Philadelphia, PA – In a week where most of the NFL heavyweights struggled before surviving, New England was the one team which actually earned a few style points, walloping Andrew Luck and the up-and- coming Indianapolis Colts 59-24.
Winning the battle against the Colts, however, made the war only tougher when All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a broken forearm while blocking on a PAT attempt, the Patriots' 59th point of the day, matching the franchise record for most scored in a game.
Tom Brady threw two of his three touchdown passes to Gronkowski, who finished with seven receptions and 137 yards overall, as New England cooled off Indy.
New England and Indianapolis, of course, had one of the NFL's greatest rivalries when Brady was dueling against Peyton Manning. That animosity was expected to be rekindled when Luck and his version of the Colts took aim at Brady and the Patriots for the first time.
After all Luck had guided the Colts to four consecutive wins coming in and had won six of his first nine career starts, the best winning percentage ever for a No. 1 overall pick through nine contests.
The Colts even drew first blood, albeit with the help of a big pass interference penalty, before Gronkowski and Brady tempered things by quickly hooking up on a 4-yard touchdown pass.
In the end Luck showed signs and did amass 334 passing yards along with two touchdowns to T.Y. Hilton but the Stanford product also threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and lost a fumble that led to another score.
"(I'm) disappointed in myself for committing four turnovers on my part and two of those went for immediate touchdowns. They did a good job," said Luck, who surpassed Manning with his fifth 300-yard passing game, the most by a rookie in NFL history.
Brady, on the other hand, was as clean as it gets, connecting on 24-of-35 passes for 331 yards, while Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen each rushed for fourth-quarter scores in the lopsided win, the fourth in a row for the 7-3 Patriots.
Julian Edelman also contributed with a well-rounded performance, scoring on a a punt return, catching five passes for 58 yards with another TD and adding a 47-yard run.
"We got great contributions from all three phases of our team," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who picked up career coaching win No. 199. "The players really stepped up and delivered some big plays throughout the game."
New England's shaky pass defense also received a big boost from talented but troubled cornerback Aqib Talib, who was acquired by the Pats from Tampa Bay on Nov. 1. Talib made his presence felt in the second quarter, picking off an overthrown pass by Luck and zig-zagging across the field for a 59-yard touchdown in his Pats debut.
All the feel good stuff went out the window, however, when Stephen Gostkowski lined up for the afterthought with less than four minutes remaining and Gronk busted his left forearm while blocking.
"He left the game with an arm injury," Patriots spokesman Stacey James said about 2 1/2 hours after the game. "There was no update to that."
Perhaps the Patriots were hoping against hope but reality set in and Gronkowski is scheduled undergo surgery Monday morning and will likely miss anywhere between four and six weeks.
The latter of those numbers would mean Gronkowski would miss the rest of the regular season, something New England can likely overcome at least as far as the AFC East goes since the rest of that division hardly looks playoff worthy.
But challenging Houston for the top spot in the conference or earning a first round bye in the postseason just became far more daunting.
The Patriots have already been without their other first-string tight end, Aaron Hernandez for the last three games -- and a total of six this season -- with a lingering right ankle injury first suffered in Week 2.
Hernandez is getting closer and went from being listed as "out" on the injury report to "questionable" after the Nov. 4 bye week and keeping that designation for each of the last three games. The Florida product had limited participation in practice in each of the last three weeks and the timetable for a possible return probably just got pushed up.
But as good as Hernandez is -- he had 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven TDs in 2011 -- he's not Gronkowski.
Gronk is one of the toughest matchups in the NFL. Linebackers are far too slow to deal with the Arizona product and defensive backs can't deal with his massive 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame.
"I think (double-teaming is ) definitely something they try," Brady said when asked how team's deal with Gronkowski. "It's just hard because do you want to blitz? When you're a tight end, you're really in the inside part of the field and you can run basically anywhere you want. It's not like you're an outside receiver where your route has to complement other people's routes.
"As a tight end, you can go to the right, left, deep, short; you can really do whatever you want. And the more guys you put on (Gronkowski), the less there are on Wes (Welker), the less guys you have rushing, the less on Brandon (Lloyd), Julian (Edelman)."
It's also why Gronkowski had 10 touchdown catches as a rookie in 2010 and then set an NFL record for tight ends with 17 touchdowns last season, when he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards.
Gronk's two TDs on Sunday gave him 10 again as he became the first tight end in NFL history with at least 10 receiving touchdowns in three consecutive seasons. Meanwhile his 37 career touchdowns are the third-most by a player in his first three NFL seasons, trailing only superstar outside the number threats Randy Moss and Jerry Rice.
This is not your average tight end.
Remember what happened when Gronkowski severely sprained his left ankle in last season's AFC Championship Game -- the Pats' offense sputtered badly in the Super Bowl and the New York Giants pulled off the upset.
The sequel is about to start on Thanksgiving night against the New York Jets.
"I don't think we're anywhere [near] where we need to be at this point," Brady said. "We've got a lot of football left and this Thursday is going to be a big game."
THE MONDAY REWIND
IT DIDN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY
Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie said before the season that in order to keep his job Andy Reid needed "substantial improvement" on the team's 8-8 record from 2011.
That's a statistical impossibility now after Philadelphia fell to 3-7 with an embarrassing 31-6 loss at Washington on Sunday.
The Eagles looked dazed and confused trying to deal with Redskins star rookie Robert Griffin III, who threw for 200 yards and a career-high four touchdowns on 14-of-15 efficiency while rushing for 84 more, as Washington sent Philadelphia to a sixth straight setback, the longest losing streak in the 14- year Reid era.
Starting in place of the concussed Michael Vick, Philly's own freshman signal- caller, Nick Foles, was a dismal 21-of-46 for 204 yards and two interceptions for the Eagles, who have lost six in a row for the first time since dropping seven straight to end the 1994 campaign.
"Early turnovers, penalties, drops, giving up the big plays, those are all problems with this game," Reid said.
Reid is now basically a 20-pound turkey which has been roasting for about five hours. The timer on his career in the City of Brotherly Love is just about up.
The Philadelphia Daily News, citing a high-ranking team official, reported that Reid will indeed be on the sidelines of next Monday night's home game against the Carolina Panthers, a scene which could get ugly quickly for the unpopular Reid.
That said, making a coaching change with six games remaining on the schedule simply doesn't make sense and Reid isn't going to walk away from nearly $7 million dollars left on his contact.
But the situation in Philadelphia for Reid is no longer tenable. Management simply can't sell a coach who is perhaps the most unpopular figure in the entire city.
"I know it. I know it," one anonymous defensive player told The Philadelphia Inquirer when asked if Reid is gone after the season. "And the only reason I'm here is because of Andy. Some vets have been talking about how the next [coach] may want his own guy."
National observers, who aren't around Reid on a daily basis, often wonder why Philadelphia turned on a coach who has been so successful. But, the veteran mentor has always struggled with the public relations aspect of his job, upsetting the Philly faithful time and time again with his arrogance and trademarked "I've got to do a better job" shtick.
It was on display again Sunday when Reid refused to admit his mistake of leaving LeSean McCoy in the game late. Perhaps the Eagles' best player, McCoy suffered a concussion when he was drilled by Washington safety Madieu Williams with just 1:45 remaining in what was already a settled game.
Why was McCoy still in the contest with the Eagles trailing by 25 points?
"Because we're trying to catch up and win the game," Reid grumbled.
Pressed further Reid repeated, "We were trying to catch up and win the game."
The assembled media then turned it up a notch by asking the coach if he regretted getting a Pro Bowl-level player's brain scrambled for no good reason.
"No," the embattled and soon to be unemployed coach said while flashing his now legendary hubris.
Reid is too good a coach and too well-respected around the league to be out of a job long. Here's hoping he understands what got him in trouble in Philadelphia, learns from it and finally puts a period on what is a very impressive resume.
In fact, here's hoping Andy finally does a better job.
The winning points in four games on Sunday were scored in the final two minutes or overtime, bringing the season total of such games to a heart- stopping 36.
The Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers all won in overtime in Week 11 while the Green Bay Packers scored their winning points with 1:55 remaining in the fourth quarter on a 22-yard TD toss pass from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb.
"We just had to have this win," said Rodgers. "We knew it was a struggle and we didn't play our best on offense. But when we needed it, everyone came through and this is a big one."
In Dallas, Dan Bailey's 38-yard field goal with 6:13 left in overtime capped a furious comeback that lifted the Cowboys to a hard-earned -- and much-needed -- 23-20 triumph over the Cleveland Browns.
"It was a good win for our team," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett remarked. "It was by no means pretty, but we just kept battling, kept fighting through and kept picking each other up. I thought we fought through a lot of different adversity and our team played with a lot of poise at the end."
Down in South Texas Andre Johnson went 48 yards with a screen pass for the winning touchdown late in overtime, as the Texans avoided a major scare and came away with a 43-37 win over Jacksonville in a thriller at Reliant Stadium.
"Obviously, we struggled today," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "We gave up a lot of big plays defensively, we turned the ball over offensively, but we kept battling and we found a way to win the game another way."
Finally Josh Freeman found Dallas Clark down the left sideline for the deciding touchdown to lift the Buccaneers to a 27-21 overtime in Carolina.
"All wins are satisfying, but this one was fun," said Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano. "It is rewarding to those guys. It is so hard to win in the National Football League, every win is great."
- Houston quarterback Matt Schaub threw for 527 yards in the Texans' win, matching Warren Moon's performance on Dec. 16, 1990 for the second-most passing yards during a game in NFL history. Norm Van Brocklin remains the all- time leader with 554 passing yards back on Sept, 28, 1951.
-In that same game, the Texans' Johnson had 14 catches for 273 yards with one touchdown and rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon of Jacksonville had seven catches for 236 yards with one touchdown, marking the first time in NFL history two players had 235-plus receiving yards in the same game.
-RG3's 93.3 completion percentage against the Eagles is the highest by a quarterback with at least four touchdown passes since Steve Young back on Oct. 16, 1994. Griffin also had a 61-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss, his third touchdown pass of at least 60 yards this season. The Baylor product is the first player in NFL history with at least three 60-plus yard touchdown passes and a 60-yard rushing touchdown in a season.
-Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning threw three touchdown passes in the Broncos' 30-23 win over San Diego, passing Dan Marino for second place in NFL history with 423 total. Manning also overtook Marino (147) and tied his boss, John Elway, for the second-most regular-season wins as a starting quarterback in NFL history with 148.
-Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green had six catches for 91 yards and a touchdown in the Bengals' 28-6 win over Kansas City. It was the ninth consecutive game Green has had a TD reception, tying Lance Alworth (1963) for the third-longest streak in a single season in NFL history. The only longer single-season streaks belong to Jerry Rice (12 games, 1987) and Elroy Hirsch (10 games, 1951).