Patriots down: Amendola, Hightower leave season-opener with injuries


Patriots down: Amendola, Hightower leave season-opener with injuries

FOXBORO -- When Julian Edelman went down with a season-ending knee injury in the preseason, it seemed as though there were a handful of other Patriots who had suddenly become indispensible. On both sides of the ball. 

The thinking went: One more injury to a key player, and the fate of the Patriots' season may be in jeopardy. 

Near the top of that list: linebacker Dont'a Hightower. 


Hightower left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury after Chiefs offensive lineman Mitch Morse fell on the outside of his right leg in the third quarter. Hightower remained on the ground for a few moments before eventually getting to his feet and slowly walking off the field under his own power. 

Later, Hightower emerged from the injury tent behind the Patriots bench and made his way over to a stationary bike. His knee was wrapped heavily for a time, though he remained on the sidelines with his teammates. 

Should Hightower miss any significant portion of time, the Patriots front-seven would be without its leader, and the relatively thin Patriots linebacker unit would be thinned even further. 

To begin the game, the Patriots used safety Jordan Richards as a linebacker on the end of the line opposite Hightower. Newcomer Cassius Marsh, another edge player, saw significant work after being traded to the Patriots less than a week ago. Kyle Van Noy tied for the team lead in snaps played with 68. David Harris, meanwhile, saw just two snaps as the Patriots relied on dime packages for much of the night. 

The Patriots were dealt another blow on the injury front when Danny Amendola left the game with a head injury in the third quarter and did not return. The team's No. 3 receiver, and their primary slot option against the Chiefs, had six catches on seven targets for 100 yards and seemed to be shaken up after a punt return. 

Headed into the game, there was some question as to what the Patriots would do at their punt-return spot. Amendola was their most experienced returner, yet his importance to the offense -- as the No. 3 receiver on a team that had only three healthy wideouts with experience in the system -- may have made the injury risk of that job too great. 

Amendola was the choice to return, though, adding a few extra hits to the total he saw on Thursday with Edelman out. When Amendola left the game, Patrick Chung was used as the team's punt-returner. 

If Amendola is forced to miss time going forward, the Patriots would utilize Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett as their top three wideouts, in all likelihood. Malcolm Mitchell was placed on injured reserve Thursday, and special-teams ace Matthew Slater (who has been used sparingly as a receiver in the past) did not play against the Chiefs due to injury.

Amendola is also the team's top slot receiver in Edelman's absence, meaning tight ends and running backs may have to help shoulder the workload if Amendola needs to miss playing time in order to recover. 


'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

Rob Gronkowski, decked out in his finest St. Patrick's Day duds over the weekend in Nashville, reportedly tried to shed some light on his NFL future.

Of course, while Gronk was doing Gronk things, he told a Patriots fan one thing and a reporter another.

Breech is an NFL writer for His father is former Cincinnati Bengals kicker Jim Breech. And the "69ers" aren't a real team.


AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

The Patriots' "direction" never really changes. They're always "going for it" because they're always one of the best teams in the league. 

The rest of the AFC East is usually in flux. The other teams range from hoping for 8-8 to trying to bottom out in hopes of a high draft pick. Yet right now, it seems the stars are aligning and that the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all have the mindset: Change things now and be ready to pounce once Brady is gone. 

The Jets traded up to No. 3 on Saturday, assuring themselves a chance at one of this draft's top quarterbacks. The Bills, with picks Nos. 12 and 22, are expected by pundits to make a similar move up. The Dolphins, fresh off cutting bait with Ndamukong Suh in an attempt at a culture change, have the 11th pick and could use it on a quarterback to either push or replace Ryan Tannehill. 

None of the three teams are close to pushing the Patriots as long as Brady's around, even with the Bills coming off a season in which they reached the playoffs. Yet there's a two-or-three-year plan on which all three teams could have designs: Get the quarterback now, build around him and be in a good situation by the time Brady is done. 

We've seen these teams try to rebuild before during the Brady Era, with only limited success. Mark Sanchez worked out better in New York than anyone could have initially expected, but that success lasted way shorter than any believers could have hoped. Now, it seems they try again. 

Over in Buffalo, the end of the Tyrod Taylor era hardly means the beginning of the Nathan Peterman era. Those two first-rounders should easily be able to get the Bills into the top five, and they've also got two second-rounders and two third-rounders. Hell, they have the pieces to get to No. 1 if Cleveland is bold enough to pass on their choice of Darnold/Rosen/Allen/Mayfield. 

The Dolphins are in the more interesting spot. Tannehill missed all of last season and he's 29. If you're six years into your career and your team still isn't totally sure if you can be one of the better QBs in the league, you probably aren't one of the better QBs in the league. At the very least, Lamar Jackson should be there at No. 11. They could also trade up. 

At the start of last season, the Patriots had far and away the two best QBs in the AFC East. Now, it stands to reason that at least two of their divisional opponents (the Jets and Bills) will come away with what they hope are franchise quarterbacks. And if any of these guys hit, the Pats will have gone from the best QB situation in the NFL to seeing some actual competition waiting for them by the time their own quarterback is done. 

Of course, all three of these teams usually suck at everything, so it shouldn't be a big deal.