Patriots coach Bill Belichick would not clarify conflicting reports about the health of star tight end Rob Gronkowski on a Tuesday morning conference call with reporters.
“Yeah, no, I don’t have anything to add,” Belichick said. “The players aren’t in today so we’ll put a report out Wednesday after we practice and see what happens on Wednesday.”
On Monday, NFL Network reported that Gronkowski had suffered a punctured lung Sunday night during New England’s loss to Seattle. Shortly thereafter, ESPN reported that Gronkowski had only a chest injury.
Neither report claimed that Gronkowski would be out of commission for long. The NFL Network report stated that he “could miss just one game” while ESPN said the injury was “not overly serious.”
The injury likely occurred during a hit Gronkowski took from Seahawks safety Earl Thomas while going up for a pass in the middle of the field.
Thomas’s shoulder collided with Gronkowski’s chest. Gronkowski got up slowly and went to the sideline to get attention from trainers. He eventually returned to the game.
Afterward, Gronkowski said the hit was one of the hardest of his career and that it “knocked the wind out of me.”
No to no-huddle
One side effect of the Patriots having a deep stable of playmakers on offense is a decrease in the amount of no-huddle played. They can gain advantages by constantly switching looks and formations, but often have to substitute to do so.
“If we feel like we can gain an advantage doing something, then we do it, and if we don’t, then we won’t, or we’ll do something else,” said Belichick. “The tradeoff between going no-huddle and basically not substituting, leaving the same people on the field versus changing personnel is — it’s really hard to do both.”
Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett can line up almost anywhere and give the Patriots options without requiring substitutes, but players such as James White or James Develin have been another matter.
“We seem to have a lot of guys right now that have roles in the game and that are performing those roles well, so that’s another factor in there,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “When you’re playing no-huddle, you don’t sub a lot.”
Both Belichick and McDaniels said they weren’t shying away from going no-huddle in order to extend the Patriots’ time of possession and keep the defense off the field.
“I think offensively you try to score points and defensively you try to play defense, so when we start trying to play offense on defense and defense on offense, it’s a hard way to play,” Belichick said.
Expert in the field
The turf at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., where the Patriots play Sunday, has a reputation for being slippery, even after it was replaced before Super Bowl 50. So Belichick said they will head west with enough equipment to prepare them for any field conditions, and that team staff will make sure they know which equipment to use.
“Dave Schoenfeld, our equipment manager, has a lot of experience and he’s very good at that — identifying what type of footwear we would need on a particular field,” Belichick said. “Particularly, when he gets to the field the day before a game and sets up the locker room and so forth, he’ll let me know what the conditions are.”
Belichick said conditions sometimes are varied even within one field.
“Pittsburgh used to play in Three Rivers Stadium and the way that field, the sunlight hit the field, it was shaded on about a third of the field from one sideline to kind of the opposite end zone, so there was a slice of the field that really wouldn’t thaw out,” Belichick said. “It was hard, it was frozen, but the way the sun hit it, which was kind of the other two-thirds of the field if you will, played kind of normally, unless the conditions were just frigid.”
An end zone fade is not a high-percentage play, but Gronkowski is a high-percentage player. McDaniels said the decision to throw a fade to Gronkowski in the end zone on fourth down is different than it would be were Gronkowski a lesser player.
“You have a lot of different variables and options,” he said, “and we’ve had success throwing fades, we’ve had success throwing slants, we’ve had success with a lot of things with that player because of what he can do and his skill set and the way that Tom [Brady] can get him the ball. They made a better play than we did at the end.”
McDaniels was at Gillette Stadium for meetings Saturday while his alma mater, John Carroll University, was ending rival Mount Union’s 112-game regular-season winning streak.
But McDaniels said there was “no question” that he was following along.
“We were keeping an ear and eye to it and hopeful that what happened would happen,” McDaniels said. “They’ve been close. We were close when we were there.
“What a great day for John Carroll, and the program, and Coach [Tom] Arth and the university to be able to finally kind of get over the hump and beat such a great program like Mount Union and end that streak.”
Watch and learn
Even though Jacoby Brissett is on injured reserve, the rookie quarterback has been around Gillette Stadium a lot lately, and has watched his team’s last two games from the sidelines. Brissett went on IR after having surgery on his thumb. While it surely helps that Brissett doesn’t have to drag crutches around, Belichick said his presence is more about helping a young quarterback learn the ropes than the nature of his injury. “He’s only been in four regular-season games, so I think the experience that he gets from being able to see the things that go on during the game are valuable for him,” Belichick said. “Might be valuable for some other players, too; I’m not saying that. But the quarterback position, in particular, I’d say it’s a little bit different.” . . . The Patriots released tight end Kennard Backman from the practice squad. Backman, who entered the league as a sixth-round pick of the Packers in 2015, had just been signed Saturday.