Patriots

No Patriot more excited to return than Rob Gronkowski

No Patriot more excited to return than Rob Gronkowski

FOXBORO -- The most excitable player on the practice field on Day One of Patriots training camp wasn’t some young kid getting his first taste of the massive crowds at Foxboro for practice, or established veterans like Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks, or even Tom Brady, who lives for this.

The player who was bouncing from first step to last was none other than Rob Gronkowski. 

“I’ve definitely had a longer vacation than a lot of guys,” said Gronkowski. “I’d probably say I was the most eager to get going, to get rolling.”

Gronkowski hasn’t played in a game since he suffered a season-ending injury back in the Week 12 win over the Jets. Back surgery followed and while the imposing tight end has been ahead of schedule the entire time, seeing is believing.

Gronk made a handful of nice grabs, including three in the end zone. All resulted in an exuberant display from the 28-year old.

"It’s football," he said. "Just when you’re feeling good out there and making plays you just want to have fun. That’s the whole game of football. Have fun out there, enjoy it and have competition. Competition is huge. That’s what gets you better. That’s what makes you better as a player. That’s what makes the team better -- competition.”

Running around in shorts and shells is a continuation of a process that saw Gronk work with the team during both OTAs and mini-camp. This weekend, another milestone, practicing in full pads, not that there’s a rush.

“I don’t mind the first two days without pads,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. You wanna get acclimated to football and to the movements and everything. You want to get your body back to it. It’s been a while since you’ve been having competition like that . . . but then after that, you’re ready to roll.”

And when that time comes, Gronk will welcome this defense -- and any other -- taking their shots.

“I always want to take hits. When we put those pads on, I’m going to definitely be ready. I am going to be ready to take hits, ready to play ball.”

He’d better be. Gronk punctuated those scores with spikes and dancing and some other nonsense that will no doubt be filed away by the defensive player. Of course, they can’t light up their own tight end, and who would want to extinguish that passion anyway?

"I don’t even notice know what I did,” he said. “It wasn’t like a real spike, it was just like tossing it to the ground. Juiced up, just trying to make plays out there.”

Jalen Ramsey's right: Jags should have trusted Bortles against Patriots

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Jalen Ramsey's right: Jags should have trusted Bortles against Patriots

It’s easy to debate whether the comments to GQ Magazine made by Jaguars corner Jalen Ramsey were “appropriate.” 

But don’t get completely caught in the weeds on that. Because more than a little of what Ramsey said is accurate.

He took a verbal flamethrower to guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and especially Bills rookie Josh Allen. Then, when asked the merits of his own quarterback, Blake Bortles, Ramsey criticized the Jaguars' offensive approach in the second half of last year’s AFC Championship.   

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“Blake do what he gotta do . . . ” said Ramsey. “I think in crunch-time moments, like last year's playoff game -- not as a team, because we would have trusted him -- but I think as an organization, we should have trusted him more to keep throwing it. We kinda got complacent and conservative. And I think that's why we lost. We started running it on first and second down, throwing it on third down, every single time we were out there. [The Patriots] caught on to that.”

Yeah, they kinda did. In stark contrast to the aggressive offensive style the Eagles showed in the Super Bowl, Jacksonville turtled in the second half of the AFCCG, which they eventually lost, 24-20, by blowing a 10-point lead in the final 10 minutes. 

Jacksonville was up 14-3 late in the first half before the Patriots narrowed the score to 14-10 with a James White touchdown. By that time, Jags running back Leonard Fournette had run 11 times for 40 yards and Bortles was 13-for-15 for 195 yards. 

In the second half, Fournette ran 13 times for 36 yards. They ran him 10 times on first-and-10 while they had the second-half lead. He gained 25 yards on those carries, with 14 coming on one of those. 

The Jags’ strategy was obvious. To everyone. They were going to run the ball so that every position ate some clock. But by handing off over and over and running a big back into a defense stacked against him, the Jags were continually asking Bortles to make something out of second-and-long. 

The Jags tried to sneak out of Foxboro with a win. Going bold against the greatest quarterback of all-time (especially for a huge underdog) was probably the better strategy.  

What about Super Bowl 51, you say? Good point. Former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will forever be criticized for being too aggressive and allowing the Patriots to come back from a 28-3 deficit. 

But that game was an avalanche of huge plays by New England on both sides of the ball in the second half, which left Shanahan searching for answers and making desperate decisions. 

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The Jags started playing scared before halftime when they took a knee on first down with 55 seconds left and two timeouts.

The way the final two games of the Patriots 2017 season unfolded may have been a teachable moment for the rest of the league. It’s fight or flight. 

You can be afraid of the Patriots, play scared and allow your nightmare to be realized, as the Jags did. Or you can fight them, like Philly did. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Panicking over the Patriots wide receivers; Red Sox continue to win

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NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Panicking over the Patriots wide receivers; Red Sox continue to win

1:23 - Marc Bertrand and Phil Perry join Trenni Kusnierek on Early Edition to discuss Tom Brady’s comments after today’s practice, and they compare this year’s wide receivers to the receivers on the 2006 team.  

6:39 - Evan Drellich phones in to break down the Red Sox 2-1 win over the Phillies and how this team doesn’t seem to ever lose close games. 

10:24 - Tom Giles, Kevin Duffy, Hardy, and Phil Perry give their panic meter rankings for the numerous Patriots injuries sustained during training camp practices. 

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NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE