Patriots

Belichick says Gronk has similarities to Bavaro

Belichick says Gronk has similarities to Bavaro

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick so reveres his '80s Giants, it became a running joke with former Patriot Mike Vrabel.

Belichick would bring up the halcyon days of Big Blue, Vrabel would rail about that team playing against a bunch of truck drivers and iron workers, Belichick would put a Giants helmet in Vrabel's locker. Big fun.

One of Belichick's favorites was tight end Mark Bavaro. The two-time All-Pro known for his athleticism, stoicism and incredible blocking ability has been a touchstone player for Belichick as the years have passed. The search for someone similar has hit several dead ends.

But Belichick made a surprising admission when asked by ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss (via a fan) about current Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's similarities to Bavaro.

"I'd say there are some similarities," Belichick said of his 6-6, 265-year old rookie from Arizona. "Good size, blocking, receiving, a little bit of the same body type and playing style."

Athletic as Gronkowski is for his size, Bavaro was equally so in his 6-4, 245 pound package.

Belichick cautioned that no one get too hasty putting anyone in Bavaro's class quite yet.

"That's a little stretch to compare anybody at that stage of their career to Bavaro," said Belichick. "Bavaro had a great career. He played against some of the all-time greats -- Reggie White twice a year, and White is playing 6-technique head up on the tight end and you really don't get any help. That's a pretty big assignment. I think I'd be reluctant to put anybody in Mark Bavaro's class.

"I don't mean that in any way to slight any of our players. He set the bar up there pretty high. He could block, he could catch, he could run, and run after the catch. He was a great competitor. Mark was there every single week," Belichick said. "That's a guy you could count on. We lined up every year at training camp and he could block Carl Banks and Lawrence Taylor. Not too many guys blocked them. You talk about competitive battles -- if you like football, that's about as good as you could find right there."

So far, Gronkowski has 32 catches for 390 yards and seven touchdowns. This weekend's game at Buffalo is a sort of homecoming for him. He grew up in nearby Amherst, New York.

"I'm excited to go back," he said Friday afternoon. "It's my first chance to play in front of my friends and family since high school. It's been a while - four or five years. I'm super excited to go back and see everyone."

Gronkowski's never played in Ralph Wilson Stadium. He did go to a few Bills games.

His favorite player? "Takeo Spikes was my favorite. His name was always cool. And also Eric Moulds. I got his old school jersey and everything. That was pretty legit."

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

MORE PATRIOTS:

In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE