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Sunday 7: Why you should feel good about Rob Gronkowski for rest of season

Ryan Hannable
November 25, 2018 - 7:03 am
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1. As Mike Lombardi said Friday on Ordway, Merloni & Fauria with Andy Hart and Steve Buckley filling in, it’s easy to write off Rob Gronkowski based on the first 10 games of the season, but it’s jumping to conclusions to say this is his final year with the Patriots. The last six games plus the postseason could go a long way in changing the narrative with him and he has some things working in his favor. First off, he hasn’t played in almost a month, so his body is as rested as it possibly can be. This should mean his nagging back and ankle injuries should be feeling a lot better. This seemed to be the plan all along, get as much rest as possible so he can be as strong as possible for the stretch run. Also, look at who the Patriots play in the final six games. While he doesn’t dominate the Jets and Dolphins (eight touchdowns against each of them respectively), he does dominate the Steelers and Bills. In six regular-season games against Pittsburgh, the All-Pro tight end has eight touchdowns and has averaged 110.6 yards receiving in those games. Then in 14 games against Buffalo, he has 12 touchdowns and is averaging 76 yards receiving. Those are exactly the teams Gronkowski wants to see on the Patriots schedule. “I mean, I feel good. I’m ready to play. That’s all,” he said Friday. “I’m excited to be back out there come Sunday and just been working hard to get back out there and ready to roll.” While there’s no guarantee Gronkowski comes back looking like his old self, a long break to get rested combined with the upcoming opponents is plenty of reason to feel good. And a strong rest of the season could change the whole narrative when it comes to 2019.

2. While Josh Gordon has been solid through his first seven games as a Patriot, he said Friday he can reach another level. "Yeah, I think there's a lot more room to expand upon and potential to be reached," he said. "It just goes to how much room I put in. Let it manifest itself on the field. The most I can do is just stay consistent in my work ethic, and the rest will just work itself out eventually." The wide receiver is a freak athletically, who can catch almost anything thrown his way and has some of the best hands in the league, but it does seem he’s leveled off when it comes to his knowledge of the offense. He’s ran the same few routes and they lack timing, or options. This is something to watch moving forward as if he can add more routes to his game, he could be an even more dangerous piece to the offense.

3. Bill Belichick doesn’t throw around compliments a lot, so it was telling this week when he called offensive lineman Joe Thuney one of the Patriots’ best players. “Joe’s done a great job for us. He’s one of our best players, one of our most consistent players,” he said. Thuney, who was drafted by the team in the third round of the 2016 draft, hasn’t missed a single game in his NFL career. He’s also started every single one of them, which is very impressive for a young offensive lineman. In addition, Pro Football Focus has him as the fifth-highest rated guard in the entire league.

4. It is never too early to look ahead to next season, especially when it comes to roster construction. Right now, the Patriots have several veterans on the books for maybe more than they will be willing to pay. Devin McCourty will have the third-highest cap hit on the team at just over $13 million, followed by Gronkowski at $12 million and then Dont’a Hightower at $10.4 million. These are three players who may be asked to take pay-cuts or risk being released. While nothing can really be done now, it is just something to keep in mind.

5. One thing the Patriots defense needs to work at over the last six games of the regular season is its red zone defense. Going into Sunday, it is ranked 19th in the league, allowing touchdowns 60 percent of the time. The Patriots have been known over the years for playing a bend but don’t break style and a good red zone defense has been key. The last three times the Patriots reached the Super Bowl they had a top-10 red zone defense. “That's an area we need to work harder at,” Bill Belichick said this week. “We just need to do a better job of coaching it and need to do a better job of executing it and try to save those points and keep them off the board. As always, it comes down to team defense. It's not one thing. It's all of us doing a better job. It starts with the coaching staff and me. It's an area we need to tighten up.”

6. The Patriots did not downgrade any players to out Saturday night, which signals the team is as healthy as it has been in a long time. Besides Gronkowski, Shaq Mason figures to return after missing the last two games with a calf injury. This is a sign the bye week did its job by getting the team as healthy as possible for the stretch run. As it relates to Tom Brady and his knee injury, if it was really that serious he would not have practiced at all during the bye week.

7. A lot has been made of the upcoming game against the Vikings, but should we really be labeling it a tough game? Minnesota enters Sunday 5-4-1 and fresh off a loss against the Bears last Sunday night. Sure, they are a solid team, but not a team which should be feared, especially considering the game is at Gillette Stadium. Also, this could be the first game really all season where the offense is at full strength since the expectation is running back Rex Burkhead will return off injured reserve. The only game that should be difficult the rest of the way? Week 15 in Pittsburgh.

Related: Patriots vs. Jets preview: 3 keys to the game, fun facts, prediction

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