The more flexible Gronkowski is quite the catch


FOXBORO -- Had a healthy debate with Senator Phil Perry whether Sunday’s one-handed, pirouetting, toe-tapping touchdown by Gronk at the left pylon . . .

was superior to his one-handed reach-back at the goal line against Denver in 2014.

Draw your own conclusions.

But the upshot of Gronk’s catch against the Bills and his performance last week against Pittsburgh, which included a shoe-top reception in the final minutes, is that he’s never looked more fluid and athletic.

Plays like those two are the best argument for the work Alex Guerrero does in increasing flexibility.

After a week of controversy surrounding Guerrero’s semi-exile from the Patriots locker room, the tight end didn’t want to delve into a conversation about training. But when I asked him about Sunday’s touchdown and last week’s catch in terms of flexibility, Gronk didn’t immediately answer. Instead, he bent over, touched the floor in front of his toes, straightened up and put his hands out.

“I couldn’t do that before without stretching and warming up,” he said. “Now I can.”

A few other ruminations after the Patriots moved to the edge of the cusp of the threshold’s precipice of securing home field throughout the AFC playoffs . . . 

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Just because a few straight reversals have gone in the Patriots’ favor, there’s no reason to really feel “good” about the run of luck.

This isn’t a dose of lame-ass, self-loathing New England guilt where I implore you to feel badly that a really good team got a bunch of breaks that their put-upon opponents could have used. Who cares?

The issue is that the league -- specifically NFL Operations, under the purview of the always-overmatched Troy Vincent -- is allowing the process to get bungled by misapplication of the rules.

The catch rule isn’t bad: Control it through the ground. And the replay review standard is sensible: Leave it alone unless the evidence smacks you in the face.

But whether it’s Article 46 or the damn rulebook, once the over-officious and oft-manipulative humans who need to justify their existence and paychecks get involved, all bets are off.

Eventually, inevitably, again, the officials or the league office will bungle something that works against New England. And then they will again. And again.

You can look way back to 2006 to find calls that led directly to the Patriots missing out on Super Bowl trips, or you can look more recently at this in 2013 that ensured the Patriots were on the road in the AFC Championship game. Every team gets hosed. The Patriots are due. And NFL VP of Officiating Al Riveron -- who’s way more involved than he’s supposed to be with these rulings -- may be feeling the heat to spit out some make up calls.

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The Patriots were worst in the NFL in yards allowed per drive defensively (36.24) entering Sunday’s game. And they were third-best in the league in points allowed per red-zone trip (4.12) .

The win over the Bills featured more of the same red-zone stinginess at the end of long drives. The Bills had 16-, 13- and 10-play drives that ended with field goals. They had a seven-play drive that ended at the Patriots 6 with no points at all. Buffalo went 0-for-4 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. They went 0-for-2 scoring, period, when they played the Patriots in Buffalo. Out of a maximum 63 points the Bills could have scored on red-zone trips against the Patriots, they got . . . 9.

“Red zone,” lamented Buffalo coach Sean McDermott. “You get in the red zone, you’ve got to be able to score touchdowns against a good team. You have got to be able to score touchdowns in the red zone and we weren’t able to do that today. We had some good drives in the first three quarters of the game (particularly going into and coming out of halftime) . . .  We knew those drives would be critical and then came away with, as opposed to two touchdowns, came away with two field goals.”

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“That was a huge play for us,” said Bill Belichick. “Buffalo had had a lot of success throughout the game on the first play of their drive -- the drive starter. They had several solid plays and a couple of big plays on that -- 15-yarders, the long pass on play-action. That was a big stop for us, but they were doing a good job of getting the drive going and getting the series going. That was another bootleg and we played it better and Malcom made a good play to trip Taylor up. That put them in long yardage. Then we got the punt. Then we were able to convert the score there, so it was a good complementary series with our defense, special teams, offense. We were able to go on a little bit of run there in the end of the third and the start of the fourth quarter.”

Lawrence Guy, Trey Flowers, Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise also mixed in with some big stops on LeSean McCoy, one of the league’s toughest backs to handle.

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