Patriots

Tom Brady has high expectations for tight ends in Rob Gronkowski's absence

Tom Brady has high expectations for tight ends in Rob Gronkowski's absence

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady knows things are going to be different. Yet at the same time, he's been through this before. 

Playing without Rob Gronkowski occasionally was part of life for the Patriots over the course of the last decade. But this year, now that Gronkowski has declared himself retired, they go into the season without the prospect of having the all-world tight end for at least some percentage of the year. That hasn't been the case since before Gronkowski was drafted in 2010. 

"It's the first time in a long time," Brady said of preparing for a season without Gronkowski. "He was such a great player for our team. I think like any season, things are different, and we're gonna have to adjust differently."

The question is, how will Brady and Josh McDaniels adjust without a player who -- even when he was banged up, as he was for much of last season's championship run -- remained the team's go-to option in the passing game and one of its most dominant run-blockers until he called it quits.

The 2019 Patriots appear to be a group that will once again lean on its running game, with five backs looking like locks for the roster, a fullback, and a mostly-veteran offensive line that has proven it can clear space in critical situations. They also look like a team that has some promising players in the passing game with first-round pick N'Keal Harry and intriguing free-agent pickup Maurice Harris joining the likes of Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett. 

But at tight end there is no one who looks like he will even sniff replacing the threats that Gronkowski provided on a snap-to-snap basis. Matt LaCosse looks like a good bet to be the team's primary receiving tight end early in the season with Ben Watson suspended. Rookie Ryan Izzo had a quiet week of minicamp but may be able to turn a few more heads when the pads come on for training camp as blocking is his specialty. 

Is there a true dual threat, though, who can make the Patriots an unpredictable attack every time they get to the line of scrimmage? That remains to be seen.

"Teams are gonna play us differently without him," Brady said. "We've seen it when he's been on the team so the other guys are getting up to speed. Matt's done a good job. Ben's done a good job. Stephen Anderson has done a good job. 

"That's gotta be a position of strength, even if it's not one player but multiple players doing different roles. There was times in my career before that where we've had similar approaches." 

The Patriots have typically had more invested at the position during Brady's career. He's right in that, when injuries struck, the offense had to piece together the tight end spot at times. But during Brady's career he's worked extensively with first-round pick Daniel Graham, first-round pick Benjamin Watson, second-round pick Rob Gronkowski, fourth-round pick Aaron Hernandez and second-round pick Martellus Bennett. 

LaCosse was undrafted in 2015 and had his best season (24 catches) last year. Izzo was a seventh-rounder in 2018. Anderson began his Patriots tenure last year on their practice squad. Watson, who could end up being the No. 1 option following his suspension, is going to be 39 years old in December. 

"He's got one [child] older than me," Brady said of Watson. "He's got 14 years of marriage on me, too. He's a great guy, he's been a great player in this league. You watch him play out here still and he's just got great ability. He's had great years recently, and that's what everyone expects. He's excited to be here and I've always loved being his teammate. It's going to be a good year for him."

This is as talent-strapped as the Patriots have been going into a season at the tight end position in some time, but Brady didn't sound like a guy willing to lower the bar for that group as they broke minicamp on Thursday.

"No one's gonna make any excuses for our offense," he said. "We're gonna do everything we can to be the best we can be, score every time we touch the ball. The tight end position is a big part of our offense and those guys are going to have to do a great job for us."

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Patriots downgrade S Patrick Chung, RB Damien Harris to out for Eagles game

Patriots downgrade S Patrick Chung, RB Damien Harris to out for Eagles game

The Patriots have downgraded safety Patrick Chung and running back Damien Harris from questionable to out for the game Sunday against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Chung has had heel and chest injuries but did play in the Pats' last game before their bye week, the Nov. 3 loss to the Ravens. Harris appeared on the injury report for the first time on Friday with a hamstring issue. The rookie third-round pick from Alabama has only been active for two games this season.

The loss of Chung could impact the Patriots most in their coverage of Eagles tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Taking on tight ends is something Chung has excelled at. 

ESPN Mike Reiss reports that Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse, out with a knee injury since Oct. 10, did travel with the team to Philly so he will likely be active for the game.

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Ten years ago today, on fourth-and-2, Bill Belichick made one of his most controversial decisions

Ten years ago today, on fourth-and-2, Bill Belichick made one of his most controversial decisions

It was one of the most controversial calls in Patriots history...and it didn't come from an official.

It was Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 in the final minutes against the Indianapolis Colts. And it was 10 years ago today.

THE DECISION

It remains Belichick's most talked-about moves this side of Malcolm Butler. In a Week 10 matchup in Indianapolis, the 8-0 Colts faced the 6-2 Patriots in a high-scoring affair. Leading 34-28 but backed up at their own 28-yard-line and needing two yards for a first down, Belichick chose to go for it on fourth down and try and keep the ball out of quarterback Peyton Manning's hands.

THE PLAY

Tom Brady completed a pass to running back Kevin Faulk, who was driven backward by the Colts' Melvin Bullitt. After a measurement, Faulk was ruled short of the first down. Three Colts plays later, a Manning-to-Reggie Wayne TD pass and extra point with 13 seconds left a 35-34 victory.

THE AFTERMATH

There was plenty of second-guessing of Belichick's move. Had he outsmarted himself? Why didn't he punt and show more faith in his defense? 

“We thought we could win the game with that play,” he explained at the time. “That was a yard I was confident we could get.” Belichick had maintained it was more like fourth-and-long-1, rather than 2. Where the ball was spotted after the Faulk play is still the subject of debate.

Those Pats would go on to lose two of their next three, finish 10-6, still win the AFC East but get smoked by the Baltimore Ravens 33-14 in Foxboro in a wild-card playoff game. Manning's team won its first 14 games, then rested its regulars and lost twice before reaching its first Super Bowl as the Indy Colts and losing to the New Orleans Saints. 

TODAY

When Indianapolis reporter Kevin Bowen tweeted about the play's 10th anniversary on Saturday, it stirred up memories for former Colts linebacker Gary Brackens, who recalled the disrespect he felt from Belichick's decision to test the Indy defense. 

To this day, "Fourth-and-2" means only one thing to most NFL fans.

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