Patriots

49ers' George Kittle likely will break this Rob Gronkowski record in NFC title game

49ers' George Kittle likely will break this Rob Gronkowski record in NFC title game

Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski owns several NFL records, and one of them is likely to be broken Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

49ers tight end George Kittle has become arguably the best tight end in the league, and his unique blend of great size, strength and overall football talent have drawn many comparisons to Gronkowski.

Kittle is very close to breaking one of Gronkowski's records in Sunday's matchup at Levi's Stadium. In fact, he needs just 26 receiving yards to do it. Here are the details, per NFL Research:

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Kittle finished the 2019 regular season with 85 receptions for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns. These are pretty good stats, but he was mostly ineffective as a receiver in the NFC Divisional Round versus the Minnesota Vikings. Kittle caught only three passes for 16 yards in the win over Minnesota. Kittle, like Gronk, is a tremendous run blocker, and that's really where he made his mark against the Vikings.

Gronkowski not only put up Hall of Fame-worthy stats, he also shined brightest in the playoffs. He tallied 81 receptions for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns in 16 career postseason games. Kittle is a tremendous player, but he cannot be compared to Gronkowski until he starts dominating when the stakes are highest.

Jimmy Garoppolo praises Tom Brady's preparation, consistency

Rob Ninkovich warns of Patriots domino effect if Tom Brady leaves in free agency

Rob Ninkovich warns of Patriots domino effect if Tom Brady leaves in free agency

The New England Patriots will be worse off in 2020 if Tom Brady leaves in free agency. That much is obvious.

But the ripple effects of Brady's departure may be felt for years to come.

The 42-year-old quarterback is one of several key Patriots players who will become free agents on March 18, including safety Devin McCourty and linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.

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If Brady returns for a 21st season, it's possible at least one member of that defensive trio sticks around for another Super Bowl run.

If Brady signs elsewhere? Former Patriots defensive standout Rob Ninkovich believes the dominos could fall quickly in New England.

"If Tom doesn’t come back, I don’t know if those guys are going to want to stick around," Ninkovich told the Boston Herald's Karen Guregian on Wednesday. "Because what’s the outlook for the team? Is it a rebuilding phase? What happens moving forward?"

Ninkovich also noted head coach Bill Belichick may have a harder time executing the team-building model he's had so much success with over the years, as free agents would be less likely to take a pay cut to come to New England.

“That would be a hard sell. In years past, the Patriots have been able to get guys at a bargain, because it’s an older veteran, a guy who’s looking for a Super Bowl, for a playoff run," Ninkovich explained.

“They’re approached by the Patriots, who say, ‘Look, we’re not going to guarantee the biggest contract, but we’re going to give you an opportunity to play in the playoffs and Super Bowl if you’re interested. Ninety-nine percent of the guys are ‘yeah, I want some validation for my football career.' "

But would free agents be confident that Brady's replacement -- 23-year-old Jarrett Stidham, perhaps -- could keep the Patriots in Super Bowl contention? Ninkovich isn't so sure.

"It won’t be easy without Tom. It’ll definitely be a struggle," he said.

As our Patriots Insider Phil Perry recently pointed out, time is also working against Belichick as he (and the Patriots' other pending free agents) awaits Brady's free-agent decision.

On that front, Ninkovich believes there's a real chance the six-time Super Bowl champion signs elsewhere in March.

"My gut is telling me Tom is motivated to prove a lot of people wrong," Ninkovich added. " ... So it wouldn’t surprise me if he puts up the deuces to everybody, and tries to motivate himself to prove people wrong."

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Kyle Long shades Jimmy Garoppolo while pushing Tom Brady-to-49ers theory

Kyle Long shades Jimmy Garoppolo while pushing Tom Brady-to-49ers theory

Tom Brady is a Bay Area native who grew up going to 49ers games, but San Francisco hasn't really been viewed as a serious destination for the New England Patriots quarterback and free-agent-to-be.

Why? Because the Niners already have their franchise quarterback in former Brady backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who helped guide them to Super Bowl LIV.

... Or do they?

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Retired offensive lineman Kyle Long joined NFL Network's "Total Access" on Tuesday to discuss the one free-agent signing he'd like to see this offseason.

"I think this will drive some people crazy, but ... one thing I've thought about is a guy named Tom Brady and a team called the San Francisco 49ers," Long told host Lindsay Rhodes.

"It would be something where we would find out if the 49ers are really in love with Jimmy Garoppolo. And I think Tom Brady has earned the right to select a turnkey organization that is one quarterback away from the Super Bowl. And who better than the 49ers? He's a hometown kid. He grew up idolizing Joe Montana."

"One quarterback away from the Super Bowl" sure sounds like a dig at Garoppolo, who threw two interceptions in the 49ers' Super Bowl LIV loss to the Kansas City Chiefs but otherwise had a strong 2019 campaign.

To have his former mentor come in at age 43 and accomplish what he couldn't? That'd be a tough pill for Garoppolo to swallow.

As our Patriots Insider Phil Perry recently pointed out, San Fran technically has the option to replace Garoppolo with Brady this season, as the 28-year-old QB has an opt-out clause for 2020 in his contract.

Count Long among those on board with that scenario.

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