Romo not to blame this time


Romo not to blame this time

FOXBORO The Dallas Cowboys once again found themselves in a down-to-the-wire nailbiter.

And once again, the Cowboys came up short as the New England Patriots rallied in the closing seconds for a record-setting 20-16 win.

Several mistakes and missteps throughout the game contributed to the Cowboys (2-3) losing their second straight game, but the usual suspect for their late-game collapses -- Tony Romo -- was not to blame for this one.

New England certainly played a major role in Dallas' problems, but the Cowboys committed 10 penalties for 77 yards, which included some late-game, drive-killing mistakes.

On Dallas' second-to-last offensive series, negative yardage run plays on first and second-down, set up a third-and-long with 2:47 to play. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett certainly gave some thought to throwing the ball in that situation. But those thoughts were tossed to the curb following a false start penalty on rookie tackle Tyron Smith, which made it third-and-18 from their own 20.

Romo's play was actually one of the bright spots for a Dallas team that continues to come up short when the game matters most.

After an early interception, Romo seemed to get into a nice groove for Dallas. He completed 27-of-41 passes for 317 yards which included a touchdown. He also had 17 yards on the ground, which more than doubled his rushing total (8 yards) this season.

Dallas didn't come into Gillette Stadium looking for any moral victories, but Romo's play falls under the category of things to build on moving forward.

"He did a good job," Garrett said. "He managed the game well. We got into a little bit of a rhythm after the first couple of drives on offense."

The Patriots were concerned with the big-play ability of Dallas' 6-foot-2 wide receivers, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. By preventing the Cowboys from launching the deep ball, it opened up several passing lanes for Romo underneath the coverage, and create a number of one-on-one situations that at times seemed to work in Dallas' favor.

"Tony did a good job of seeing what they were playing, getting the ball to the right guy," Garrett said.

Hurting Romo's play to some degree was the Cowboys' inability to balance his passing game with a adequate running game. Dallas came into the game with the sixth-best offense in the NFL, which includes 86.8 yards rushing which ranks 27th (out of 32 teams) in the NFL.

On Sunday, the Patriots limited the Cowboys to just 77 yards on the ground.

Dallas' top running back, Felix Jones, suffered an ankle injury that limited him to just eight carries for 14 yards. Leading the Cowboys rushing attack -- if you can even call it that -- was DeMarco Murray, who had 10 carries for 32 yards.

"We didn't run the ball the way we needed to run the ball," Garrett said.

Despite the woeful running game, Romo did his part to at least give the Cowboys a shot at beating a New England team that has now won a franchise-record 20 straight regular-season games at home.

For Romo, Sunday's game was the fourth time this season he has passed for more than 300 yards. But after yet another disappointing finish -- one that for a change, he had little control over -- Romo was in no mood to talk much about his play.

"I don't even think about that," he said. "It's just about winning and losing. Nothing feels good when you lose."

Hightower on Collins: 'He makes it a lot easier for me'


Hightower on Collins: 'He makes it a lot easier for me'

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower is coming off of one of the best games of his career, and he did it while running the Patriots defensive huddle without the help of his on-the-field partner at the linebacker level.

"It’s a lot more fluent having Jamie [Collins] out there," Hightower said on Wednesday. "A lot of the times we coordinate things a lot together. I usually take care of the front, he takes care of the secondary. We have our own way of doing things. Sometimes Jamie is just like, ‘No, you go ahead and you just make the calls and I’ll play off of you.’

"It helps having him out there. I mean, he does everything so he makes it a lot easier for me. Anytime I can have him out there with me, I’m 100 percent having him out there."

Hightower has plenty of experience playing without Collins, however, and Collins is accustomed to having to go without Hightower. Both had issues staying on the field in 2015, and although it's early, that trend has continued this season.

Hightower missed Weeks 2 and 3 due to a knee injury, and Collins missed Week 6 with a hip issue, meaning the duo has been available to coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia only three times this year. 

Last season the pair was active for 10 of 18 games, including both playoff games, and during a Week 5 win over the Cowboys, Hightower played just nine snaps. Collins dealt with an illness that kept him out for four games last season, and Hightower, as has been the case for much of his career, was limited by (and often played through) myriad ailments.

Both are vital to the long-term success of the Patriots defense in 2016, but it's been hit-or-miss as to when they'll be out there to play off of one another as Hightower described.

"Our linebackers, Jamie, Dont'a, they're two of the best in the league," said safety Duron Harmon following Hightower's dominating performance against the Bengals in Week 6. "Any time we can have those guys out there, they just continue to create havoc.

"They make plays, they make it easier for us, especially me. The quarterback can't look off as long when Dont'a's all in his face -- him and Jamie. Having him on the field is a plus. And when you get both of them on the field it's a double-plus."

And therein lies the issue: Having both Hightower and Collins out there together has felt like a luxury rather than the norm. 

At some point, the Patriots will have to make decisions as to what they'll do at the linebacker level for the foreseeable future. Both Hightower and Collins are slated to hit free-agency, and their durability will certainly factor into the equation when the Patriots make them offers to stick in New England.

Until then, though, both will work to be available as often as possible -- both for their team's sake and their own as they eye new deals -- where they can stress opposing offenses at a degree to which most linebacker combinations around the league can only aspire. 

"With us out there we’re able to do a lot of different things, [we have] a lot of versatility," Hightower said. "So hopefully we can both stay out there."

Hightower was removed from the Patriots injury report last week, meaning he's able to take on a full workload in practice. Collins, meanwhile, continues to be limited in practice, and his availability for Sunday's game with the Steelers is not yet known. In place of Collins, sixth-round rookie Elandon Roberts earned the bulk of the playing time against the Bengals last week. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo saw a season-high eight defensive snaps in the win. 

Thursday's Patriots-Steelers practice report: Garoppolo off the list


Thursday's Patriots-Steelers practice report: Garoppolo off the list

FOXBORO -- The Patriots injury report shrunk again on Thursday. 

One day after Rob Gronkowski was removed from the injury report, the Patriots were able to take backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo off. 

Garoppolo injured his shoulder in a Week 2 win over the Dolphins and then missed the following two games, giving way to rookie third-rounder Jacoby Brissett. He has been limited in practice ever since being driven into the ground by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Here is Thursday's full practice participation/injury report for the Patriots and Steelers:


TE Martellus Bennett (ankle)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Jamie Collins (hip)
WR Julian Edelman (foot)
DL Woodrow Hamilton (shoulder)
LB Shea McClellin (concussion)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring)
LB Elandon Roberts (ankle)
DL Vincent Valentine (back)


T Marcus Gilbert (ankle)
DE Cameron Heyward (hamstring)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (left knee)
S Shamarko Thomas (groin)
C Cody Wallace (knee)
WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder)
RB DeAngelo Williams (knee)

S Robert Golden (foot)
S Michael Mitchell (knee)
LB Ryan Shazier (knee)