Patriots

Gronkowski headlines lengthy list of Patriots injured vs. Saints

Gronkowski headlines lengthy list of Patriots injured vs. Saints

Rob Gronkowski opted not to speak with reporters following Sunday's win over the Saints, but he did flash a smile and said, "I'm good."

Forgive them, but that's probably not quite enough to put Patriots fans at ease. 

The 6-foot-6 tight end left the game in the second half after making his sixth catch of the day, giving him 116 yards and a score. He was slow to get up, and when he did, he immediately gestured toward the Patriots sidelines. 

PATRIOTS 36, SAINTS 20

After speaking to trainer Jim Whalen and team physician Dr. Mark Price, Gronkowski underwent further evaluation in the Patriots medical tent on the sidelines. When he emerged, he remained on the Patriots sideline, pedaling a stationary bike briefly. 

The injury was later announced as a groin issue and he did not return. 

Here are some of the other injuries the Patriots were dealing with on Sunday before their 36-20 win was through . . . 

Rex Burkhead (ribs): It was clear that the Patriots were making a concerted effort to get Burkhead the football early on. He had five touches, including a 19-yard touchdown reception, in the first quarter alone. In Week 1 against the Chiefs, he had four total touches. After that first quarter, though? He was hardly seen. He was spotted standing next to Whalen on the sidelines but was held out. Without Burkhead the Patriots lost one of their most versatile backs. They are deep at the position, which would make any kind of extended absence for Burkhead a bit easier to manage. But given the other injuries to offensive skill position players, Burkhead's ailment could loom large if it impacts his availability for Week 3. 

Phillip Dorsett (knee): It was a positive day for the newly-acquired receiver . . . until he left with a left knee issue. He caught three passes for 68 yards -- including one play when he alertly came back to a Tom Brady pass after Brady was hit -- and looked as though he was comfortable with the portions of the offense that the coaching staff entrusted him with. Dorsett spent time with Whalen on the sidelines and was also observed inside the medical tent, according to the CBS broadcast. When he went down, the Patriots were left with just two available receivers. And only one of them was healthy. 

Chris Hogan (lower body): Hogan could barely go in motion with a couple of minutes left in the fourth quarter. He was seen limping after several plays, and there was a point in the game when cameras focused on the difficulty he had running off the field. Per CBS, he was focused on his knee while on the sidelines, but he never came out of the game for any extended period of time and his injury was never announced. Hogan, who caught five passes for 78 yards and a touchdown, spoke to reporters after the game and said he felt "great."

Eric Rowe (groin): After starting opposite Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe eventually had to leave the game with a groin injury. His absence meant that Malcolm Butler was forced to match up with some of New Orleans' bigger receivers. Rowe spoke in the locker room following the game and indicated that his injury wasn't expected to be a long-term issue. 

Stephon Gilmore was spotted with a limp, per our Mike Giardi, meaning the Patriots could be dealing with injuries to multiple corners as they prepare for the Texans in Week 3. 

As for the receiver group, they are perilously thin if Hogan and/or Dorsett misses time. Danny Amendola was forced to sit out Week 2 as he deals with a concussion and a knee injury. 

Others ruled out for Week 2 with injuries were Dont'a Hightower (knee), Matthew Slater (hamstring), Nate Ebner (shoulder) and Vincent Valentine (knee).

Asked after the game if he was concerned about the health issues the Patriots were dealing with, Bill Belichick said, "We'll do the best that we can with what we have to work with."

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Brady still felt 'rusty' despite strong showing against Eagles

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Brady still felt 'rusty' despite strong showing against Eagles

We made mention of this as soon as last week's exhibition between the Patriots and Eagles was finished. The biggest takeaway, from a local perspective, was that Tom Brady looked the way one might expect him to look two weeks into the preseason. 

Given the different approach he carried into the offseason, it was fair to wonder how Brady would perform in his first game action since Super Bowl LII. But he was accurate, he moved well inside and outside of the pocket, and he appeared healthy. He looked like Tom Brady. 

Despite going 19-for-26 for 172 yards and two touchdowns in the game, though, Brady said in an interview with WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show on Tuesday that he felt as though there was some rust to shake off. 

"It was fun being out there," he said. "We got a lot of work to do. I think you gotta take the preseason games for what they are. It's kind of a step in the preparation, and it goes along with a lot of other things we're doing. It was good. We haven't had any joint practices this year. Being in those competitive situations, if you haven't been in those in a long time, which I haven't since the Super Bowl, you always feel a little bit rusty."

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Brady said he plans to play this week in Carolina. 

"Hopefully we can build on it this week . . . Guys are working hard trying to improve," he said. "There's a lot to improve on. It's a new team. New year.  Hopefully we can use this week as kind of another step before we get to things that start really counting."

What specifically might the Patriots be able to work on in Carolina? 

Last week the Patriots offense seemed to focus in on a few areas, both situationally and schematically. Brady and his teammates had a clear opportunity to work on their hurry-up approach out of their 11-personnel (one back, one tight end, three wideouts) -- which they turned to both early in the game and toward the end of the first half. They also relied heavily on the screen game, something that the team struggled with at times in 2017. 

Against the Panthers, there could be more time spent on their "regular" personnel plays, or their 21-personnel packages, with two backs on the field. That could mean more work for someone like James Develin, who can be used creatively in both the running game and passing game. (On one snap in the second quarter last week, the Patriots split Develin and Jeremy Hill outside in an empty set.) 

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Though the team's running back group is dealing with injuries -- Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead continue to be out and limited in practice, respectively -- we may see some two-back "pony" sets with some combination of Hill, James White, Brandon Bolden and Mike Gillislee. 

More two-tight end packages could find their way onto the field as well, with Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen or Will Tye sharing the field simultaneously if Rob Gronkowski sits. 

These heavier groupings are ones the Patriots offense may have to turn to through the first four weeks of the season with Julian Edelman suspended. Unless Kenny Britt, Eric Decker or Riley McCarron emerges as a more dependable option behind Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett, Josh McDaniels may have to pick his spots rolling with three wideouts in September.

With plenty of moving parts, with long-term and short-term situations to prepare for, with three weeks before the start of the regular season, Brady said it. They've got a lot of work to do. 

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Preseason action "always beneficial for Rob Gronkowski, but will he play Friday?

Preseason action "always beneficial for Rob Gronkowski, but will he play Friday?

FOXBORO -- When there was an obsession over Patriots workloads earlier in camp, it felt for some reason like a new phenomenon. And maybe it was as it related to Tom Brady. But he's 41 now. He took more time off in the spring than he's used to. His reps in certain practices were obviously scaled back. 

The reaction was predictable.  

But when it comes to dissecting workloads and overanalyzing snap counts, that's par for the course when it comes to Rob Gronkowski. The game's top tight end has also long been one of its most injury-prone, making his summertime participation in Patriots practices and preseason games one of the most intriguing parts of camp on a year-in, year-out basis. 

Though Gronkowski finished last season contemplating retirement, he also finished it relatively healthy. That means there's no reading into how well he's cutting or planting or making mid-air adjustments to back-shoulder throws in practice in July and August. 

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Gronkowski's preseason game snap counts can always generate discussion, however. And he helped contribute to the chatter on Sunday when he met with reporters at Gillette Stadium and was asked if he found it to be beneficial when he saw playing time in exhibition games No. 2 and 3 last year.

"I mean, it’s always beneficial whenever you go out there in the preseason," he said. "You want to go out there, get the timing down, get some live reps. So, just going to prepare like a normal game this week like I’m playing, and then it’s up to the coaches."

That Gronkowski played at all last preseason was a veer from the norm for him. The 46 snaps he saw (14 against the Texans, 32 against the Lions) were his first preseason plays since 2012. He ended up being named a First Team All-Pro and helping his team to the Super Bowl. His argument, then, that "it's always beneficial" to play in preseason games may have some merit. 

But in reality, his preseason workload has been a less-than-stellar gauge for how his season will play out. Consider this. Gronkowski didn't see time in any preseason games in 2013, 2014, 2015 or 2016. Those seasons ended in a torn ACL, a Super Bowl title and an All-Pro nod, an AFC Championship appearance and an All-Pro nod, and back surgery.

Had it not been for hellacious hits from TJ Ward and Earl Thomas, Gronkowski might've been a four-time All-Pro in that four-year stretch of no preseason work. 

Good with preseason snaps. Good without them. 

The Patriots will account for myriad inputs when determining how much Gronkowski should play this preseason, or if he should play at all. The number of snaps he played last season -- his 1,078, including playoffs, were more than any tight end last season -- are part of the equation. How he's responded to the work given in camp thus far could play a role as well. 

If he's going to see any time, odds are it would be this week against the Panthers. But because he played as much as he did last season, because he's not returning from an injury and there's not as much "rust" to shake off as there might've been last summer, it'd come as no surprise if Gronkowski remained on the sidelines Friday night in Charlotte. 

Even if Gronkowski wants to go, the risk and reward of playing him just doesn't seem to add up for the Patriots. If timing is the big benefit . . . well, even Gronkowski admitted his timing with Brady was pretty good if not perfect.

"I mean, I would say we’ve got some good chemistry over the years, but we’re always working on it," he said. "We’re always looking to improve, and we’re always looking to get better."

But does improvement require preseason game action? History would suggest it does not.

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