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If it feels to you like the New England Patriots have a reserved spot in the playoffs, you may not be wrong. They just clinched something like their 13th playoff spot in the past 15 years. If it also feels to you that they, along with just about everyone else, seem to have at least half of their starting lineup on the “Reserved/Injured” list, you may not be wrong about that either. They just put their other starting RB LeGarrette Blount on the IR with a hip injury. Blount, their leading rusher with 703 yards, joins his backfield mate Dion Lewis on that infamous list, and has set Coach Bill to scouring all kinds of Christmas lists in hopes of finding a serviceable running back or two. (Steve Jackson?)

 

The Pats 27-6 victory over Houston, and old friends Bill O’Brien and Vince Wilfork, came at a price, costing them the services of safety Devin McCourty with a high ankle sprain, Dominique Easley with a thigh injury and Jonathan Freeny with a hand injury. Of that group, only Easley has been “IR’ed,” but McCourty joins WR Julian Edelman (foot) with being lost for an extended period of time, perhaps as long as until the playoffs. Fortunately, and on a much more positive note, the game marked the return of TE Rob Gronkowski, who was obviously badly missed in their loss to the Eagles. I for one went to bed after the Denver game fearing his season, if not his career, was over, and with it any Super Bowl dreams we may have harbored.

 

The issue for any NFL team at this point isn’t just the length of its IR list, it’s also those who are hobbled, as well as the moving around of less injured players to different position, often making them weaker in two areas. ( For New England, this is very much reflected in the uncharacteristically poor play of late of their special teams.) The Pats currently have 14 players on the IR, including major contributors FB James Develin, CB Terrall Brown, WR Aaron Dobson, RB Dion Lewis, OT Nate Solder, and OL Ryan Wendell. Add to that the list of  those “hobbled” by injury; namely LB Dont’a Hightower (knee), DE Chandler Jones (abdomen),  WR Danny Amendola (knee), TE Scott Chandler (knee), SS Patrick Chung (foot), and CB Justin Coleman (hand), and you can understand why so many football insiders are impressed that the 11-2 Patriots are poised to finish first in their conference yet again. Assuming that some of those key contributors, especially Edelman, Hightower, McCourty, Jones, and Amendola are close to full strength, then you have to like their chances as repeating as Super Bowl Champions. But I get ahead of myself…

 

Look, I know that the injury problem isn’t just an issue for the Pats. I also realize that Belichick likes to annoy the league by overloading his injury reports. But I have to believe that it would really behoove the NFL to take a closer look at the issue then they seem to be, and do it soon. How do you give serious consideration to expanding your season to 18 games when you are struggling to field quality teams for 16? I understand that the players are “bigger and stronger”, and that you can only do so much to make the game safer, but I still would like to see the league take the following steps.

 

CLEATS AND SURFACES: I believe that there are three or four different major surfaces being used in the NFL, including FieldTurf, Astroplay, and of course, natural grass, and about five different configuration of cleats. The league is already aware of the fact that certain combinations of cleats and surfaces generate unbearable levels of torque on the knee potentially resulting in severe ACL damage. It doesn’t seem that it would be that difficult to take the steps needed to eliminate those combinations.

 

BRING BACK TACKLING: As far as I can see, one of the biggest reasons for the increase of injuries is the increase in the discrepancy in the size of the modern skill player and those trying to stop them. I can understand how daunting a task bringing down the 6’6” 265 pound, Gronk in the open field could be for any defender, let alone a diminutive DB, but they still should not be allowed to throw themselves at his knees. If you are not big enough to play the game right, maybe you need to find another game.

 

DO AWAY WITH THURSDAY NIGHT GAMES: I don’t care how long a break they get after the fact, making them play on three days rest is ridiculous and usually results in lousy games.

 

I’ve expressed on several occasions my belief that the NFL is idiot proof. If the threat of destroying the brains of its participants hasn’t slowed it, I doubt the thought of a few bad knees will. I just don’t think that finding ways to prolong the careers of its players as well as the quality of the play is such a bad think.

 

Am I wrong?

 

Jerry Ballgame

About Jerry Ballgame

The personification of "old school", Jerry Ballgame was born in the shadow of Dr. Naismith's peach basket, and baptized in that "Dirty Water." Designated by his "Uncle" Ted, to keep an eye on things, he's here to tell everyone what his view is like from the Hub of the Universe.

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