Patriots TEs could be double trouble for Texans
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots didn't need Rob Gronkowski when they dominated the Houston Texans last month.
Now he's back.
And that gives the Texans, 42-14 losers on Dec. 10, a tougher challenge
in Sunday's rematch in a divisional playoff game.
"Obviously, he's a great player," Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker
said Thursday. "So any time you can throw him in there, it's a good
It's even better when Gronkowski is out there with their other star
tight end, Aaron Hernandez.
But they played together in just five games this season. Hernandez
missed six of the first 10 with a sprained right ankle. Then Gronkowski
sat out the next five with a broken left forearm before returning for
limited action in the regular-season finale, a 28-0 win over the Miami Dolphins in which he caught just two passes, one for a 23-yard
In their previous two NFL regular seasons, Gronkowski played in all 32
games, Hernandez in 28. They combined for 87 catches in 2010 and 169 in
2011. They were productive when healthy this season with Gronkowski
catching 55 passes with 11 touchdowns and Hernandez grabbing 51 with
"Two's always better than one," special teams captain and wide receiver
Matthew Slater said.
But to Tom Brady, just having them on the field doesn't mean anything.
They need to produce.
"It's a matter of execution more than anything," the Patriots
quarterback said. "Just because (Gronkowski) may have the opportunity
to be out there on a particular play doesn't matter if we don't execute
Gronkowski was protecting his left arm when he faced Miami, trying to
keep it away from contact. The importance of his health was evident
last year when his playing status was listed as questionable for the
Super Bowl just 48 hours before the game.
He had suffered a high-ankle sprain two weeks earlier in the Patriots'
23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game. That
hampered him in the Super Bowl
He had just two catches for 26 yards after a season in which he had 105
receptions, 15 of them in the other two postseason games.
On the last play of the 21-17 loss to the New York Giants, Brady made
one desperation heave for the championship, a long pass to the right
side of the end zone on the last play. Hernandez and three Giants went
up for the ball, Gronkowski lunged for it as it was heading for the
ground, and it fell incomplete.
After the season, Gronkowski had arthroscopic surgery on the ankle.
Then he broke his forearm while blocking on an extra point in a 59-24
win over the Colts. He still may not be completely healthy, but
Gronkowski is ready for whatever he's asked to do.
"I'll give the coaches a great look of what I can do (in practice) so
they're prepared for the game and what to call," he said. "So whatever
the coaches have in mind, I've just got to perform the best I can."
The better he and Hernandez do that, the more coverage they're likely
to draw. And that would give wide receivers Welker, Brandon Lloyd and
Deion Branch more room to operate.
"The more weapons you have, the more guys have to pay attention to
those guys," Welker said. "Obviously, Aaron and Gronk are definitely
guys you have to pay attention to."
The double threat they pose, though, is no guarantee of success. In
their five games together, the Patriots are just 3-2.
Gronkowski caught five touchdown passes in dominating wins over the St.
Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts in which Hernandez was
sidelined. Hernandez caught two scoring passes in the last month's rout
of the Texans.
On Sunday, as a 9½-point underdog, Houston will face Gronkowski for the
first time in his pro career.
"He's exceptional," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "If the ball is
close to him, he's going to catch it. The thing about him, people play
him with corners on him. They play him with (line)backers on him. They
play him with safeties. His size is just such that it's just hard. You
get in there and bang with him, you're going to lose that battle.
Obviously, we didn't see him the first time around so it'll be
different for us, but a big, big challenge for us."
Last year, Gronkowski set a single-season record for tight ends with 17
touchdowns. This year, he might have broken that had he not been
On Sunday, after a bye that gave his forearm extra time to heal, he
could be as dangerous as ever.
"I'm always eager," he said. "Who wouldn't be? It's football. You want
to go out there and give your best."
Combine his strength with Hernandez's elusiveness — and their excellent
hands and route-running to boot — and the Patriots should be better
equipped against a Texans team determined to make up for their recent
flop on the same field.
"They have good players, too," Slater said. "We're very fortunate to
have two young men as talented as they are on our team. We're going to
need it come Sunday. All hands on deck."
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