FOXBOROUGH — No stranger to low hits and the damage they can cause, Tom Brady said he’d like to see the NFL do a better job of protecting receivers from the kind of contact that has indefinitely sidelined tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Brady knows firsthand the dangers of allowing defensive players to dive low. He was hit on the left knee in the 2008 season opener against the Chiefs, suffered a torn ligament that required surgery, and missed the rest of the season. It’s the only serious injury of Brady’s NFL career.
Gronkowski appears to have avoided another one, but is still expected to miss games, starting with Sunday’s against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles. He was injured late in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s game at Denver, when Broncos safety Darian Stewart connected with Gronkowski’s right knee on a pass attempt that fell incomplete. In a joint statement Monday with the Gronkowski family, the Patriots said the tight end suffered a bone bruise and a sprain to the right knee.
Watching Gronkowski get transported off the field in a cart, it could have been worse. Brady knows it, and is calling for change.
“I do think they should change some of those rules with those defenseless receivers. I don’t think there’s anything different than a chop block,” Brady said before practice Wednesday. “Everyone else has their legs protected in the NFL. Quarterbacks get their legs protected. Defensive linemen get their legs protected. Linebackers get their legs protected.
“I don’t see why a defenseless receiver shouldn’t get his legs protected as well. Maybe that’s something they’ll look at in the offseason.”
At 6 feet 6 inches and 265 pounds, Gronkowski typically towers over the defensive players assigned to cover him (Stewart, by comparison, is listed at 5-11, 214). If Gronkowski catches a ball in space, sometimes the only way a smaller defender has much chance of bringing the big tight end down is by going low.
Brady also knows that the routes his receivers run and where he puts the ball can factor into potential collisions.
“You know when a defender is in certain positions, where you can’t throw to your guy. You never want to throw into a certain zone where a guy is just eyeing you and lining your receiver up and it’s a big blowup,” Brady said. “You never really want to do that. We talk about that all the time.”
Speaking of the offseason, Brady and the Patriots are hoping theirs is more than two months away, since Super Bowl 50 is Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif. They do find themselves in new territory this season, though. Coming off their first loss of the season, the Patriots (10-1) still hold the best record in the AFC, and they’ll look to avoid a losing streak when the Eagles come calling for a rare game in Foxborough. They’ve played here just once in the past 27 years; that was in 2007, when the Patriots beat Philadelphia at Gillette Stadium, 31-28, to improve to 11-0.
It might seem like 27 years since the Patriots lost consecutive games, but it’s only been slightly more than three, actually. The last time the Patriots suffered back-to-back losses was Weeks 2-3 in the 2012 season, when they lost at home to Arizona (20-18), then at Baltimore (31-30).
Since then, not even a two-game losing streak. That’s what the Patriots are now trying to avoid.
“I think we all want to get back out there because it’s been a long time since we’ve lost a meaningful game,” Brady said, likely overlooking the loss to Buffalo in the 2014 regular-season finale, when a number of starters didn’t play.
“It is always hard to win, especially going on the road against good teams, and you’ve got to play really well. And when that game ends, you’ve got to, as fast as you can, turn the page and move on.”
Who he’ll have on Sunday to move on with remains to be seen. Gronkowski isn’t expected to play — he missed practice Wednesday — but the Patriots could get Danny Amendola back. He didn’t play in Sunday’s game at Denver because of a knee injury but practiced Wednesday. His return would certainly help a depleted receiver fleet.
“We’ve got to move on with obviously some different challenges, whether that’s personnel-related, whether that’s scheme-related,” Brady said. “Every week presents different challenges, and I think as a player, you just have to start every week with a fresh slate.”
For the first time this season, that slate likely won’t include Gronkowski. With the Patriots’ penchant for following a loss with a win, it might not matter.