Printed on: November 22, 2012

Kickoff

By Barry Wilner
AP Pro Football Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There were no sighs of relief, no jumps for joy when the New York Jets found out they wouldn't have to worry about Rob Gronkowski this week.

Sure, the New England Patriots lost perhaps the league's top playmaking tight end for a few weeks with a broken forearm. But Rex Ryan's team knew better than to celebrate.

"I don't know," Ryan said, shaking his head. "They have five tight ends on their roster, so I don't know if they'll put another guy in that role. I'm not sure how they'll do it."

If Ryan has learned anything in his nearly four seasons as coach of the Jets, it's that Bill Belichick usually finds a way to win no matter who's out there -- or isn't -- on the field for the Patriots. Ryan also knows New England can change the personnel, but as long as it's still Tom Brady's bunch, it'll be a tough task.

"When you look at him," Ryan said, "you can almost say he's a machine back there."

And Ryan is right about the Patriots' glut of tight ends. Aaron Hernandez could return for the game against the Jets (4-6) Thursday night at MetLife Stadium after missing the last three with a sprained right ankle, and New England also has Daniel Fells, Visanthe Shiancoe and Michael Hoomanawanui at the position.

"New England is so multiple, they give you sometimes it could be four wides, five wides, could be a bunch of tight ends and all that," Ryan said. "So, we'll see as the game goes how it affects them."

Belichick was typically tight-lipped when asked if the loss of Gronkowski will change the offense for the Patriots (7-3).

Sounds as though Belichickhas something up his hoodie. Just as he always does.

Brady was asked earlier this week if Gronkowski seemed to be in a decent mood when the two spoke.

"I haven't been thinking about his spirits," Brady said. "I've been thinking about the Jets."

Patriots (7-3) at Jets (4-6)

Bill Belichick can get his 200th career victory if the Patriots win their fifth in a row. He'd be the eighth coach to reach that level, but New England must do it without star tight end Rob Gronkowski, out with a broken forearm.

"I don\\\'t know," Jets coach Rex Ryan said, shaking his head when asked how New England will adjust to playing without Gronkowski. "They have five tight ends, so I don\\\'t know if they\\\'ll put another guy in that role. I\\\'m not sure how they\\\'ll do it."

A victory also pretty much decides the AFC East, not that anyone really expects the Jets, Dolphins or Bills to catch New England.

Texans (9-1) at Lions (4-6)

After escaping in overtime against Jacksonville, the Texans find themselves as the only team that can clinch a playoff berth in Week 12. A win and losses by the Titans, Dolphins, Jets, Bengals and either the Chargers or Steelers will do it. Got it?

Matt Schaub completed 43 passes for 527 yards, both totals tying for second most in NFL history, and threw for a team-record five TDs against the Jaguars. Andre Johnson had a career-high 273 yards receiving.

Houston never has been 9-1 and has four straight victories overall. It's also 4-0 on the road.

"It shows the progress we've made," said tight end Owen Daniels, who has been with the franchise for seven of its 11 years of existence. "A few years ago, it took us until the end of the season to get that ninth win. We're at that ninth win already."

Detroit is at a point where even one defeat likely ends its playoff hopes.

Redskins (4-6) at Cowboys (5-5)

One of the NFL's great rivalries is renewed, but it hasn't been much of a contest on the holiday. Dallas is 6-0 vs. Washington on Thanksgiving Day. It also has won three in a row and six of seven in the series overall.

It has not faced outstanding rookie QB Robert Griffin III yet, though. Griffin's all-around play makes the Redskins dangerous with the ball, and he was 14 for 15 in a win over the Eagles last week, becoming the first rookie with 200 yards and four TDs passing and 75 yards rushing in the same game.

"It will be fun. I'll see a lot of familiar faces," said Griffin, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2011 at Baylor. "It's Cowboys-Redskins or Redskins-Cowboys, whatever way you want to put it. Me being a Texas kid, I know how big the rivalry is and I get my fair shot at it."

CBS: Houston at Detroit, 10:30 a.m.

FOX: Washington at Dallas, 2:15 p.m.

NBC: New England at New York Jets, 6:30 p.m.