Patriots

Five quick thoughts: Gronk explodes in Patriots' 23-3 win over Bills

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Five quick thoughts: Gronk explodes in Patriots' 23-3 win over Bills

Here are five quick-hitting thoughts from what transpired between the Patriots and Bills on Sunday afternoon . . . 

PATRIOTS 23, BILLS 3

1) Rob Gronkowski has always loved heading back to Western New York. Going into Sunday he averaged almost 100 yards and a touchdown in his career in Orchard Park. He was relatively quiet in the first half, but the Patriots made a concerted effort to feed their big man coming out of the break. He finished with 9 grabs for 147 yards, including one emasculating catch when Gronkowski ripped the football from the hands of rookie corner Tre'Davious White. 

2) White and his teammates played Gronkowski physically throughout the course of the game, and eventually Gronkowski lost his mind. White held and pushed Gronkowski during one pass play in the fourth quarter that resulted in a White interception. With the Bills' defensive back on the ground Gronkowski threw himself at White, appearing to injure him with the unnecessary late hit. On the same play, Danny Amendola launched himself at Micah Hyde, resulting in a brief scrap that saw both players get penalized. Unhappy with the outcome, Bills linebacker Jerry Hughes said something to an official that earned him a flag. When it was all said and done, the Bills had possession, but they were looking at a first-and-25 situation. Gronkowski has long been frustrated by the physicality he believes defensive backs get away with in coverage on him, but that was an out-of-character moment for No. 87. 

3) Eric Lee had a nice little homecoming of his own at New Era Field. On the Bills practice squad a couple of weeks ago, he faced off against his old club and made a big impact. Though he had issues setting the edge early, he got more comfortable as the game went on. He had a critical pick deep in Patriots territory on the Bills' opening drive, he recorded a sack on Buffalo's second series, he had a pass-breakup to start the fourth quarter, he put a hit on Tyrod Taylor to force an incompletion on the very next play, and he recorded a sack in the final two minutes. With Trey Flowers out, Lee saw a serious uptick in work, and he responded. 

4) Sure! Let's do it! Let's add another Patriots player with Bills ties to the Happy Returns list. Stephon Gilmore, who spent the first five years of his career in Buffalo, was particularly lock-down late. After Taylor left the game injured, giving way to Nathan Peterman, Gilmore got his hands on the football three times. Zay Jones caught one pass off of Gilmore's deflection, but the other two were batted away for incompletions in the end zone -- and one came on fourth down. Another nice day for Gilmore. He's been solid since the bye week. 

5) The Patriots dared the Bills to stop their power running game, and Sean McDermott's defense never really did. Getting their linemen on the move -- particularly athletic right guard Shaq Mason -- the Patriots were able to open up huge running lanes for both Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead. The Bills allowed over 600 yards running in losses to the Saints, Chargers and Jets last month. The Patriots tested them to see if they'd solved their issues. They hadn't. 
 

Gronk question now makes tight end a position of need

Gronk question now makes tight end a position of need

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today. we're looking at a position where the Patriots have arguably the best player that’s ever manned it in his presumed prime. But tight end is suddenly a tenuous spot for New England.

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


This became – contrary to the Patriots hopes – a one-man position. Rob Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games. The rest of the tight ends – Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister and Martellus Bennett – combined for 20 catches and six of those came from Bennett who played just two games before heading to injured reserve. Gronk was – and is – the best tight end in the game and one of its most dominating offensive weapons. After losing Julian Edelman in the preseason, the Patriots offense became tremendously Gronk-reliant. They got away with it. But they clearly wanted more from Dwayne Allen than what they got or they wouldn’t have gone after Bennett when he became available.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Martellus Bennett, Will Tye, Jacob Hollister

WHO IS NOT?
All tight ends on the roster are under contract.

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


Publicity grab or legitimate consideration? What exactly to make of Gronk’s reported dalliance with the WWE and his idle desire to be an action movie star (also reported)? Both have the earmarks of brand-building genius. It’s a page torn from the business plans of Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard or Conor McGregor – ruminating on retirement and expressing interest in other public pursuits exponentially ratchets up public interest in both the main gig and the potential side gig. Gronk himself might not be that savvy and calculating to mildly hold the Patriots fortunes hostage but Gronk Inc. certainly is. Then again, maybe he legitimately is weighing it. The “will he or won’t he” conversation will sustain buzz and has to in some way impact the Patriots’ offseason plans. The presumption has to be that Gronk returns but this is anything but a layup. Which means the need is a Level-8

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There is a nice crop of tight ends hitting the market. Virtually all of them come with the same nagging health issues that Gronk has (had). Jimmy Graham is the biggest name in the group. His tepid blocking skills may make him unattractive to the Patriots, but never let it be said the Pats don’t like to take a flier on a once-electric player who’s on the backside. At 31, Graham’s coming off a 10-touchdown season, though his yards per catch went down to 9.1. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see New England pursue. The Eagles' second tight end, Trey Burton, is 26 and stuck behind Zach Ertz. An undrafted rookie, the kid who threw the touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl is targeted sparingly in Philly but is a smooth player. He also plays special teams (boing!). Austin Sefarian-Jenkins finally got his stuff together with the Jets in 2017 and he’s only 25. He’s no dummy, he’s only acted like one in the past and it seems like he’s got a handle on it now. He’d need face-to-face vetting but he’s got upside. Then there’s Tyler Eifert. Still just 27, Eifert’s played in 10 games the past two seasons and had season-ending back surgery in the fall (it was performed by the same doctor who treated Gronk). He’s played 39 games in five seasons. Terrific talent. Always broken.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


I like this Dallas Goedert kid from South Dakota State. Also, Dalton Schultz from Stanford gets checkmarks as a blocker and competent receiver. Neither of them are first-round prospects at this point. Hayden Hurst from South Carolina and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews are regarded as the top prospects. Hurst is a very good pass-catcher with a huge catch radius. He’s a 24-year-old former Pittsburgh Pirates draftee. Andrews is smooth as a receiver but not seen as a potent blocker. Same with Mike Gesicki from Penn State who’s the best athlete along with Hurst but doesn’t impress with his blocking.

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


Assuming Gronk is returning, the Patriots can go at it a number of ways. There’s not a “can’t miss” prospect out there, so drafting Hurst or Gesicki in the first couple of rounds means they’ll have to live with the shortcomings or hope they can improve them. Given other needs, they may not want to spend on “maybes” near the top of the draft. Too many drafts have been like that, especially with second-rounders. It seems unlikely they’ll be really interested in counting on either Allen or Bennett to provide anything in 2018. If they take a run at the Eagles’ Burton and pay him a crapload, Gronk will lose his mind. Screw it. They should take Hurst. We will change our minds several times between now and April but that’s where we are now.

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Julian Edelman posts video of resistance-band training

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Julian Edelman posts video of resistance-band training

Julian Edelman is grinding.

The New England Patriots receiver, who is recovering from an ACL repair surgery that ended his 2017 season, shared a quick video from his workout on Tuesday. Edelman is shown running with a resistance band and a trainer in-tow.

Edelman has posted a few tidbits on social media to show encouraging signs during his recovery since he got surgery in October after suffering an ACL tear in a preseason game. He was spotted around the locker room a few times during the final weeks of the 2017 season.

"Rehab is a [expletive]. It sucks," Edelman said in November on Barstool Sports' "Pardon My Take podcast." "You go in and you’re feeling decent and then you warm up, you beat it up and then you get stiff again. I mean it’s just a process and you go in six days a week and you’re going into work it, work on everything — your flexion, your extension."