In Arizona, the Cardinals lose Tyrann Mathieu for the year with a ACL and LCL knee injury. In Carolina, the Panthers lose Jonathan Stewart with an MCL knee injury. But the most devastating season-ender was Rob Gronkowski and his ACL and MCL knee injury with the New England Patriots. The Patriots will rebound somehow to remain competitive but being competitive and winning in the playoffs are two different tests.
Players get injured but for Gronkowski, this is difficult to comprehend and accept. On the positive side, he is a young, fourth-year player and youth and the ability to heal effectively do go together. On the negative, for a young player, Gronkowski has an old body of football battles. Two back surgeries at the University of Arizona, missing his senior year, three arm surgeries over three years with New England and now a major knee surgery that, as we have learned by watching RG3, takes more than six months to recover from.
His biggest battle to get back will be that he has to do this on his own and often all alone. Football rehabilitation is not a team sport, it is an individual challenge that you have to look at as a job at which to excel and a time commitment that ends an off-season of enjoyment. Every now and then, I get a streak of jealousy over the amount of money pro football players make and how fast, but then I lose that when I consider how short of a career it is and how fast the injuries can compound.
In Cleveland, the most talked about player this week will be Browns defensive back TJ Ward because he is the weapon that took out Gronkowski. Yes, he could have make the tackle higher around the hips but would have probably bounced off the hips and Gronkowski would have made another five yards. Or he could tackled him around the shoulders and been taken for 10 yards trying to wrestle the 6'6" 260 lbs tight end to the ground. Ward is listed at 5'10" and 200lbs so it was his only choice to take the legs. If he didn't, he would have been criticized and graded down the next morning in the review of the game. The more negative grades you have, the less significance you have in value. No choice for Ward at that moment in time.
I don't know who the best quarterback is in NFL football but of the top four that have won Super Bowls, here is what I think. Tom Brady is the best pressure quarterback in football and has exceptional leadership qualities. What he has been able to do with extreme limitations of time is second to none. With two minutes to go on your own 20-yard line and needing a touchdown, Tom Brady is the best.
Peyton Manning is #1 in terms of preparation and in-game adjustment. So many times the best offensive possession for Denver is the first one as that becomes the first points scored in the game. Then as the game moves on, Manning figures it out. What he figures out I am not sure but so many times, the second half is dominated by Denver no matter what has happened in the first half. Nobody can run their offence like Manning.
Drew Brees has the best footwork and awareness. Cris Collinsworth showed on Sunday Night Football how Brees goes from one opportunity to another downfield, not only in the game but in the pre-game. Later, it was visually demonstrated how polished and precise his footwork and throwing motion work together. Pocket awareness is having the ability to feel a pass rush but not see it. Some quarterbacks never get it; Brees has mastered it.
No one has a better arm or a more relaxed demeanor on the field than Aaron Rodgers. If there is anxiety inside Rodgers in the middle of a game, I don't see it. It amazes me how composed and relaxed he remains from play to play. Confidence yes, ability yes but also a gift of knowing or having the skill to focus on what is important and dismiss what is not in any given moment. And with that gift, he has the most accurate and 'velocity intense' arm. If ARodgers comes back for the Dallas game, everything will change for the Packers. Overall, I pick Aaron Rodgers as my number 1 quarterback.
In Washington, you can see the end coming. I don't think players 'give up' on a team, coach or year. The competition for an NFL job is too heavy and everything is on video to be re-evaluated all off-season over and over and over. But I do think players play with different intensity levels depending on weather, opposition, one-on-one competition and free agency. When you give up a run for a touchdown, a pass for a touchdown, a punt for a touchdown and a kick return for a touchdown, there is something deeply wrong. The value of a coach is how the players respond and the Washington Redskins did not. You can't fire 53 players, only the boss.
Time To Sit
In Denver, I hope the Broncos sit Wes Welker until the playoffs. Within one month, he has been diagnosed with two concussions and both on the same type of pattern, a crossing route in between the hash marks about 10 yards downfield. That's linebacker territory. Also, I guess the conversation about Peyton Manning's ability to play effectively is cold weather is over. Four touchdowns and 397 yards answered that question against Tennessee .
Tough To Watch
Finally, the Monday Night Football game was painful to watch for two reasons. First, it was brutally cold and by the fourth quarter, everybody was ready to go home; in the stands, on the field, everybody. Secondly, it was tough to watch the slow but consistent disintegration of the Dallas defence. Salary cap limitations have been a good thing for football as it forces competitive balance but when mismanaged, you see weakness in personnel that is normally depth players who will never be starters. That has caught up to the Cowboys. They can still win the NFC East when they face the Eagles in Philadelphia on December 29, but by no means is it a sure thing based on Monday night.