Rob Gronkowski On His Way to Becoming Best Tight End in Football and 19 Other Patriots Thoughts

Rob Gronkowski On His Way to Becoming Best Tight End in Football and 19 Other Patriots Thoughts FOXBORO, Mass. — Expect this Patriots-Jets week to take it up a notch Wednesday when both teams report to their facilities for their first practice in preparation for Sunday's game at Gillette Stadium.

Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie has already sent a verbal jab in New England's direction, but will he be the only one to fire one off?

While that's one storyline to watch, here are plenty of others in this week's Two-Minute Drill.

1. It's impressive to see rookie running back Stevan Ridley show up to Gillette Stadium at 7 a.m. Monday, less than three hours after he got home from the team's trip back from Oakland. Ridley had a career day against the Raiders and arrived for work five and a half hours before the team's first meeting Monday. A number of other players I polled showed up between 9-11 a.m.

2. Ridley definitely looked tired, though. Good for him for getting right back at it the next day and not resting after the best game of his extremely young career, but my bet is that some of the team's veterans might have advised him to stay in bed longer. It's a long season.

3. This instance does fit Ridley's personality, though. He's mature, dedicated, humble and hardworking. He's destined for success, and there's more to like about Ridley than just his on-field ability, which is obviously impressive, too.

4. Wes Welker scored a touchdown on an out route Sunday, which was his third on that pattern this season, including one against the Bills that was a slight variation of the route. Wide receiver Deion Branch said Monday that Welker is the best in the league at running that route.

5. Welker caught a 21-yard pass down the left sideline in the second quarter against the Raiders to set up BenJarvus Green-Ellis' one-yard touchdown. When Welker was five yards off the line of scrimmage, he stopped and did a quick 360-degree turn before continuing to run up the left sideline. The Patriots continuously practice that maneuver, which makes the route look like a five-yard hitch to the cornerback.

6. Credit cornerback Chimdi Chekwa for not trying to jump the route, but he did bite on it, which caused him to shift his weight in the wrong direction. Chekwa then had to bust it to keep up with Welker up the left sideline, and as Chekwa expended his energy trying to stay with the play, Tom Brady threw a back-shoulder pass to Welker.

7. Again, Chekwa — who had a pretty tough day against the Patriots — did a solid job on that particular play, but Welker's 360 maneuver threw off Chekwa's balance. If Welker simply ran a fly route up the sideline, Chekwa would have been in position to jump the route or at least break up the pass. It's a funny route to see a team practice, but it clearly worked in the game.

8. The Patriots have allowed a pair of one-yard touchdown runs in the last two weeks, and they didn't allow any short-yardage scoring runs in the first two weeks of the season. It's no coincidence that defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth has been out of the lineup for those two touchdowns. Haynesworth was up and down during his two games on the field, but he was tremendous in goal-line work. 

9. For those keeping score, safety Ross Ventrone has been released five times by the Patriots. Fortunately for him, he's been signed six times. Ventrone was added to the practice squad Tuesday.

10. Jerod Mayo's injury was strange because he didn't take a direct hit to his knee on his final snap before going down, so I went through the tape and looked at every one of his snaps. First, let's get to the injury. Mayo was engaged with left guard Stefan Wisniewski on his final play. After the two disengaged, Mayo looked at his left knee, hobbled a little bit and then really dropped to the ground in clear pain. It was bizarre.

11. One play really stuck out to me, though. The Raiders had second-and-goal from the 2-yard line (one play before Michael Bush's touchdown that gave the Raiders a 10-7 lead). Khalif Barnes fell through the line, hit the ground and rolled over on his back as Mayo tried to work his way to the ball. Mayo ended up getting his left leg caught under Barnes and made a deliberate move to get away from him.

12. Mayo was on the field for the next play (Bush's touchdown), the extra point and then left the game after the first play on the Patriots' next defensive series. I'm starting to think Mayo suffered the injury by the goal line and might not have realized it, and then he really felt the pain a few minutes later on his final play.

13. In my opinion, Mayo is the Patriots' second best player, though he would receive some competition from left guard Logan Mankins, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and wide receiver Wes Welker in that regard. I'd even go so far as putting tight end Rob Gronkowski in that group.

14. The Patriots will have to get through Mayo's injury by getting some better play out of their collection of linebackers, as it won't be a one-man job. Brandon Spikes, Gary Guyton and Dane Fletcher will all have increased roles, and their specialized roles might be a thing of the past, to an extent.

15. I think a lot of attention has been paid toward Guyton, who came up big in Mayo's absence in 2009, but my feeling is Fletcher will be the player who steps up the most. Guyton and Fletcher have both practiced and played with the headset in their helmet (otherwise known as the green dot), so it will be interesting to see who gets it this week against the Jets.

16. Fletcher, who had the headset in the preseason, said it comes with a heavy amount of responsibility.

"When I had the dot on my head, you have that sense of the defense is somewhat on your shoulders," he said.

17. The Patriots are going to have to be on point against the Jets' running attack, even more than they would have anyway, without Mayo. Expect the Jets to attack the middle of New England's defense on the ground until the Patriots prove they can stop them.

18. I mentioned Gronkowski earlier, and I think it's only a matter of time until he's the best tight end in the NFL — maybe within two years. I wonder how much recognition he'd get in that regard because so much of his production comes as a blocker. At this point, it's unrealistic to expect Gronkowski to catch 80 passes because of the amount of weapons at Brady's disposal, and that might be a rough benchmark in order to get that type of national spotlight. For what it's worth, I think Gronkowski could catch 80 passes right now if he replaced Antonio Gates in San Diego's offense.

19. After all of the crap that Bill Belichick has taken for trading Richard Seymour, the Patriots head coach must have loved seeing him commit that series of penalties early in Sunday's game.

20. Belichick said Tuesday the Patriots looked at Plaxico Burress this offseason when the wide receiver was released from prison. While it's eye-opening, I don't think it's really shocking. The Patriots needed to add a veteran receiver to the offense, and Burress fits that mold. He has 10 receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns so far for the Jets.

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