Not as easy as it looked

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Not as easy as it looked

By Michael Felger

Four quick thoughts from a terrific NFL Sunday:

Credit the Patriots win on Sunday night to Aaron Rodgers' concussion. If the Packers starter played, it's hard to imagine the Packers would have burned the clock like they did late in the game and it's hard to imagine the Pats, given the way they were playing, would have been able to stop him. As it was, the Pats made Matt Flynn look like a star (or at least Colt McCoy) and won only thanks to a pair of unlikely returns one by guard Dan Connolly of all people, and another by corner Kyle Arrington.

The Pats were not particularly sharp offensively or defensively on this night, but they made just enough plays on both sides of the ball to eek out the victory. That's an improvement from the last time they looked like this, Nov. 7 at Cleveland, when their mistakes proved fatal. This time, they just proved a nuisance.

Still, Bill Belichick will have plenty of teachable moments to show his team. Ideally, this will be the kind of reality check game the Browns contest was, only without the negative impact of a defeat.

Then again, the Pats had been playing so well recently that a more human performance was probably in the cards. And it may very well show the fans the reality of the situation: The path to the Super Bowl won't be as easy as the Pats were making it look.

I don't know how you feel about it, but I consider the Colts winning over Jacksonville to be a mediocre result for the Patriots.

With the win, the Colts assumed the lead in the AFC South, and if the season ended today they would hold the No. 4 seed. As of now, that makes them the Pats' most likely opponent for their first playoff game at Gillette Stadium next month. (The Pats, as the presumed No. 1 seed, will face the lowest remaining seed in the AFC in the divisional round. If both home teams win on wild card weekend at this point that would be the Chiefs and Colts then the Pats get Indy).

I'd rather face any other team in the AFC than the Colts.

The history is well-known. Peyton Manning and Indy came into Foxboro last month having won five of the last six meetings with Belichick, and only a diving James Sanders interception in the closing moments prevented that run from going to 6-of-7.

Yes, the Pats defense has improved. Yes, Manning's offense has been depleted by injuries (Austin Collie suffered another concussion yesterday). Yes, the game will be played outside in January, and Manning has only rarely played well in those conditions. I understand all those things.

And I still don't want to face the guy. He figured you out a long time ago.

Disagree?

Great win for the Jets in Pittsburgh. One of those statements games. They may not be as good as the Pats, but they don't suck. They're a worthy playoff team. They are NOT the "same old Jets."

All that being said, they still do stupid things as a team and a coaching staff that will eventually catch up to them. Two things stood out in Pittsburgh:

The first was the way they defended Ben Roethlisberger. The book on the Steelers quarterback is well known: His best plays come off scrambles. He loves rolling right and throwing into the right flat. He's not as effective staying on the spot, or scrambling left. Everyone knows this.

So what did the Jets do? They sent blitz after blitz off Roethlisberger's left side, forcing him out of the pocket to his right. The results were predictable: Roethlisberger shredded them on third downs

The other was the Jets total lack of clock awareness in the final five minutes. On several occasions, Jets ball carriers stepped out of bounds, stopping the clock and allowing the Steelers to preserve time outs. Receiver Braylon Edwards did it twice. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson did it at least once. And if that wasn't bad enough, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer kept calling pass plays, most of which naturally fell incomplete, again stopping the clock and allowing the Steelers to keep their stoppages.

Brutal.

Finally, after what happened yesterday in New York, how can you not want Michael Vick and the Eagles in the Super Bowl, should the Patriots make it that far?

I know some of you want revenge on the Giants. And I know some would like the fireworks associated with a matchup against the Saints for Falcons. A few of you would appreciate an easy matchup with Chicago.

But come on. There is no more exciting or controversial player in the NFL than Vick. It's guaranteed entertainment both during the week (can you imagine the dog nuts in Dallas?) and come game time. That's the matchup I want.

The only downside, and it's a significant one, is having to share the city of Dallas with the knuckle-draggers from Philadelphia. I'll just be sure to bring the Hazmat suit.

The report card will post Tuesday morning. E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)