Rob Gronkowski Always ‘Amped Up’ for Game Time and 19 Other Patriots Thoughts


November 30, 2011

Rob Gronkowski Always 'Amped Up' for Game Time and 19 Other Patriots ThoughtsIt's rivalry week, right? Well, not so much when Peyton Manning is removed from the equation.

But as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said, "That's football, you play with what you've got. The games are scheduled. You show up and play them. We all take on that responsibility at the beginning of the season."

And so it goes. The Patriots will look to continue their winning streak Sunday against the Colts and their fourth-string quarterback. Let's break into the Two-Minute Drill for some other goings-on this week.

1. Credit the Patriots for a big, character-defining victory against the Eagles. Things looked ugly in the game's first three series, and Tom Brady and the offense had to convert four third downs to score on the game's fourth overall drive. It was a tough environment, and they didn't show any signs of pressing or panicking. They stayed on course and wound up dismantling a tattered team.

2. Speaking of which, my goodness, the Eagles are atrocious. Forget the injuries, there's just no semblance of a team there. No discipline. No fighting for one another. It's truly a group of individuals, and that's always the fear when you collect that much talent in the offseason, never mind a short one.

3. Anyway, the Patriots also successfully erased a 10-point deficit for the first time this season. They also fell behind by 10 points against the Steelers and Giants.

4. The Patriots have already erased six deficits in victories this season. They did it eight times last season, but only three times during their season-culminating eight-game winning streak. Sometimes, it doesn't mean a ton when it's only a 3-0 deficit to an undermanned Kansas City team, but the Patriots have shown a consistent ability to win after getting off to an undesirable start.

5. I think Belichick got known for his spin-control practices during the 2007 season when the Patriots were downright filthy and he talked up some teams that clearly had no shot of beating them. All coaches do it — as they should, to avoid posting bulletin-board material — but Belichick probably gets called on it more because of the successful program that he's run over the last decade.

6. For the most part, the Patriots don't lose to lousy teams, so it can be funny to hear Belichick talk up those opponents. But he also preaches the same things in meetings, and that message is spread through the entire locker room. Obviously, the strategy works, and any criticism Belichick gets is really just poking fun at that tactic.

7. But what happened Tuesday was just hilarious. During Belichick's weekly conference call with the media, he spoke highly of quarterback Curtis Painter and the Colts' defense. Literally minutes later, the Colts fired defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and benched Painter for Dan Orlovsky.

8. Orlovsky, by the way, was guilty of one of the most hilariously embarrassing blunders in recent memory. He safetied himself by running out of the back of the end zone during a 20-16 loss to the Vikings. It was the Lions' 13th loss of their 0-16 season.

9. I wonder if the timing of Coyer's firing or Painter's benching has anything to do with the fact that it's Patriots week and they're trying to get the players' attention in time for a game that was a great rivalry earlier in the decade. And if not, it could be in light of the Colts' frustrating loss to the Panthers on Sunday, to keep the Colts on point when it would be easy for them to give up.

10. In the huddle prior to his 41-yard touchdown reception Sunday, Wes Welker told Brady he was looking for a particular coverage, and if he saw it, he'd change his route for a fly pattern up the left seam. The call was for a play-action pass, and Welker had seen the slot corner bite on the run-fake earlier in the game. So, when Welker saw it again and noticed the safety playing a deep zone, Welker faked a deep post route, causing safety Nate Allen to bite and lose his balance. Welker then went up the seam and caught a wide-open pass for the score. It was too easy, but that again goes back to the Eagles' lack of discipline. If a cornerback is going to be aggressive, whether it's by design or instinct, the safety has to play conservatively.

11. I caught up with Rob Gronkowski on Friday and had a conversation with him about his newfound stardom, why he's been the best red-zone target in the NFL since he entered the league in 2010, and why he won't change his style of play to avoid contact. One of his quotes didn't make it into the story, and it was his response to my question about how he gets himself mentally prepared to take on so much physical contact for every single game.

"It's game time," Gronkowski responded. "If you're not ready for game time — in game time, you can take any kind of hits basically. You really don't feel them because you're so amped up."

12. Gronkowski is going to be a New England superstar for a long time. It wouldn't reach that level without his on-field results, but his personality and willingness to play at a high physical level is always redeeming to a New England sports fan.

13. Let's reset the Ross Ventrone board again. As of Tuesday, Ventrone has been involved in 24 career transactions (all with the Patriots) since joining the team in April 2010. He's been released nine times, signed five times, added to the practice squad six times and promoted from the practice squad four times. Strangely enough, he's never been cut from the practice squad, where he resided as of Tuesday.

14. Taking it one step further, Ventrone had been involved in 13 of the Patriots' 63 roster transactions from Oct. 1 through Tuesday. So, when the Patriots make a move, there's a 20.6 percent chance it involves Ventrone.

15. Though I probably shouldn't be, I was fairly surprised when the Patriots released cornerback Phillip Adams on Tuesday. More than anything, I'd take it as a sign that safety Patrick Chung is closer to returning to the field after missing three games with a foot injury. Sterling Moore could shift from safety to slot cornerback, which would keep the Patriots at four healthy corners if you include Julian Edelman.

16. Former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett went to former LSU running back Stevan Ridley's place Friday to watch the SEC rivalry game. That must have been a painful day for Mallett. But earlier Friday, Belichick said some nice things about Mallett, so that's good, right?

17. Injuries to quarterbacks have derailed three entertaining storylines in the last three weeks of the Patriots' schedule. First, Matt Cassel was robbed of his homecoming. Next, Michael Vick couldn't suit up, and it's always fun to watch Vick. And now, Manning's injury has turned the rivalry of the decade into Brady versus Orlovsky.

18. Now that Urban Meyer is the head coach at Ohio State, it's natural to wonder if Belichick will pay extra attention to the Buckeyes during draft season. Belichick has drafted six guys who have played for Meyer — five from Florida, and wide receiver David Givens, who worked under Meyer when he coached the wideouts at Notre Dame.

19. Belichick brushed off the idea that he would spend any additional time at Ohio State due to Meyer. That's because Belichick's daughter, Amanda, is the assistant women's lacrosse coach at the university.

20. Finally, Belichick has been dealing with a cold this week to the point where he needed a water break during Monday's news conference and spoke softly Tuesday during the media call. He was jokingly asked at the end of the call about his status for Sunday's game.

"I'll be there," Belichick replied. "I probably won't even be on the [injury] report."

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