In many ways, the New England Patriots look like they always do.
Tom Brady can still pick apart a defense. Julian Edelman is going to keep the chains moving with clutch third-down catches. There will always be some random running back (Cordarrelle Patterson?) to have a productive game as Bill Belichick gets creative. That all fueled a workmanlike, ugly 25-6 win over the Buffalo Bills on Monday night.
There’s only one part missing so far. Rob Gronkowski doesn’t look like the best tight end in football to this point in the season. Not even close.
Gronkowski made one highlight play, hauling in a nice 22-yard catch over Bills defensive back Phillip Gaines in tight coverage. But like most games this season, Gronkowski spent most of the game as a non-factor. It’s strange.
Rob Gronkowski has another quiet night
It’s not like Gronkowski has been bad. He just has rarely been the dominant Gronkowski we’re used to seeing.
He looked great in Week 1, with 123 yards and a touchdown. But that was his last 100-yard game, and more surprisingly, his only touchdown.
Gronkowski was mostly held down Monday night. He had 43 yards on three catches. There was a play near the goal line that was strange to see. On third-and-goal Gronkowski was pushed back and off his route by Bills linebacker Matt Milano, and Brady fired incomplete to him as the timing of his route was thrown off. Gronkowski is often the most dominant physical force on the field. He’s usually automatic in the red zone, too. He wasn’t on that play.
Even on Gronkowski’s big catch, he had no separation. He just made a fantastic play, concentrating on making a juggling catch over the defender draped all over him while staying in bounds.
Gronkowski has been the best tight end in football for a long time, and he still looks like it in bursts. He had a few huge catches in the Patriots’ win over the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of an otherwise quiet night. But Gronkowski is usually a force in the red zone, and he has one touchdown. He’s usually Brady’s best target, and he has games of 15, 51, 44 and 43 yards in seven outings this season. He has seen extra coverage in many games this season, but that’s nothing new and it has never slowed him down before.
More concerning than the stats is that Gronkowski simply hasn’t looked like the best player on the field very often this season. Maybe his health — he missed New England’s previous game with back spasms — is affecting him.
Patriots win in offensive struggle
The Patriots still won, despite the offense not putting up a ton of yards and points.
The Bills treated the night like a playoff game. They emptied the playbook on the first drive, with direct snaps, wildcat formations and even a reverse that turned into a flea flicker. The defense played hard and well, holding the Patriots out of the end zone until the fourth quarter. They just weren’t good enough to win. And to add to the loss, quarterback Derek Anderson was knocked out in the final two minutes with what looked like an arm injury.
The Patriots got a touchdown from James White in the fourth quarter to open up a comfortable lead, then Devin McCourty’s 84-yard interception return for a touchdown put it away. The Bills kept it close longer than expected, but they’re nowhere near capable of beating the Patriots.
The Patriots are 6-2 after a slow start, and look like they’re back on their usual track. They’ll be even more dangerous if we see the Gronkowski of old emerge in the second half of the season.
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