By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The more and more I watch football, the more I question whether human beings are even equipped to handle playing it anymore. As the season hit the real midway point over the past couple of weeks, all across the league, bodies just keep dropping, and it's not all on injuries caused by blunt force. Muscles are pulling, ligaments are snapping and bones are cracking, and no team is immune.
On Sunday, though the Patriots as a team experienced an exhilarating victory over the New York Giants, they also suffered a significant loss when Julian Edelman limped off the field after the final play of the first quarter. After two weeks of voices in New England debating theoretical scenarios of which players the Patriots can least afford to lose, the hypothetical quickly became a reality.
The long-term prognosis on Edelman's broken left foot varies, but if you're an optimist, it sounds like you can hold fast hope that he can return for the playoffs. Though every injury is different, but Mike Garafolo reported it to be a Jones fracture, which is the same injury Dez Bryant suffered earlier this year. Bryant missed six weeks. By that aggressive timeframe, Edelman could miss Weeks 11-16, get some reps in Week 17, and be ready to go for the divisional round. Again, that's optimistic.
While that part of the equation remains up in the air, the Patriots have no time to wallow in sorrow. Next man up, etc. etc. etc.
But what became very clear in Edelman's absence is that the Patriots offense, already nearly decimated along the offensive line, became very ordinary without No. 11 running routes. Edelman is such a dangerous receiving threat because his quickness makes him borderline impossible to cover man-to-man. His intelligence allows him to tear apart zone defenses, too (see: third-and-17 vs. the Jets).
While losing Edelman is not as devastating to the offense as losing Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski, he's without a doubt the worst possible loss beyond that duo. Edelman is Brady's most-targeted receiver, with 88 targets through nine games, and he leads the team in receptions with 61, which is 12 more than Gronkowski and 21 more than Danny Amendola. And in the last two weeks between Edelman and Dion Lewis, the Patriots offense has lost about a third of its production. (Edelman and Lewis accounted for 39 percent of the team's receptions, 35 percent of the team's receiving yards, nine of the team's 24 receiving touchdowns, and 31 percent of the team's rushing yards.)
And on Sunday, the Patriots offense averaged 6.3 yards per play with Edelman in the game in the first quarter, a number that dropped to 2.1 yards per play in the second quarter. They scored 10 points on drives that included Edelman, who three times kept drives alive with third-down catches, and they punted twice without him.
Fortunately for the Patriots, Amendola stepped up in a big way, first with the 82-yard punt return, and then as a reliable receiver for Brady in the slot. But it did seem like every time Amendola made a catch while facing the line of scrimmage, he'd turn around to find a Giants defender diving directly through his facemask. It'll be tough for Amendola to survive all season like that.
Of course, that's an awfully dour way to start things after such a great game, so let's run through all the leftover thoughts from that unforgettable 27-26 Patriots win.
--I still can't believe Tom Brady threw an interception in the end zone. That's the thing for which that you're supposed to sit on your couch and make fun of Mark Sanchez. "Ha ha, Mark Sanchez, trailing by one point, throws an interception in the end zone! What an idiot!"
But Brady? Leading by one, knowing that no matter what, the Patriots are going to force the Giants to score a touchdown in the final minutes? Tom Brady doesn't throw a pick there. He's smarter than that.
Alas, Brady wasn't entirely himself on Sunday. Whether he gets spooked when he sees that NY on the side of the helmets, we'll never get an answer, but there's no question that he wasn't right. Particularly on his second fumble of the day, Brady's internal clock just seemed off. He normally knows to either get rid of that football or go down, but he was caught in between decisions and essentially waited to fumble. (Credit Bryan Stork for pouncing on that loose ball.)
In his postgame press conference, Brady was asked if he thought about the Super Bowl losses at all (2:24 mark here). He thought about if or a second and then just said, "Ahmm ... nope." He was about to say more before Scott Zolak started asking a question. Come on, Zo!
--Sports are funny, though. Today we talk about "Patriots win!" and "undefeated!" and all of that, but really, Landon Collins had the game-sealing interception in his mitts, yet he essentially jarred it loose from himself by smashing into the turf. That was the game in your hands right there, my dude.
But instead of a Giants win, it's "Comeback drive for Brady!" and "Clutch kick by Gostkowski!"
--Continuing on the "Just Hang On To The Football" theme, I believe that Odell Beckham Jr. should have just held on to the football.
People saying he had the ball with two feet don't understand "possession." Even if he wasn't in the end zone, and if Butler had just knocked the ball loose on, say, the 18-yard line and knocked the ball out of bounds, it would have been incomplete. It's not like the play is over as soon as your toes tap. You still need to possess the football, and Beckham never did that.
All of that being said, I was stunned to see Ed Hochuli come out and overturn that touchdown, because let's be honest here, people. It's the NFL. You can never really be confident when it comes to defining a catch.
--I did like that Brady did not take the opportunity to make an excuse for that end-zone INT. After he said multiple times that it was a terrible throw, a reporter asked Brady if communication problems were to blame, if perhaps Brandon LaFell ran the wrong route, or something to that effect.
Brady replied: "It was a terrible throw."
This is why people like Tom Brady.
--The Patriots are so incredibly well-coached, right down to every last detail. This week's example of that came after the Giants kicked their field goal to go up by two points with 1:47 left on the clock. Amendola was back deep for the Patriots and knew enough to take a knee in the end zone, in order to give Brady and the offense as much time as possible to mount a winning drive.
But Josh Brown's kickoff was somewhat short, and it only made it about a yard into the end zone. Typically, whenever you see a kick only get a yard into the end zone, you just about always see the returner bring it out. His momentum is already carrying him forward, and it's hard to hit the brakes and stop from hitting the field of play with a head of steam.
Yet Amendola calmly caught the kickoff and, in one motion, took a knee, preserving anywhere from four to eight seconds. He also went full swag city with his arm-across-the-knee pose, which added style points.
Considering Brady's spike to set up the winning kick came with :06 on the clock, every single second counted.
--Even though the Patriots keep winning, they might actually have reached a critical mass in terms of injuries. Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer are needed at the tackle spots, because the lack of experience and depth on the line has forced the Patriots to ask tight ends and running backs to essentially serve as de facto linemen. That simplifies the offense and makes it easier for defenses to stop.
And on the other side of the ball, the Patriots have to hope that Jamie Collins has been wolfing chicken noodle soup to recover from his illness. Jonathan Freeny and Jon Bostic looked like Jonathan Freeny and Jon Bostic on Sunday, and the dynamic 1-2 punch provided by Dont'a Hightower and Collins is noticeably absent.
It really stood out before halftime, when Bostic had no idea that Will Tye was behind him, leading to a 31-yard catch-and-run, which set up a Giants touchdown before halftime.
--The Patriots have scored in 35 consecutive quarters. That's an NFL record. The only quarter in which they did not score this season was the very first quarter of the Week 1 opener against the Steelers. Since then, they've played 35 quarters, and they've scored 303 points -- an average of 8.66 points per quarter.
Other wild factoids:
The Patriots guaranteed their 15th season with a winning record since 2001. That's tops in the NFL. Indianapolis is second with 12, and four teams (Green Bay, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh) have 10.
The Patriots are now 44-10 against the NFC since the 2002 realignment. That .815 winning percentage is far and away better than the next best team, which is Pittsburgh at .700 (38-16-1).
Stephen Gostkowski improved to 17-for-21 on field goals of 50 yards or more, and that 81 percent success rate is the best all time. Matt Prater is second at 25-for-33 (75.8 percent).
Rob Gronkowski now tied for third all time for touchdowns by a tight end with 62. He is halfway through his sixth NFL season. He's got a ways to go before catching Tony Gonzalez (111) and Antonio Gates (101), though.
Facts are fun.
--Edelman got hurt, but not before showing us another ferocious juke in the first quarter.
Ferocious juke, man. Come on! There are kids watching!
--Poor Craig Dahl, though. Dude's just trying to make a living, yet he's being asked to tackle Julian Edelman in the open field, and he's later asked to try to knock the ball free from Rob Gronkowski.
The thing is, though, Rob Gronkowski is 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, and Dahl is not 6-6 260. So when he did this ...
... it equaled a touchdown for Gronkowski. Scary stuff.
(Slow-motion replay showed Brady yelling "Boom mother-[something]" while pointing to the Patriots sideline after that one.)
--Hey, congratulations to Peyton Manning for setting the NFL's passing yards record.
Such a momentous day for Peyton, really. One he'll never forget. Proud of you.
--I can't believe Tom Brady had the gall to do this while having knowledge that Roger Goodell was in the building.
There's that Shady Brady, always committing crimes and thinking he can just get away with it. Not on Roger's watch, bucko.
--Speaking of Roger, dude had his Dorky Hat Game on 100.
--Ed Hochuli's officiating crew stunk. Ed Hochuli's officiating crew always stinks. I know this because I watch football like everyone else. Does the NFL not know this? Or does the NFL just not care?
It was Hochuli's crew that actually changed NFL history in the 2011 postseason, when the bozo side judge ruled Ahmad Bradshaw's forward progress had been stopped before he fumbled late in the NFC Championship Game. That cost the Niners a trip to the Super Bowl, no big deal.
And the crew continues to stink. The pass interference call on Malcolm Butler was outrageous, as Butler never once made contact with Beckham.The offensive pass interference on Gronkowski was equally outrageous, as he merely fought through press coverage from Trevin Wade, who is 8 inches shorter and 75 pounds lighter than Gronkowski. The contact took place three yards from the line of scrimmage, so Gronkowski had every right to push back. He got penalized for being much stronger than the defender.
The officials missed this play in the second quarter, when Ereck Flowers took Dont'a Hightower down by way of tackling the linebacker's helmet.
And that's in a league where the officials always call illegal contact/hands to the face. Speaking of which, I still have no idea what the penalty was when the Giants were flagged for illegal use of hands which negated a Giants sack when the Patriots had the ball at the 11-yard line, just like I rarely have any clue what Hochuli's crew does on a week-to-week basis.
It's bad. Bring back the replacements. At least they had excuses for being terrible.
--Why is it that even when the Giants have the worst pass rush in the league, they end up doing this to Tom Brady?
I demand answers.
--People keep telling me that LeGarrette Blount stinks. They do, really. They keep telling me this. But then I see him make a cut behind the line of scrimmage, get contacted by two fully grown adult men right here ...
... and then I see him completely wrapped up and surrounded by blue jerseys here ...
... and then not go down until right here:
And I think ... maybe people are wrong.
Blount scored a touchdown that would have put the Patriots ahead by eight points, if not for a hold by David Andrews, but continue to tell me how he stinks, people. I'll just keep watching him bowl over human beings.
--On that play when David Andrews got flagged for holding, Rob Gronkowski threw poor Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out the club.
--Just, can we talk about Bryan Stork, who is a center but was playing right tackle, going against the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul, and handling himself quite well? Can we talk about that, people? Good. Let's talk about it.
--Does Linda Holliday sell these BB hearts? I know a lot of people in this region who would be willing to shell out a few shekels to sports that snazzy heart on their chest. She could move a lot of product if she were so inclined.
--Stephen Gostkowski was a delight in his postgame press conference. The Patriots should send him out after every game, just because he's such a pleasant fellow.
But I would have preferred if he went out there all cocky and just said, "Yeah, guess Bill should've let me kick that field goal in Glendale back in Super Bowl 42. AND I'M OUT! *mic drop*"
--This one's for all the pro wrestling fans, all of whom immediately knew exactly what Scott Chandler's touchdown celebration was all about.
Cool celebration, I guess. Might want to work on snagging those wide-open passes, though.
--I said a few weeks ago in my picks column that the Giants are going to win the Super Bowl. It's just science, people. Every four years, a mediocre Giants team gets hot in January, finds some dumb luck, and wins an unlikely championship. If you don't see it coming then you're not looking closely enough. And though the Patriots are still the best team in the NFL, that often means very little. So I'm locking it in now:
Giants 31, Steelers 29.
(If I get this right, someone's got to buy me some flowers. At least.)
But that's a long way away, and nobody knows what the heck will happen in this crazy mixed-up sports league we call the NFL. For now, we'll just go with this:
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