Tue Jan 22 7:32pm ET
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) runs against Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller (23) during the first half of the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Daniel Sorensen (49) during the first half of the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Even as Rob Gronkowski turned in a vintage performance with his big grabs down the stretch in the AFC championship game, the veteran Patriots tight end also did plenty of dirty work.
Gronk the blocker? The label didn't fit in the past. But this season, one of the best receiving tight ends in NFL history and Tom Brady's longtime favorite target made some big contributions to the Patriots' rejuvenated running game.
''Whatever coaches call, whatever plays we call ... blocking, receiving, no matter what is, whatever play is called, just got to go out there and do your job,'' Gronkowski said.
It was an underwhelming season statistically for Gronkowski, who contemplated retirement after last year's Super Bowl loss. He appeared in 13 games as he fought through nagging back and ankle injuries, finishing with 47 catches for 682 yards and three touchdowns.
But Gronk did more of the things that don't appear on the stat sheet. And he's fine with that as he heads into a Super Bowl matchup with the Rams eyeing the third ring in his nine-year career.
Brady said Gronkowski's ability as a blocker might be the most underrated part of his game.
''He's one of the most dominant blocking tight ends in the league,'' Brady said. ''He's a threat any time he's out there.''
One of his biggest plays in the Patriots' overtime victory over Kansas City for the AFC title came in the run game.
After the Chiefs took their first lead, New England responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Gronkowski pushing aside Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston on fourth-and-inches and allowing Sony Michel to jog into the end zone from 10 yards out.
Gronk's future beyond this season is once again an open question. He will be entering the final season of a six-year contract in 2019 and is scheduled to make about $9 million. Before the season, he acknowledged he would like to rework the deal, and he skipped a voluntary offseason workout. He later had bonus incentives added to his contract.
He'd be missed if he doesn't return. After a quiet performance in the Patriots' divisional playoff win over the Chargers, Gronkowski was targeted a season-high 11 times against the Chiefs, catching six passes for 79 yards and coming up with big grabs down the stretch.
Brady was 5 for 5 on third down in the fourth quarter and overtime, with two of those passes going to Gronkowski. Those catches, for 25 and 15 yards, set up the go-ahead and game-winning touchdowns.
It was nothing new for the 29-year-old Gronk, who entered the season with 75 postseason receptions - the most by a tight end in NFL history. In the regular season, he has the most TD catches thrown by Brady to any player (78).
The Rams' defense was the second-worst in the league this season, giving up 1,075 yards receiving to opposing tight ends. It should mean plenty of opportunities for Gronkowski to show the combination of size, strong hands and agility that has made him a matchup nightmare throughout his career.
His chemistry with Brady means he knows the ball could always come his way, no matter what kind of game he's having.
''You've got to have confidence in each other,'' Gronkowski said. ''That's what practice is all about. That's knowing each other is all about. Knowing that when it comes to those situations and you've got to put that ball up, I've got to make the play. ... That's the trust that we have with each other. We love playing with each other. Just a bond we have, to go out there and always be on the same page.''
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (thumb) could miss the first three weeks of camp after being spotted with a brace on his left thumb. The source of the injury is a bit unknown but this is just another offensive weapon for the Patriots that will not be ready for camp. Outside of quarterback Tom Brady, Edelman is perhaps the most important piece of the Patriots offensive scheme. At this point, the injury shouldn't hamper his ability to begin the season but certainly will keep him from participating in preseason games.
New York Giants QB Eli Manning is not competing with rookie first-round QB Daniel Jones for the starting job during training camp, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network.
Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck was held out of spring practices with a minor calf injury, but he is 'good to go' for training camp, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
Atlanta Falcons RB Devonta Freeman is the unquestioned starting running back, but the team may ultimately decide to use Ito Smith, Brian Hill and Qadree Ollison to replace Tevin Coleman, who left for the San Francisco 49ers in free agency this spring. 'It's a position that has good talent for us. And now to be talented as a group, it may be a combination of those roles and featuring what those guys can do best. ... That's deeper than we've been at that position for a while, and I'm looking forward to the unique stuff that the guys do have,' head coach Dan Quinn said.
Free-agent RB Orleans Darkwa (Giants) is working out for the Cleveland Browns on Monday, July 22.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers S Justin Evans, LB Jack Cichy, LB David Kenney and WR Xavier Ubosi were placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list Monday, July 22. The team also placed QB Nick Fitzgerald on the Active/Non-Football Injury List.
Free-agent WR Justin Hunter (Steelers) worked out Monday, July 22, for the New England Patriots, according to a source.
Seattle Seahawks DT Jarran Reed was suspended six games Monday, July 22, due to violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. The suspension stems from an alleged 2017 incident in which Reed was accused of assaulting a woman. He was not arrested by police.
Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones (foot) is still rehabbing a foot injury that kept him out of June minicamps, according to head coach Dan Quinn on Monday, July 22. Jones had a bunion removed immediately after the 2018 season and was limited to working with trainers in Monday's opening day of training camp. The absence is not related to his contract situation.
Fantasy Spin: At this stage, it's more of a "keep an eye on it" approach than time to change your draft plans. The star receiver has a history of foot problems, but this one has nothing to do with it, as far as we can tell. Jones remains an elite WR1 in all fantasy settings.
Detroit Lions DE Trey Flowers (shoulder) was placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list Monday, July 22, as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. The Lions can activate Flowers at any time, but he will not be ready for the beginning of training camp.
Free-agent SS Johnathan Cyprien (Titans) will visit the New York Giants Monday, July 22.
Free-agent SS Tre Boston (Cardinals) will visit the New York Giants Monday, July 22.
New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman (thumb) is wearing a small brace over his left thumb, which is expected to sideline him for about three weeks.
Fantasy Spin: Edelman isn't likely to lose anything from the time off as he and Tom Brady have such a rapport. Edelman is a low-end WR2 in PPR formats as he catches a lot of passes, but they don't usually result in a ton of yardage or scoring potential.
New England Patriots wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will open training camp on the team's PUP list. This isn't that much of a surprise as the veteran receiver continues to rehab from a torn ACL suffered last season. But the situation could have fantasy consequences in a few weeks when the Patriots must make their first cuts. If Thomas cannot practice by then, the team may be forced to keep him on the PUP list. This would make the 31-year-old ineligible for the first six regular season games and further damage the value of a player on the back-end of a very productive career.
New England Patriots running back Sony Michel will begin training camp on the PUP list as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. Michel will not be eligible to practice with the team and his return is up in the air at this time. The Patriots still have plenty of time to activate the second-year back before first cuts and the expectation is that he should be ready to open the season as their lead back. But players must miss six regular season games if they remain on the PUP list after first cutdowns. The hope is this is precautionary since Michel participated in the team's mandatory minicamp. It is too early to become worried about Michel's status but his situation will have to be monitored throughout training camp all the way up to fantasy drafts.
Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) continues to participate in the early portions of practice with the team before leaving to work with trainers, head coach Vic Fangio said Sunday. July 21. 'It's a slow but sure process,' Fangio said. 'Everything is good so far. He's where we expected him to be and even a little bit more.'
Fantasy Spin: While Sanders continues to make progress, it seems unlikely he is going to be top form by Week 1. If you are willing to be patient, he could become a solid WR3 by the end of the year.
Atlanta Falcons FS Ricardo Allen (Achilles) said he feels ready to return to the practice field but will follow the program outlined by the training staff. 'I feel like I can compete and I feel like I can do some good things,' Allen said Sunday, July 21. 'I'm ready to be back.'
Chicago Bears S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (knee) is 'likely' to be placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list, general manager Ryan Pace said Sunday, July 21.
Denver Broncos TE Troy Fumagalli (hip) practiced in full pads Sunday, July 21, after missing most of the previous practice with a hip injury.
Houston Texans wide receiver Deandre Carter was placed on the active/PUP list for undisclosed reasons. Carter enters camp looking to lock down a role as Houston's fourth receiver, but he won't be able to practice until the team removes him from the list, which could put him behind in preparation for the upcoming season. Carter had 20 catches for 195 yards for Houston last year after joining the team in the middle of the year. He also spent time returning punts and kicks. Carter can be activated from the list at any time. With wide receiver Will Fuller's injury history, the fourth receiver job in Houston has the potential to produce fantasy points at some point during the season, though Carter shouldn't be drafted in any formats yet, and it's unclear how firm a hold he has on the job.