AFC East: injury

The Miami Dolphins suffered a major loss with starting tight end Dustin Keller out for the year with a right knee injury. Keller's knee took a gruesome hit Saturday night as he went down on a reception against the Houston Texans. His leg hyperextended, and Keller needed to be carted off the field.

With Keller done for the year, let’s examine what is next for the Dolphins at tight end.
  • Dion Sims: Miami’s fourth-round pick has been a pleasant surprise in training camp. Sims joined the Dolphins with the reputation as a big, blocking tight end. But Sims has showed more athleticism and catching ability than originally advertised. He is already Miami’s best blocking tight end, so he was going to get playing time regardless. The Dolphins may need him more than originally thought.
  • Charles Clay: The versatile H-back has played both tight end and fullback in Miami’s offense. But Clay is not particularly special at either position, especially as a full-time player. The Dolphins have been using Clay as a fullback more this year in training camp and the preseason. But that may have to change. He could revert to playing mostly tight end if needed.
  • Michael Egnew: The Dolphins have waited more than a year for the light to go on for Egnew, who is a 2012 third-round pick. This is a golden opportunity for him to prove his worth under dire circumstances. Egnew has a lot of natural ability as a pass-catcher. He's big and can run well. However, Egnew's inconsistency and struggles with blocking have kept him off the field. Egnew must continue to work to gain the trust of Miami’s coaching staff. He should get plenty of opportunities to show what he can do in the coming weeks.
The Dolphins also could look to free agency, but at this point, it's slim pickings at tight end. Their best chance for now is to develop the players they have in-house and try to get them ready for the regular season.

Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski is active

December, 30, 2012
The New England Patriots have activated Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins. How much he will be used remains to be seen.

Gronkowski has missed the past five games with a broken forearm. The Patriots probably want "Gronk" to shake some of the rust before the playoffs, but without putting the tight end at too much risk for reinjury.

The stakes of the game remain to be determined. The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts are still playing their game in the second half.

Patriots may have late-game dilemma

December, 26, 2012
The New England Patriots, for the most part, will know what they are playing for by the time they take the field Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

New England (11-4) has the late, 4:25 p.m. ET game this week, while the Houston Texans (12-3) will face the Indianapolis Colts at 1 p.m. ET. The Patriots need to win and the Texans to lose in order to secure one of the top two seeds in the AFC, which includes a first-round bye.

"I'm sure we’ll all be aware of that, yeah. No question," Brady said candidly during his weekly press conference Wednesday. "But I don’t think that changes what our goal is for the weekend. I think we’re trying to win this game regardless. It could be different if some other teams win, but that’s really out of our control. We’re just going to go out and try to win."

But what if Houston wins? The Patriots cannot improve their seed unless the Denver Broncos (12-3) lose to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs (2-13), which is highly unlikely. Should New England shut it down and avoid risking injury to key players like quarterback Tom Brady? Or should the Patriots play to win regardless?

New England also will know the result of the Baltimore Ravens (10-5) and Cincinnati Bengals game at 1 p.m. ET. The Patriots could fall to the No. 4 seed if the Ravens win and New England loses. But the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds will host games in the wild-card round.

All of this presents a late-game dilemma the Patriots must consider. It will be a balance between winning and preserving good health heading into the playoffs.

Based on New England head coach Bill Belichick's comments Wednesday, it sounds like the Patriots will be full-go no matter what happens with other teams.

"I've been around this league long enough to know that you can’t predict how things are going to go on Sundays in the NFL," Belichick said. "We’ll control what we can control which is to get ready and play Miami."

The good news is the Colts are not laying down and will give the Texans their best shot. Expect a lot of Patriots fans to root for Indianapolis.
Not only did the Buffalo Bills (5-8) suffer a heartbreaking defeat Sunday, but they may have lost one of their biggest leaders for the rest of the season.

According to Bills head coach Chan Gailey, veteran running back Fred Jackson suffered an MCL tear in their 15-12 loss to the St. Louis Rams. The timeline is expected to be 2-3 weeks. That means the earliest Jackson could return is the regular-season finale against the New York Jets.

In all likelihood, Jackson will be shut down for the year. He's suffered multiple leg injuries this season and the Bills are out of playoff contention.

The good news is the Bills will be forced to get C.J. Spiller more involved in the offense. The dynamic tailback only got seven carries in Sunday’s loss to St. Louis. It's been mind-boggling how little the Bills and Gailey have called Spiller's number this season.

The Bills will play the Seattle Seahawks (8-5) next weekend.

What went wrong with Jabar Gaffney?

November, 21, 2012
The Miami Dolphins made an interesting roster move by releasing veteran wide receiver Jabar Gaffney.

Here are some thoughts on what went wrong:
  • There was always a health issue with Gaffney this year. It’s a major reason why he was cut by the New England Patriots this summer and it factored into Miami’s decision. Miami worked out Gaffney in September but waited until October to sign him in order to allow Gaffney to get healthy. But Gaffney had knee issues once again and missed Miami’s last game against the Buffalo Bills.
  • It took an unusually long time for Gaffney to get up to speed. That was due to a combination of health and adjusting to Miami’s West Coast offense. I spoke to Gaffney in Miami’s locker room a few weeks ago and asked about his toughest adjustment with the Dolphins. He said it was getting used to learning the hand signals in the offense, because Miami runs a lot of no-huddle.
  • Finally, the production just wasn’t there. After waiting weeks for Gaffney to get healthy and up to speed, he didn’t produce. Gaffney caught just four receptions in three games. Backups Marlon Moore and emerging rookie Rishard Matthews also are improving, which made Gaffney expendable.

Report: Hernandez to replace Gronkowski

November, 21, 2012
We have some good news for the New England Patriots (7-3) and not-so-good news for the New York Jets (4-6).

Albert Breer of the NFL Network reports Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez will make his return from an ankle injury on Thanksgiving night against the Jets. This will be a big boost for New England, which lost starting tight end Rob Gronkowski (broken arm) last weekend. Hernandez is another dangerous option in New England’s offense and an even better vertical threat than Gronkowski.

Hernandez missed the past three games, but his timing couldn’t be better. This is a big AFC East matchup where the Patriots could virtually lock up the division with a win and put an end to New York's chances of making the playoffs.

New England took the first meeting at Gillette Stadium with a 29-26 overtime victory.
The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins are a pair of 4-6 teams fighting to keep their season alive. Every game will be critical for these two AFC East teams to have a shot at making a late run at the wild card.

That is why Miami and New York received a little good news this week with the arm injury to Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski. He is expected to miss several weeks. The Jets and Dolphins will host the Patriots, without Gronkowski, in Week 12 and Week 13, respectively.

The Jets get the Patriots first on Thanksgiving Day. This game has the potential for an upset, considering it is a big rivalry and the Jets always play New England tough. The Patriots needed overtime to beat the Jets in Week 7 at Gillette Stadium.

Miami and New York both appear to be long shots for the playoffs. These two AFC East teams will remain underdogs. But it will be tougher for New England to win without its best tight end and scoring threat.

For the Dolphins and Jets, every little bit helps.
The New England Patriots are expected to be without dynamic tight end Aaron Hernandez for the third straight game.

Barring any last-minute changes, a source tells the AFC East blog that it's "unlikely" Hernandez will play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. This confirms a report Friday by the NFL Network.

Hernandez continues to be bothered by a severe ankle sprain he suffered in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals. He returned briefly for two games, but probably came back too soon.

New England leads the NFL in total offense and can afford to rest Hernandez and get him healthy for the stretch run. After putting up career numbers in 2011, Hernandez has just 17 catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns this season.

This is a big game for New England. The Patriots are 6-3 and can create further distance in the AFC East. The Colts are also 6-3 and need this game to tighten their grip on a wild-card spot in the AFC.
As of Saturday afternoon, Buffalo Bills leading rusher C.J. Spiller remains a possibility to play against the New England Patriots. The Bills will check out Spiller's injured left shoulder on Sunday morning and he will be a game-time decision, a league source tells the AFC East blog.

Spiller was hurt in last week's win over the Cleveland Browns. He was initially projected to miss 1-2 weeks. But Spiller made significant progress the past few days and was able to practice in a limited role on Thursday and Friday. Buffalo listed Spiller as questionable"on the final injury report.

Spiller was on a tear before his injury. He rushed for 308 yards, three touchdowns and was averaging 9.3 yards per carry. Spiller entered Week 3 as the NFL's leading rusher before his injury.

But the Bills could be cautious and rest Spiller. Buffalo must weigh the short- and long-term risks of playing their most dynamic offensive player if he's not 100 percent. Fellow running back Fred Jackson is expected to return from a knee injury, and that may impact Buffalo's final decision with Spiller.

The Bills (2-1) have won two in a row and will try to beat the Patriots (1-2) for the second straight year at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
MIAMI -- This is why you always stay ready in the NFL. One injury can change the course of one player and open an opportunity for another.

That is the sudden dynamic involving Miami Dolphins quarterbacks Matt Moore and rookie Ryan Tannehill. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports veteran quarterback David Garrard will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery. Garrard is out for tonight’s preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and his agent said he will miss up to four weeks.

This unexpected injury rules Garrard out of the quarterback race. Garrard was outperforming both Moore and Tannehill in the first two weeks of training camp. But surgery for Garrard makes Miami’s three-quarterback race into a two-quarterback race to start in Week 1. If one of these quarterbacks perform well, Garrard may not get another chance.

Moore will start tonight for the Dolphins and now becomes the new favorite. He was 6-3 in his final nine games. Tannehill, the No. 8 overall pick, will play earlier than expected against Tampa Bay. His chances improve but he must still beat the incumbent.

But rule Garrard out of Miami's quarterback mix. Miami's competition is moving fast, and the team doesn't have time to wait for injury.

Opportunity is knocking for Moore and Tannehill. Which of these two quarterbacks will answer the bell?
CORTLAND, N.Y. – Now we find out who really is the second-best receiver for the New York Jets.

The Jets had some bad luck Saturday when No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes injured his ribs in a team-wide scrimmage. The team would not confirm when Holmes was injured. However, Holmes did take a big shot from cornerback Antonio Cromartie after making a catch, and that was one of the few high-impact plays Holmes had Saturday.

X-rays were negative Saturday night and Holmes did not suffer a broken rib. He will be day-to-day, according to the Jets.

After Cromartie's recent and controversial comments, there's been a lot of speculation on who truly is New York's second-best receiver. Now is a perfect time to find out with Holmes sidelined. There will be plenty of reps and opportunities for guys like Patrick Turner, Chaz Schilens, Jeremy Kerley, rookie Stephen Hill and maybe even Cromartie to step forward and show what they can do in training camp and the preseason.

All of New York's receivers have flashed potential at different points, but no one has really developed much consistency. Schilens was a star in minicamp. Hill started training camp fast but had a slow week. Turner is really coming on as of late, and Kerley has been injured but did good things last season. There are clearly more questions than answers with this group minus Holmes.

For the time being, the Jets need a new No. 1 option at receiver in training camp. But the receiver who steps up most in this role should be the new No. 2 receiver whenever Holmes returns from his rib injury.