Rob Gronkowski

Jones suggests Falcons comeback attempt hampered by fog

Jones suggests Falcons comeback attempt hampered by fog

FOXBORO -- When the field was flipped as Sunday night's Patriots-Falcons game moved from the third to the fourth quarter, Tom Brady and his offense moved from their spot near the south end zone to the opposite end of Gillette Stadium. As they headed toward the lighthouse, they strutted into the mist and disappeared slowly until they were almost fully out of sight. 

Though most players said afterward that it didn't impact what happened on the field during New England's 23-7 win, the fog was thick enough to force NBC to abandon its standard camera angle, and Bill Belichick hinted that it made life difficult on Patriots spotters residing in the upper levels of the stadium.

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The fog was also an apparent source of frustration for Falcons receiver Julio Jones, who suggested that it may have impacted the deep passing game as Atlanta was attempting its comeback.

"It didn’t affect me, but it’s crazy, though," he said. "Like, they score and they shoot fireworks off and then it sits high, kind of in the stadium. So it’s kind of hard, like, if you do get behind, like, how can you throw deep balls and things like that, because it’s foggy? I mean, it didn’t affect us at all though. They were just the better team tonight."

Most other players just kind of marveled at the weather as it hung above the field like a low ceiling.

"Yeah, the fog – that was crazy," Brady said. "I have never seen that. It was just so still out there. The fog had no place to go. I don’t think it affected much, really, at the end of the day. I’m sure it looked cool on TV, though."

"I’ve never," Dion Lewis said, "seen anything like that before."

"I mean, a deep ball up in the air was definitely more difficult," Rob Gronkowski said. "But, it didn’t change anything in the game."

For coaches and staff spending the game watching from high above the turf, relaying what they saw to their peers on the sidelines, the fog was an issue. But Belichick liked the way his crew handled it. 

"Well, I think the coaches upstairs did a real good job on that," he said. "It was challenging at times. I would say I don’t know what happened with Atlanta, but for us we took a couple of timeouts. It wasn’t really because of the fog. It was just we wanted to get our goal line in there on the goal line. I wouldn’t attribute it to that, but it was not easy for our spotters upstairs to get it.

"That being said, I didn’t think it really affected the game too much. Not the most normal situation, but my first year in the league with Baltimore in '75 when we beat Miami and then that didn’t clinch the playoffs but it put us pretty close in Baltimore. The final kick game down to, you know, Toni Linhart. It was about a 40-yard field goal and you could see the line of scrimmage, you could see the two teams line up for the field goal but once the ball left his foot you had no idea whether it was good or not good, so we had to wait for the official signal. So, that’s the first year. I haven’t had anything that bad since . . . I’d say this was – it was tough to see from up on top. I wouldn’t say it was that bad on the field. I mean, it wasn’t clear but I don’t think it changed anything."

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Gronkowski on pace for max earnings, ready for his crack at Falcons

Gronkowski on pace for max earnings, ready for his crack at Falcons

FOXBORO -- Despite missing one game this season, Rob Gronkowski is on track for a big year that would pay him more than double what he's scheduled to earn in 2017.

A thigh issue held the Patriots tight end out of action in Week 5 against the Buccaneers, yet he's still 12th in the league in receiving yards (401) and third among tight ends, behind only Travis Kelce (423) and Zach Ertz (405). His four touchdowns put him in the top-10 pass-catchers in the league in that category, and his six catches of 20 yards or more is tied for 14th. 

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If Gronkowski stays healthy and is on the field for the final 10 regular-season games of the year, he's on pace for 78 catches for 1,203 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those numbers would put him in contention for a first-team All-Pro nod, which would earn him the max $10.75 million for 2017 that's been written into his incentive-laden contract for this season.

But even if he isn't an All-Pro -- say Kelce and Ertz continue to have excellent seasons -- Gronkowski's 1,200 receiving yards would also trigger the max value of his deal. Seventy catches, 1,000 receiving yards or 12 touchdowns would trigger the second tier of Gronkowski's incentives, paying him $8.75 million. Sixty catches, 800 yards or 10 touchdowns would pay him $6.75 million -- up from the minimum of $5.25 million he's  guaranteed for this season.

Against Atlanta, he'll have a chance to combat the Falcons team speed in a way that he wasn't able to last February when he missed the Super Bowl following season-ending back surgery. 

"It feels great to be back playing, but I mean, it’s a whole new year," he said Wednesday. "It’s a whole new week. They’ve got different players now. We’ve got different players. They’ve got a different scheme a little bit from all the different players. We’ve got a little different scheme from all the new players that we have, so it’s a whole new game. It’s a whole new challenge this week and we’ve just got to work hard this week and get ready for Sunday night."

The Falcons defense features young and athletic players like linebackers Deion Jones and Duke Riley as well as pass-rusher Vic Beasley and safety Keanu Neal, but they haven't been all that stout against opposing tight ends in 2017. Per Football Outsiders, they rank 19th in defending tight ends, allowing 61.4 yards per game on 8.9 pass attempts. 

The Patriots could wind up seeing 6-foot-4, 232-pound linebacker De'Vondre Campbell on Gronkowski on Sunday night. He and Neal have been the primary defenders on tight ends in recent weeks, and against the Lions last month Campbell was targeted five times and allowed zero catches while covering tight end Eric Ebron.

"They're a good defense," Gronkowski said. "You've got to go out there and you've got to play your best football. I feel like at any time, any given time, if I'm not playing my best football, if I'm not taking the coaching points, if I’m not doing the things right out there on the field then I feel like I could be covered by any one.

"But also at the same time, if I’m doing things right, feeling good, taking the coaching points then I feel like I can get open on anyone. It just all comes down to playing the game this coming Sunday night."

The problem for Atlanta is that Gronkowski is playing his best football right now. And if he keeps it up, he'll be paid accordingly.