Patriots TEs Give Team Unique Advantage

There's no team in the NFL with a pair of tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, which is why the Patriots continue to ... emphasize them in the passing game.

Dual tight ends continue to pace Patriots

   Quarterback Tom Brady put on a show Saturday evening in his matchup with overmatched Broncos passer Tim Tebow. Brady tied an NFL postseason record with six touchdown passes, threw for 363 yards and notched the second-best passer rating of his 20-game playoff career at 137.6.

   But the 2010 MVP wasn't the only New England offensive star showcasing his elite skills in the Patriots 45-10 whitewashing of the Broncos.

   After just wrapping up ultra-impressive sophomore seasons in 2011, second-year rising star tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were a big part of the offensive fireworks for coach Bill Belichick's team on divisional weekend.

   The All-Pro Gronkowski, who set NFL tight end records with 17 touchdown catches and 1,327 yards receiving during the regular season, kept the momentum in his second career postseason game. The former second-round pick had game highs of 10 catches for 145 yards against the Broncos, while tying an NFL postseason record with three touchdown catches.

   Hernandez' production was a bit unique. He caught four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown. But he also lined up in the New England backfield at times and took straight handoffs, leading to a team-high 61 yards on just five carries, including a 43-yard run to set up the Patriots' first touchdown of the day.

   The duo that's causing increasing matchup problems for opposing defenses on a weekly basis accounted for more than half of New England 509 total yards in the blowout of the Broncos. They represent a major issue that the Ravens must deal with in Sunday's AFC title game in Foxborough.

   First-year Patriots Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters played alongside future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City. But the veteran says he's never seen anything like what New England's two young tight ends bring to the field.

   "I'll tell you what, these two are changing the game," Waters raved. "I think that you're going to see tight ends get drafted that would have been fourth- or fifth-round picks will probably be drafted higher because of what these guys are able to do. You're going to see other teams try to match guys with their receiving tight ends by trying to match them with a guy that can do some of the things that our tight ends can do. So I think these two are changing the game.

   "If you decide to take away one, that opens things up for the other. You add the fact that we have receiving threats and some good guys at the running back position. It limits the things you can do defensively as far as trying to take one person out of the game. That's something that we are able to take advantage of."

   Gronkowski now has 31 total touchdowns in 34 career games, including postseason action. He's doing so much that he even has Brady, who's seen plenty of great plays be made and records be broken over the years, raving.

   "That catch that Gronk made for a touchdown in the corner was one of the best catches I've ever seen," Brady gushed over Gronkowski's diving catch in the left side of the end zone. "When you're making plays like that, it's really not about the defense, it's about making spectacular plays."

   The truth is, when the Patriots are playing like they did Saturday night, when their young tight ends are making the types of plays they did against Denver, very few defenses are going to be able to do anything about it.

   "Everybody makes big plays on this team; that's why our offense is real dangerous," Hernandez said. "We got so many weapons they don't know who to cover."

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