of kicking the extra point and won, 33-27. They also got the game’s first points via special teams, an 82-yard punt return by rookie Kaelin Clay.

It was a wild final two minutes. Ravens quarterback Matt Schaub was picked off by Tramon Williams with 50 seconds left, setting the Browns up at the Ravens’ 46-yard line. After wasting precious seconds despite having two timeouts, Browns quarterback Austin Davis scrambled to the Ravens’ 33 with eight seconds left. Duke Johnson then ran for no gain, and each team used a timeout before the final kick.

The Browns trailed 10-0 early and 27-20 at the two-minute warning before Davis hit Travis Benjamin on a 42-yard touchdown pass. Davis was playing because starter Josh McCown was hurt and because, in the words of ESPN play-by-play man Mike Tirico, the Browns put Johnny Manzielin timeout.”

Per former Browns and NFL writer Joe Reedy, it’s the 22nd time since returning to the NFL in 1999 that the Browns lost on the final play of the game. But it’s the first they’ve lost on a blocked field goal return.

The Browns fall to 2-9. The Ravens improve to 4-7.

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Maryland pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue declares for draft

COLLEGE PARK, MD - OCTOBER 18:  Yannick Ngakoue #7 of the Maryland Terrapins rests during a break in the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Byrd Stadium on October 18, 2014 in College Park, Maryland.  (Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images) AP

University of Maryland pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue has elected to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft.

The junior finished his career with 21.5 sacks and set a Maryland single season record with 13.5 sacks this season for the Terrapins.

“While the last three years have been unforgettable and I would love nothing more than to come back for another season, I have decided to forgo my final year of eligibility to pursue my lifelong dream of playing in the NFL to compete at the next level,” Ngakoue said in a statement.

Ngakoue is thought to be a second or third round pick in the upcoming draft.

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McCown leaves with injury, Manziel stays on sideline

Washington Redskins v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

Browns quarterback Josh McCown left Monday night’s game vs. the Ravens in the fourth quarter with an injury and was replaced by Austin Davis, who saw his first action with the Browns.

Inside First Energy Stadium, there were chants of “Johnny, Johnny” as trainers tended to McCown. Those were for Johnny Manziel, and those fans did not get their wish.

The Browns named Manziel the starter for the rest of the season two weeks ago, then Browns coach Mike Pettine demoted Manziel to No. 3 quarterback last week after Manziel reportedly lied about his latest appearance in a nightclub on social media.

During the broadcast, ESPN play by play man Mike Tirico said the Browns “put [Manziel] in timeout, if you will.”

Manziel had started the last two games, and in the two previous games he’d replaced McCown in the fourth quarter after McCown was injured. Monday night, it appeared McCown was clutching his right shoulder as he talked with trainers.

Davis threw an incompletion on a third and 9 play on his first snap. The Browns trail, 27-20.

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Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert out with concussion

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 30:  Justin Gilbert #21 of the Cleveland Browns returns a kickoff during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 30, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Getty Images

Justin Gilbert’s return to the lineup for the Cleveland Browns was cut short on Monday night.

Gilbert was ruled out after sustaining a concussion on a kickoff return in the third quarter. Gilbert took the Justin Tucker kick six yards deep in the end zone and returned it to the Browns 34-yard line before being tackled by Tucker along the sideline.

Gilbert’s helmet bounced off the turf and he was taken to the locker room for evaluation before being officially ruled out.

Gilbert started the game with Joe Haden out and Pierre Desir coming off a rough outing. Gilbert had been inactive for the Browns last game two weeks ago.

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Karlos Dansby pick-six of Matt Schaub gives Browns lead

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 30:  Matt Schaub #8 of the Baltimore Ravens looks to pass during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 30, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Matt Schaub lost his starting job in Houston due to a stunning propensity to throw interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.

That trait seems to have followed Schaub to Baltimore.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby intercepted Schaub’s pass for Kamar Aiken and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown to give the Cleveland Browns a 20-17 lead over the Ravens on Monday night.

Dansby undercut the throw for Aiken and stayed inbounds up the sideline for the score to give Cleveland its first lead of the night.

Schaub is making his first start in place of Joe Flacco, who was lost for the season due to a torn ACL.

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Ravens, Browns trading scores

McCown AP

The Ravens have been in charge, but their lead over the Browns is only 17-10 in the second quarter.

After the Browns had a 14-play drive that ended in a field goal to cut their deficit to 10-3, the Ravens easily went right back down the field with a deep pass from Matt Schaub to Chris Givens and a touchdown pass from Schaub to rookie running back Buck Allen.

The Browns answered with another long drive capped by a Josh McCown touchdown pass to Marlon Moore to make it 17-10. McCown is 11-of-12 for 123 yards on the two drives that have resulted in points.

The fans inside First Energy Stadium serenaded the Browns with boos following Allen’s touchdown, but the Browns’ answer brought cheers.

The Ravens scored first on an 82-yard punt return by Kaelin Clay.

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Clay’s return gives Ravens early lead

John Harbaugh AP

The Browns and Ravens traded punts to start Monday’s game, and Ravens rookie Kaelin Clay took the one he caught 82 yards for a touchdown.

So, the Ravens lead, 7-0, in a game that probably won’t feature many explosive offensive plays. The Ravens got a 49-yard field goal from Justin Tucker later in the quarter to make it 10-0.

Clay was a sixth-round pick of the Buccaneers last spring out of Utah. He spent time on the Buccaneers and Lions practice squads before landing with the Ravens on Nov. 17

All of the Ravens’ still-healthy receivers are playing for jobs over the next six weeks, and Clay made a pretty strong impression with his return.

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Browns say CB Gilbert starting tonight

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Getty Images

The Browns are listing second-year cornerback Justin Gilbert as a starter for Monday night’s game vs. the Ravens.

A first-round pick in 2014, Gilbert has been in coach Mike Pettine’s doghouse at various times in two seasons and has played little defense this season. With Joe Haden out and Pierre Desir having struggled in the Browns’ last game, the Browns made Desir inactive Monday and are listing Gilbert as a starter opposite Tramon Williams.

Gilbert was a healthy scratch for the Browns’ last game on Nov. 15.

The Browns are also starting John Hughes at defensive end in place of Randy Starks and rookie Cam Erving at guard in place of the injured Joel Bitonio.

Both teams are making quarterback changes. The Browns benched Johnny Manziel, though he’s active, and will start Josh McCown. Matt Schaub starts for the Ravens due to Joe Flacco’s torn ACL.

For the Ravens, defensive end Brent Urban is active and will make his NFL debut. A fourth-round pick in 2014, Urban spent last season on injured-reserve and last summer tore a bicep during training camp. He was activated earlier this month.

As expected, the Ravens are without offensive line starters Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele. James Hurst is slated to start at tackle for Monroe and John Urschel should start at guard in place of Osemele.

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Cardinals lose Chris Johnson to fractured tibia

Chris Johnson, NaVorro Bowman AP

The impressive comeback season for Cardinals running back Chris Johnson has hit a bump in the road.

Johnson has suffered a fractured tibia, according to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports. It’s not clear how much time Johnson will miss, but it’s likely a significant period of time.

That’s a big blow to the Cardinals: Johnson is fourth in the NFL with 814 rushing yards this season and has been a big part of the 9-2 Cardinals’ offense.

With Johnson out, David Johnson and Andre Ellington will split carries in Arizona’s backfield. Ellington, however, is dealing with a toe injury, and his prognosis is uncertain. So the depth in the Cardinals’ backfield may have just gone from a strength to a weakness.

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Patriots cut Chris Harper after costly muffed punt

Chris Harper, Cody Latimer AP

A muffed punt that turned the tide of the Patriots’ loss on Sunday night has cost Chris Harper his job.

Tom Curran of reports that Harper was cut today.

The Patriots appeared to be in total control of the game early in the fourth quarter on Sunday night: They had a 21-7 lead and had just forced the Broncos to punt. But Harper muffed the punt, the Broncos recovered, and four plays later they scored a touchdown. Denver went on to win the game in overtime.

An undrafted rookie receiver from Cal, Harper had played only sparingly this season. Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn’t particularly tolerant of fumbling even among good players, and among marginal players, a fumble is an easy way to lose your job in New England. Harper found that out the hard way today.

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Kubiak “real concerned” about the number of hits Osweiler has been taking

Brock Osweiler AP

Now that an injury to Peyton Manning has opened the door for quarterback Brock Osweiler, the Broncos don’t want the door to be slammed shut repeatedly on Osweiler’s leg.

Osweiler has taken plenty of hits in two games, and coach Gary Kubiak is concerned about it. How concerned?

“Real concerned,” Kubiak told reporters on Monday. “I think Brock has been sacked I want to say 11 times in his 10 quarters — maybe 10 times — so that’s way too many. Some of those are his that we’ve got to get corrected. A couple of those are protection issues, but [the Patriots] came after us, especially in the second half they came after us, blitzed us a little bit more and he’ll learn from that. Yes, protecting him and doing a better job—that’s important right now. It really is.”

It is because the physics are simple. The more hits a quarterback takes, the more likely he is to break. Or to sprain. Or to rupture. Or to lacerate.

Beyond the hits Osweiler is taking, Kubiak seems to have no concerns about the guy who has now started two career games.

“I think the No. 1 thing that’s impressed me is I think he understands exactly what he needs to do for the team to be successful,” Kubiak said. “What I mean by that — sometimes guys will get put in situations and they’ll try to do too much. I think he understands he’s on a good football team. If he’ll just do his job, handle the ball well, handle the team well, then our football team will have a chance to be successful. I’m really impressed with how he’s approached that. He’s very comfortable in his preparation, his work and obviously he’s confident in his abilities. I really think just understanding the situation he’s in and handling it might by the No. 1 thing.”

And so he continues to be the No. 1 quarterback indefinitely. Which definitely means he’ll be playing as long as he keeps doing those things.

And as long as nothing breaks, sprains, ruptures, or lacerates.

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Pagano: “Ridiculous” to think Luck won’t start once he’s healthy

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 29: Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts gets his team fired up before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Colts moved to 4-0 in games started by Matt Hasselbeck by beating the Buccaneers 25-12 on Sunday and Hasselbeck turned in another good performance to help lead the team to the victory.

Hasselbeck completed 26-of-42 passes for a season-high 315 yards and two touchdowns in a performance that was as good as the best that the team’s seen from Andrew Luck when Luck has been healthy this season. That performance and the team’s record in Hasselbeck’s starts may have some wondering whether the Colts will continue to roll with him when Luck has been cleared to return from kidney and abdominal injuries.

Coach Chuck Pagano shot down that notion on Monday. Pagano said, via Andrew Siciliano of NFL Media, that it is “ridiculous” to think that the team would leave Luck on the bench once he’s deemed healthy enough to play. There’s no word on when that might be beyond Luck saying he “definitely” expects to be back before the season is over.

Coming into this season, it would have seemed just as ridiculous to even entertain the thought but this year has not played out the way anyone was expecting in Indianapolis. Still, Luck is the player the Colts have built their franchise around and he’ll continue to be the centerpiece as long as he’s fit enough for action.

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Report: Manziel will be active for MNF

Johnny Manziel AP

Johnny Manziel pulled off the rare feat of getting named starter then demoted during the Browns’ bye week. With that demotion came a statement from Browns coach Mike Pettine that said Manziel would be the third quarterback for the Browns’ next game, which is Monday night vs. the Ravens.

Monday afternoon, Mary Kay Cabot of reported that Manziel will be active for the game. That’s interesting because Pettine specifically stated that Josh McCown would start and that Austin Davis would be the No. 2 quarterback, and Manziel being active leaves open the possibility that he could still be in the plans for the Ravens game.

The Browns generally make just two quarterbacks among their active 46 players.

Maybe the Browns went through their list of available players and gameplan and decided they had a spot for a third quarterback. Or, maybe, the punishment for Manziel’s latest social media appearance and being less than truthful about it was simply not starting and he’ll be available if needed or even in a special situation. It’s always something with Manziel, so stay tuned.

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Mike Mularkey says NFL admitted blown call against the Titans

Jack Del Rio, Mike Mularkey AP

In a season full of blown calls affecting high-profile games, there hasn’t been much public outrage about the blown call at the end of Sunday’s Raiders-Titans game, perhaps because that was a low-profile game.

But there was a blown call: According to Titans coach Mike Mularkey, the NFL has admitted that the defensive holding penalty against Titans cornerback B.W. Webb that kept alive the Raiders’ final drive was a poorly officiated play.

On the play in question, the Raiders were facing fourth-and-8 with 1:57 remaining, and a Derek Carr pass fell incomplete. If not for the penalty, the Titans would have taken over with a 21-17 lead and would’ve just had to kneel down three times to run out the clock and win the game. Instead, the penalty gave the Raiders a first down, and Oakland scored the game-winning touchdown two plays later.

After the game, Webb called it a “terrible call,” and Mularkey said, “I do not agree with it.” Apparently the league office doesn’t agree with it either.

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Report: Dont’a Hightower suffered sprained MCL

Dont'a Hightower, Ryan Fitzpatrick AP

Tight end Rob Gronkowski’s knee injury commanded the lion’s share of the attention coming out of Sunday night’s Patriots loss, but he wasn’t the only key member of the team to leave the contest with an injury.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower also departed early with a knee injury. Like Gronkowski, Hightower appears to have avoided a severe injury but may join the tight end on the sideline in the near future.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that Hightower suffered a sprained MCL. There’s no timetable given for how long he might be out, although such injuries typically keep a player out for at least a little while.

Before Hightower went out on Sunday night, Denver had 43 yards on 15 carries. Ronnie Hillman scored on a 19-yard run a couple of plays after he left the game and the Broncos would go on to put up 136 yards on 17 carries overall with Hightower out of the game. The Patriots were missing Jamie Collins at linebacker as well and it’s probably not a coincidence that the Broncos were able to run so well with those two missing from the lineup.

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