FOXBORO - Think of all the great tight end tandems in NFL history.There's . . . well . . . ummm. Actually, prolific tight end tandems are rare. Teams have sometimes had more than one talented tight end, but the roles those players filled were somewhat exclusive. There was a blocker and there was a pass-catcher. Marv Fleming and Ron Kramer on the old Packers. Todd Christensen and Don Hasselbeck on the early '80s Raiders. Kellen Winslow and Eric Seivers on the '80s Chargers. Shannon Sharpe and Byron Chamberlain on the '90s Broncos. The model has changed in the past few seasons. The proliferation of athletic big men who can exploit linebackers in the speed game and safeties or corners in the size matchup has led to a run on tight ends. The Patriots are at the vanguard of this. An offense that screamed for a tight-end complement throughout the team's decade of excellence hit the mother lode in 2010 when it picked up Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. This week, the two players will combine to go over 2,000 combined receiving yards (they have 1,991 between them) and enter the season finale with 154 catches and 21 touchdowns (22 if you throw in Gronk's intended TD reception that got switched to a run because it was a lateral). Statistically,a tight-end combination has never done anything remotely close to what Gronkowski and Hernandez have in 2011. And schematically, the same is true. It's unprecedented. Chan Gailey's been around the NFL since 1985. Ever seen anything like this tight end pairing?"I don't think I have," said Gailey, whose Bills play the Patriots Sunday. "I don't think I've seen two guys that can go make plays the way they go make plays and all the different ways that they can do it. Split out. From the backfield. They can do it from tight. They make plays and they block well enough to have a good running game as well. The combination of them and how they use them is very unique and that's one of the reasons they give teams problems. The matchups are very difficult."Of Tom Brady's 576 attempts this season, 216 have gone to Gronknandez (37 percent). Withanother 162 balls directed at Wes Welker, 378 of the 576 have gone to players who are ostensibly "underneath" receivers. That's 65 percent of all throws. In 2009, 60 of Brady's 565 attempts went to tight ends Ben Watson and Chris Baker. That's 11 percent. And they combined for 43 catches and 546 yards. The incarnation of the Patriots' offense that went 16-0 in the 2007 regular season and had Brady setting the NFL record for touchdown passes and Randy Moss setting the record for receiving touchdowns is a relic. In four seasons, a new offense has been created around Brady and - while the 2007 one was arguably the most evolved and prolific of all time - the new one is nearly as prolific and productive thanks to Welker and the tight ends. When the Patriots offense is stopped, Gailey points out, it stops itself. "First of all, you have to hope that they mess it up a little bit because I'm not sure that we can go out there and say, 'OK, if we go out there and figure out what they're doing we can stop it,' " Gailey acknowledged."They do so many different things that if you stop one thing they'll go to something else. That's exactly what they've shown in weeks prior to this. They've gotten stymied a little bit in the first quarter and then they figure it out and they come out gangbusters. You have to really work hard for 60 minutes to have a chance to control their offense."And even then it's only a chance. The league will evolve and answers or countermoves to the tight ends will emerge. But for now, there are no answers for Gronknandez.
FOXBORO -- The Patriots have re-signed defensive tackle Anthony Johnson to their practice squad, the team announced.
Johnson, 23, made the Patriots out of training camp after putting together an impressive preseason in which he recorded five quarterback pressures and was in on two sacks. In two regular-season games, he played 43 snaps as an interior pass-rusher, registering one quarterback hit and one hurry. He was inactive for New England's Week 2 game against the Dolphins.
The 6-foot-2, 295-pounder was released earlier this week in order to clear room for free-agent defensive lineman John Hughes to be added to the roster. Hughes checks in at 6-2, 320 pounds and would serve more as a space-eating defensive tackle than Johnson, who was used as more of a penetrating pass-rusher.
In order to make room for Johnson on the practice squad, the Patriots released offensive lineman Ian Silberman.
FOXBORO -- Bob McNair seems like a nice man.
But the 27-0 prime-time embarrassment his team was handed Thursday was particularly tasty given the moronic observations McNair offered last summer regarding Deflategate.
Showing the inch-deep knowledge of the case that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s operations people courted with their slanted or flat-out incorrect information leaks, McNair said in September of 2015: "What escalated the whole thing is that [Tom] Brady and the Patriots were going to cooperate fully, and then when it came down to it, they didn't. If it was J.J. Watt, I think he would have been cooperative, and it wouldn't be a question . . . I don't think J.J. would destroy his cellphone.
"I support Roger," McNair added. "I think he’s done a good job. He’s got the toughest job. Imagine the amount of stress he’s placed under, the people pulling from different directions. He’s got 32 bosses. I’m sure there are a few who aren’t happy with some of his decisions. He’s got to do, in his opinion, what’s in the best interests of the league."
This wasn’t a case of McNair just politely offering an opinion and moving on. He went on for a good long while.
"Is there anything conclusive there? No, you don't have any conclusive evidence," McNair said. "But the whole idea is we want to make sure we have a competitive playing field that's level for everybody ... don't want people breaking the rules. In the minds of somebody in that organization, they thought it was important. They thought it would give them a competitive advantage, and that's why they did it . . . You just want to eliminate that kind of situation if you can.
"You know, when you look back on it, if Brady had just said, 'Look, my guys know I like a softer ball, and that's what I like, and so they do it. But I don't go out and check the pressure of the balls.' . . . I don't think there would have been an issue," McNair continued. "It would have been a problem with the guys on the training staff who deflated the balls, and the Patriots would have got some kind of minor penalty; it wouldn't have been a big deal."
The Patriots smashed Houston in Texas during the 2015 season with Brady at the helm. But there’s irony in Thursday’s 27-0 shutout while the Patriots were in the midst of a penalty McNair obviously was approved of. And the irony is magnified with the news the Texans lost J.J. Watt in the process.
The first three Brady-less games proved to be revelatory as well.
Sunday, two weeks after his Cardinals lost to the Patriots at home on a yanked field goal in the closing seconds, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians chose to mock and belittle his long-snapper, Kameron Canady.
Arians is a pet of the national media because of his glibness and accessibility. But there was no chastising to be found after he said Canady needed to “grow the hell up” and that Canady’s problems had “nothing to do with anything but what’s between his ears.”
Not a peep about Carson Palmer throwing picks on every single one of the Cardinals final four drives -- the second time in four games dating back to last year’s playoffs that Palmer ran Arizona into the ground with picks. No singling out All-Pro Patrick Peterson, who got walked through by LeGarrette Blount on the Patriots' game-winning field goal drive and failed to scoop up a turnover against the Bills. No, Arians went hard after the long-snapper. And then cut his ass. Not that Canady didn’t deserve the release and maybe the tongue-lashing as well. But it’s revealing that Arians skates while there would the national media would have been seeking safe spaces if Bill Belichick suggested a player was a little mentally fragile.
It was amusing last year to watch three franchises that were at the forefront of the torchlit stampede against the Patriots -- Indianapolis, Baltimore and the Giants -- faceplant to varying degrees.
But no one could have expected the schadenfreude to continue even with Brady down. We’ve pointed this out before, but it’s worth circling back to now: If the Patriots deal Jimmy Garoppolo, the team will have recouped the first-round pick the Patriots the league confiscated and they’ll be able to do so because of the showcase that came as a result of Brady’s suspension. Meanwhile, Jacoby Brissett has given feedback that he’s very much on the right track and Brady’s avoided a month of wear-and-tear on a 39-year-old body.
The league’s last desperate hope for seeing the Patriots lose at least one damn game during this suspension is . . . Rex Ryan. And Rex has to get it done at Gillette in the third of three straight home games for the Patriots.
It’s like the league ordered their whole damn Deflategate plan from ACME.