Hernandez comes up big after fumble

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Hernandez comes up big after fumble

FOXBORO -- If the failure of Chad Ochocinco to become an important cog in New England's offense isn't as big a deal as you may have expected, it's because there's no lack of offensive weapons on the field when the Patriots have the ball.

One of those weapons is Aaron Hernandez.

The second-year tight end is coming into his own this season, even after suffering an MCL injury which put him out of action for two weeks.

To those paying attention in training camp, Hernandez' production should be no surprise. He was Brady's go-to guy, it seemed.

Through six weeks of the regular season, Brady doesn't have just one "go-to guy." He has multiple. But through six weeks, Hernandez has certainly been near the top of his list.

"Hes done a lot of good things," said Brady after Sunday's 20-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stdaium. "Hes really become a dependable player. He runs very good routes. Coach Bill Belichick always says, A receiver should get open, catch the ball and then do something with it after they catch it. And Aaron has really done all three of those things. Hes really made a big jump from his first year to his second year and thats why hes out there at the end of the game."

Against the Cowboys, Hernandez had a team-high and career-high eight receptions for 68 yards, which included the game-winning touchdown with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

It marked his second game back from that MCL injury, and as a result, his second-straight game wearing a knee-brace.

But even with the brace, Hernandez hasn't been a liability. He did, however, cough up a ball late in the third quarter of a 13-13 game against the Cowboys. It didn't result in any points for Dallas, but it was something the young tight end knew he had to put in the past quickly, considering his importance to the offense in a close game.

"Everyone's going to have drops, and you've just got to keep your head up," said Hernandez. "And I tried to keep my head up this week and make a play for Tom Brady.

"As a young player, you tend to think about it and be down about it," added Hernandez on his turnover. "But you have people like Tom and coaches that say, 'Forget about it, let's keep going.' And I just forgot about it, kept going, and Tom threw a great pass, and I just made a play for him."

That "great pass" capped a two-minute drill that led to a Patriots win, as Brady found Hernandez in the back-middle of the end zone for the touchdown.

"He was able to redeem himself today," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "Luckily, he got that chance. That opportunity doesnt always come again. Weve just got to do a better job of taking care of the ball, period. Two fumbles, two interceptions youre not going to win many games with four turnovers. We were fortunate today, but we wont last doing that."

If Hernandez can continue to be a dependable receiver, the sky's the limit. His tight-end size, combined with his wide-receiver speed makes him as dependable as they come in the NFL.

And in case you weren't counting, he's not the only tight end on the Patriots' offense that's dependable. Rob Gronkowski is also deserving of being called another one of New England's dangerous offensive weapons.

Gronkowski had 7 catches for 74 yards on Sunday. And he's just one of the reasons Hernandez is able to get open so often.

"We've just got a lot of good players out there," said Hernandez. "We've got Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Ocho, me, Gronkowski. So many weapons, and it's tough to cover all of us, especially when you've got a quarterback who's going to put it in the right spot.

"Gronkowski can do so many things, he makes it easy on me," added Hernandez. "We work off each other. He gives me energy. I give him energy. When they double him, I'm open, and when they double me, he's open. So it's just a great combination."

And both Brady and Hernandez are taking full advantage of it.

WR Brandon Marshall provides player's perspective to owners on Day 2 of meetings

WR Brandon Marshall provides player's perspective to owners on Day 2 of meetings

PHOENIX - When league owners, coaches and executives come together for the NFL's annual meetings, those meetings are often devoid of those who have the biggest say in making the product what it is. 

The guys who play.

Brandon Marshall, newly-acquired wide receiver of the Giants, had an opportunity to provide the meetings with a player's perspective on Monday morning. 

The focus, he told reporters after addressing owners, was to highlight the importance of continuing to foster stronger relationships between the league and its players. 

It seemed to go over well, judging by a tweet sent out from Niners owner Jed York. 

"I think it's important for us to continue to do things like we did last year giving the players more of a voice," Marshall said. "You saw the campaign during Week 13 last year, My Cause My Cleats. That was super successful. It gave the world and our fans and the NFL the opportunity to see that we are people,  we're not just gladiators. It humanized us. 

"It not only gave people outside of the game that opportunity to see who we really were but also people in the game like owners, executives and even players. . .We want to continue to do more of that. If we want our game to continue to be on this track that it's on, being super successful, as far as being a pillar in the community, then we need to make sure that our relationships between players and owners is healthy."

Day 2 of the owners meetings will be highlighted by a decision on the fate of the Raiders franchise. The team is expected to have enough support from owners around the league to uproot and head to Las Vegas. 

Around midday in Phoenix, Patriots owner Robert Kraft is expected to speak to reporters about league affairs as well as his team's offseason activity. 

Steelers GM on Hightower: 'It didn't work'

Steelers GM on Hightower: 'It didn't work'

Speaking to reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Arizona, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert touched briefly on the team’s unsuccessful attempt to lure Dont’a Hightower away from New England in free agency. 

Hightower returned to the Patriots this month on a four-year, $43.5 million deal with $19 million guaranteed. He was also courted by the Jets and Steelers, among others, with his offer from the Jets reported to be the biggest before they reportedly pulled it due to physical concerns. 

The Steelers also reportedly offered more money than the Patriots, with Jason La Canfora reporting that Pittsburgh offered more than $9 million annually. Hightower’s deal with the Pats pays him $8.7 million per year. 

“We made an attempt [with Hightower], it didn’t work,” Colbert told reporters. “We’re fine. We move on. Vince Williams, we were very confident in Vince. That’s why we signed him to the extension last year. So that if we got to this point and Lawrence had left us, and we didn’t sign anybody from the outside, Vince was certainly capable of stepping up and being the next guy.”

Hightower is entering his sixth season with the Patriots, who selected him with the 25th overall pick in the 2012 draft.