Patriots

Brady on Gronkowski: 'It's a big void left by such a spectacular player'

Brady on Gronkowski: 'It's a big void left by such a spectacular player'

Tom Brady knows he'll be without his most dynamic offensive weapon for -- in all likelihood -- the remainder of the season.

The Patriots and Rob Gronkowski's family released a joint statement that said the expectation was that the All-Pro's 2016 campaign is over. But even before that statement was released, Brady told Jim Gray of Westwood One Radio on Thursday night that his team had a lot of work to do in order to try to overcome Gronkowski's absence. 

"Well, you know, it doesn't help losing great players," Brady said. "And to not have Gronk out there -- one of our best players and most dependable, consistent players -- and not in the lineup makes things challenging for us. But that's what the NFL season is about. It's about overcoming challenges.

"We have a lot of good players on our team that are going to need to fill the void, and it's a big void left by such a spectacular player in Gronk. But I don't think that any of us are going to give up on what we're trying to accomplish."

The Patriots offense will take on a different look without Gronkowski. They may lean heavily on Martellus Bennett, but their two-tight-end packages may be replaced by more three-receiver sets, meaning more work for either Malcolm Mitchell or Danny Amendola alongside Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could also turn to his his two-back "pony" sets with both James White and Dion Lewis in the backfield, providing the team with a two dual-threat options. 

However the Patriots proceed, they'll have their work cut out for them. Gronkowski has caught 25 passes for 540 yards -- an average of 21.6 yards per catch, which is a career-high. He's also a captain, something the Patriots and the Gronkowski family referenced in their joint statement Thursday night. 

"He's such a mentally tough person," Brady said. "He's physically tough. He's got such a great energy and spirit about him. We're all wishing him the very best. Nobody wants Gronk not out there. Everybody wants Gronk out there every play of every game. But that's not our reality. We still have a job to do, and we're going to go out there and try to do it as well as we possibly can."

Brady was asked if he had spoken to Gronkowski recently.

"I've seen him the last few days so I've spoken to him a few times," Brady said. "Everyone's thinking about him and what he's gone through. It's such a physical sport, it's hard to see people you care about go through injuries. He's gone through his fair share, but I also know the resolve that he has, and that will never change with him. He'll be as determined as ever to get back and get better as soon as possible."

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? 

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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. 

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