Key to any playoff run in the NFL is a team getting healthy at the right time. In 2005, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked like complete and utter dog meat heading into the post-season. They lost at home to the Cincinnati Bengals, thus losing hold of the AFC North, prior to the end of the season. They were hurt, tired, and were picked as an early round exit in the playoffs. Then, prior to the playoffs, players like Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker, and Troy Polamalu got healthy. They entered the playoffs, surging ahead in part because of Kimo von Oelhoffen blasting Carson Palmer's knee on the Bengals first offensive play. They were able to blow out the Bengals, barely squeak by the Colts, destroy the Broncos, and eventually embarrass the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Health is everything in the post-season. Everything.
If "momentum" meant anything, the Patriots would have won 19 games in 2007. Instead, they lost in the Super Bowl to a NY Giants teams that, like the 2005 Steelers, looked like dog meat heading into post-season play.
Because health is so important, and because it is vital that certain big-play players get back 100% healthy and fully ready to contribute, the news that wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez and running back Donald Brown have returned to practice is very positive.
Their participation in practice was categorized as "short." I'm optimistic that both will play this Sunday against the NY Jets, but until I hear that Brown and Gonzo are practicing in pads, my optimism is guarded.
One thing I do know: If Gonzalez does not play in either the Jets or Bills game, he should not be on the playoff roster. I absolutely do not want a Marvin Harrison circa 2007 re-occurring. Pierre Garçon and Austin Collie have developed wonderful timing with Manning. Collie, by the way, is a legit Rookie of the Year candidate. Both he and Garcon have earned the right to play slot and flanker ahead of Gonzalez, who has not played full speed, competitive football in over three months. It is vital that Gonzo play, and play well, in these next two games. If not, his 2009 season should be ended.
That said, it is a positive sign that he and Brown are back at practice. Having both these guys back and healthy for post-season play would be a significant boost to this team.