Brendan C. Hall

LA Rams punter Johnny Hekker: 'Humbling' to hear Belichick's famous 'weapon' praise

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LA Rams punter Johnny Hekker: 'Humbling' to hear Belichick's famous 'weapon' praise

Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker has been the subject of some of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's heaviest praise over the years. It's gone back years, but really picked up in late November of 2016 prior to the Rams' regular-season visit to Foxborough. 

Lacking in much positive hyperbole to say about Jeff Fisher's mightily-struggling outfit, Belichick unfurled an avalanche of praise for the 6-foot-5, lefty-kicking perennial Pro Bowler, resulting in a transcript that bordered on a length that may as well have rivaled a James Joyce epic:

"Hekker is a tremendous weapon," Belichick said at the time. "This guy looks like as good a player as I’ve ever seen at that position. He’s a tremendous weapon in his ability to punt the ball, punt it inside the 20, directional kick it, involved in fakes, can throw, can run, very athletic."

That colorful characterization continued last week, when Belichick repeatedly called Hekker a "weapon" in his Thursday media availability.

"He's a weapon on the field. He can change field position and he’s a good situational punter and obviously he’s very athletic," Belichick said. "You have to respect his ability to handle the ball. I think the main thing when you sent your punt return team out there is you want to make sure you get the ball at the end of the play. That’s not always that difficult but with these guys it’s pretty challenging. As I said, they’re all weapons. [Greg] Zuerlein’s a weapon, Hekker’s a weapon."

Hekker, a four-time First Team All-Pro, said he's flattered by the compliments when asked during Monday night's Super Bowl LIII Media Night at State Farm Arena.

"Whenever something nice comes out, my mom is for sure gonna text me and say, 'Hey, this person said this nice thing about you.' My family is really proud," Hekker told reporters. "It's a deal where I really, really appreciate his respect and acknowledgement of the position.

"I don't listen to too many Belichick press conferences, but to hear that is pretty humbling for sure."

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Petition to hold NFC title game rematch closing in on a half-million signatures

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Petition to hold NFC title game rematch closing in on a half-million signatures

One of the most controversial endings in NFC Championship Game history has sprung one of the NFL's most passionate fanbases into full-sprung action.

An online petition on Change.org, started by Mississippi resident Terry Cassreino, calling for a rematch of Sunday's title game on Jan. 27 is nearing a half-million signatures, having collected more than 460,000 as of 9 p.m. Monday night.

"Refs missed a blatant pass interference call against the Los Angeles Rams late in fourth quarter of Jan. 20 NFC Championship game, possibly costing New Orleans Saints a trip to the SuperBowl," Cassreino wrote on the petition, referring to the controversial no-call by Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman on the Saints' Tommylee Lewis -- one that Robey-Coleman himself makes no effort to hide was blatantly a P.I. call.

"Due to refs’ inability to properly officiate at the game, we the undersigned want a re-match against L.A. on Sunday, Jan. 27. It’s the only fair solution to this travesty of epic proportions."

Cassreino, a journalism teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison, Miss., started the petition last night and shared it on Facebook. The response was immediately overwhelming, to his surprise.

"The way the game ended was so disappointing and so frustrating," Cassreino told the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger. "I was just looking for something to do and I thought I would put together a petition to change that order, not that I expected anything to happen from it."

It's inconceivable that this would happen. But as Mike Florio points out on Pro Football Talk, in theory NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would have the power to do this:

Consider Rule 17, Section 2, Article 1: “The Commissioner has the sole authority to investigate and take appropriate disciplinary and/or corrective measures if any club action, non-participant interference, or calamity occurs in an NFL game which the Commissioner deems so extraordinarily unfair or outside the accepted tactics encountered in professional football that such action has a major effect on the result of the game.”

Even though Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman admits that he opted to wipe out Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis because Robey-Coleman believed he’d been beaten for a touchdown, it’s hard to imagine this being the kind of “extraordinarily unfair” act that would have a major effect on the outcome of the game. Then again, the rule is there for a reason; if ever it would be invoked, wouldn’t now be the time to do it?

And here’s where it gets even juicier. Consider Rule 17, Section 2, Article 3: “The Commissioner’s powers under this Section 2 include . . . the reversal of a game’s result or the rescheduling of a game, either from the beginning or from the point at which the extraordinary act occurred.”

Basically, the Commissioner has the power to turn back time to the spot of the penalty that wasn’t called, put the teams back on the field from that point in the game, give the Saints first and goal at the spot of the foul, put 1:49 on the clock, and let the game proceed, tied at 20, with the Rams having one time out left.

Gulp.

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If this was Rob Gronkowski's last home game as a Patriot, he went out with a bang

If this was Rob Gronkowski's last home game as a Patriot, he went out with a bang

FOXBOROUGH – As the rumors of Rob Gronkowski’s potential flirtation with retirement swirl once again, one can’t help but wonder if Sunday afternoon was Rob Gronkowski’s final walk off the Gillette Stadium turf of his NFL career.

Asked about this possibility following the Patriots’ 41-28 thrashing of Los Angeles in an AFC divisional round matchup, Gronkowski said his focus was on the Chargers and that it would be the same way next week when the Patriots travel to Kansas City for the AFC Championship.

“I’m all-in right now,” he said. “We’ve got the Kansas City Chiefs now. It’s going to be another week of preparation, and I haven’t thought about anything like that, so just got to go all-in, keep our focus and keep on doing what we’ve got to do.”

The 29-year-old veteran has taken countless brutal hits and battled numerous injuries throughout his nine-year career in New England, but has continually shot down speculation that he’s hanging up the cleats after this season. Last month, he told reporters he was “all-in” for 2018, saying, “I love the grind.”

Sunday morning, that speculation was brought to the forefront again by a tweet from NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport saying Gronk will “strongly consider retirement” once the 2018 season has ended.

PATRIOTS 41, CHARGERS 28

So, Gronkowski was asked in a follow-up Sunday, what are the thoughts right now?

“That I’m going to have to enjoy the win,” he said. “That’s what we do. You get one night to enjoy the win, actually around here. You do, you get one night. And then when you wake up tomorrow morning, then it’s on to Kansas City.”

If this truly was No. 87’s last performance in front of the fans that have come to deify him over the last decade, it was defined in a manner perhaps too befitting of him. 

After all, how many skill-position players in the NFL can honestly say they dominated a game without even really touching the ball?

Gronkowski was targeted just once, his only catch coming on one of those customary lumbering car crashes over the middle that fans in New England have venerated time and again. And yet, those big, glue-trap mitts of No. 87 are all over the blueprint of every rushing touchdown New England scored. 

PATRIOTS 41, CHARGERS 28

Whether it was barrel-rolling into Darius Philon to open up Sony Michel’s first score of the game, a one-yard dive; velcroing himself to Hayes Pullard at the second level to open up the alley for Michel to dive at the pylon for his second score; putting Kyle Emanuel on roller skates for Rex Burkhead’s lone score; or leading the pile-push that netted Michel his third rushing score; this may have very well been one of Gronk’s most complete games of the season.

“Just to be able to run the ball, to be able to block, I mean, I’ve never taken it for granted,” Gronkowski said. “I’ve always loved run blocking. I love to do the balance of both.”  

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