Hightower starts in return from knee injury, plays more than half Patriots snaps

Hightower starts in return from knee injury, plays more than half Patriots snaps

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower hadn't played since the season-opener, but it looked like his conditioning level was just fine midway through the fourth quarter.

Coming in off the left edge, he beat his blocker and chased down Cam Newton to notch his first sack of the season. The play forced a Panthers punt and gave the Patriots possession with 7:27 left in the game. Down 30-23 at the time, Hightower's team had a chance to tie. Ten plays later, they did.  


Though the Patriots couldn't hold off the Panthers late in the fourth quarter, Hightower's sack could be viewed as an encouraging sign for a defense that needs as many of those as it can get at the moment.

Hightower started and played 37 of 63 defensive snaps on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus, including one as an inside linebacker. For the most part, though, Hightower remained on the edge. That's the role he played exclusively in Week 1 against the Chiefs before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for wins over New Orleans and Houston. Per PFF, he rushed the passer 16 times -- recording two hurries in addition to his sack -- and dropped into coverage six times.

Hightower missed much of training camp while on the physically unable to perform list, and then his injury against the Chiefs may have stunted any progress he was making with his conditioning. He may still need some time before he's feeling like he's at full strength, but playing more than half the snaps and coming up with a key play late isn't a bad place to build from.

Here's a look at some of the other banged-up Patriots and how they performed . . . 

Marcus Cannon, OT: Returning to his spot as the starting right tackle after dealing with an ankle injury and a concussion that kept him out against the Texans, Cannon played all 70 offensive snaps for the Patriots. He allowed a sack to Julius Peppers and gave up four more pressures in the game, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Eric Rowe, CB: Rowe sat out Week 3 with a groin injury. He said on Sunday that the injury felt 100 percent before the Panthers game, but on the first play of the third quarter he tweaked his groin making a tackle. He did not return and finished the game having played 19 snaps. Had Rowe remained healthy, it would have been interesting to see how the Patriots utilized Stephon Gilmore, as Gilmore sat out the first play of the third quarter with Rowe and Malcolm Butler on the field. Rowe's injury seemed to force Gilmore back into action. Gilmore has missed just 12 snaps on the season. He sat for 11 against the Texans as he dealt with dehydration.

Elandon Roberts, LB: The second-year linebacker started the game as an off-the-ball linebacker alongside Kyle Van Noy, making five tackles before leaving the game with an injured ankle. He did not return and finished having played 33 snaps. Roberts was spotted in the locker room after the game with a noticeable limp.  

Jacob Hollister, TE: The undrafted rookie played just three snaps offensively but was involved on special teams as well. He was a late addition to the injury report with a hamstring issue on Saturday. Before the game, he tested the injury with team medical personnel and coach Bill Belichick watching closely. He was held without a catch on one target. This was not a big tight end game for the Patriots as their No. 2, Dwayne Allen, played a season-low nine snaps.


Eagles announce Wentz has torn ACL, out for rest of year


Eagles announce Wentz has torn ACL, out for rest of year

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles star quarterback Carson Wentz has a torn left ACL and will miss rest of the season and playoffs, coach Doug Pederson confirmed.

Wentz, a favorite in the NFL MVP race, had an MRI on Monday that revealed the severity of the injury. Wentz was hurt late in the third quarter Sunday at Los Angeles. Backup Nick Foles rallied the Eagles (11-2) to a 43-35 win over the Rams that secured the NFC East title and put them in first place in the conference with three games remaining.

The Eagles have overcome several key injuries and now have to move forward without their most indispensable player. Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, return specialist/running back Darren Sproles, star linebacker Jordan Hicksand special teams captain Chris Maragos already went down for the season.

"If there's ever an opportunity for me to rally the troops as the football coach, now might be the time," Pederson said. "You can't lose faith. This has been a resilient football team all season long."

After starting all 16 games as a rookie, Wentz made a giant leap this year. He passed for 3,296 yards and set a franchise single-season record with 33 touchdown passes while only tossing seven interceptions.

Foles led the Eagles to a pair of field goals on consecutive drives against the Rams. He is 20-17 as a starter in six seasons with the Eagles, Rams and Chiefs.

Pederson insisted the offense won't change with Foles.

"He's a highly intelligent football player," Pederson said.

A third-round pick by former Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2012, Foles in his second stint in Philadelphia. He replaced an injured Michael Vick in 2013 and led the Eagles to an NFC East title during Chip Kelly's first season as coach. Foles tied an NFL record with seven TD passes in a game at Oakland in November 2013 and finished that season with 27 TDs and only two picks. The Eagles lost at home to New Orleans in the playoffs. Foles went to the Pro Bowl and was the offensive MVP.

But Kelly traded Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford after the 2014 season. Foles spent a year with the Rams, a season with the Chiefs and returned to Philadelphia as a free agent this season.

Second-year pro Nate Sudfeld is Philadelphia's No. 3 quarterback. Pederson said he hasn't spoken to personnel boss Howie Roseman about adding a third quarterback yet.

"I'm absolutely ready to go - need be," Foles said after the win over the Rams. "I prepare every day."

Brady winning MVP might not be ideal for Pats fans, according to one important stat. . .

Brady winning MVP might not be ideal for Pats fans, according to one important stat. . .

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A fan base would have to be crazy not to want its star player to be recognized as the NFL's best, right? 

With 14 weeks of the NFL season nearly in the books, Tom Brady is now the favorite -- according to Bovada and OddsShark -- to win the league's MVP award. Former MVP front-runner Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL on Sunday, leading to the recent shift in the odds. Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and a trio of Steelers -- Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell -- round out Bovada's top-six. 

Brady has captured the award twice previously in his career in 2007 and 2010, and there's a reason Patriots fans might be OK with someone else taking home the hardware this season. 

Since 2000, no NFL MVP has won the Super Bowl. 

Call it circumstance. Call it a curse. Call it whatever you want. That's how it's worked out. Matt Ryan kept the streak alive last season. 

The last MVP to hold the Lombardi was Kurt Warner when he led the Rams to a title in 1999. MVPs ending the season with a win was actually pretty run-of-the-mill that decade. Terrell Davis (1998), Brett Favre (1996), Steve Young (1994) and Emmitt Smith (1993) all were MVPs and Super Bowl champs. 

In the Super Bowl era, MVPs have won championships 10 times in 51 years. So history isn't totally stacked against for the game's best player. It's just that recently, MVPs have had a hard time carrying their teams to the finish. Ryan, Cam Newton (2015) and Peyton Manning (2013) were all named MVP on the eve of the Super Bowl -- NFL practice since 2010 -- and lost. 

Things set up pretty nicely for Brady to have a strong finish and solidify his standing as "most valuable" since he'll face three divisional opponents -- two at Gillette Stadium -- and a Steelers team built for shootouts. 

And despite what recent history says about MVPs and the Super Bowl, Wentz's injury could help make 2017 the year that trend is altered. Bovada now has Brady and the Patriots as 9/4 favorites -- up slightly from 12/5 -- to win the championship, with the Steelers (4/1) and their three MVP candidates following closely behind. The Eagles, meanwhile, fell from 6/1 odds to win it all to 9/1.