'O,' yes!

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'O,' yes!

By Michael Felger

Whether it encouraged you or not, whether you were more frustrated or entertained, Thursday's 45-24 Thanksgiving Day victory in Detroit is just the way it's going to have to be for the Patriots.

Just about all the pressure is on Tom Brady and the offense. It's not fair, because it's the Patriots defense that deserves the scrutiny. It's that side of the ball that deserves to be criticized and held to the fire.

Unfortunately, I don't know if you can expect much more out of it than what we're currently getting, which is the occasional turnover and not much else. Make no mistake, we'll take those turnovers. They were the difference last week against Indianapolis and they were plays that really turned the tide Thursday in Detroit. Those takeaways are accutally signs of progress.

But let's face facts. The Patriots defense isn't very good right now. The Pats can't stop anybody. They can't get off the field on third down and they simply can't cover the middle. It doesn't matter if it's Peyton Manning or Shaun Hill, you can throw on the Patriots. And there are times you can run on them, too.

The Lions did both to the Pats on Thursday. They had their way with New England, just as the Colts did for long stretches last Sunday. Just as you should expect any halfway decent offense in any halfway decent conditions to do from this point forward.

That's why it's all on Brady. That's why it's all on Deion Branch and Wes Welker and the rookie tight ends. That's why it's all on BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and the offensive line.

It was the failure of those offensive players that nearly led to another devestating Colts comeback against the Pats last week.

And it was the success of those offensive players that delivered Thursday's wild victory.

It wasn't just about the numbers, although there were certainly some impressive ones. Brady had four touchdowns and a perfect quarterback rating (158.3). Branch and Welker each had a pair of touchdowns. Green-Ellis averaged nearly five yards a carry and also scored twice.

No, it wasn't just about those fantasy stats. It was about how the offense delivered situationally.

They got the ball on a late possession in the second quarter, trailing 14-3, and they scored a touchdown.

They got the ball early in the third quarter after Devin McCourty's first interception, trailing by seven, and they scored a touchdown.

They got the ball late in the third, again trailing by seven, and they scored a touchdown.

Then they scored touchdowns the last four times they got the ball (not including the kneeldown).

Forty-five points on the board. You kids on defense can check back in with us later.

Can the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl this way? I think the answer is obvious:

Sure. Why not? The Pats have now beaten Baltimore, San Diego on the road, Pittsburgh on the road and Indianapolis. Who in the AFC are they going to face tougher than those teams? Maybe the Jets are that squad. I guess we'll find out next Monday night.

The point is that this is a different era in the NFL. Defense no longer wins championships. You can get by with simply having an opportunisitic one, just like the one the Saints had last season. And just like the one the Pats believe they have right now.

But that formula only works if your offense closes games when it gets the chance. That didn't happen last week against Indianapolis, and the Pats were fortunate to win that one.

But it did Thursday in Detroit, and the Pats got what they deserved.

Read Felger's report card on Saturday. E-mail him here and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m, on 98.5 5 the Sports Hub.

When it comes to Gronkowski's restructured deal, 15 is the magic number

When it comes to Gronkowski's restructured deal, 15 is the magic number

Rob Gronkowski's contract looked like one of the NFL's best bargains not too long ago. Now, after agreeing to a contract restructure, he could be paid as the top tight end in the league if he stays healthy.

Granted, it's a gargantuan "if."

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Gronkowski's restructured deal will bump his salary for this upcoming season from $5.25 million to $10.75 million should he hit certain statistical thresholds or be named an All-Pro.

Per Schefter, Gronkowski earns $10.75 million if he plays 90 percent of the offensive snaps (which he's done once before in his career), or makes 80 catches (which he's done twice), or gains 1,200 yards receiving (once), or is named an All-Pro (three times). 

Those seem like lofty goals for the 28-year-old who's entering his eighth year as a pro. But history shows that if he stays on the field for a full season or thereabouts -- 15 games to be specific -- he'll get to where he wants to be. 

If you take out his rookie year, before he had established himself as a go-to option in the Patriots offense, Gronkowski has played in three seasons during which he's reached at least 15 games. In each of those three seasons, he's been named an All-Pro. In 2011, he hit all three statistical markers. In 2014, he hit one. In 2015, he hit none. 

The lesson? When Gronkowski stays relatively healthy throughout a given season, even if he doesn't reach the astronomical statistical heights he reached in his second year, there's a very good chance he's considered the best tight end in the NFL. 

And if that's the case again in 2017, he'll be paid like the best tight end in the NFL.

To hit the second tier of his restructured deal -- which would pay him $8.75 million, per Schefter -- Gronkowski needs to play 80 percent of the offensive snaps (which he's done twice), or make 70 catches (three times), or gain 1,000 receiving yards (three times), or catch 12 touchdowns (twice). 

To hit the third tier of his new deal and get $6.75 million, Gronkowski needs to play 70 percent of the snaps (which he's done four times), or make 60 catches (three times), or gain 800 receiving yards (three times), or score 10 touchdowns (five times). 

According to Spotrac, Jimmy Graham of the Seahawks is currently scheduled to be the tight end position's top earner next season at $10 million. Odds are that if Gronkowski avoids disaster and stays on the field, he'll eclipse that.

But the odds of him staying on the field are what they are: He's played in 15 games in four of seven pro seasons. 

The restructured deal seems to be the ultimate incentive for Gronkowski to get healthy and stay that way following last year's season-ending back surgery. If he can, the Patriots will reap the benefits of having the game's most dynamic offensive weapon on the field, and the player will be paid a far cry from what he was scheduled to make when the week began.

Report: Patriots, Gronkowski restructure contract for 2017 season

Report: Patriots, Gronkowski restructure contract for 2017 season

The Patriots and Rob Gronkowski have restructured the tight end’s contract for the coming season, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. 

The reworked deal can bump Gronkowski’s salary for the 2017 season from $5.25 million to $10.75 million, according to Schefter. 

Gronkowski was limited by injury to just eight games last season. He had 25 receptions for 540 yards and three touchdowns, all of which were career lows. 

The 28-year-old is entering his eighth NFL season since being selected by the Pats in the second round of the 2010 draft. He has played played in at least 15 regular-season games in four of his first seven season, though he’s twice played fewer than 10.