FOXBORO -- With 90 seconds remaining and the Patriots ahead by 28, New England's Brian Hoyer dropped back and lofted a pass down the left sideline to the player who is arguably the team's offensive MVP. Rob Gronkowski hauled in the 22-yard reception and crashed to the ground with Bills corner Drayton Florence on top of him and teammate Ryan Mallett over both of them, exulting. The reception propelled Gronk past New Orleans' Jimmy Graham to set the record for receiving yards by a tight end. The record, previously held by Kellen Winslow (1,290), was held for a spell on Sunday by Graham, who finished his game against the Panthers with 1,310. Gronkowski needed five yards to pass Graham before the final reception. Given the disdain Bill Belichick regularly shows for yard-based statistics and the stress he puts on team accomplishments over individual stats, the pursuit of the record was fair evidence that records do indeed matter. "That last play, I had Billy O'Brien, the Patriots offensive coordinator call that because I wasn't sure exactly where Gronkowski was and I thought that he deserved a chance to go up and try and make another play," said Belichick. "He's had a great year and he's worked hard, I thought he deserved that. He made a nice play."The season finale has featured personal accomplishment pursuits in the past. From Doug Flutie's drop kick to Vinny Testaverde's touchdown pass to the team last year making sure BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a chance to get to 1,000 yards, Belichick has done it. I don't think he'd do it when a game was on the line, nor do I think he'd make repeated attempts to chase a record. For instance, if Gronkowski hadn't caught that ball, I'm not sure Belichick would have run another play solely to gain the yards. But there are clearly exceptions to the Belichick rules of stats being meaningless.
BOSTON -- If you think John Farrell's decision to hit Jackie Bradley Jr. leadoff for one night is the reason Bradley's 29-game hit streak came to an end, I've got some swamp land you might be interested in buying.
Such silly talk first surfaced mid-afternoon when the lineup was announced. With Mookie Betts getting his first day off this season, somebody had to hit leadoff. Farrell went with the guy who was leading the league in hitting.
That sounds reasonable. But not to some, who cried that putting Bradley at the top was (take your pick) disrupting Bradley's routine, putting him in a place with which he wasn't familiar, or asking him to change his approach.
Of course, none of those made much sense.
First of all, Thursday night marked the sixth (SIXTH!) different spot that Bradley has hit during the hitting streak. He had hit second, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. So the notion that any change was disruptive was absurd.
As for the notion that Bradley would treat his at-bats differently because he was leading off? Also wrong. Bradley's major adjustment since spring training has been being aggressive early in the count. So, do you know how many pitches Bradley saw in four at-bats as the leadoff hitter? Eight.
Does that sound like someone who was being forced to be more patient for the night, or someone changing their approach by working the count more?
Finally, Bradley hit two balls on the screws -- one to the warning track in right, just in front of the bullpen in his first at-bat and another in front of the center field door, some 400 or so feet away, in his third.
Streaks come to an end, even when hitters belt the ball hard. Twice.
Mike Felger tells you why manager John Farrell is to blame for killing Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 29-game hitting streak.
Kevin Paul Dupont and Mike Felger discuss how taking the captaincy away from Joe Thornton has helped the San Jose Sharks.