After two days of talking, Broncos take out the trash


After two days of talking, Broncos take out the trash

DENVER -- Sensitivity is at an all-time high around New England this week. It started with Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall opining that the reason Rob Gronkowski gets open so often is that he pushes off. Whining? Or planting a seed in the heads of the officiating crew for Sunday’s AFC title game in Denver?

Defensive lineman Antonio Smith then did a a radio interview and was asked if Tom Brady was a crybaby. Smith never called Brady a crybaby. The word "crybaby" never came out of his mouth. But he did agree that Brady complains to the officials regularly. Nerves that will help fuel Brady’s fire Sunday? Or, again, a memo to the officials?

But what really got everyone who bleeds Pats colors into a tizzy was Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. laughingly saying that the best way to tackle Rob Gronkowski is to aim for the knees. Never mind that at least two of Gronk’s teammates have publicly said that very thing this season when asked about it following the All-Everything tight end’s injury in Denver back in Week 12. But yeah, with a Super Bowl berth on the line, and the knowledge that the Pats playoff fortunes have become largely dependent on Gronkowski over the years, them’s fighting words. It prompted a suspect tweet from Gronk himself, one that was very much out of character from a Bill Belichick-coached team. 

The Broncos had both Monday and Tuesday off, so head coach Gary Kubiak didn’t have a chance to remind his team to zip it. When asked about his thoughts on the trash-talking Wednesday, Kubiak tried to steer clear.

“I really don’t get into that stuff,” he said. “We preach to our team throughout the course of the season consistently, not just now, the importance of staying focused on your job and what you have to do. I think our guys have done a good job with that. I think they’ve stayed focused on what our team needs to do to be successful and their job. This week is no different. Hopefully, I’m preaching the same thing all the time.”

But several Broncos admitted Kubiak brought the topic up in meetings Wednesday, and all of a sudden, Denver’s players shied away from the topic.

“I’m not a big talker,” said Von Miller to a room that quickly filled with laughter, “I haven’t been on social media so I haven’t seen any of the stuff that you are talking about. I’m just trying to catch what you’re telling me. We are going to try to tackle. We have to tackle. We have to tackle Rob well. He’s very good at breaking tackles, very good at yards after contact so we are going to have to be excellent right there to have a chance to win the game.”

“It doesn’t change the game at all,” noted veteran tight end Vernon Davis. “Everyone’s talking. You can say this, you can say that. But at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. For us, it’s just about going out there, taking it one play at a time and trying to win a game.”

As for the best way to bring down the behemoth that is Gronkowski, Denver’s defenders said there are no rules.

“Whatever way you can get him down. That’s the best way,” safety T.J. Ward said. “I don’t pre-plan how I tackle someone. Whatever way he comes to me is the way I’m going to try to get him down.”

“I don’t think it’s ever been taught before to tackle a guy who is 6-8, 300 pounds,” Miller said. “It’s never really been taught. ‘You have to tackle this guy.’ It’s never really been broken down. The thing that we have to do well is just get him on the ground and we have to tackle well. It’s very, very vague, but we just have to tackle well. We have to be extremely good tacklers come Sunday.”

Even defensive linemen Sylvester Williams, who tips the scales at well over 300 pounds, weighed in on the subject when asked. 

“Obviously, I play defensive line, so I can only tell you from my point of view. Obviously, if I get a chance to hit him, I am just going to tackle him whatever way to bring him down. I feel like the DBs probably feel the same way.”

If the Broncos don’t find a way to bring Gronk down, especially on the first crack, they risk getting gashed.

“We need to tackle well. That’s the most important thing,” emphasized Kubiak. “This is a team much like the one that we just played last week {Pittsburgh}. They can throw a 4-or 5-yard pass and, if you don’t tackle well -- with their players being as physical as [they are] and having the ability that they have -- if we don’t tackle well, a lot of small plays can turn into big plays. It’s been important for us and it will be extremely important this week, as well.”

Kubiak is spot on. I’d argue his players are as well, and until they institute a strike zone of sorts when it comes to receivers, this is a topic that will continue to get nerves jangled in New England and be a topic of conversation into the offseason as well. But for now, Gronkowski’s head will need to be on a swivel, like it or not.

'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

Rob Gronkowski, decked out in his finest St. Patrick's Day duds over the weekend in Nashville, reportedly tried to shed some light on his NFL future.

Of course, while Gronk was doing Gronk things, he told a Patriots fan one thing and a reporter another.

Breech is an NFL writer for His father is former Cincinnati Bengals kicker Jim Breech. And the "69ers" aren't a real team.


AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

The Patriots' "direction" never really changes. They're always "going for it" because they're always one of the best teams in the league. 

The rest of the AFC East is usually in flux. The other teams range from hoping for 8-8 to trying to bottom out in hopes of a high draft pick. Yet right now, it seems the stars are aligning and that the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all have the mindset: Change things now and be ready to pounce once Brady is gone. 

The Jets traded up to No. 3 on Saturday, assuring themselves a chance at one of this draft's top quarterbacks. The Bills, with picks Nos. 12 and 22, are expected by pundits to make a similar move up. The Dolphins, fresh off cutting bait with Ndamukong Suh in an attempt at a culture change, have the 11th pick and could use it on a quarterback to either push or replace Ryan Tannehill. 

None of the three teams are close to pushing the Patriots as long as Brady's around, even with the Bills coming off a season in which they reached the playoffs. Yet there's a two-or-three-year plan on which all three teams could have designs: Get the quarterback now, build around him and be in a good situation by the time Brady is done. 

We've seen these teams try to rebuild before during the Brady Era, with only limited success. Mark Sanchez worked out better in New York than anyone could have initially expected, but that success lasted way shorter than any believers could have hoped. Now, it seems they try again. 

Over in Buffalo, the end of the Tyrod Taylor era hardly means the beginning of the Nathan Peterman era. Those two first-rounders should easily be able to get the Bills into the top five, and they've also got two second-rounders and two third-rounders. Hell, they have the pieces to get to No. 1 if Cleveland is bold enough to pass on their choice of Darnold/Rosen/Allen/Mayfield. 

The Dolphins are in the more interesting spot. Tannehill missed all of last season and he's 29. If you're six years into your career and your team still isn't totally sure if you can be one of the better QBs in the league, you probably aren't one of the better QBs in the league. At the very least, Lamar Jackson should be there at No. 11. They could also trade up. 

At the start of last season, the Patriots had far and away the two best QBs in the AFC East. Now, it stands to reason that at least two of their divisional opponents (the Jets and Bills) will come away with what they hope are franchise quarterbacks. And if any of these guys hit, the Pats will have gone from the best QB situation in the NFL to seeing some actual competition waiting for them by the time their own quarterback is done. 

Of course, all three of these teams usually suck at everything, so it shouldn't be a big deal.