In CBCSports.ca's weekly chatter, our guys discuss the big loss of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin's decision to keep QB Byron Leftwich in the game against the Ravens despite injuring his ribs, the playoff prospects of the Saints and Cowboys, plus the future of Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert.
The New England Patriots won their fourth straight game but lost tight end Rob Gronkowski to a broken forearm. Gronkowski had surgery and could be out for the next four to eight weeks. How big is this injury for the Patriots?
It depends how soon TE Aaron Hernandez can return from his ankle injury. A healthy Hernandez can limit the loss of Gronkowski. Let's be clear: this is a significant loss
. No team, not even the Patriots, can replace a guy who is an absolute red zone monster, and one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. It'll be interesting to see who the Pats target inside the 20 with Gronkowski out. New England will win its division, but are in a big battle to earn that second playoff bye in the AFC. Remember last year's Super Bowl when a hobbled Gronkowski couldn't make an impact? I'm not saying it was the biggest reason the Patriots lost to the Giants, but it was a factor.
Jason Davidson: It's a tough loss for the New England offence, that's for sure. 'Gronk' has put up some stellar numbers this year - 748 yards in receiving, and he's only the third tight end in NFL history with at least 10 touchdown receptions in three seasons, joining Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. In the long run, the Patriots should be fine. Gronkowski's injury isn't season ending and the AFC East is pretty much theirs, as they enjoy a three-game advantage on the Bills, Dolphins and Jets. Aaron Hernandez will fill in nicely until Gronkowski returns in late December.
Jesse Campigotto: Gronkowski (10 TDs in 10 games) helps the Patriots do one of the things they do best: maximize their opportunities in the red zone. New England's offence ranks only sixth in the league in yards per play, but the Pats have scored 57 more points than any other team in the league because they don't settle for field goals. With big target Gronk out and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez still hurting, New England may find it tougher to punch the ball into the end zone.
It was clear early on that Steelers QB Byron Leftwich was nursing what turned out to be broken ribs against the Ravens. Why did Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stick with Leftwich instead of going with backup Charlie Batch?
I honestly have no idea. I respect Tomlin as much as any NFL coach, but to let Leftwich continually take a pounding doesn't
make sense. There were too many plays where Leftwich bounced passes to open receivers. I've followed Leftwich from his college days at Marshall and these are throws he makes in his sleep. Batch is a 12-year veteran, knows this offence and has won games. This decision baffled me.
Jason Davidson: Strategic coaching from Tomlin perhaps? At least he had lots of high praise for Leftwich, who took quite a beating against a nasty Ravens defence. Now, he goes to option three, which is veteran Charlie Batch, who does have experience stepping in for Ben Roethlisberger. Batch doesn't have a cannon of an arm but he should be comfortable with offensive co-ordinator Todd Haley's approach of moving down the field with short passing plays. If they play smart against the Browns in Cleveland, they should be able to come out with a win but the task will be much more difficult the following Sunday in Baltimore. Tough road ahead for the Steelers.
Jesse Campigotto: I don't know. Because he's Charlie Batch? Since the start of the 2009 season, he's attempted 75 passes. A healthy Batch vs. a banged-up Leftwich: I say what's the difference? But the latest reports say Leftwich won't play this week, so we may get a good look at Batch after all in Cleveland. Can't wait.
The Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints have each clawed their way back to 5-5 records. Which team is most likely to reach the playoffs?
I believe neither team will make the playoffs, but for the sake of this argument I'll go with the Cowboys. It's not just because they have the easier schedule, but like Barack Obama in the U.S. election, the Cowboys have an easier path
. Dallas is only one game behind the Giants so they can win its division while still challenge for a wildcard spot. The Saints have no shot at 9-1 NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons and still sit one game behind Tampa Bay for second place in the division.
Jason Davidson: Once this season is all said and done, I doubt either of these teams make the playoffs. Although, Dallas does have a better chance considering they only trail the NFC East-leading NY Giants by a single game. New Orleans doesn't have that luxury, as they are a full four games behind the 9-1 Atlanta Falcons, who are running away with the NFC South. As impressive as the Saints' recent play has been, their 0-4 start buried them. If the G-Men falter and the Cowboys take advantage, they just might find themselves with a home playoff date.
Jesse Campigotto: The Cowboys, because they still have a shot at winning their division. They're only one game back of the NFC East-leading Giants, while the Falcons are four behind NFC South-leading Atlanta. They're not overcoming that deficit. Dallas, meanwhile, has a pretty soft schedule the rest of the way: four of the six games are at home, and the road contests are winnable ones at Cincy and Washington. The Giants have three home and three road games left, and still have to visit Atlanta and Baltimore.
The Jaguars, who nearly pulled the upset in Houston, saw their QB Blaine Gabbert get knocked out of another game. After more than a year-and-a-half worth of games, are the Jaguars any closer to finding their franchise QB?
No. I didn't like Gabbert when the Jaguars traded up to No. 10 to take him back in 2011 and I don't like him now. There are too many times I see Gabbert with happy feet in the pocket. He's not an accurate QB and has trouble reading defences. Those were the critiques I had of him coming out of college and they still stand. Notice how of much better the offence functions when Chad Henne is in the game? Henne will start against Tennessee
this week and if he performs like he did in Houston we may not see Gabbert against this season.
Jason Davidson: It's Chad Henne's time now. He had some fantastic numbers in a tough OT loss to the Texans in Houston - 354 yards and four touchdown passes. Jacksonville is a 1-9 team and Henne has the rest of a lost season to prove he can be a No. 1 guy, something he couldn't get done in South Florida with the Dolphins. Tough luck for Gabbert, who will likely remain on the sidelines for the next six games. I see these two battling it out for the starting job in 2013, unless they surprise everyone and take West Virginia QB Geno Smith with one of the top picks.
Jesse Campigotto: Only if they believe that guy is Chad Henne. It doesn't look like Gabbert is going to pan out. Only John Skelton has a worse yards-per-pass-attempt number than Gabbert's 6.0 (for comparison, Peyton Manning is at 8.0), and last year Gabbert finished dead last at 5.4 yards per attempt. So I guess you could say Gabbert has improved in his second year, but not enough to indicate he's got a chance to become a good pro QB.
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