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In the regular season opener, Gronkowski had five receptions for 98 yards and tied a career-high with three touchdowns. Gronkowski is back and healthy and will look to return to the dominant form that has made him one of the most dangerous weapons in the game. As long as he’s able to stay on the field, defense still have no answer for his size and skill set.
Gronkowski allowed his frustrations to get the best of him and, in the process, broke one of the first rules Belichick stresses to all Patriots players: Don’t put individual agendas ahead of the team.
Asked if he is concerned about potential additional discipline for Gronkowski, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, “I didn’t really see what happened on the whole play. There was quite a bit of stuff going on on that play. It’s something the officials handled today. It’s not something we have any control over.”
White intercepted Brady on a deep pass down the right sideline with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, lying face-down on the ground to secure the ball. Gronkowski then ran toward White and dove into him, driving his arm into the back of White’s helmet. Trainers assisted White to the sideline and, later, to the locker room.
It is an indefensible play on a back-shoulder throw, an example of what coach Bill Belichick said last week when he referred to the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski being open even when he’s covered. Gronkowski was penalized for unnecessary roughness and suspended one game after he dove into White after the rookie cornerback made an interception in the fourth quarter of the teams’ last meeting. The Patriots tight end drove his arm into the anthentic Patriots jerseys back of the helmet of White, who was lying face down on the field.
Even with a healthy Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski looking like they were in midseason form last weekend, the Patriots face a stiff test against the league’s No. 1-ranked pass defense. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris are among the best cornerbacks in the league, and there’s also the threat of Denver’s pass rush, which led the league in sacks.
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There isn’t much more Gronkowski can accomplish in terms of personal stats. In terms of numbers he’s already the best tight end in the game and if he remains healthy he’ll no doubt add another 1,000-yard, double-digit touchdown season to his resume in 2016.
It goes without saying that the Patriots are always better with Gronkowski on the field, but they’ve shown a knack for being resourceful without him. Usually it’s because of injury, but in this case, it’s a rare situation that resulted from Gronkowski’s loss of composure.
Patriots players didn’t respond directly Thursday to White’s remarks, but did touch on how they view Gronkowski as a teammate from their experience with him. When it was mentioned to Harmon that it seemed to be out of character for Gronkowski to respond that way, he said, “Exactly; something that he doesn’t do at all except that time. But all you can do is learn from it and move on from it. Standing in the past and just trying to go back and forth, that’s not going to do anything. Learn from it, move forward and when he gets his opportunity to play again, play well.”
When Gronkowski gets to that place, quarterback Tom Brady often feeds him regardless of the defensive coverage, explaining after the game that a 50-50 ball to Gronkowski might be more like a 95-5 ball in his favor. Coach Bill Belichick added that when Gronkowski is covered, he’s still open. And running back Dion Lewis turned to humor when he said he knew Gronkowski would have a big day because after a week off, “he had to eat.”
It took a wild finish to seal the win, with the defense somehow holding on, but if not for Gronkowski where would the Patriots be? One of his receptions on the final drive came as he plucked the ball right right off his shoe tops before it hit the ground, which had teammates in awe.