Patriots

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Osweiler carries Broncos over Colts

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Osweiler carries Broncos over Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler played like a relaxed reliever on Thursday.

He couldn't have picked a better time.

With Paxton Lynch inactive and Trevor Siemian out after two series, Osweiler trotted onto the field, ran for one touchdown and threw for two more to lead the Broncos past Indianapolis 25-13 for their first road win of the season.

"I was just a little kid having fun tonight," Osweiler said. "That's really what it was. I've been on a little bit of a rollercoaster ride for about two years. Just to go out there, Thursday Night Football, with my teammates, I was just having fun."

The difference was obvious.

Osweiler played more like the guy Denver (5-9) took in the second round of the 2012 draft and the guy Broncos fans remember filling in for the injured Peyton Manning during the 2015 Super Bowl season.

He wound up 12 of 17 with 194 yards and no turnovers and ran for an 18-yard TD, too. C.J. Anderson ran 30 times for a season-high 158 yards.

Denver may need Osweiler to keep playing this way a couple more times after Siemian was diagnosed with a sprained left shoulder. Coach Vance Joseph couldn't say whether he'd have his starting quarterback against Washington.

If Siemian can't go, Osweiler may get another shot.

"He played with great poise," Joseph said. "He played great, clean football and it led to a win."

That's two wins in five days - and the Broncos' first outside the Mile High City since Dec. 4, 2016. The victory assures Denver of avoiding its first winless season on the road since 1964.

But it sure wasn't easy, and at times, it was downright rugged.

Siemian was taken to the locker room after being driven into the ground by Colts linebacker Barkevious Mingo late in the first quarter.

A much scarier scene played out with 14:01 left in the second when Denver linebacker Deiontrez Mount appeared to make helmet-to-helmet contact with Colts tight end Brandon Williams on punt protection. Williams was knocked over backward and stayed on the ground as trainers and doctors strap him to a backboard and removed his facemask.

When Williams was lifted onto a cart, his teammates came over to offer support.

Coach Chuck Pagano said Williams had a concussion and had returned to the team's training room after initially being taken to a local hospital.

"We erred on the side of caution and, rightfully so, taking care of him," Pagano said. "But he's back here, he's doing well."

Indianapolis' struggles continue, though. The Colts (3-11) have lost five straight, the longest skid in Pagano's six-year tenure, and will post their first losing season at home since 2011.

The game pretty much went as expected.

Jacoby Brissett scored on a 7-yard run and Adam Vinatieri gave Indy a 10-0 lead with a 45-yard field goal midway through the second quarter. All Indy could muster the rest of the night was a 39-yard field goal early in the third.

Osweiler, meanwhile, rallied the Broncos.

His touchdown run just before halftime made it 10-7. He gave Denver the lead with a 22-yard TD pass to Cody Latimer with 4:16 left in the third and then added a 54-yard TD strike to Jeff Heuerman to make it 22-13 following a 2-point conversion toss to Latimer.

"We had a really good rhythm offensively and we were able to mix the run and the pass," Osweiler said. "I was going to lay it all out there."

KEY NUMBERS

Broncos: Osweiler's TD pass to Heuerman ended the team's 18-game regular-season streak without a play of 50 more yards. ... Emanuel Sanders had seven catches for 68 yards and Demaryius Thomas had five catches for 69 yards.

Colts: Brissett was 17 of 30 with 158 yards and was sacked once. ... Indy had 228 yards in offense. ... T.Y. Hilton caught five passes for 41 yards.

GORED

Colts running back Frank Gore added another milestone on a night it looked like he might not finish the game.

The 34-year-old running back left during the second quarter with a knee injury. But when he returned in the second half, he quickly became the second player in league history to post 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 12 consecutive seasons. Only Emmitt Smith (13) has more.

INJURY REPORT

Broncos: With the exception of Siemian, Denver stayed relatively healthy. The only other significant concern was an ankle injury that didn't allow Sanders to finish the game.

Colts: In addition to Williams, the Colts lost right tackle Denzelle Good (knee) and linebackers Jeremiah George (neck) and Jon Bostic (knee) in the second half.

UP NEXT

Broncos: Play their road finale Dec. 24 at Washington.

Colts: Head to Baltimore on Dec. 23 in their final road game of the season.

Cooks shines on his biggest stage yet

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Cooks shines on his biggest stage yet

FOXBORO -- You’ve always wanted something more from Brandin Cooks. I mean, 65 catches for almost 11-hundred yards is nothing to turn your nose up at yet we have.  But there’s something very un-Patriot like about his style.

We’ve grown accustom to seeing smaller receivers who fight for every inch, from Troy Brown to Wes Welker to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. They would scrap and claw to get that extra yard, sometimes risking their own health. Cooks isn’t that guy, despite a similar build of the aforementioned players. He’s a willing blocker, but as a runner will go out of his way to avoid contact. I wouldn’t say that changed in Sunday’s AFC Championship game. He’s still not running slants or crossing routes with any regularity or success, but the 23-year-old wide receiver shined his brightest in his biggest moment and is now headed to the Super Bowl.

MORE PATRIOTS

“It’ s a blessing,” he said pausing briefly before repeating “It’s a blessing.”

Cooks himself helped kick start a sluggish Patriots offense late in the second quarter with his team trailing 14-3. Almost nothing had gone right for the Pats since putting up a field goal on the game’s opening drive. With 1:28 on the clock, Tom Brady threw a pretty pass to Rob Gronkowski running down the seam. He appeared to make the catch for a brief moment before safety Barry Church knocked both the ball from Gronk’s hands and Gronk from the game. Church was flagged for unnecessary roughness, putting the ball on Jacksonville’s 40 yard line. But with Gronk staggering toward the sideline, you couldn’t help but feel a slight air of “oh bleep” in the air. Enter Cooks. 

Jags cornerback A.J. Bouye appeared as if he was going to get up in Cooks’ face before backing away just prior to the snap, surrendering some 8 or 9 yards off the line of scrimmage. But with that elite speed, Cooks got on top of Bouye quickly, forcing some contact. Instead of whimpering through the physicality, Cooks pushed back and pushed forward, again causing Bouye to use his hands. This time though the ball was already in the air and out came the penalty flags. A 32-yard pass interference call had the Pats sitting pretty at the Jags 13. Brady went back to Cooks on the very next play, picking up 12 more yards before James White crashed into the end zone for a touchdown. We had ourselves a game again, 

“You just gotta keep fighting {in those moments} because you can never put it into the hands of hoping you’re going to get a PI {pass interference},” said Cooks. “You just want to fight an make sure you get the ball or no one does.”

After his flawless first half, Cooks let one slip through his hands just as it appeared the Pats were poised to answer a Jacksonville field goal with points of their own. Instead, isolated one-on-one with a linebacker, the lithe wideout couldn’t reel in a potential big gainer and the Pats drive stalled. As the game wore on, you couldn’t help but circle back to that drop and wonder if that was an ominous sign. 

“Obviously you want to make every catch,” said Cooks of the play. “I didn’t but had to keep playing. I hoped I’d work to get another chance….Tom trusts me to put the ball in my area and let me make a play.”

It came to start the Pats’ second touchdown drive of the game, this one not beginning until 12:03 remaining on the game clock. Cooks’ speed forced Bouye to overreact, turning his hips and committing to a deep route. Instead, Cooks’ slapped on the brakes and hauled in an 18-yarder, giving him the first 100-yard receiving game of his brief playoff career. 

“That doesn’t mean anything,” said Cooks. “Winning is everything.”

Cooks didn’t make any more catches the remainder of the game, but his speed influenced the Jags to switch Bouye off him and put Pro Bowler Jalen Ramsey on. Cooks got Ramsey too, drawing a 36-yard pass interference call later in the 4th. It didn’t lead to points but did help flip the field which eventually did lead the game-winning touchdown.

“It’s football,” he said. “We knew it’s not going to be easy. You’re talking about a great team, one of the best defenses. We knew it was gonna be hard. We knew we had to play 60 minutes of football. Not get too high. Not get too low. Just play till the clock says 0:00.”

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Cardinals reportedly choose Wilks; Flores a logical choice to replace Patricia

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Cardinals reportedly choose Wilks; Flores a logical choice to replace Patricia

The brain drain in New England after this season may not be quite as severe as it once looked like it might be.

According to ESPN, the Cardinals have chosen to hire Panthers assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks as their next head coach. That would mean that Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, a finalist for the job in Arizona, will shoot to the front of the line of candidates to succeed Matt Patricia as Patriots defensive coordinator. Patricia is expected to be named Lions head coach after Super Bowl LII. 

For the Patriots, holding onto Flores would be a significant boost to their coaching staff in 2018.

The team is also expected to lose Josh McDaniels, who could be named head coach of the Colts after the season. Special teams coach Joe Judge is working on an expiring deal, per ESPN, and could be elsewhere next season as well. Then there's offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who will be 70 later this month and could be interested in going back to the retirement life he enjoyed for two years in 2014 and 2015 before returning last season. 

Flores, 36, has been with the Patriots since 2004. He's served as a scouting assistant, a pro scout, a special teams assistant, a defensive assistant and safeties coach (2012-2015) before taking over linebacker duties. As our Mike Giardi wrote earlier this month, Flores is highly-respected by Patriots players and would make all kinds of sense as the team's next defensive coordinator.

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