Patriots

Curran: Injuries to Edelman, Hightower an early dose of adversity for Patriots

Curran: Injuries to Edelman, Hightower an early dose of adversity for Patriots

If we made a list of the non-Brady Patriots that New England could least afford to lose, Dont'a Hightower and Julian Edelman would have been in the top five joined by Devin McCourty, Nate Solder and Malcolm Butler. You could also Gronk here if you want to.

Regardless of the order you’d place them in – or if you’d want to offer someone else – the fact Edelman’s down for the season and Hightower’s MCL is almost guaranteed to keep him out of Sunday’s game in New Orleans (that’s just spitballing on my part given the grotesque way his right knee bent), is an early dose of adversity the team just has to suck down and try to stomach.

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The “they did it before, they can do it again” mindset is fine. The Patriots will inevitably figure it out to a degree that keeps them in the league’s upper firmament. But it’s not going to be pretty. It’s worth getting your head around that now. The 2016 team that was downgraded for style points during a 14-2 that ended with a Super Bowl win may not be winning by knockout any time soon.

I’ve already pummeled the Edelman Factor into submission. He’s been the oil in the engine of the Patriots offense. Without him – or anyone to challenge the middle of the field at the linebacker level even when there’s traffic – the ride will be bumpy until Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady arrive at what works best most often.

But the Hightower loss is just as significant because of the new parts on defense and the fact the Patriots are a game-plan team. If New England ran a “do what we do” defense like Pittsburgh or Seattle, losing the most influential member of the front-seven may not be as big a deal. You’d just plug the next man in, deal with the dropoff in talent and go. But Hightower has the most institutional knowledge of anyone in the front-seven. He’s got the most authoritative and trusted voice.

Even before Hightower was forced from the opener in the second half with his injury, the team was having issues getting things communicated with Kyle Van Noy in the middle as the defensive signal-caller and Hightower at left defensive end.

Hightower went out with 7:08 left in the third with Kansas City leading, 21-17. The final was 42-21. Some of the big plays were related to communication issues. Would his mere presence have made a difference in the way things got mapped out before the snap? No guarantee. But Hightower’s exit and the Chiefs’ explosion do dovetail neatly.

Van Noy isn’t incapable of communicating the defense. He’s not a dummy. But he was taking his first stab at it against a Chiefs offense that uses formation and personnel groups as well as any team in the league to mess with a defense’s head. The Saints – Sunday’s opponent – are similar. Alongside Van Noy for a big chunk of the game was safety Jordan Richard who is getting his first extended run in the regular defense. He is on the hook for relaying communication as well because of where he is on the field.

So that’s a problem. What’s the solution? On Quick Slants the Podcast, former Patriots captain, linebacker and lead communicator Jerod Mayo had this to say.

“I’m more concerned with the communication than the personnel. The communication was brutal. The thing about having Hightower at the line of scrimmage – it’s great – but you can’t talk to the entire defense playing defensive end. You’re so far removed. That’s why having a middle linebacker in there who can turn around and say (to safety Devin McCourty), ‘Devin, we’re doing this.’ And can say to (defensive tackle Alan Branch), ‘Alan, we’re doing this.’ That’s the missing piece. You’re not going to have a Jordan Richards making calls. It’s just not gonna happen. This will be interesting, especially going against the Saints, for Matty P (Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia). They’re gonna formation you to death, you have to know what back is in the game at all times. They have three backs with three different skill sets. So how do they trim the fat from the game plan? How do you trim the fat and make the calls easy so a guy like Jordan Richards can make calls with confidence. It’s all about confidence. Jordan Richards went to Stanford. He’s probably one of the smartest kids on the team. But it goes to confidence.

“I remember being benched in 2008 when I was rookie of the year. Bill benched me. We were preparing to play San Francisco and I was calling the pass-rushing schemes on the field and you could legit smell the smoke coming out of my ears trying to process everything he was telling me to do. But doing that, you gain confidence. Now, for Jordan Richards, he’s got to tell Alan Branch to get his ass down in the B-gap? It’s just not gonna happen (because of his experience level). It’s hard for Hightower to do it on the outside. Someone has to say, “Everyone shut up. This is what we’re doing. We’ll get to the sideline and figure it out.”

Mayo, by the way, pointed out that he now weighs 225 and is quite happy doing exactly what he’s doing with his life so he’s not coming back. But his point still carries weight.

Without Hightower in the middle – or even on the field – getting all 11 defensive players on the same page and doing their jobs without having to wonder if everyone else will be doing theirs is going to be a chore. 

And the Saints know that too. So that’s the chess game to watch on Sunday.

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Patriots-Dolphins injury report: Tom Brady sits out with Achilles injury

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Patriots-Dolphins injury report: Tom Brady sits out with Achilles injury

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski both sat out of the entirety of Wednesday's practice at Gillette Stadium. 

Brady is dealing with an Achilles injury, per the injury report released by the Patriots. The Boston Herald has reported that Brady will play despite the issue. It's unclear when exactly Brady suffered the injury, but Brady was hit low by Raiders pass-rusher Khalil Mack in the fourth quarter on Sunday, and Mack was called for a roughing-the-passer penalty.

Gronkowski, like teammate David Andrews, is dealing with an illness. Patrick Chung, who left Sunday's game briefly, has an ankle issue. 

Here's the full injury report for both the Patriots and Dolphins . . . 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
C David Andrews (illness)
QB Tom Brady (Achilles)
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle)
S Patrick Chung (ankle)
TE Rob Gronkowski (illness)
WR Chris Hogan (shoulder)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
WR Danny Amendola (knee)
TE Marellus Bennett (shoulder/hamstring)
DT Malcom Brown (ankle)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)
WR Matthew Slater (hamstring)

MIAMI DOLPHINS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
LB Stephone Anthony (quadriceps)
G Jermon Bushrod (foot)
QB Jay Cutler (concussion)
DE William Hayes (back)
T Laremy Tunsill (illness)

FULL PARTICIPATION
RB Senorise Perry (knee)
S Michael Thomas (knee)

 

Curran: Randy Moss better not have to wait for Hall call

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Curran: Randy Moss better not have to wait for Hall call

If you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re a Hall of Famer. The notion that a great player’s candidacy has to have some kind of gestation period before it can be deemed induction-worthy is just plain cruel.

And if you think “cruel” is an overstatement, consider Ken Stabler. Three times a Hall of Fame finalist, Snake had to croak before Pro Football Hall of Fame voters decided it was time to put him in Canton.

There are borderline guys whose candidacies need to marinate. There are players whose contributions to an era take on greater meaning as time passes. You could make the case Stabler was one of those.

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You could also make the case that too many HOF voters in each of the major sports get caught up in a “guardian at the gate” mentality, puffing out birdlike chests until they align with swollen stomachs and declaring an athlete’s not getting inducted on HIS watch.

Or until said athlete’s served time in purgatory and either begs for induction or says, “F--- it, I don’t care if I get in at this point anyway.

Which brings me to Terrell Owens and how his HOF candidacy will impact Randy Moss.

Moss was a better player than T.O. Historic. The second he entered the league in 1998, he was probably one of the five best players in the league at any position. Owens took a while. He didn’t make a Pro Bowl until his fifth NFL season.

Moss was a technician and a savant. Owens just wrestled the game to the ground with brute force.

When measuring what a player “means” to the NFL and its fans, a reasonable Moss comp is Allen Iverson. They were iconic. Owens? Dwight Howard. Where T.O. felt needy, desperate and narcissistic. Moss just didn’t GAF.

And that’s where some voters start to rub their hands together and scheme.

How can we exact revenge for perceived crimes against football and propriety? Make 'em sweat. Use incidents, moments and comments as cudgels and pound penance out of them.

Even though Moss was better than T.O., that doesn’t mean Owens is borderline. Owens is second in all-time yards (Moss is third), eighth in receptions (Moss is 15th), third in touchdowns (Moss is second) and was a five-time All-Pro (Moss was a four-time All-Pro).

The only justification for voters keeping T.O. out the past two years was that he was a prick.

Few – if any - of his ex-teammates say that he should be kept out of the HOF for that. But scores of people in the media, ex-players and league lobbyists do think he should be kept out. At least until he learns his lesson, or whatever.

Owens’ narcissism chewed at the fabric of franchises he was a part of, is the contention. That’s why he played for five teams. That’s why he only played in one Super Bowl. That’s why tears weren’t shed when he signed someplace else.

Moss also played for five teams. He also played in just one Super Bowl (like Owens, Moss’ ’07 Patriots lost though Moss – like Owens – did his part to win). And tears weren’t shed too often when Moss left either.

Check this Tom Brady quote from September 2010. It came just days before Moss began shooting his way out of New England because he was unhappy the team wouldn’t extend his deal.

"There's only one Randy Moss that will ever play this game," Brady said. "He's the greatest, probably, downfield receiver in the history of the NFL. Those catches that he makes, where you guys see he runs 65 yards down the field, you throw it and he just runs and catches it. That's impossible to do.And I ask him, 'How did you do that?' And he says, 'I don't know, man. I've been doing it for a long time.' He has some special skills that nobody's really gifted with." 

That weekend, Moss gave his “This probably will be my last year here as a Patriot…” press conference after a season-opening win over the Bengals. The next week, he caught two of 10 passes that Brady threw his way in a loss to the Jets. One of the passes was a touchdown pass where he blew past Darrelle Revis and made a one-handed pull. Two of the other passes were picked off and Moss was non-competitive. After that, he was effectively frozen out of the offense and was traded after Week 4, less than a month after Brady accurately described him as the greatest downfield receiver in the history of the NFL.

Stuff like that, nudging a traffic cop for a half-block with his car stating “I’ll play when I want to play…,” fake-mooning the Lambeau Stadium crowd, saying he still smoked weed “once in a blue moon” – all those occasions will be aggregated and used as cudgels used to beat down Moss’ candidacy just as the driveway situps are used to beat down T.O.’s.

Whole bunch of voters will hand-wring about what it all meeeaaaannnnnsssss if they sweep Moss in on the first ballot after keeping T.O. out. And then wonder if T.O. should go in before Moss, after Moss or with him. Meanwhile, they’ll rush to get Ray Lewis in line for his gold jacket with nary a word about disappearing white suits 

The whole “between the lines is all that matters” defense.

Randy Moss belongs in the Hall of Fame. ASAP.