There's not a lot Gronkowski can't do

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There's not a lot Gronkowski can't do

FOXBORO - As good a receiver as Rob Gronkowski has become - and the fact that he will inevitably set the single-season record for touchdowns by a tight end is evidence of that - he's also a devastating blocker.

It's not a lost art for the position by any means. But when you have one who can not only get open, catch and run but be a competent blocker, you have a complete player.

And Gronk, as Bill Belichick said, is more than competent as a blocker.

"Rob is long, can handle the length of outside linebackers and defensive ends, 64, 65 guys," Belichick said Monday in the wake of New England's 31-24 win over the Colts. "Hes got that kind of reach and hes a strong guy. He takes a lot of pride in his blocking. He likes to block and takes pride in having a good block. He gets excited about that. I think he enjoys that part of the game. He does a pretty good job."

Watch Gronkowski closely on running plays and you'll see what Belichick means. He stalks his assignment and finishes as well as any player on the outside. Whether it's a defensive end or outside linebacker, he can match up, as Belichick said. And his athleticism makes him able to not be out-quicked by defensive backs when they become his responsibility.

As much as anything, though, blocking duty is about willingness to sacrifice. And Gronkowski has that.

Belichick is liberal with his praise of Gronkowski - with 23 touchdowns in 23 NFL starts and 65 receptions and 13 touchdowns this year, he ought to be. But Belichick is also high on the improvement Gronkowski's made.

"There are a lot of things that hes doing better now than he did four weeks ago or back in September because he works at them, he takes coaching and does work hard on the practice field," Belichick pointed out. "He really tries to improve and do what you ask him to do. You see that on a weekly basis. He usually has a couple of plays every week that, if you reflect back to a different point in time last week or last month or whatever, you can see improvement in the way hes trying to do it.

"Hes conscientious and Brian Ferentz, the tight end coach, does a good job of staying on those guys and keeping on their technique and their assignments and everything. If the player works hard, then he should improve and I think Rob has done that."

Ferentz has an interesting job. Not only is he charged with developing Gronkowski, butalso with developing pseudo-wideout Aaron Hernandez.

With those two as the main tight ends on the roster,Ferentz is able to concentrate on developing their skills. Andhe's clearly earning his pay.

"Fundamentally, some things are the same but assignment-wise, sure some things are different," Belichick said when asked how varied the teaching is between Hernandez and Gronkowski. "Actually, those guys are interchangeable in different formations and so forth. When you only have two of them, in a way they have to back each other up in certain ways. Theres a lot of carryover. They have different skill sets, but theyre both very talented players. But certainly a large part of it is fundamentally the same."

Earlier this season, when Hernandez went down with an MCL sprain, Gronkowski moved into Hernandez' role as a virtual extra wideout. That both players can do the other guy's job AND be effective in his shows what's been accomplished since they got here.

"There are things Aaron does more of or does more than Rob and vice versa, so thats pretty common," Belichick pointed out. "Therere certain game plan things and certain skill things that one guy does that the other one sort of specializes in or vice versa that differentiates the coaching a little bit too, for what theyre being asked to do."

With119 throws being completed to the two of them this season, tight end has arguably become the strongest position onoffense aside from quarterback. That Gronkowski in particular is so valuable when the ball isn't coming to him is proof of just how valuable he's become.

Belichick: Brady-less Patriots ‘just really focused on Buffalo’

Belichick: Brady-less Patriots ‘just really focused on Buffalo’

FOXBORO -  A verrrrrryyyy long time ago, the Patriots targeted September. There were t-shirts and everything printed back in 2002 as the Patriots came off of their first Super Bowl title.

The names of that season’s first four opponents – Steelers, Jets, Chiefs and Chargers – were all listed on a bullseye.

How’d that work out? Well, they hit the bullseye for most of September, winning the first three. Then they lost four in a row and the notion of “targeting” a segment of the schedule around these parts went the way of the Dodo bird.

Which may be why, as truly remarkable as this September’s been, Bill Belichick isn’t taking any bows after three damn wins.

“We’re just really focused on Buffalo,” Belichick told me Friday morning when I asked about whether winning the first three in the face of some adversity was a point of pride. “I don’t really care about last week. I don’t really care about two weeks ago. I don’t really care about last year. I don’t really care about four years ago. I don’t really care. I think we’re just trying to get ready and compete against Buffalo. That’s our challenge this week.

“The rest of it – it’s in the books. It is what it is,” he said. “So write whatever you want to write about it. It’s good, it’s bad, I mean I don’t really care. It’s done. We’ve got to do a good job of what we have here with Buffalo. We can’t live in the past. And I respect where you’re coming from, I really do. It’s not like I’m trying to be dismissive of it, but I really don’t care. It doesn’t really matter. Nothing that happened last year, last week, last month really has anything to do with this week.”

Things change after Sunday. The best player the franchise has ever had rejoins a team that – in spite of the adversity – flourished without him. Even though the competition wasn’t what one would call “stiff” compared to challenges Brady faced as recently as last January, it’s still remarkable.

Asked about Brady’s looming return, wide receiver Julian Edelman also redirected.

“We got a game before that,” he pointed out. “When he comes back we'll obviously be happy but we got a job ahead of us with the Buffalo Bills.” 

Asked if there’s some pride taken in the beginning, Edelman replied, “It’s just having pride in your job in general. Really just focusing every week and trying to improve. I say it every week on these cameras, if you try to get better and you get better every week, you're gonna do these things. 

“It tells you that you have a mentally tough team that goes out there and works hard and prepares hard and does the extra things,” Edelman added. “I've been around here a little while and that's just the mentality we've always had and continue to have. We have a tough one against the Bills and we'll see how it tests out against these guys.”

 

 

Patriots-Bills injury report: Garoppolo, Brissett listed as questionable

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Patriots-Bills injury report: Garoppolo, Brissett listed as questionable

The inury report for Sunday's Patriots-Bills game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
QB Jacoby Brissett (right thumb)
OT Marcus Cannon (calf)
G Jonathan Cooper (foot)
LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
CB Eric Rowe (ankle)

BUFFALO BILLS

OUT
OL Cyrus Kouandjio (ankle)
OL Patrick Lewis (knee)
WR Greg Salas (groin)
WR Sammy Watkins (foot)

QUESTIONABLE
DB Colt Anderson (foot)
TE Charles Clay (knee)
DB Ronald Darby (hamstring)
OL Cordy Glenn (ankle)
QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder)
DB Jonathan Meeks (foot)
DB Aaron Williams (ankle)