Rob Gronkowski narrowly escaped another major knee injury in Sunday's loss to the Broncos. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

Now that we’ve all had a full 24 hours to digest the frustrating monstrosity that was Sunday Night Football, we can rationally examine the remains. While it was fun to imagine this team really sticking it to the whole league and going 16-0 everyone knew just how hard that task would be. Every team in the league has to deal with injuries and atrocious officiating every single week, but Sunday night was the culmination of a season of that frustration for the previously undefeated Patriots. After losing key offensive weapons three consecutive weeks in Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola, they narrowly escaped another major knee injury to Rob Gronkowski. The NFL referees have been astonishingly awful all season for every team but they really showed up to play for prime time. Unfortunately they were playing for the Broncos.

– It’s easy to write me off as biased and a homer for claiming the refs weren’t doing the Patriots any favors. However all it takes is a small semblance of a brain to realize the penalties called late in the game were a huge reason Sunday went the way it did. With just under 12 minutes to go in the third quarter and the Patriots up 21-14 Brady hit KeShawn Martin with a 51-yard bomb that was called back for holding on Tre Jackson. With just under five minutes to go in the game Brady hit Gronk on 3rd-and-5 for a 10-yard completion which was of course called back on Gronk’s fifth offensive pass interference call of the season. The holding on Jackson was borderline and the defender initiated the contact with Gronk, who never even extended his arm.  Continue reading Notes and Observations Week 12: Patriots Lose 1st Game in Frustrating Fashion; Broncos Win in OT 30-24 »

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Oct 27, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower (54) during the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Albert Breer of NFL Network has reported that Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower suffered a sprained MCL in Sunday’s loss at Denver. The injury happened in the first half and Hightower went back to the locker room before halftime. He watched the second half from the sidelines.

A sprained MCL will typically keep a player out a few weeks, but this can vary depending on the severity of the sprain and how much pain it causes to the player. Any absence for Hightower is a blow to the Patriots defense that is still currently without Jamie Collins, although he could come back this week. After Hightower left Sunday night’s game, the Broncos rushed for 136 yards and three touchdowns.

A first round pick in 2012, Hightower has established himself over the past two seasons as one of the best players on the Patriots defense and has been part of a front seven unit this season that has been dominating. The most important issue for the Patriots on defense is having both Hightower and Collins healthy for the playoffs, which looks like it will be the case.

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Tom Brady couldn't overcome the mounting injuries or the referees as the Patriots' undefeated season came to a halt against the Denver Broncos. (ESPN)

It was all a mirage.

All the talk about another undefeated season for the New England Patriots was nothing more than an illusion propped up by a zero in the loss column, at least until Brock Osweiler and the Denver Broncos officially put an end to what was all but an impossibility anyway with a 30-24 overtime win at Mile High Stadium.

Now that the undefeated season has been undone, the comparisons to the 2007 Patriots can be put to bed, and the world can finally see this Patriots team for what it truly is: a flawed squad whose Super Bowl aspirations may have finally come back to reality thanks to a seemingly insurmountable rash of injuries. Continue reading Undefeated Mirage Gives Way to Reality of Flawed Patriots Team in OT Loss to Broncos »

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Gronkowski Avoids Major Injury

November 30, 2015 at 12:51pm in Featured, Patriots

When Rob Gronkowski was down on the field writing in pain in the fourth quarter of last night’s game, things appeared to be dire for New England. Gronkowski is as important to the Patriots offense as Tom Brady is, far and away the best tight end in the league. If he was going to miss significant time, the Patriots Super Bowl aspirations would have been thrown in jeopardy.

Thankfully for the Patriots, it appears as though the injury is not as bad as originally thought. His x-rays came back negative and the team had a positive outlook  towards his MRI today. One source even told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network that Gronkowski may not even miss a game. For a team that has suffered a rash of injuries to key offensive players, this good news surely comes with an enormous sigh of relief.

The Patriots did not escape Denver completely unscathed, however. Star linebacker Dont’a Hightower suffered an MCL sprain in the loss and could miss several weeks. Depending on how bad the sprain is, he could come back sooner but with Jamie Collins still out the Patriots are thin at linebacker to go along with already being thin at wide receiver.

If Gronkowski has to miss a week, he will not be on the field for next Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. The team could choose to sit him out as a precaution and still win, which would be an ideal situation. After the game against Philadelphia, the Patriots travel to Houston for Sunday Night Football.

 

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1. Patriots – Broncos:

OFFICIALS – The Ghost of Ben Dreith Visits Patriots

* As soon as the crowd volume went up – a bunch of guys in black and white shirts that never had a prom date realized they could be accepted by 80,000 people just by throwing their yellow flag up in their air

* Gronk gets mauled on almost every route never mind people sniping at his knees and he gets the offensive interference call (Talib went at Chandler’s knees later – gotta deal with it)

* How come no call on Bronco launching at Brady high

* Official calls holding on Chung in the end zone on a play in which Thomas actually grabbed Chung’s face mask and the ball wasn’t even thrown – congrats back judge you’ve come a long way from wearing a pen protector in your front pocket in high school – you just impacted an NFL game.

* Harry Sinden would have been waiting for the officials

* This is just another way the league compels parity upon league

MISC

* No fumbles with non-kicking balls in snow and cold – Felger? Continue reading Connelly’s Top Ten: Harper Drop, Officials Desperate to be Liked, Run Out Clock »

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Football fans will not be treated to another installment of Brady vs Manning on Sunday as the Broncos quarterback is still out with an injury. They will, however, be treated to one of the most captivating battles of the entire football season: the Patriots offense vs the Broncos defense. Each unit is the best at what it does. The Patriots offense has scored at least 20 points in every game despite several key injuries and the Broncos defense has been absolutely suffocating with just 284 yards per game allowed and 18.3 points per game given up.
When two units that do so many things well meet on the field, things generally come down to a handful of individual matchups and this game is no different. The two things that will most determine who wins this clash are how the Broncos will cover Rob Gronkowski and how the Patriots will block Von Miller.

Aqib Talib could be asked to cover Rob Gronkowski, similar to when he covered Jimmy Graham as a member of the Patriots. Talib held Graham to zero catches in that game and did a masterful job sticking with the tight end throughout. Still, Gronkowski is better than Graham and Talib will have his hands full if asked to stay with the mammoth Patriots tight end. The Buffalo Bills played a lot of zone on Monday night and blitzed Tom Brady often, both which resulted in Gronkowski having one of his lowest outputs of the year. The Broncos have another option in Danny Trevathan, who is a nimble linebacker that does well in coverage. Trevathan is 6’1” and 230 pounds, not tall enough to challenge Gronkowski for jump balls but physical enough the jam him at the line.

This is where the rash of injuries the Patriots have suffered come into play. Without Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, or Danny Amendola the Patriots will have to rely heavily on Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell. If no other players step up and the Patriots fail to run the ball well, Denver will be able to divert extra resources, perhaps a mix of Talib and Trevathan, to stopping the Patriots All-Pro. Normally when articles are written about how a team can slow Gronkowski down, he answers them with monster performances. This week could be one of the few times were a team is expected to and actually does slow him down.

One thing that the Bills did an excellent job of against the Patriots was confusing the protection up front. They blitzed effectively but were also able to get pressure on Brady with less than five rushers because of how well they disguised what they were going to do. With a defensive coordinator who is as adept as Wade Phillips, the Broncos have a realistic chance of doing the same.

There is no doubt that Miller is licking his chops after watching the Patriots offensive line struggle on Monday night. Miller is one of the most dynamic pass rushers in the NFL and he has been a key piece of the dominant Denver defense. The Broncos can line him up in several different spots but it is likely they will target Patriots offensive tackle Marcus Cannon. Cannon is a backup who has been pressed into service due to Nate Solder’s injury and his performance has been spotty. He played well against the Colts before being injured and missing several weeks. His first game back was Monday night and he played poorly. He accounted for two penalties and was beaten off the ball consistently. Against a player like Miller, the odds are heavily stacked against Cannon. Earlier this season when the Patriots went against strong pass rushes, they made a point of having Brady get rid of the ball in less than two and a half seconds therefore negating the rush. With Edelman, Amendola and Lewis out they will have a tougher time of doing that and more pressure is put on the offensive line.

Going against a prodigious pass rusher like Miller is not the only concern of Cannon’s. As the Patriots left tackle, he will need to block Miller to the outside on many of the inside runs that the Patriots deploy. Much is made of Miller as a quarterback attacker, but he also needs to be accounted for in the run game. New England will surely give Cannon help from a running back or tight end, but he will have several plays in which he needs to defeat Miller on his own. If he cannot do that, it will be a long night for the Patriots offense. If he can, the Patriots will have a better chance at attacking Denver’s excellent secondary.

In both of these match-ups, the early advantage has to go to Denver. Gronkowski might be the best tight end ever to play football, but even he will need players around him to elevate their game in order to attack an opponent as qualified as Denver. Miller is a potential Hall of Famer in his own right and going against a backup tackle is almost not fair. This is not a death sentence on the Patriots undefeated season. They can go to Denver and win, but they will need to have success in both of these matchups more than 50% of the time. This shapes up to be a rock fight type of game that will be physical and punishing. It may not be Brady-Manning, but it will be must see TV.

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James White crosses the goal line for his first NFL touchdown and gave the Patriots the 10-3 lead just before halftime. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Monday night was far from pretty but the Patriots stand at 10-0 and could officially clinch the AFC East next week. With the offense devastated by injuries, the defense played some of its best football of the season. The offense is clearly dealing with communication and trust issues with all the new pieces being plugged in along the way. For the first time in weeks the offensive line was healthy but ironically it was the worst they’ve looked all year. Tom Brady’s most reliable receiver with zero dropped passes, Danny Amendola, left with an apparent knee injury. After his exit they had three healthy receivers. One was Matthew Slater and another was Chris Harper who has never caught an NFL pass. With all that they still made the plays to win a divisional game in prime time.

– Aside from a few big plays the defense showed again how good they can be. The front seven was holding contain on Tyrod Taylor for the majority of the game. Pressure caused by the pass rush directly led to multiple poorly thrown passes. LeSean McCoy did break the 27-yard touchdown run but was held to just 55 rushing yards other than that. By his standards that’s a relatively calm day. Rob Ninkovich continued his solid campaign by adding another 1.5 sacks and pressuring Taylor throughout. Rotating defensive linemen throughout the game has paid off for the Patriots as each group knows exactly what their job is, and they’re doing it well. Continue reading Notes and Observations Week 11: Defense Leads Battered Patriots to Victory Over Bills 20-13 »

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