Patriots

Hernandez steps out in Denver

616168.jpg

Hernandez steps out in Denver

DENVER, CO -- You didn't forget about that other Patriots tight end, did you?

The Broncos might've.

Aaron Hernandez went off Sunday, leading all Patriots with 129 receiving yards and his first touchdown since November 6. The nine catches are a career best. He also had 16 rushing yards.

Where was Rob Gronkowski? Muzzled. Yes, just one week after setting the record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end in a single season, he was held to 53-yards on four catches. After the game Hernandez said his partner's silence enabled him to make some noise -- and that's just the way it works.

"That's one thing about us-- we're never really competing just with each other," Hernandez said. "We see each other as one and we both work together; when he has a great game I'm happy for him, when I have a great game I know he's happy for me. We work off each other.

"We work together and we love each other."

It was his best game in weeks, maybe of his career, and getting here has been a work in progress.

Hernandez's early momentum this season was derailed after he sprained his left knee's MCL in New England's Week 2 win over the Chargers. His return to the field was quick -- he missed just two games -- but the recovery was slow. He wore a bulky brace that bothered him. Every week, he was losing targets to the bigger, seemingly impossible to cover counterpart. Especially in the end zone.

But Gronkowski's touchdown total sits this week, still teeming, at 15. While he and slot receiver Wes Welker drew double teams from Denver's defense, Hernandez took advantage.

"I don't know why any team wouldn't be covering Gronkowski," he laughed. "He's 6-6, 260 . . . good speed. I don't know why they wouldn't. But that leaves me some opportunities to make plays for the team."

Where he really impressed? Yards after the catch. Hernandez stretched out three receptions for over 20 yards, once on third down and another on fourth-and-1. He got open on crossing routes, he peeled off of blocks, he found gaps, he stutter-stepped and he cut. His legs looked great, the knee -- no problem.

There should be reverberations from this night.

The Patriots won the game, won the division, and got a great answer at a crucial time for what can happen when an opponent solves the Gronkowski problem.

"I haven't tried the AFC East championship hat on yet, but I'm sure it'll fit pretty good," Hernandez grinned.

Pure joy -- for him, for New England. It hasn't rained in a while.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: 'Incomprehensible' to expect same greatness from Patriots?

best_of_bst_podcast.jpg

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: 'Incomprehensible' to expect same greatness from Patriots?

0:43 - Tom Curran, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley talk about Bill Belichick saying it’s “incomprehensible” that people expect the Patriots to be on the same level as last year at this point in the season.

11:55 - Tom Giles, Kayce Smith, and Michael Holley discuss J.R. Smith’s comments about the Celtics not being a threat to the Cavaliers.

15:38 - Abby Chin, Chris Mannix, and A. Sherrod Blakely join BST from Cleveland to talk about Marcus Smart and the Celtics failing to agree to a contract extension, making him a restricted free agent in July. They also preview Tuesday’s Celtics-Cavaliers season opener.

19:25 - Reports say Alex Cora is the frontrunner for the Red Sox managerial position, but Brad Ausmus interviewed for the position on Monday. Who is the right man for the job? Tom Giles and Michael Holley discuss.

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans end 11-game skid to Colts with 36-22 win

titans_marcus_mariota_101617.jpg

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans end 11-game skid to Colts with 36-22 win

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Marcus Mariota threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Taywan Taylor with 5:29 left , and the Tennessee Titans beat the Indianapolis Colts 36-22 on Monday night to snap an 11-game skid tied for the NFL's longest active losing streak against one team.

Mariota didn't move around much on a cool night after missing a game with a strained left hamstring, but still managed to throw for a season-high 306 yards. He completed each of his three passes on the drive that ended with Taylor's tiebreaking score.

The Titans (3-3) also snapped a two-game skid with the win.

Jacoby Brissett tried to rally the Colts (2-4) to a second straight overtime. But Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard forced Brissett out of bounds shy of the first down marker on fourth-and-inches with 2:19 left. Coach Chuck Pagano lost his challenge.

Derrick Henry then clinched the win for Tennessee with a 72-yard TD run with 47 seconds left. Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, finished with a career-high 131 yards on 19 carries. DeMarco Murray also scored.

The Titans looked like the NFL's worst scoring defense in the first half instead of Indianapolis, with Brissett directing the Colts to a 13-9 halftime lead. John Simon then intercepted Mariota's first pass of the third quarter and returned it 26 yards for a TD.

But the Titans forced the Colts to go three-and-out on three of their first four drives of the second half, and Avery Williamson stripped tight end Jack Doyle of the ball after a catch.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE