DENVER -- Bill Belichick says “stats are for losers.” But I suspect he might have changed his tune if you hit him with truth serum following that Week 12 loss to the Broncos.
Before Dont’a Hightower got hurt, the Broncos ground game was crawling, limited to 43 yards on 15 carries. It’s no surprise the Patriots were able to build an early lead, But when Hightower went down with a knee injury that has limited him to varying degrees since, the Broncos started bucking. They gashed the Pats for 136 yards and three scores the old-fashioned way, including the game-winning 48-yard romp by C.J. Anderson in overtime. Peyton Manning certainly understands just what Hightower means.
Peyton Manning certainly understands just what Hightower means.
“[Hightower's] an outstanding player,” said Manning, who missed that game with an injury. “He’s got great size. He moves extremely well, and you can tell he’s calling a lot of plays back there for them the quarterback, maybe if you will, of the defense. He definitely makes a difference when he’s in there.”
But while Manning has his head about him, it seems his two primary backs aren’t so quick to acknowledge what Hightower was bringing to the pats run defense.
“I don’t think anything really changed,” said Anderson. “They were still aggressive.”
Ronnie Hillman added: “I don’t know if it was because he came out. Our linemen buckled down and got settled in. He got hurt pretty early so I think it was more getting familiar with what they were doing at that time.”
Maybe. But it’s pretty evident for veteran Patriot watchers that Hightower’s strength, physicality, speed and intelligence drastically alter how Matt Patricia’s defense performs. In the aftermath of that defeat, several Pats defenders noted that weren’t always in the right spot, an indication that Hightower’s brains were missed as much as his brawn.
Just don’t expect Anderson and Hillman to talk up the fourth-year linebacker. Instead, they’re focusing on themselves.
“We have to run the ball for us to stay balanced and for us to be successful this week,” opined Hillman. “That’s what we’re going to do. That’s just what we do and everybody knows it. We just have to hit them in the mouth.”
“If you don’t have confidence playing in the AFC Championship Game, you’re in the wrong business,” said Anderson. “We are going to just try to do what we do, take care of business and have fun while we’re doing it.”