Patriots

Poor separation leads to uneven ball distribution

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Poor separation leads to uneven ball distribution

FOXBORO - Through eight games, these are the target-reception numbers for the Patriots' leading receivers.

Wes Welker: 93-66
Rob Gronkowski: 62-44
Aaron Hernandez 50-33
Deion Branch 51-32.

Chad Ochocinco? 21 targets, 9 receptions.

On Sunday, Tom Brady targeted Welker and Gronkowski 25 times.

"I think you want to try to get the ball to your playmakers," said Bill Belichick when I asked him about the ever-increasing reliance on those two players in an offense that was so multifaceted early in the season. "Those guys have made a lot of plays for us, so Id say if we threw that many passes and didnt throw it to them, then youd be coming in here saying, Hey Bill, you threw all these passes, how come only two went to Welker and one went to Gronkowski? How come you didnt throw it to them? "

Probably would. But on a day when the Patriots were scoreless in the first half and picks were thrown on forces to Gronkowski and Branch, the game against the Giants begged for another player to emerge.

Ocho was actually getting first-half separation but no targets. Suddenly, in the third quarter, Tom Brady started throwing to him. The separation went away for the most part, although Brady could have flattened out the throw to Ocho in the end zone that was slapped down. Brady wasn't sharp on Sunday.

But this isn't about Brady as much as it is about the fact that - in press coverage - the only guys regularly getting open are Welker and Gronkowski. It takes Ocho forever to come clear; Branch's separation ability is in the 0- to-15-yard range on timing routes.

Meanwhile, the frustration level with and from Ochocinco is rising. You saw it on the sidelines when FOX cameras caught some back and forth. And it was interesting to see Brady's clothes down with the offensive linemen when he packed up his duds to leave the locker room and away from the area where Ocho and he dress almost side-by-side.

Belichick stuck with the point about Gronkowski and Welker giving great returns on throws their way.

"I think theyre good options if theyre open," said Belichick. "If theyre not open, then hopefully theres somebody else that is. Theyre two of our better players. I dont think theres anything wrong with throwing it to them if theyre productive and they were both productive yesterday.

"A couple of times, could we maybe have gone somewhere else? Yeah, we probably could have," Belichick continued. "Maybe a couple of times if we went somewhere else, could we have gone to them? Maybe we could have. But Id say Tom Brady generally makes real good decisions with the ball. Has he had plays hed like to have back? Sure. Have I had calls Id like to have back? Sure. Thats part of the game. But Id say he makes pretty good decisions with the ball where to go, who to throw it to. We trust him doing that. Im not going to second guess him on those."

No doubt Brady's earned the benefit of the doubt a few dozen times over thanks to the decisions he's made over the course of his career. But when it comes to getting the ball "to your playmakers" the Patriots need one to emerge on the outside to complement the slot guy and the tight end.

And almost every time the number 85 gets dialed up, there's no answer.

Ex-Patriot Chris Long donating his salary to educational equality program

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Ex-Patriot Chris Long donating his salary to educational equality program

PHILADELPHIA - Chris Long is donating the rest of his year's salary to increase educational equality.

The Philadelphia Eagles' defensive end already gave up his first six game checks to provide two scholarships for students in Charlottesville, Virginia. Now, he's using the next 10 to launch the Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign.

"My wife and I have been passionate about education being a gateway for upward mobility and equality," Long told The Associated Press. "I think we can all agree that equity in education can help affect change that we all want to see in this country."

Long signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Eagles, including a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.5 million guaranteed. His base salary in 2017 is $1 million.

The charitable initiative encourages people to make donations to improve equal education opportunities. Long began his career in St. Louis in 2008 and played for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots last season. Long's foundation has selected four organizations whose missions focus on making education easily accessible to underserved youth while also providing students the support they need to develop strong social and emotional character.

The four organizations are based in the three communities in which Long has played during his NFL career. The city that raises the most money during the season will receive an additional $50,000 donation.

"There's a lot of opportunities to help out and they're wonderful organizations," Long said. "We have such a great platform as football players and hopefully fans get behind it."

Long grew up in Charlottesville and starred in high school at St. Anne's-Belfield before going to the University of Virginia. He was moved to start the scholarship program following the violent protests in Charlottesville in August.

"Our hometown is a wonderful place and I feel like people got the wrong idea about what the residents of Charlottesville are all about," he said.

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Gronkowski advises Hayward to treat rehab like anything else -- dominate

Gronkowski advises Hayward to treat rehab like anything else -- dominate

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski's never suffered a break like the one Gordon Hayward did on Tuesday night, but he has been through enough to know what lies ahead as the Celtics forward stares at a lengthy recovery period.

"I saw it. I mean, I wish him nothing but wellness," Gronkowski said on Wednesday. "Hopefully he heals ASAP. You never want to see that with a player in any sport. When my friend showed me that last night, you get that feeling in your body, like, your heart drops. I wish him well.

"I can't wait to see him back. I know he's going to bounce back. Being here in Boston, he's going to be a hard worker it feels like. I can't wait to see him back."

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Multiple back surgeries, a plate in his arm, a surgically-repaired ACL . . . Gronkowski has put in his share of rehabilitation work. Asked if he'd give Hayward any advice as he embarks on his road back to normalcy, Gronkowski's message was simple.

"Just go into rehab just like you go into anything else. Dominate it," Gronkowski said. "Come back when you feel ready. Come back when you're 100 percent . . . He wouldn't be where he is now if he wasn't a hard worker. I don't know the guy. Never met him. But it's not something you want to see as an athlete happen to anyone else."

Gronkowski acknowledged that in his experience, one of the biggest hurdles following an injury like that is the mental one. You quickly go from being a powerful athlete to a patient in need of help with even the smallest of tasks. 

"There is a big mental challenge, definitely, with that," Gronkowski explained. "It's not just not being able to be with your teammates and all that. It's outside of football, too. Because it takes away your whole life, going out like that . . . You can't do anything. You can't walk. You gotta have people do [things for you]. You get really frustrated. You just want the people around you to help you out and keep you in the best mindset throughout the whole process."

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