Patriots

That time Matt Patricia threw a trash can at Rob Gronkowski during Patriots practice

That time Matt Patricia threw a trash can at Rob Gronkowski during Patriots practice

PHOENIX -- Rob Gronkowski was down. He wasn't getting up. For an instant, Matt Patricia thought his coaching career might be over.

"We do a goal-line, seven-on-seven period every day in Friday practice," Patricia said in response to a question from NBC Sports Boston photographer Bill Messina. "I would usually stand over the cans. We put the trash cans out there as the O-line. They'd be running crossing routes. A lot of times when you do seven-on-seven passing plays, the advantage goes to the offense. Being a defensive coach, I was trying to make it as difficult as possible. 

"So Rob is running. He's running a crossing route behind me, and I knew he was. I took the garbage can, and I just slung it backwards, and it caught him right in between the legs. He goes down hard and he's laying on the ground and he's not getting up. This is Friday before a game. I'm like, 'This is it. I'm done. Gronk's not getting up. This is about it.' "

Turned out Gronkowski was OK. He was milking it.

"He's playing it off. He was fine," Patricia said, smiling. "But I was like, 'Get. Up. Right now. Before I get fired. Like, what are you doing?' Great guy."

Had you stopped by any number of the tables strewn about during the NFL's annual coaches breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore on Tuesday, odds were you might hear some sort of Gronkowski story, some anecdote about his playing days, some compliment from a former opponent who no longer has to worry about game-planning for arguably the greatest tight end the game has ever seen.

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"He was always a tough player to match up against," said Saints coach Sean Payton. "His physicality. We study all the New England tape so on a weekly basis we'll see what they do. I think the one thing watching him, you saw him do a lot of smart things on the field. There was a physicality to how he played, but there was also an intelligence to how he played."

Andy Reid was one of the last head coaches to have to worry about Gronkowski, who hit the reserve/retired list officially on Tuesday. In the AFC title game in Kansas City, Gronkowski was nearing the end of a season in which he was at times physically and mentally beaten. Still, he caught six passes for 79 yards -- including critical fourth-quarter and over-time third-down conversions -- to help the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl.

"I'm just glad he's working on his second career," Reid said. "In a good way. In a good way . . . A quarterback always needs his guy. That guy has been his guy for a long time. He's been consistent for him. When [Tom Brady] needs a go-to, he goes to him. [Julian] Edelman's also jumped into that role too. But [Gronkowski has] been his guy."

Brian Flores had the opportunity to coach against Gronkowski on a daily basis in Patriots practices over the years as safeties coach, then linebackers coach and defensive play-caller. According to Flores, that's where Gronkowski did some of his best work.

"All of my Gronk stories end in a spike," he said. "There's so many. He was just such a great practice player. I think that's the one things people don't -- there's no way to know about that. The way this guy blocked, that's kind of a lost art at the tight end position now. It's a testament to his size, his strength, his athletic ability, but just his toughness and his ability to want to go into the trenches and do those things . . . He did a great job in practice on a day-to-day basis."

Flores added: "Rob's a great friend, somebody I've been around for a long time. He's an incredible player, but he's a better person. I'm gonna miss watching him go out there and have fun and play the game with the joy and the love for the game that he did . . . I'm gonna miss competing against him because that was fun. We lost a lot of those, but it made our guys better. It made our team better. It made the defensive guys better. It made the overall team better with just his passion for the game. It's a sad day, honestly because he brings so much to the game of football. He played it the way it should be paid. I'm really proud of him. I love the guy and I wish him the best."

As tough as Gronkowski was to coach against, Flores, now the head coach in Miami, wouldn't take a victory lap over the fact that a division rival just lost one of its best players. 

"Whatever makes the game better, I'm for it," Flores said, "so I can't say that. I like to compete. The opportunity to compete against him, that would've been enjoyable for me as a competitor and somebody who has a love for the game. I wish him the best. He knows that. He knows I love him. He's a great competitor and I think he's one of the best to ever play."

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For Patricia, another defensive play-caller who faced the daily challenge of locking down a 6-foot-6 behemoth with arguably the best hands in the game, the challenge was memorable. But Gronkowski's personality was worthy of equal praise.

"Rob's an unbelievable guy," said Patricia. "His passion, his love for the game. A lot of times you'd look out there, and I would chuckle to myself because you're like, 'This kid is out there playing football like he's in his backyard.' [It's] like he's eight years old and his love of the game is still the same. He's got that wide-eyed look. Loves to compete. Loves to go at it and just try to get better. That's the one thing you just respect is his work ethic. As great a player as he was on Sunday, the things he'd do during the course of the week were even better. I think as a coach and a teammate you can really respect the way that he attacked the game."

And that fun-loving demeanor extended beyond the field. Patricia explained that Gronkowski often went out of his way to spend time with Patricia's young family.

"[He's] just a great person, a great guy," Patricia said. "We'd trick or treat at his house. All those things. Just really cool [qualities] that make a person special, that he had. Obviously wish him the best in his next career, whatever that may be. He'll be great. [I'm] probably a little bit excited that I don't have to see him on Sundays, but can't totally write that off either."

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Tony Romo offers insightful take on Bill Belichick's coaching genius

Tony Romo offers insightful take on Bill Belichick's coaching genius

As a longtime Dallas Cowboys quarterback-turned-lead analyst for CBS, Tony Romo has encountered plenty of knowledgable players and coaches.

But if you ask Romo, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is in a class of his own.

"From a football mind standpoint, I really don’t know that I have met anybody really that close," Romo said Wednesday in an interview with Dallas' 105.3 The Fan. "He’s rare."

So, what makes Belichick different? For one, the Patriots coach is always at least a step ahead ... in some cases a step ahead of being a step ahead.

"Everyone says he’s going to take away what you do best," Romo said. "They think he’s going to double-team the opponent's best player. I’m like, ‘No, you have to understand, he’s taking away the inside run, while he’s taking away the inside receivers -- Antonio Brown or someone.' 

"It’s like, they know he’s going to take away Antonio Brown, but he takes away multiple things and he does it differently the next time he plays you from different looks."

Most importantly, Belichick isn't afraid to experiment with new schemes and personnel packages, making it extremely difficult for teams to game-plan against New England.

"He genuinely is not scared to go outside the box," Romo said. "And I find in the NFL very few teams vary from what they do. So, what he does then is he drafts people that he believes can adapt from week-to-week."

In Romo's eyes, Belichick's masterpiece was Super Bowl LIII, where he and linebackers coach Brian Flores helped limit the explosive Los Angeles Rams to three points.

"(That was) one of the greatest defensive performances I have ever seen in football," Romo said.

This is all coming from a guy who played Belichick's Patriots just twice in his career (and lost both times), so the legendary coach clearly knows how to make a lasting impression.

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Tom Brady wields machete while riding horse to 'Old Town Road' song in new Twitter video

Tom Brady wields machete while riding horse to 'Old Town Road' song in new Twitter video

The Lil Nas X song "Old Town Road" is one of the biggest music hits of the year, and it made an appearance in Tom Brady's latest social media video.

The New England Patriots quarterback posted a video to Twitter (and his Instagram story) on Thursday of him riding a horse while the popular song plays in the background.

If you were wondering if the tool in Brady's right hand was a machete, you were right.

Brady is on vacation with his family enjoying some valuable personal time before Patriots training camp begins next week at Gillette Stadium. 

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The six-time Super Bowl champion will turn 42 on Aug. 3, but his passion for the game remains as strong as it's ever been.

UPDATE (1:45 p.m. ET): Is a Brady-themed "Old Town Road" remix in the cards??

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