From Comcast SportsNetIRVING, Texas (AP) -- The Dallas Cowboys might be without wide receiver Dez Bryant for their playoff push.Bryant injured his left index finger in an emotional 20-19 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday, one day after practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown was killed in a car accident that landed defensive tackle Josh Brent in jail on intoxication manslaughter charges.Dallas coach Jason Garrett said Monday that Bryant was still being evaluated. The Cowboys play Pittsburgh at home Sunday in a battle of 7-6 teams trying to keep playoff hopes alive.Bryant re-entered the game after sustaining the injury and caught a touchdown pass that pulled the Cowboys to 19-17 in the fourth quarter. Dallas won on a field goal by Dan Bailey on the final play."I think adrenaline sometimes allows players to continue to play after they've had an injury," Garrett said. "He certainly made a big play in the ballgame, and I think that's a real tribute to his toughness and his love for the game."If Bryant ends up on injured reserve, he will be the fifth Dallas starter sidelined by a season-ending injury. The other four are defenders, and nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick is out for the year with a hand injury. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff has missed seven games with ankle and groin injuries.Brent was set to make his fifth start in Ratliff's place against the Bengals, but police say he was speeding and drunk when the vehicle he was driving clipped a curb and flipped in the Dallas suburb of Irving early Saturday, hours before he was to be on the team flight to Cincinnati. Brown was found unresponsive at the scene and pronounced dead at a hospital.Garrett told the team about Brown's death on the plane just before takeoff. The Cowboys kept an empty locker for Brown in the visitor's locker room at Paul Brown Stadium, and Jason Hatcher raised Brown's No. 53 jersey over his head as he walked on the field after Bailey's winning kick."I think it's the most emotional game that I've ever been a part of anywhere, player, coach," Garrett said Monday. "You're trying to place life and football in some kind of context together and it doesn't really fit and you don't really have a whole lot of time to kind of process it."Garrett said the Cowboys "absolutely" will carry Brown's death with them for the rest of the season and beyond. But they still have the postseason to pursue. Dallas is still a game behind Chicago and Seattle for the two wild-card spots in the NFC, and the New York Giants stayed a game ahead in the NFC East by beating New Orleans."It was difficult for us to do it in Cincinnati, but it's just the reality of life," Garrett said. "We have to continue to move on. We have to honor Jerry. We have to help Josh any way that we can. But then we have to get back to work."
FOXBORO -- Tom Brady’s completed less than 50 percent of his passes in 14 of the 273 games he started and finished. The Patriots are 6-8 in those games. Among the 14 are three games against Rex Ryan’s Jets, including two in 2013 and the second game of the season in 2009. There’s also the 2015 AFC Championship against Denver, the playoff win over the Texans last year, and the season-opening loss to the Chiefs this year.
The common denominator in those six games? Outstanding defenses with coordinators and personnel that new Brady well and -- in all but the win over the Texans last January -- a dearth of wide receivers.
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Every year there’s a search for the BLUEPRINT!!! for slowing down the Patriots offense and making Brady look mortal. Google “blueprint for beating the Patriots” and you get 370,000 results. Many of those say the 2007 Giants crafted it first. Few of those mention praying for dropped interceptions and helmet catches in the final two minutes.
The most sure way to slow down the Patriots offense is to have really good defensive players who can bring pressure and (this is the key) hoping the Patriots are banged up at wideout and can’t do their usual damage in the middle of the field.
That’s your blueprint. And it’s in place this week. This isn’t saying the Patriots will lose to Houston, who I’ll wager won’t produce more than 10 offensive points. But I’ll also bet you straight up that Brady completes fewer than half of his passes against Houston.
No Edelman, Gronk with a groin, Danny Amendola coming back from concussion and Brandin Cooks still getting adjusted will leave the Texans knowing their key to success is jamming the middle and making Brady work outside.
The Texans were fourth in the NFL in yards per attempt last season (5.83), second in passing yards allowed per game (201), first in first downs allowed per game (17) and second in completion percentage against (58.68).
Brady knows what’s coming. He talked about it earlier this week on WEEI with Kirk and Callahan, saying, “They were the No. 1-ranked defense in the league last year. I don’t think I completed many passes in that game, either. I think I was below 50 percent. They just did a good job of putting pressure and when you put pressure, the ball has to come out quick and they had a lot of guys in coverage, too. It was just tough to get rid of it quick. The one positive we took out of that game was we made a lot of big plays. Some teams are going to decide to take away some shorter throws, and they give up longer plays. I think we had seven plays over 20 yards in that game. We moved the ball pretty well. It just didn’t look super rhythmic."
The Texans were able to get pressure and drop a lot of guys in coverage because they have exceptional talent up front.
Brady broke down the Texans’ front on Wednesday, starting with J.J. Watt, saying, “Earlier in his career you used to kind of get a bead on where he’d be, [which] could help you out a little bit. But now they move him so much he’s going to really face every guy that you have up front. [He’ll] be on both sides, be inside, be outside. They run a lot of games. They’ve got a lot of scheme stuff that they use to try to get their guys free in the front, but all of those guys are exceptional athletes. J.J. is an incredible player. He’s been Defensive Player of the Year (three times). He’s got speed, quickness, power, he’s got all the moves, got all the counters. He’s just a tough guy to block.
“Then you pair him with Whitney Mercilus, who’s one of the most underrated players, I think, in the league in terms of rushing the passer to everything that he does to help that team. I know practicing against that guy how good he is. And then with Jadeveon [Clowney], he’s one of the most athletic guys in the league. He does some things that other people can’t do. He’s just size, speed, explosiveness. So all those guys on the same field at one time is a big problem for any offense. You don’t want to be holding the ball too long because you know that they’re going to get home at some point and I think that means we’ve got to really stay on track. We can’t have many negative plays. We’ve just got to play a really consistent kind of football for the entire game.”
The Texans are in a little bit of trouble at corner this week. One starter, Kevin Johnson, is down with an MCL and Johnathan Joseph will be playing with a shoulder injury that forced him from last week’s game against the Bengals.
The Patriots made it look easy last week against the Saints, which caused people who’d been pointing out Brady was BORN IN 1977!!!! stare at their shoelaces for a few days. But they’re just resting because they’ll be back Sunday evening and into Monday with the same “old” song, ignoring the facts of the case.
The facts are that Brady -- with a full complement in the playoffs last year and the Texans missing J.J. Watt -- had his hands full to the tune of a 47.37 completion percentage, the lowest completion percentage in 34 career playoff games. Without Edelman in this season's opener (and losing Amendola midway through), he completed 44.44 percent of his passes -- fourth-worst among games he started and finished.
The key in this one could be Cooks. As Brady pointed out, the Texans yielded some chunk plays. Cooks, who’s got speed to spare on the outside, will likely be looking at press coverage that -- if he can be beat it -- will give him a chance to run under some Brady duck-and-chucks. And there will be some of those.
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien -- whose defense is run by former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and former Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel -- isn’t looking at the KC game as a blueprint. He’s looking instead at the 27 points scored and the points left on the field by New England.
“When I look at their offense, obviously they didn’t win the game, but there were several things that they did in the game that were very good,” said O’Brien. “They’re a very dangerous team on offense. They play fast. They play with great efficiency. They have a different game plan every week, different personnel that they’re using and so, it’s difficult. You don’t really know what to expect. The combination of Tom and Josh [McDaniels], the brains behind that offense, it’s hard. It’s hard to deal with that and we’re just going to have to see what it is when the game starts and do the best we can to keep up with what they’re trying to do and go from there.”
The Patriots offense knows generally what’s coming from Houston and vice versa. The Patriots won’t be “rhythmic” and there will be balls skipping in the general vicinity of where Brady hoped a receiver would be when he let it go with Watt or Mercilus bearing down on him. Bet on it.