The Patriots are healthy going into this week’s AFC title game against the Chiefs. It’s about more than an empty injury report this week, though. In last Sunday’s matchup against the Chargers, a few key Patriots players who have been struggling with injuries throughout the season looked dominant, fresh, and healthy.
Dont’a Hightower struggled early this season with what looked like a right knee injury. At the time, he described the injury to Greg Bedard as a chronic one that he was going to have to manage.
“It’s just something I’m going to have to deal with,” Hightower said of his right knee. “That’s really it. It will come and go, but I’m trying to deal with it and keep doing what I’ve been doing. It will go up and it will go down. Hopefully, we’ll continue to stay on top of it.”
Hightower’s performance in last Sunday’s game showed just how well he and the Patriots have stayed on top of the knee injury. Hightower was dynamic, explosive, and downright angry on Sunday. He had a career-high eight quarterback pressures on Rivers, as well as this extracurricular one.
Julian Edelman reported for training camp after an ACL tear he suffered a year earlier. The 32-year-old wide receiver had a slow start, in part due to his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. During his first three months back, Edelman did not reliably look himself. Sure, he had some great catches and flashes of the fleet-footed Edelman we’re used to. At times, however, he would come up from routes lame, grabbing at a painful foot or tossing his helmet in frustration.
In the past month, however, something has changed. Last weekend was truly a new season for #11. His game was quick as ever, his cuts were sharp and precise. It seems that whatever was ailing his foot has finally improved. However, I think a lot of his improvement has to do with his ACL being fully healed. Many athletes return to sports between nine and 12 months after ACL surgery. However, we typically do not see those athletes return to “themselves” until about 18-24 months postoperatively. This is partly due to physical healing and “ligamentization” of the ACL graft which doesn’t happen until that timeframe, and partly due to the athlete psychologically getting used to their knee’s “new normal.”
Edelman is making crazy efforts like this a year and a half removed from his ACL reconstruction, and his partnership with Tom Brady couldn’t be peaking at a better time for the Patriots.
Tom Brady was dealing with a left knee injury after the Tennessee game in November. He was clearly not stepping into throws and appeared much more wary of contact than usual. We recently had our suspicions confirmed that Brady was, indeed, dealing with an MCL sprain for the last month of the season.
An MCL sprain for Brady is a bigger deal than for other players. Why?