Patriots hope health helps carry them going forward

Photo by The Associated Press The Patriots are hoping the return of players like Rob Gronkowski, who caught a TD pass in Sunday's win over the Jets, can make a difference going forward.

By TOM KING

Staff Writer

When you have your health in the National Football League, you have everything.

Pretty obvious, right? But it’s something that teams and their fans always need to be reminded of. And when you have your health on offense, you are able to one, run the ball; two, control the line of scrimmage, and three, play a physical style.

The New England Patriots’ 27-13 win over the New York Jets on Sunday wasn’t picture perfect, not with 11 penalties. But, it’s not coincidental that the return of guard Shaq Mason, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and running back Sony Michel came on the same day that the Patriots rushed for over 200 yards and were able to fend off the hapless Jets.

“I think we have a lot of tough players on our team,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the other day. “It was certainly good to have those players back – Shaq, Rob, obviously Sony helps us when he’s in there. It’s obviously good to get those guys back on the field.

“Look,we’ve played, this is our 12th game – I’m losing count –11th game. At this point in the season, everyone’s got bumps and bruises, colds, flu symptoms and stuff like that for the last month or so. Look it’s football season, you just have to grind through it.Sometimes it gets one or two players, they come back, it gets somebody else, and they come back. … You just have to suck it up and fight through it. Our guys do a good job of that.”

These Patriots aren’t built for track meets; when they are going well, they are built for pounding, pushing, and fighting for every yard one one side of the ball and keeping the opposition from doing the same on the other. They have to play that physical style and control the line of scrimmage on the road as they did Sunday, otherwise they’re in trouble – as they were in their three road losses.

Gronkowski’s presence make defenses adjust, but you also have to account for his ability to block in the run game as well as ability to make TD catches down the middle of the field as he did on Sunday.

Gronkowski may have not be in tip-top game shape, having sat out for a month – but he is certainly a factor.

“This was kind of the first time we had a lot of guys healthier, it just helps everything out,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “Anytime you can run the ball like we did. … it just helps a lot of things. They have to play the run, play-action, we had some chunks.”

Even at home, this is what the Patriots have to do. It’s been emphasized in this space before that while so much attention is paid to the skill people on offense and perhaps the secondary on defense, it’s the combatants on the line of scrimmage that mainly dictate the outcome. The Patriots did enough on both sides of that line to get a road win, and remember, they weren’t exactly facing a Jets team with Josh McCown at quarterback that was going to score a lot of points. So Sunday they just had to make sure they scored enough.

Now, will that work in the next three weeks? This is the stretch that determines where and when the Patriots will play in January – home this Sunday vs. Minnesota, at Miami, and at Pittsburgh.

The Vikings are a team that just needs to beat somebody good, and doing it on the road will be tough. Kirk Cousins threw for 334 yards and three TDs against a makeshift Green Bay secondary at home on Sunday night. It’s going to be tough to do that against a more veteran secondary on the road at Gillette this Sunday.

The main worry with the Miami game is the location and the poor history of the Patriots there in December. But the Steelers just find ways to self-destruct, especially on the road. It may be difficult, however, for the New England offense we’ve seen lately to match points with them in Pittsburgh.

It seems pretty simple – if New England can win two of the next three, we feel it will get one of the top two seeds. Remember, the final two games against Buffalo and the Jets at Gillette have that gimme feel to them.

But, nothing seems to come easy to this New England team. Here’s to your health, Patriots.

WEEK 11 POWER RANKINGS

AFC

1. Kansas City (9-2) 2. New England (8-3). 3. Pittsburgh (7-3-1). 4. Houston (7-3)*. 5. L.A. Chargers (8-3).

NFC

1.New Orleans (10-1). 2. L.A. Rams (10-1). 3.Chicago (8-3) 4. Minnesota (6-4-1). 5. Dallas (6-5).

*Not including Monday Night.