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But you don’t have to be a doctor to know the Patriots are going to have to do business differently — yet again — without their star tight end.
“You just have to find a different formula. That’s the important part,” Brady said during his weekly appearance on WEEI, via Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. “Gronk provides a certain margin of error because of how talented a player he is. The other guys play different roles for us. Those roles are going to have to just shift, kind of what we did on the last two drives of the game. We ended up going four wide receivers at points. [At] different points, we had more with [James] Develin and [Matthew] Mulligan on the field. We’re going to have to make due. Whatever the combinations are, if Gronk’s not out there, then we have to try to figure those out.
“We’re going to go down to Miami with confidence that we’re going to win the game, I know that — confidence in our game plan, confidence in what we’re doing and what we’re asking all the players to do. It may be different than what the game plan was with Gronk in there, but we’re just going to have to try to figure it out.”
Of course, getting through a game with the Dolphins is one thing.
How successful they’ll be able to be without Gronkowski (considering the season-long state of their passing targets) remains to be seen.
“That’s perfect for you guys to talk about all day, but that’s not something that we engage in or talk about those types of things,” Brady replied when asked if they can win the Super Bowl without Gronkowski. “However it ends up playing out — I don’t know anything about the injury or severity of it — but we’ve got a talented group of players that are playing. Every team has players that they wish were out there every down, and if they’re not out there every down you’ve still got to find a way to win.”
While no one’s going to feel sorry for them as long as they have Brady, the procession of stars on IR — which includes Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and soon Gronkowski — certainly presents a tremendous challenge to overcome.
Per a league source, an MRI confirmed the damage. Gronkowski will miss the rest of the season. Surgery and rehab will affect his preparation for 2014.
The MRI also shows damage to the MCL. Surgical repair might not be needed of the MCL.
If so, that provides a bit of a silver lining. In 2008, Tom Brady tore an ACL and an MCL, and surgical tinkering with the MCL reportedly resulted in an infection.
For Gronkowski, who battled an infection following forearm surgery earlier this year, the prospect of future complications looms over the ACL repair.
“After the third [forearm] surgery, Robbie said, ‘I’m never doing this again,’” his mother said in October, amid questions that his return from forearm and back surgery was taking too long. “And weeks later, he’s back in for the fourth one. So he doesn’t want to go back where he was and start all over again. It wasn’t fun. It was so discouraging.”
The current situation will be discouraging for Gronkowski, the Patriots, and their fans. From his return in Week Seven through Week 13, the Patriots had the highest-scoring offense in the NFL.
Without Gronkowski, the task of getting back to the Super Bowl becomes a lot more challenging.
Running back Tashard Choice got pink slipped in Buffalo last week, but he wasn’t out of work long.
The Colts announced Monday morning that they have signed Choice while placing Chris Rainey on injured reserve. Rainey joins Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard and Daniel Herron as Colts running backs to see their seasons come to a premature end this season.
Choice was the third back with the Bills and should slide into the same role with the Colts. Donald Brown and Trent Richardson will continue in the top two rungs as the Colts try to get back on track in the final weeks of the season. They clinched the division on Sunday while getting knocked around by the Bengals, but they won’t be able to back into anything once the playoffs roll around.
Choice probably won’t have much to do with that effort, especially since Rainey was only playing a special teams role, but he’ll be there all the same.
Browns safety T.J. Ward hit Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in the knee on Sunday, causing Gronkowski to be carted off the field with what is feared to be a torn ACL. After the game, Ward said he felt bad about it, but hitting Gronkowski low is what the NFL wants.
“If I would’ve hit him up high, there’s a chance I was going to get a fine,” Ward said, via the Boston Globe.
Ward says NFL defensive backs are put in a tough position by the league office.
“It’s kind of being caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “It’s a decision you have to make, but you have to follow the rules at the same time. When they set the rule, everyone knew what was going to happen. This can happen if you have those types of situations. It’s pretty much inevitable, and they forced our hand with this one.”
Ward said he prayed for Gronkowski, but he doesn’t think he did anything wrong.
“But I’ve got to play football, man. I’ve got to play football,” Ward said.
And the way the NFL wants defensive backs to play football is to hit low.
For all the frantic finishes yesterday, the Steelers might have topped them all, if Antonio Brown’s left foot hadn’t been just out of bounds.
The wide receiver’s foot on the line killed a five-lateral play that passed through six sets of hands with no time left on the clock, what would have set up a game-winning extra point against the Dolphins.
“I thought I had it clean,” Brown said, via Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I thought I separated really well getting to the sidelines, but it didn’t seem quite enough.”
It was close, however.
Sanders tossed it to Jerricho Cotchery, who then gave it to Le’Veon Bell. Bell pitched it to tackle Marcus Gilbert, who had the good sense to get it back to Roethlisberger. After a few yards, the quarterback chunked it back to Brown, who had space.
Brown made Dolphins safety Reshad Jones miss, and appeared to be clear of Chris Clemons, but his left foot hit the white line around the 12-yard line.
What he really could have used was coach Mike Tomlin standing there to force him inside.
Instead, the Steelers were left to lament their eighth loss of the season, caused by a pile of problems bigger than Brown’s left foot.
“When you put yourself in a position where you are banking on Marcus Gilbert handling the ball for you to win the game,” safety Ryan Clark said. “That means you haven’t done what you were supposed to do earlier.”
It’s a familiar refrain for the year, and one they can think about in what’s almost certain to be an offseason that begins in three weeks.
The Jets came into Sunday’s game against the Raiders having scored 20 points in their previous three games, all of which were losses, and started a quarterback who hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass since late October.
So it was only natural that Geno Smith threw a touchdown and the Jets rang up 37 points in a 37-27 victory that kept their playoff hopes flickering a little while longer. Safety Charles Woodson was not happy to be part of a Raiders defense that allowed Smith, who was benched against the Dolphins in Week 13, “to be sort of great” and said that the unit bore the blame for the loss.
“I don’t want to sit here and make excuses about anything. We’ve played well at times and we haven’t played well and today is as bad as we’ve played this whole season,” Woodson said, via the Bay Area News Group. “It’s really embarrassing to be a part of it. We were like the Bad News Bears out there today. In saying that, I do want to give credit to our offense. They just kept fighting today and really gave us a chance to still be in the game. Defensively we went out there and basically peed down our legs.”
Plenty of people predicted a gloomy finish for the Raiders this season, so their 4-9 record doesn’t come as any great shock. The fact that they’ve gone from 3-4 to 4-9 may make it feel worse, but the holes were always there to be exploited by the opposition and the Raiders will have to work hard to fill them this offseason if they want to avoid further soiling of their uniform pants.
In nearly 24 hours since a report emerged that Redskins coach Mike Shanahan packed up his office and nearly quit in January 2013 before a playoff game, Shanahan has spoken about the situation (even if he really didn’t say much). Robert Griffin III has spoken about the situation (even if he really didn’t say anything).
Owner Daniel Snyder has said nothing. Neither has G.M. Bruce Allen, whose title and circumstances of hiring in early 2010 suggest he is Shanahan’s boss (even if Allen really isn’t).
One day removed from the eruption, the silence becomes deafening. How can Snyder and Allen not react to Shanahan apparently leaking the report, knowing it would hit only hours before a game and then not denying it (and in fact sort of confirming it) during a post-game press conference in which Shanahan made it clear he has every intention of being the head coach through the rest of the current season?
There’s a chance that the team’s power structure has opted to fight off-the-record fire with off-the-record fire, getting their point across without attaching their names to it. Citing unnamed sources, the Washington Post reports that management is “angry” about the report.
“Some Redskins officials questioned the timing and motivation behind those sentiments becoming public, the people with knowledge of the situation said, with some suggesting Shanahan — or someone close to him — was behind the story,” Mark Maske of the Post wrote. “The Redskins officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said a parting of the ways between the team and Shanahan was increasingly likely.”
So why not do it now? The Redskins just finished a disastrous three-game home stand, capped by a 45-10 loss to the Chiefs before the smallest crowd for any non-preseason game since FedEx Field opened in 1997.
It could be that the notoriously litigious Snyder has decided to huddle with his battalion of lawyers and formulate a plan before proceeding. And that plan could include stiffing Shanahan, like the late Al Davis once did.
The organizational dysfunction has been lingering for months. It’s quite possible that enough stuff has happened behind the scenes to give Snyder enough ammunition to make a straight-faced argument that Shanahan shouldn’t get his $7 million salary for 2014.
With Shanahan’s fingerprints firmly affixed to Sunday’s report and with the eventual decision being made by Commissioner Roger Goodell, it would hardly be the most frivolous legal claim Snyder has ever made. Regardless, Snyder needs to say or do something, at some point soon.
Shanahan has made look Snyder look bad, and with each passing hour of silence Snyder is looking worse.
The Broncos put on another offensive exhibition in Sunday’s win over the Titans, giving quarterback Peyton Manning a pretty good argument against those who have decided he can’t play in cold weather.
During the course of the 51-28 victory, the Broncos got touchdowns from tight end Julius Thomas, running back Knowshon Moreno and wide receivers Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas. For Welker, it was his 10th touchdown of the season which meant that he joined the other three players in double digits on touchdowns for the season.
According to the NFL, that makes the Broncos the first team to have four players with 10 or more touchdowns in the same season. It was one of several records set by the Broncos on Sunday as Manning became the first quarterback with seven four-touchdown games in one season and Matt Prater broke the record for longest field goal by hitting from 64 yards.
Wide receiver Eric Decker also scored on Sunday, giving him eight touchdowns on the year. If he also gets to 10 on the season, it’s probably a good bet that Manning will wind up breaking Tom Brady’s record for the most touchdown passes in a season. Since he’s just five away from the mark of 50 with three games left to play, Manning’s got a pretty good chance at it even if Decker doesn’t get to join the double digit fun.
The Bengals offensive players did what they were supposed to do against the Colts.
Former Texans coach Gary Kubiak bought a newspaper ad to thank the team and its fans.
What do the Colts need to fix before heading to the playoffs?
Where do the Jaguars rank among all teams that started seasons 0-8?
The Titans defense fell flat after the team took a 21-10 lead.
QB Alex Smith didn’t think the weather had much of an impact on the Chiefs on Sunday.
Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli uses a variety of avenues to communicate with his Cowboys charges.
The Eagles offensive line played snow plow on Sunday.
Is effort to blame for the Redskins’ special teams incompetence?
The Bears are coming off one of their best pass rushing days of the season.
Some young members of the Falcons had a rough time in Week 14.
Sunday night did not go well for the Panthers secondary.
Saints coach Sean Payton credited his team’s energy with pushing them to victory.
The Rams offense doesn’t get high marks for their work on Sunday.
Penalties were a big problem for the Seahawks on Sunday.
And Gordon did.
Following a franchise-record 261 receiving yards in Week 13, Gordon added 151 receiving yards against New England. It gives Gordon 774 receiving yards in the last four games, which is the highest total generated by any player over a four-game stretch.
Earlier this year, Calvin Johnson generated 746 yards in a four-game span, which included 329 against the Cowboys, the highest production in any non-overtime game.
Gordon’s brilliance nevertheless has been wasted. The Browns have lost each of the last four games, all of which came after the bye.
Still, the second-year wideout’s performance provides hope for the future. If — and only if — the man believed to be in Stage Three of the substance-abuse program for the rest of his career can avoid another violation of the policy, which would get him banished for at least one year.
It wasn’t long ago that cleaning house looked like a good idea for the Dolphins.
But after winning three of their last four, there’s apparently a measure of security for the guy who put them together.
According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland “has received assurances” from owner Stephen Ross that his job was safe.
Ireland has been a popular whipping boy for Dolphins fans, and he spent Ross’s money this offseason like he was desperate to avoid firing.
But after the team has bounced back from the criticism that came with the early days of the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito bullying investigation to play well, some of the frustration with the direction of the team has subsided.
Is there anything better than sitting in the comfort of your warm home and watching football in the snow?
Has there ever been anything better than sitting in the comfort of your warm home and watching the three and a half hours of football we got early on Sunday afternoon?
Let’s say you were (like me) sitting at home on Sunday, watching all the games thanks to the magic of DirecTV and multiple screens and the Red Zone Channel. Let’s say you had a buddy who had some work or family obligation, and he called you after the early games were over to ask you what he’d missed. How would you possibly convey to him everything that happened? (Other than to tell him that his work or his family really sucks for making him miss a day like this.)
Of the nine early games, eight of them were played in brutal winter weather. Detroit at Philadelphia was a blizzard of apocalyptical proportions, and we also had snow with Miami at Pittsburgh, Kansas City at Washington, Minnesota at Baltimore and Atlanta at Green Bay. It was also cold, if not snowing, for Indianapolis at Cincinnati, Cleveland at New England, and Oakland at New York Jets. Only the Bills-Buccaneers game in Tampa (which only the most masochistic of Bills and Bucs fans could watch) was played in good weather.
And, let’s face it, football is just a lot more fun in bad weather. Yes, it’s sloppy. Yes, it’s brutal for the fans in the stands. But the sloppiness makes for some crazy plays we wouldn’t otherwise see, and I sure didn’t get the sense that any fans in the stands on Sunday were anything less than thrilled with the great games they were getting. (Well, maybe not in Washington, but more on that later.)
It’s fun to see players slipping and sliding on the field, falling face-first into the snow and then picking snow out of their facemasks. It looks like what we used to do when we were kids, when we’d get tackle football games going in the snow at recess and then spend the rest of the school day in wet socks and pants.
And what games we got! Lions-Eagles was a winter classic, a game that looked for most of the day like it would result in the Lions winning a brutal defensive struggle, only to suddenly change to the Eagles winning a fourth-quarter shootout. Falcons-Packers was a back-and-forth battle that went down to the final second. Dolphins-Steelers had what appeared to be an ending worthy of the Stanford marching band, with Pittsburgh lateraling five times before Antonio Brown ran into the end zone as time expired — except that Brown stepped out of bounds. Browns-Patriots went from looking like one of the biggest upsets of the year, to looking like an incredible New England comeback, to looking like one of the most awful things Cleveland fans have ever gone through (which is really saying something).
And then there’s the ending of Vikings-Ravens. Through the first 57 minutes, this was a dull game, notable mostly for Adrian Peterson getting carted off the field. And then something amazing happened. with 2:05 to play, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco hit Dennis Pitta in the end zone for an apparent game-winning touchdown. Then, with 1:27 to play, Minnesota’s Toby Gerhart rumbled 41 yards for an apparent game-winning touchdown. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones raced 77 yards for an apparent game-winning touchdown. Then, with 45 seconds left, Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson raced down the field for an apparent game-winning 79-yard touchdown. And then, with four seconds left, Flacco hit Marlon Brown in the end zone for what finally was really the game-winning touchdown.
Five touchdowns in the last 2:05. Amazing. Six lead changes in the fourth quarter, the first time that has ever happened in NFL history.
With the NFL preparing to put the Super Bowl in New Jersey in two months, there’s been much hand-wringing about whether we’re really ready for a Super Bowl in a blizzard. We can only hope the football we get on Super Bowl Sunday is as good as the football we got on this cold and snowy Sunday.
Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s games:
How is Jeff Triplette still an NFL referee? Triplette has been an NFL referee since 1999. He has consistently been the worst ref in the business. What we usually see from Triplette is general incompetence, things like what he did last week in Washington, when he failed to notice that the down marker had wrongly been changed to first down late in the game. But what we saw on Sunday in Cincinnati was even worse: Triplette used replay to reverse a correct ruling on the field, giving the Bengals a touchdown that they didn’t actually score. Colts defensive tackle Josh Chapman tripped Cincinnati’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the backfield, and he was correctly ruled down on the field. But Triplette somehow looked at the replay and called it a touchdown. After the game, Triplette was asked if Chapman tripped Green-Ellis, and Triplette answered, “I don’t know about that.” Um, Jeff? It’s your job to know. It’s totally unacceptable that the NFL keeps trotting Triplette out there, week after week, when he simply isn’t up to the task of being an NFL referee.
Appreciating Tom Dempsey. Broncos kicker Matt Prater booted an NFL record 64-yard field goal on Sunday, meaning that Tom Dempsey, who hit a game-winning 63-yard field goal in 1970 (in New Orleans, without the benefit of Denver’s elevation), no longer owns a share of the record. But while Dempsey no longer owns an NFL record, a man who was born without toes on his right foot and without fingers on his right hand but who nonetheless became a great kicker. Dempsey is one of the great stories in the history of the NFL.
Does Washington have the worst special teams ever? All season long we’ve been talking about how bad the special teams in Washington are, but they reached a new low on Sunday by giving up 158 punt return yards and a touchdown, and 123 kickoff return yards and a touchdown — before halftime. The stats website Football Outsiders said last week — before Sunday’s fiasco — that Washington was on pace to have the fifth-worst special teams ever. Maybe a lousy effort over the last few games will be enough to get Washington to worst ever. Mike Shanahan has been saying all season that he supports his special teams coach, Keith Burns. If Shanahan supports these special teams, then Shanahan shouldn’t be a head coach.
Bernard Pollard was a victim of his own reputation. Pollard has long been known for committing personal fouls and causing injuries, but on Sunday in Denver he put a perfectly clean, shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Broncos receiver Eric Decker . . . and was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit anyway. Pollard may have reached the point where the officials don’t give him the benefit of the doubt, but on this play there is no doubt: Pollard delivered a hard but legal hit, and the officials flagged him anyway.
A great game — and career — for John Abraham. Abraham had three sacks in the Cardinals’ win over the Rams on Sunday, giving him 133 for his career. That moves him into ninth place in NFL history, and it raises a question: Is Abraham a Hall of Famer? I would probably lean toward “no,” but he at least deserves consideration. He’s among the best pass rushers of his generation, and at age 35 he still doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
Peyton Manning was brilliant on Sunday. Manning completed 39 of 59 passes for 397 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions, and his numbers would have been even better than that if his receivers hadn’t dropped several perfect passes. Manning, who needs just six touchdown passes to break Tom Brady’s single-season record of 50, had his huge game despite bitter cold temperatures in Denver. So much for the talk that Manning can’t play in the cold. Manning looked on Sunday like he enjoys football in the cold weather just as much as the rest of us.
It’s been a while since the Panthers had lost a game.
Now they have to remember how to respond to one.
The Panthers fell flat in New Orleans last night, losing 31-13 to kill an eight-game winning streak.
“The sky isn’t falling. We just got used to winning eight weeks in a row. We wanted to win. We prepared well. We just didn’t play well.”
The Panthers adopted a defiant tone in the aftermath of a game that saw them offer little resistance to the Saints.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera insisted they were “a better football team than we showed,” and his quarterback echoed the point.
“I felt those guys were better than us today,” Cam Newton said of the Saints. “Are they better than us? No.”
Because of the Saints’ tiebreaker edge, the Panthers would still need somebody else to beat the Saints even if they won the rematch in Charlotte in two weeks. That leaves the Panthers keeping an eye on the rear view mirror of the Wild Card chase, a game ahead of the Cardinals — who happened to be the last team to beat them prior to last night.
They bounced back well from that loss in Arizona in October. How they respond to another thorough beating will determine how seriously they are to be taken come playoff time.
At the moment — and it’s early yet — Mike Shanahan is still the coach of the Redskins.
But even if — or when — he’s not, he’s apparently not on the Texans’ wish list.
According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans won’t pursue Shanahan even if he’s fired by the Redskins.
McClain also mentions that ESPN Jon Gruden is not on the list compiled by Texans owner Bob McNair.
Former Bears coach Lovie Smith, Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and Stanford’s David Shaw are mentioned in his report, though McNair listed NFL experience as a factor for his next coach.
When a youngster is learning to swim, there comes a point when they have to jump into the deep end to figure out if they can handle themselves in the water.
The kids that float are fine. The ones that don’t have to be taken back for some more lessons before giving it another shot.
Why the swimming talk? Because the Bills are heading back to the shallow end with quarterback E.J. Manuel after Sunday’s 27-6 thumping at the hands of the Buccaneers. Manuel threw four interceptions and took seven sacks as he continued his habit of poor performances away from Ralph Wilson Stadium and coach Doug Marrone said after the game that the team would be cutting back on the offense to avoid overwhelming the rookie quarterback.
“I think we’ve been giving him more and more. Now it’s a point of where you have to re-evaluate that. He’s been going fast with his progression and now we just have to look at it and get him started again,” Marrone said, via ESPN.com. “It’s not starting over — don’t get me wrong — [but] we’ve got to look to see what we can do and probably cut down what we’re doing.”
Manuel’s rookie season has been a mixed bag in terms of performance and the knee injury that cost him four games certainly didn’t do anything to help smooth out his transition to the pro game. Scaling things back at this point and then rebuilding things during the offseason sounds like a wiser move than continuing to force feeding things that aren’t working at this moment in time.