Best of the Belichick Era: Number 9 -- Rob Gronkowski


Best of the Belichick Era: Number 9 -- Rob Gronkowski

I'm spending 50 days ranking the top 50 players of the Bill Belichick Era, from No. 50 down to No. 1. (Click here for a criteria on how I made my selections.) 


Today we reach . . . .

Years With Patriots: 5 (2010-2014)
Games: 65
Playoff Games: 8
Honors: Super Bowl Champion (2014), NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2014), All-Pro (First team 2011 and 2014), Pro Bowl (2011, 2012, 2014)

So check this May, Gronk turned 26. In his five-year NFL career he has 61 touchdowns in 73 NFL games (including playoffs). That’s .83 TDs/Game. In 189 games, San Diego’s Antonio Gates has scored 100 touchdowns (.53 TDs/Game). Surefire Hall of Fame Tony Gonzalez? He scored 115 in 277 games (.42). If Gronk can have their longevity – a large “if” for a player who’s been cut open way too much already – he won’t be threatening their tight end records. He’ll be a threat to get into the top five all-time and will retire the belt as the best tight end in NFL history. That’s why Gronk is here in my Top 10 and players such as Willie McGinest and Rodney Harrison with more rings and leadership are behind Gronk. They were not threats to the record books. Gronk is. And he hasn’t even been fully healthy for an entire season yet. In the 2011 playoffs, Bernard Pollard broke Gronk in the AFC Championship Game. There’s no telling the difference he would have made in the Super Bowl, but imagine Victor Cruz not playing for the Giants that day. In 2012, he broke his arm in December and then re-broke it in the playoff win over Houston. And the Patriots offense went from potent to putrid and got shut down by the Ravens in the AFC Championship. The 2013 Patriots probably wouldn’t have won a Super Bowl even with Gronk – Seattle was that good. Denver too. But his blown ACL in December 2013 made the conversation moot. No injuries, how many rings would Gronk have added to the fingers of his teammates? Gronk’s ripple effect on the rest of the offense is significant. He is an outstanding blocker. The next-best tight end in the game Jimmy Graham couldn’t block an internet ad (HA!). And he attracts so much attention that the number of players defenses can allocate to wideouts is reduced. If a team wants to try and take its chances? Their chances are poor. See K.J. Wright in the Super Bowl. That’s not fair. As far as my final criteria on this list, which is basically the extent to which a player is willing to put the team first, Gronk is interesting. Obviously, he labors as hard as any current professional athlete to cultivate his “brand” and it gets tiresome, predictable and sometimes uncomfortable, like when he supposes the president is drunk. But he serves as comic relief and – even the most skeptical among us – can’t deny that, when it’s time to play he plays. He’s the world’s friendliest, most loyal, most playful Bull Mastiff. An on-field force of nature. And he’s not even halfway done.

Crazy stat highlights crazy contrast in success between Patriots, Knicks since 2018

Crazy stat highlights crazy contrast in success between Patriots, Knicks since 2018

The New England Patriots and New York Knicks are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of well-run sports franchises. 

The Patriots are the gold standard with 19 consecutive winning seasons, nine conference championships and six Super Bowl titles in the last 20 years. They are the NFL's greatest dynasty, and the party isn't over yet as Tom Brad and Co. sit atop the AFC standings with a 9-1 record entering Week 12.

The Knicks, meanwhile, have been an absolute disaster. Since the start of the 2001-02 season, New York has reached the playoffs just four times with zero conference finals appearances over that span. The Knicks haven't played in the postseason since 2012-13, and after an abysmal 3-10 start to the 2019-20 season, don't expect Madison Square Garden to host any NBA playoff games in the near future.

If you think that's bad enough for the Knicks, we're about to make it even worse by dropping a crazy stat. Since 2018, the Patriots and Knicks have won the same amount of regular season games despite New York playing in 69 more of them!

The worst part about the Knicks' situation is the misery doesn't appear to be ending any time soon. The Knicks don't have any generational talents (sorry, R.J. Barrett fans) despite consistently finishing near the bottom of the standings this decade. They also haven't been able to lure free agents despite the advantages the New York market provides, and the biggest failure might have come this summer when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving took their talents to the rival Brooklyn Nets instead of MSG.

The Patriots have set a tremendous example for other teams in all sports to follow, and it would behoove the Knicks and other poorly run franchises to look toward New England for guidance.

Updated NFL playoff picture entering Week 12>>>

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Watch out, 2000 Ravens? Patriots defense still on pace to make history

Watch out, 2000 Ravens? Patriots defense still on pace to make history

Tom Brady admitted Monday morning that the New England Patriots' strengths are their defense and special teams.

He's not wrong -- especially about that defense.

The Patriots allowed just 10 points to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, holding Carson Wentz and Co. scoreless in the second half to escape with a 17-10 win.

That's the sixth time in 10 games New England has allowed 10 points or fewer, dropping its points allowed per game to 10.8, easily the lowest in the NFL. (The San Francisco 49ers are second at 15.5 points allowed per game.)

The Patriots' defensive effort Sunday also means they're very much in the running to have one of the best defenses in NFL history, even after giving up 37 points to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9.

Courtesy of Boston Sports Info on Twitter, check out how New England's defense sticks up with the 1985 Chicago Bears and 2000 Ravens -- widely considered the two best defenses of all time -- through 10 games.

The Patriots have allowed just three fewer points through 10 games than the Ravens, whose 165 points allowed during the 2000 season are the current NFL record.

And the 2019 Patriots — led by All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore and the "Boogeymen" linebacker corps of Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins — lead both the '85 Bears and '00 Ravens in point differential, opponent passer rating and touchdown passes allowed.

New England has feasted on some subpar competition, and keeping this historic pace won't be easy: Their next three opponents — the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs — all rank in the top 10 in points per game.

But the Patriots haven't had it much easier than either the '85 Bears or the '00 Ravens. Per Boston Sports Info, here's the combined winning percentage for each of these teams' first 10 opponents:

2000 Ravens: .440
1985 Bears: .420
2019 Patriots: .400

That data suggests the Patriots very much have a chance to make history if their defense keeps playing at this level. But here's the stat Bill Belichick and Co. probably care most about: The '85 Bears and '00 Ravens both won the Super Bowl.

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