NASHVILLE - Tidbits, observations, bold statements and words spoken from the Patriots 34-13 win over the Titans. It's fun to try and find the junctures of the game where momentum hangs in the balance. The plays that can either put air into sails or take it right out. Sometimes they're obvious. Sometimes you need to dig a little. There were two plays in the third quarter of this 34-13 Patriots win that fit the "dig a little" definition. First, setting the scene. After a Patriots drive stalled to start the second half, the Titans needed just four plays to steam downfield and make the score 21-10 on a Jake Locker to Nate Washington touchdown pass. The LP Field crowd found its voice and, when the Patriots were stuck in a third-and-6 at their own 24. Go three-and-out and now you've got a young team with some momentum coming back at you. And Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski out on the left for a gain of 7, with Gronkowski making a near-impossible catch, plucking a bullet off the grass with his fingertips. Three plays later, on third-and-9, Brady again drilled it into Gronkowski in a crowd and he cradled the ball and got a favorable spot for another first down. The drive didn't result in points but it consumed time (4:30) and field position (70 yards when the Titans took over at their 10). The Titans wound up punting from their 2, the Patriots took over at the Tennessee 48 and when Stevan Ridley scored on a 1-yard run with 1:08 left in the quarter, it was 28-10 and drama had been removed. Everything is tied together in a football game. One circumstance leads to the next. But there are plays when crescendoes are either reached or avoided and those two Gronk catches qualify. The availability of right guard Dan Connolly is going to be a situation to watch. He left in the second half with a head injury and didn't return which leads to the concern it may be a concussion. Connolly's dealt with them in the past and the worry has to be (after concern for his brain), how the Patriots succession plan works (it was Donald Thomas on Sunday) and whether Brian Waters just got leverage or if that ship has sailed. On the messy, manic play where Jake Locker injured his left shoulder, there will be blame laid at the feet of the replacement officials. There shouldn't be. The bang-bang nature of the play on which Nate Washington was sandwiched by Tavon Wilson and Jerod Mayo made it impossible to tell if it was a fumble or an incompletion. Whether the refs were real or fake, that play went down as it needed to. Assume the fumble and play it out. For those of you who go to the stadiums for the NFL football games as opposed to the comfort of your couch, you'll like the fact the replay reviewsthe officials see are on the JumboTron as well simultaneously. FIRST HALF NOTES Tough start for Ras-I Dowling at corner on the first drive, coming in for the nickel alignment in place of Hightower and bouncing Kyle Arrington to the slot. He allowed a 17-yard completion to Kendall Wright on third-and-7 and had a PI as well. Marquice Cole - who had a very good preseason - later took over the slot position in nickel and Arrington stayed outside. The Titans picked up a first down on fourth-and-inches throwing over the top of Arrington who had 1-on-1 coverage. They got 17 yards to Damian Williams on a nice throw by Jake Locker. That first drive ended well for the Patriots when a fairly blatant PI on Devin McCourty went uncalled in the end zone and Tennessee settled for a field goal. McCourty was in as the kick returner for the lone Titans kickoff. Brandon Lloyd's first Patriots touchdown shoulda happened but, on that fake reverse bomb the Patriots love to run, Lloyd slowed down and saw a wobbly pass from Brady float over his head. Brady also had a pass glance off of the face of Wes Welker. Those two dropsmisplays were 66 percent of his incompletions. He finished 10 for 13 for 123 and two touchdown passes. The Patriots defense held Chris Johnson to 9 yards on 9 carries in the first half. Outstanding tackling all half. The offensive line held up 90 percent of the half. The downside? A sack by Kamerion Wimbley yielded by Nate Solder. That resulted in a cut to Brady's nose. Stevan Ridley had a big first half with 58 yards on nine carries. SebastianVollmer and Marcus Cannon split time on the right tackle edge. Welker (1 catch, 5 yards) sat for the second series. Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner - a Patriots pair of rookie safeties - showed up with a pick and a nice special teams tackle. Aaron Hernandez' versatility remains remarkable. He's had a direct snap carry for 5, a screen reception, and a 23-yard touchdown. Julian Edelman has had a bigger role in the regular offense in terms of snaps. He's still making shaky decisions on special teams, though, fielding a punt he should have fair caught. He got banged on the play and fumbled but the Titans were flagged for interfering with the catch. Jermaine Cunningham had a sack from the defensive tackle spot.
The Patriots received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 from the Browns in return for Jamie Collins. That's how the trade was described on the league's transaction wire.
The "condition" of that fourth-rounder? Well, if the Browns received a third-round compensatory pick in 2017, the Patriots would nab that pick instead.
On Friday, the NFL announced that the Browns had in fact been awarded a third-round compensatory pick, which meant that almost three full weeks after Super Bowl LI, everything was still coming up Patriots.
Cleveland lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack in free agency last offseason when he opted to sign with the Falcons. Because compensatory picks are based on free agents lost and free agents acquired, and because the Browns did not sign any similarly-impactful free agents, there was a good chance Mack's departure would render a third-round comp pick that would be shipped to New England.
Had Mack suffered a significant injury that forced his play to drop off or limited his time on the field, a third-rounder may have been out of the question, but he played well (named a Pro Bowler and a Second Team All-Pro) and stayed healthy -- lucky for the Patriots -- missing just 17 total snaps in the regular season.
The Browns comp pick that will be sent to New England is No. 103 overall. The Patriots were also awarded a fifth-round comp pick, No. 185 overall. That was a result of the league weighing the departures of Akiem Hicks and Tavon Wilson against the arrival of Shea McClellin.
The Patriots now have nine selections in this year's draft: One first-rounder; one second-rounder; two third-rounders; one fourth-rounder*; two fifth-rounders; two seventh-rounders.
The third-round compensatory pick acquired by the Patriots carries additional value this year in that it is the first year in which compensatory picks can be traded. A near top-100 overall selection may allow the Patriots to move up the draft board or build assets in the middle rounds should they be inclined to deal. And we know they oftentimes are.
* The Patriots forfeited their highest fourth-round selection in this year's draft as part of their Deflategate punishment. They acquired a fourth-round pick from the Seahawks last year. Because that would have been the higher of their two selections, that's the one they'll lose. They will make their own fourth-round pick at No. 137 overall.
When it comes to projecting Rob Gronkowski's health, it's been best to steer clear of absolutes. There have been too many injuries, too many surgeries, to predict exactly how he'll feel months in advance.
Still, in speaking with ESPN's Cari Champion recently, he said he had "no doubt" he'll be ready for Week 1 of the 2017 regular season.
"Yes, for sure," he replied when asked if he expected to be good to go.
Gronkowski also fielded a question about his long-term future in the sit-down. Lately it's been his coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback Tom Brady who receiver all the life-after-football queries, but Gronkowski, 27, was asked how much longer he'd like to play.
"I’m not really sure," he said. "I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play. My mindset is to keep on going."
Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve in December after undergoing a procedure on his back -- his third back surgery since 2009. He's had nine reported surgeries -- including procedures on his knee, forearm and ankle -- since his final year at the University of Arizona.