ProFootballTalk: One-on-one with Ahmad Brooks
Although the quarterback will get plenty of the credit for Sunday night’s thrilling win by the Broncos over the Patriots, running back C.J. Anderson was the difference maker, with 113 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns — including the 48-yard winner in overtime.
After the game, NBC’s Michele Tafoya asked Anderson to explain what happened on the play.
“Just really to be honest, I don’t know what happened,” Anderson said. “The hole opened up and I just took off.”
Plenty of Broncos may feel the same way about the entire game. Down 14-0 and then 21-7, the Broncos somehow scratched and clawed to take the lead, saw the Patriots force overtime, and then got it done after stopping New England on the first drive of the extra session.
So far, the news isn’t nearly quite that bad. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the injury to Gronkowski’s knee currently isn’t believed to be serious.
That assessment could change with further testing. For now, though, the Patriots and Gronkowski have avoided what appeared to be, based on Gronkowski’s demeanor after the injury, a potential season ender.
The actual injury involved no awkward twisting of the knee, and Gronkowski’s leg wasn’t planted when he was hit low. It’s entirely possible that he escaped with no ligament damage.
Via Tom Curran of CSN New England, Gronkowski seemed to be upset about something related to the game as he left the locker room, unrelated to the actual knee injury. It’s possible that Gronkowski was concerned about the perception that Broncos players were aiming low on him throughout the game.
This Tom Brady-playing-without-his-best-targets thing is going to be put to its biggest test yet.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was carted off late in their 30-24 overtime loss to the Broncos, after taking a hard shot to his right knee. He was immediately declared out, though that could have simply been a function of the timing.
Gronkowski was hit on the knee by safety Darian Stewart, and immediately went down clutching his leg in pain.
The Patriots were already playing without wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola and running back Dion Lewis and left tackle Nate Solder (not to mention linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins), and while they have all had their moments, none come close to Gronkowski’s level of importance.
Few players do.
When Gronkowski caught his 63rd career touchdown in the first half, it moved him into sole possession of third on the all-time tight end touchdown list, trailing only Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. That means he has more touchdowns than every tight end in the Hall of Fame.
And as impressive as his accomplishments have been, he’s also dealt with plenty of injuries, which made many teams wary of him prior to the the draft.
But if this one is serious, it’s going to take every bit of magic Brady can muster to keep this offense afloat, despite the fact they’re 10-1.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. As poignant as it was watching Peyton Manning not play tonight against Brady, it was hard to watch him limp through the pre-game in his cast and walking boot and not think about NBA star Kobe Bryant, who retired Sunday.
Bryant finally figured out his body wasn’t allowing him to play to his previous level, something everyone else figured out some time ago.
And while Manning wants to come back and play again, watching him struggle through injuries (with the exception of his rested and healthy post-bye week when he looked like Young Peyton) makes you wonder if there’s anything that could get him back to the kind of level we’d recognize, or that he’d be pleased with watching.
And the fact that replacement Brock Osweiler played as well as he has is going to complicate the process, which was already going to be awkward.
The rally to take the lead late was good work for any quarterback, but for a young player without much experience to do so against that opponent likely cemented Osweiler’s status for the near future.
2. Broncos running back C.J. Anderson helped make it a game in the fourth quarter, with a 15-yard touchdown run that showed his burst.
Then he made himself a legend in Denver, winning it in overtime with a 48-yard touchdown run.
He finished with 15 carries for 113 yards and two scores, creating one of the more memorable moments in a series full of them.
He’s actually played very well since the bye, averaging 5.8 yards per carry in the first four games after the week off, after not averaging higher than 3.9 per carry in any game before the break, and just 2.7 per carry over the first six games.
A toe injury slowed him, but seeing him in the snow just brought into relief how much different he looked.
3. The offensive stars shine brightest, but the Broncos won with a defense that proved it can stop any quarterback.
The pressure Von Miller put on Brady late in the game was such that no quarterback could make consistent plays, and the job his teammates did throughout kept Brady on his toes when he had his best target.
4. Broncos wideout Demaryius Thomas can afford a fresh pair for every play. But he made sure to change gloves in the second half, after a rash of drops.
Thomas had a rough night all the way around, only partly due to the coverage the Patriots were throwing his way. But there have been a few moments lately when Emmanuel Sanders looked like the more reliable target, and the more important part of their offense.
Granted, Sanders is able to get open in part because of the attention Thomas draws, and it’s not as if Thomas has been poor all year. He entered the game with 71 receptions for 875 yards. But his touchdown numbers are way off (two so far this season after 35 the previous three seasons), and it can’t all be the gloves.
5. It’s always kind of amusing watching Brady air out teammates when they miss a block or drop a pass, as he did with his offensive line in the third quarter.
When he does it, it’s never dubbed ego, or selfishness. No letters to the editor are written by pearl-clutching Tennessee mommas. Instead, it’s “fiery leadership,” or “attention to detail.”
He gets the benefit of the doubt because he’s won and done it for a long time. Even though sometimes he has a hard time finding people to high-five.
Brock Osweiler made a couple of hero plays.
But he’s playing against a guy who has made more.
Brady’s quick drive took some of the shine off Osweiler’s go-ahead drive, as the Broncos backup quarterback (for now) hit Andre Caldwell after an impressive drive (which made Peyton Manning’s foot feel a little worse).
The fact he did it without Gronkowski, who was carted off with a knee injury, was even more impressive.
It’s been an sparkling finish, and sets up a dramatic extra session between teams who have played their share of dramatic games over the years.
It was one thing when Rob Gronkowski scored.
Bolden just caught Tom Brady’s third touchdown pass of the night, giving the Patriots a 21-7 lead over the Broncos early in the fourth quarter.
Bolden got behind the Broncos coverage, and even though Brady didn’t hit him in stride, there was enough cushion for a 63-yard touchdown.
Bolden had caught five passes coming into the night, but it was his third for the game, as they struggle though injuries at the skill positions.
So how did Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger end up in the locker room near the conclusion of Sunday’s loss at Seattle for a concussion evaluation? According to the team, Roethlisberger raised the issue himself.
According to the Steelers, Roethlisberger self-reported symptoms on the sideline late in the fourth quarter. The specific symptoms have not yet been identified.
It’s a significant development in the league’s effort to protect players from themselves, and it reflects tangible evidence of a culture change in the NFL. While some will scoff at Roethlisberger given his reputation for embellishing injuries, it’s a great example for players at the lower levels of the sport.
For decades, players who were having concussion-like symptoms kept their mouths shut. They shouldn’t, and maybe thanks to Roethlisberger’s example they won’t.
The Patriots will be back in prime time in two weeks, as the NFL has moved their date with the Texans into prime time.
The league announced today that the New England at Houston game on Sunday, December 13 that had previously been scheduled for a 1 p.m. Eastern kickoff has now been moved to NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
The decision comes as the Texans continue to turn their season around and look like playoff contenders. Today’s win moved Houston to 6-5. The Patriots remain one of the league’s two undefeated teams, so the league is always happy to showcase them in prime time.
When the schedule first came out, the prime time game in Week 14 was supposed to be Seahawks at Ravens. But with Baltimore now 3-7, the league had to get that game out of prime time. That game is now at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, and a better game is in prime time.
So much of the talk has been about the quarterbacks playing or not playing, but getting a running game going was the key for the Broncos.
They cut the Patriots lead to 14-7, with Ronnie Hillman’s 19-yard touchdown bringing them back to within a score.
The snow is picking up in Denver and making it a little slick, so the Broncos just muscled out a 10-play, 77-yard drive.
It might not be an accident that it came with Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower getting his leg checked by trainers on the sidelines after limping off. He’s gone to the locker room to get his knee checked, and they’ve announced he’s questionable. And with the Patriots moving well through the air, it might be just what the Broncos need to slow things down and keep it close.
After the hit, Pryor celebrated. After the game, quarterback Ryan Tannehill took issue with Pryor’s celebration.
“I didn’t notice it honestly,” Tannehill told reporters after the game. “I was just worried about Rishard. I heard some guys talking about it on the sideline, that’s kind of classless move to celebrate while a guy’s injured. Obviously, it was a good hit, a clean hit, but to celebrate when a guy’s down it’s kind of a classless move.”
Pryor was asked only about whether his hit on Matthews set the tone for the Jets. “I would hope so,” Pryor said. “I think it’s trying to bring that energy to our defense and just [trying] to be a leader out there.”
Pryor thereafter took to Twitter to respond to Tannehill.
“I was definitely celebrating the great play I made,” Pryor said. “I would never celebrate someone getting injured during the game. C’mon now.”
Pryor also placed some of the blame for the injury on Tannehill.
“Throw a better ball next time [Tannehill and your] teammate would’ve never got injured!!!” Pryor said. “Sorry if you felt I was classless at the moment.”
The real question is whether Pryor noticed Matthews was down when celebrating. Either way, the Dolphins and Tannehill have bigger problems than whether Pryor was celebrating at a time when maybe he shouldn’t have been.
The Broncos have a few problems at the moment, with a pair of defenders injured on the same play.
Safety T.J. Ward and defensive lineman Sylvester Williams left with apparent ankle injuries, with Ward not putting much weight on his foot as he was helped off. The team announced that both were questionable to return.
Both were carted to the locker room moments later, with Ward riding shotgun with Williams stretched out in the back.
David Bruton replaced Ward in the secondary, while Vance Williams came in for Williams.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan heard some loud boos on Sunday in the Georgia Dome. He didn’t hear them from his owner after the 20-10 loss to Minnesota.
“He’s absolutely the competitor that I want,” coach Dan Quinn said after the game, per Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “He’s what we look for and our team looks for the whole way. What we’ll go back and look at is, find out was there a decision that could be made that could be different. If there is in those scenarios, then we’ll find those and say, ‘Where else could you have gone with it?’ Those will be decisions that we look at. But for him, the competitor [and] the style of player that he is, we’re not backing off.”
Arthur Blank separately was asked whether he has confidence in Ryan.
“Absolutely,” Blank said, via McClure. “He’s demonstrated his abilities over eight years. He’ll be fine. He’ll be good.”
Many Falcons fans would say Ryan has been neither fine nor good in recent weeks, which has seen the Falcons go from 5-0 to 6-5.
“Am I worried about Matt?” Blank said. “I’m worried about Matt, and I’m worried about the team. We’re actually 1-5 in the last six games. We were off to a great start. But this unit will figure it out.”
They Falcons are running out of chances, and they’re running out of cushion. The Seahawks have now caught the Falcons in the standings, and the Buccaneers, Bears, Giants, and Washington are only a game behind at 5-6.
Other mortal quarterbacks might need wide receivers.
The Patriots are out to a quick 7-0 lead over the Broncos, after a 23-yard touchdown. It was his 63rd career touchdown, moving him past Shannon Sharpe for third all-time among tight ends, trailing just Tony Gozalez (111) and Antonio Gates (101) on the all-time list. Gronkowski is 26.
Despite that, the Broncos don’t (or didn’t) have multiple defenders draped all over the star tight end, who was able to slip one tackle and get to the end zone.
The Patriots have lost parts consistently over the course of the year, but there are certain constants, and Gronk doing Gronk things chief among them.
The Seahawks outlasted the Steelers in a thriller on Sunday afternoon, but they lost tight end Jimmy Graham for the rest of the season along the way.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in his postgame press conference that Graham tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. Graham hurt his knee while trying to catch a Russell Wilson pass in the end zone early in a wild fourth quarter in Seattle.
The severity of the injury isn’t a big surprise as the team’s medical staff immediately immobilized Graham’s knee in an aircast before loading him on a cart to head to the locker room. Graham’s season is over and his availability for training camp and the start of next season will likely be in doubt well into next summer. As we saw with Victor Cruz this year, he’ll also have to watch for other injuries as he tries to make a complete recovery and get back onto the field.
The injury came during what might have been Graham’s best game with the team. He had four catches for 75 yards and the Seahawks passing offense had its best day overall as Russell Wilson spread the ball to seven receivers on his way to a season-best 345 yards and career-best five touchdowns.
Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet are the other tight ends on Seattle’s roster at the moment and they’ll be asked to do more the rest of the way with Graham out of the picture and a playoff berth in the team’s sights.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made an unexpectedly early exit from Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks. As it turns out, Roethlisberger was being checked for a possible concussion.
So when did he suffer the possible concussion?
Via Ryan Glasspiegel of TheBigLead.com, the head injury may have happened during the fourth-quarter drive that culminated in the Steelers, who were down by five at that point, opting for a field goal on fourth and goal.
Roethslisberger took a clear blow to the head on a third-down play earlier in the drive, drawing a roughing the passer penalty. He remained in the game for a full nine plays after that.
After absorbing the illegal hit, Roethlisberger was face down for a couple of seconds. He then rolled over onto his back for several more seconds. After he was helped up by teammates, he seemed fine.
Roethlisberger may have said or done something after the drive to prompt the team to take the situation seriously, with a preliminary assessment on the sideline resulting in a decision to conduct a closer evaluation in the locker room.
The situation will be scrutinized given last week’s mishandling of Rams quarterback Case Keenum, but there was nothing glaring about Roethlisberger’s behavior after the play. The broader question is whether the league automatically should check a player for a concussion whenever he takes a clear and potent blow to the head.
The excellent Dark Sky app tells me that light snow will be starting soon in Denver. And it will be great to see that on TV, during the Sunday Night Football game on NBC.
But you can still see it, even if you’re not near a TV.
The game between the 10-0 Patriots and 8-2 Broncos can be seen at NBC Sports Live Extra. You also can watch the game by downloading the NBC Sports Live Extra app.
Meanwhile, it would be another great night to check the PSI of the footballs at halftime; it’s currently 23 degrees and falling.