Sooner or later, the 2017 football season comes for us all. Sunday, it was the best receiver of his generation, Antonio Brown. Bending over for what would have been his 10th touchdown of the year, Brown got crisscrossed by a pair of Patriots defenders.
The initial outlook was as bleak as it gets. Brown could put no weight on his left foot as he was helped to the sideline. After a brief examination, he was whisked to the locker room. To the layman’s eye, Brown appeared to have broken his leg. CBS Analyst Tony Romo is not a layman. He noticed that Brown got kicked in his left calf as he was going down.
It was indeed the calf that Brown was announced with, but Twitter — myself included — was skeptical. “If that’s a calf injury, I’m Abraham Lincoln” was the prevailing sentiment. Those suspicions were only heightened when it was announced that Brown was headed to the hospital. Since when are football players taken to the hospital mid-game for calf injuries?
The answer is Week 15 2017. Unlike the trail of injured 2017 superstars before him, Brown actually managed to escape without a season-ending issue, getting diagnosed with a partially torn calf. It will hold him out for Week 16, and likely Week 17, as well, but not the postseason. With the Steelers in strong position for the No. 2 seed, Brown will probably get three weeks of rest between now and his next football game. It’s the absolute best-case scenario considering the ugly fashion in which he went down.
If Brown is indeed done for the regular season, it’s not before posting his fifth-straight 100-catch campaign. As far as I could tell on Pro Football Reference, that’s something no other player has accomplished in NFL history. A souped up version of Brandon Marshall, Brown is a compiler and big-play threat who is an elite weapon in the red zone.
Five Week 15 Storylines
Aaron Rodgers isn’t Aaron Rodgers in Carolina. Making a return that was two months and seven games in the making, Rodgers had just the fourth three-interception effort of his career, and first since 2009. The picks doubled his total from his five healthy starts to begin the season. Rodgers could never get into rhythm, making throws and decisions you rarely see from the two-time MVP. INT No. 1 was a forced throw off Rodgers’ back foot under pressure. The second, an airmail over the middle of the field. It was arguably Rodgers’ worst throw since becoming the Rodgers we know today. No. 3 was a deep ball underthrow to Jordy Nelson that might have been a 75-yard touchdown with a little more air underneath it. With the Packers’ season now all but over, Rodgers was coy when asked if he will be back under center for Week 16. If he is, it will be for a tough matchup with the 11-3 Vikings.
Davante Adams suffers concussion on ugly hit from Thomas Davis. Something that didn’t help Rodgers’ cause was his No. 1 receiver getting blown to smithereens on a contemptible hit after Rodgers’ second interception. Running across the middle of the field, Adams never saw Davis coming, and got blindsided in helmet-to-helmet fashion. The hit was eerily similar to the one JuJu Smith-Schuster laid on Vontaze Burfict earlier this season. Davis, who has handed out more than one dubious hit this year, was distraught on the sideline. He will likely be suspended for Week 16. It’s Adams’ third documented concussion as a pro. All three have come since last October. With nothing to play for, it’s quite possible Adams is shut down for Weeks 16 and 17.
Rex Burkhead injures knee, doesn’t return against Steelers. With one touchdown already to his name, Burkhead was looking for No. 2 when he took the ball from the Steelers’ six-yard line in the opening minutes of the second half. Instead, he came down with what appeared to be a serious knee issue. It had the looks of yet another bitter end to a feel-good 2017 fantasy story. Mercifully, Burkhead was reported after the game to have avoided major injury, namely, ACL damage. His status for Weeks 16 and 17 is uncertain, but with the Pats likely to clinch a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs, Burkhead has a real chance at returning for the postseason. In his absence, Dion Lewis should reassume goal-line duties, while Mike Gillislee will return to the 46-man roster. James White will see more targets than usual.
Greg Olsen comes back to life with 9/116/1. Muddling through injury and ineffectiveness — admittedly a bit of a chicken/egg situation — Olsen finally welcomed himself to the 2017 season, doubling his previous totals across the board. All it took was a date with a Dom Capers-coordinated defense that more than once left Olsen completely wide open, including on his 30-yard touchdown. Capers brought the house and didn’t leave safety help. Olsen obliged with one of the easiest scores of his career. Olsen’s string of 1,000-yard seasons is long since snapped, but he could get a year-ending hot streak going against the Bucs in Week 16.
Russell Wilson takes seven sacks as Seahawks go off the rails. They don’t make meltdowns more comprehensive than this. Running for his life behind the Seahawks’ barely-there offensive line, Wilson was pulverized for seven sacks in a loss that more or less knocked Seattle out of the playoffs. Wilson completed just 14 passes in a 42-7 beatdown, losing a fumble, taking a safety and losing 23 yards on a play where he literally threw the ball backwards as he was getting sacked. Fair or not, it was a performance that likely nuked Wilson’s MVP odds. Statistically, Wilson will have an excellent chance at getting back on track in Week 16 against the Cowboys.
Five More Week 15 Storylines
Jimmy Garoppolo has another 300-yard day. Jeff Garcia in 2000. That was the last time a 49ers starter threw for 300 yards in back-to-back games. Garoppolo made it look easy Sunday, shredding the Titans for 381 yards as the 49ers improved to 3-0 with their deadline acquisition under center. Garoppolo has managed at least 290 yards all three times out, no easy feat when your No. 1 receiver is Marquise Goodwin. Goodwin, of course, is playing quite well, but the former streak-route specialist isn’t usually going to key a streak where you average 336 yards per game. The owner of a blindingly fast release, Garoppolo is not afraid to target tight windows or attempt unorthodox throws. He did a lot of both on Sunday, playing with confidence you normally wouldn’t see from someone making their fifth career start. Jimmy G is looking every bit like the quarterback of the future for the 49ers.
Todd Gurley carries Rams with four touchdowns. Coming into Sunday, coach Sean McVay had talked about getting Gurley more work and staying more committed to the run. Gurley had not received 20 carries in seven games, an eternity for someone who has played as well as he has this season. Gurley saw the ball 21 times on the ground, turning his totes into 152 yards and three touchdowns. He added 3/28/1 through the air, bringing him to 1,817 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns with two games remaining. Out of his Jeff Fisher-induced coma, Gurley has proven to be the special player he was believed to be as a rookie. Gurley has the Week 16 and 17 matchups (@TEN, vs. SF) to close strong.
Marqise Lee suffers sprained ankle. Lee went down in the first quarter of Jacksonville’s breezy win over the Texans. X-rays were negative, but it appears Lee has suffered a high-ankle sprain. That would sideline him for the rest of the regular season, and quite likely the Wild Card round. The Jags are unlikely to earn a bye in the AFC playoffs. Lee’s absence didn’t matter Sunday, with Keelan Cole and Jaydon Mickens stepping up in his place. If Lee really is done, it should be Dede Westbrook, not Cole or Mickens, who runs as the No. 1. Allen Hurns’ (ankle) status remains completely unclear.
Nick Foles holds down the fort in place of Carson Wentz. Foles averaged just 6.24 yards per attempt, but ripped the Giants for four scores. Foles was excellent in the red zone, and avoided mistakes in general. If you’re a backup quarterback, those are two good bars to clear. Foles has a pair of appealing tune up matchups in the Raiders and Cowboys before the Eagles (likely) go on bye for the Wild Card round. He will be on the streaming radar for the fantasy finals. There’s almost no way the Eagles hoist the Lombardi with Foles under center, but perhaps they won’t be one-and-done in January.
Andy Dalton’s struggles deepen. For the second straight game, Dalton was benched down the stretch of a blowout loss. He’s “led” the Bengals to only two touchdowns as they’ve been out-scored 67-14 over the past two weeks. In the process, he’s completed just 49 percent of his throws while averaging 4.98 yards per attempt. Despite his struggles, his numbers remain acceptable on the year. Outgoing coach Marvin Lewis has said he has no plans to go to A.J. McCarron for Weeks 16 and 17. Dalton has shown enough as an NFL starter that one bad streak, no matter how abysmal, should not cost him his job. 2018 will be Dalton’s age-31 campaign.
1. Are the Raiders and Cowboys merging?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
DEF: Bears (vs. CLE), Giants (@AZ)
Stats of the Week
Kenyan Drake’s fewest yards from scrimmage in three games as the Dolphins’ workhorse is 113.
Found Tweet of the Week: Gucci garopp
Line of the Week: Jaguars FB Tommy Bohanon rushing two times for two yards and two touchdowns.
Game of Thrones Quote Application of the Week: “There’s only one hell. The one we live in now.” In response to, of course, Gene Steratore’s paper stunt.
My “Well Actually” Take of the Week: Fumbling out of the end zone should indeed be a touchback.
Note: With the Christmas holiday falling next Monday, this column will not run in Week 16.