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Improved tight ends make Patriots offense more dangerous

Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez

New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski (87) congratulates Aaron Hernandez after Hernandez, center, scored a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in Miami. The Patriots defeated the Dolphins 38-24. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)


The 2011 Patriots offense might just be more dynamic than last year’s brutally efficient crew. Tom Brady threw for 517 yards (fifth-most all time) against a top-flight defense Monday night, leading New England to a 38-24 win over Miami.

There are quite a few reasons why this group could be more dangerous. Wes Welker is quicker a year further removed from ACL surgery. The running back position is deeper. First round tackle Nate Solder could be a difference maker and Brady seems to enjoy playing at a faster tempo.

The biggest reason for optimism: Tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are a year older.

Tight ends traditionally don’t produce as rookies, but these two combined for 1,110 yards and 16 touchdown last year. They looked even more explosive Monday night.

Hernandez caught seven passes for 103 yards and a score. He runs routes and makes plays after the catch like a wideout. He’s the most athletic player on the Patriots offense.

Gronkowski caught six passes for 86 yards and a score against Miami. He can block well and has emerged as one of the best red zone threats in the league.

Put these two together, and you have a matchup nightmare. We tried to think of other great tight end combinations, and it’s hard to come up with a similar duo.

Mark Chmura and Keith Jackson were tough to stop on the ’96 Packers, but this is a different era. Hernandez and Gronkowski are essentially the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers for New England behind Welker. Deion Branch would be No. 4, with Chad Ochocinco battling Matt Slater for No. 5 honors. (Sorry Ocho.)

The Patriots have a truly unique offense that can transform based on the matchup, but it’s really the two second-year tight ends that make it go.

Well, that guy with the Uggs commercial helps too.