Patriots

Brady, Gronk take care of business in season opener

Brady, Gronk take care of business in season opener

FOXBORO – Coming out of the two-minute warning, the Patriots were nursing a seven-point lead and had the ball at their own 27 facing a second-and-8.

The Texans, with all three of their timeouts, needed a stop and the Patriots offense – having managed just two field goals in the second half – needed to make something happen.

Tom Brady took the snap and looked for Rob Gronkowski. Covered. Brady kept wandering around, shuffling a little, running left, waiting for Gronk to uncover. He couldn’t. Finally, Brady looked to the right sideline and ripped a dart to fullback James Develin in the flat. Develin pulled it in – his career-high fourth catch of the day – and the Patriots gained 10. The Texans had to burn all their timeouts before they got the ball back at their 1-yard line with less than a minute left and the game concluded with minimal drama after that.

There’s a lot to glean from that one play. First, the 41-year-old Brady showed a mobility he didn’t really possess earlier this decade. Second, all the arm strength and accuracy that’s supposed to be waning as he approaches the much-discussed “cliff” is still there. Third, there’s nobody else Brady wants to throw to ahead of Gronk and that’s because no receiver he worked with in his 19 years in the league has been better to him. Fourth, James Develin with the game on the line? Not Jordan Matthews or Kenny Britt or Eric Decker or Malcolm Mitchell, all of whom washed off the roster in the past month. Brady was throwing to the fullback when he couldn’t find Gronk. And he made it work.

The Patriots are 1-0 because they played really well on defense and capably protected Brady most of the game. But more than anything else, they’re 1-0 because their two work-to-rule renegades – one of whom they tried to trade in April, the other who they hoped to replace with Jimmy Garoppolo – are still here.

And wherever this team goes this season, it will arrive there thanks to Brady and Gronkowski. That’s the inconvenient truth behind it all. Worry about the punt return game. Worry about the linebackers. Worry about the running backs, wide receivers and tight end depth. But don’t worry about the most potent offensive combination in the game.

They will show up and take care of their business when it matters. And Brady will make sure that, no matter who he’s given, he’ll go to the whip if he has to.

A moderately downcast Brady said after the game he doesn’t have the luxury of grading on a curve and giving out smiley-face stickers for good effort to the new pieces around him. The expectation level can’t be “pretty good for a new guy…”

“I think that’s the point of playing football,” Brady said. “It’s not, ‘Oh, this guy, this is what his level of expectation is. That’s what we should put the team’s expectation at.’

“It’s ‘If you’re playing in the slot, you’ve got to play as well as any slot receiver we’ve ever had. If you play on the perimeter, you’ve got to play as well as any receiver we’ve ever had – tight end, quarterback, running back …’ And guys can play up to that. I think you can’t sit there and coach or communicate and go, ‘Oh, well, that’s OK because you’re not quite there yet.’ I mean, I think you’ve got to coach hard and you’ve got to correct guys and you’ve got to correct yourself and have high expectation for yourself, and that’s how you have high expectation for the team.”

Brady threw to Gronkowski eight times on Sunday, completing seven for 123 yards and a touchdown. Gronk also picked up a 14-yard pass interference in the first half.

Even though everyone on the planet knew that blanketing Gronk was the key to slowing down the Patriots offense, Brady was hell-bent on going to the player he trusted most.

Even when he was blanketed as Gronk was late in the first half when Brady found him for a big gain.

“I was running up the seam,” Gronk explained. “I had two guys on me and when I saw the ball in the air I literally thought first thing, ‘What is Tom thinking? When that ball was in the air I had a guy grabbing me and I was just like, ‘I’ve just got to go for it.’ I can’t let them make a play on it, so just went up for it, made the catch. I did make the catch. I don’t know how. When I went to the ground I had it stable in my hand, so it was definitely a catch, but Tom went up to the line really quick just to make sure.”

A message was sent by Brady on Sunday with those throws to Gronkowski, intentional or not. That message was, “Don’t forget what we’re capable of. Don’t underestimate us. Don’t worry about us taking care of our business. Don’t wish us away.”

Was it received? Well, it was interesting to hear Bill Belichick speak of them in more laudatory language than he’s used in a while.

“That's two great players,” said Belichick. “Both have a lot of skill, both very good at what they do. They don't need a lot to complete passes. We see that every day in training camp and in practice. They're both really good. Rob's hard to cover and Tom can put the ball where only Rob can get it and Rob can get a lot of those. I'm glad we have them. They're both great players.”

No doubt. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Devin McCourty responds to Colin Kaepernick rumor: 'I hope that's true for him'

Devin McCourty responds to Colin Kaepernick rumor: 'I hope that's true for him'

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty isn't looking to make headlines, but also he's not reluctant to talk about Colin Kaepernick when Kaepernick's name comes up.

Kaepernick's name was broached because TMZ caught up with Mark Geragos, Kaepernick's lawyer, and posted the video Thursday. In it, Geragos hinted that there were two NFL clubs that could be interested in signing his client. 

The two franchises at which hinted? The Raiders and the Patriots. New England came up because Geragos was asked about a "Colin Kaepernick anthem" that rapper Meek Mill is planning on. 

"I've heard that," Geragos said. "You know who Meek Mill was visited by when he was in custody?" 

Off camera, someone answered Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "Bingo," said Geragos. 

It's a flimsy connection if that's all it is, and McCourty hadn't seen the TMZ video. But as far as Kaepernick's potential return to the league, McCourty is a supporter of the idea. 

"I would just say I think he's a really good player," McCourty said. "I think he's had a tremendous amount of success in this league. And I've said it numerous times, there's no doubt in my mind that he's one of the top -- whether you want to say 32 or 64 -- quarterbacks that should be in this league. 

"I've said that from the jump. I believe that. I hope that's true for him. Whether it's those two [teams] or someone else, I hope that's true."

McCourty indicated that he didn't feel as though there would be any issues welcoming Kaepernick to the Patriots locker room if that ever came to pass. 

And though McCourty is one of the faces of the Players Coalition -- which has worked to steer the national conversation away from anthem demonstrations to work being done in communities that need it -- he maintained that having the face of the anthem demonstrations in the locker room might actually give Kaepernick an opportunity to highlight the charitable work Kaepernick has done.

According to Business Insider, he's donated over $1 million to various charities in over a year and a half. 

"I think he's still doing positive stuff," McCourty said. "I think him as a player would probably spotlight some of those things. Because right now people only talk about still the same thing. If he had that viewership, as far as the NFL, people would get to see what he does. 

"I think the people who see what he does now are the people that follow him and want to know. Whereas the average NFL viewer, they're not going to see what Kaepernick is doing right now. I think him in the NFL would give people the opportunity to see that. Obviously it would come up. Whatever team he signs to, the first question is going to be, What are you going to do? It's going to come up."

The question is whether there is a team out there willing to take on a player who would generate those discussions and the swirl of media attention that would follow.

For McCourty, that wouldn't be an issue. 

"I've never been opposed to [discussing it]," he said, "obviously."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Patriots again No. 2 in Forbes valuations of NFL teams

Patriots again No. 2 in Forbes valuations of NFL teams

The Patriots were No. 2 in the NFL after losing Super Bowl 52 to the Philadelphia Eagles and they're again No. 2 in Forbes' annual valuation rankings of NFL teams.

For the fourth year in a row, the Pats, at $3.8 billion. have finished second to the Dallas Cowboys ($5 billion, up from $4.2 billion a year ago for Jerry Jones' team). 

Here's the Top 10:

The Patriots were second in 2017 (at $3.7 billion) , 2016 ($3.4B) and 2015 ($3.2B). Not bad when you consider that in 1994, Robert Kraft purchased the team for $172 million. 

The Buffalo Bills at $1.6 billion bring up the rear among the 31 NFL teams for the second year in a row. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE