Patriots

Bedard: Gronk and the new reality for the Patriots offense

(Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)

The Big Fella found the end zone for the first time in nearly two-and-a-half months in Sunday's 27-13 victory over the Jets, so all is back to normal on that front.

If you missed your Gronk spikes, you got a Gronk spike.

And truth be told, just seeing No. 87 on the field was a welcome sight. Considering it was his first game action in almost a month, there were some promising signs for Rob Gronkowski and, perhaps, there's hope for physical improvement over the final five games and into the postseason — especially with a first-round bye back in the Patriots' hands thanks to the Steelers loss at Denver.

"I feel good," Gronkowski said after the game. "It was a lot of hard work to get to where I am, so now I just have to keep it going."

But in many ways, Gronkowski picked up right where he left off against the Bills — and that's not optimal for the Patriots.

He caught just three of his seven targets (42.8 percent). Combine that with his 3-for-8 performance against Buffalo, and Gronkowski has a catch rate of 40 percent in his past two games. His career average entering this season was 65.7 percent.

It marked the first time in Gronkowski's career he was held below a 50 percent catch rate in consecutive starts. Only once prior was he held below 50 percent in consecutive games — Weeks 7 and 8 (didn't start) of the 2013 season, his first two games after back surgery.

And the other problematic sign is that, like the Bills, the Jets did not fear Gronkowski. They didn't pay him extra attention and, in fact, were content to leave him singled up against a safety (frequently, it was Jamal Adams) or even a linebacker.

In the recent past, that was an opponent's recipe for disaster. Now, it's just part of doing business against a Patriots passing offense that continues to be clunky.

It looked like the Patriots weren't all that prepared for that. Perhaps they thought the Fear of Gronk would make the Jets run for coverage and free things up elsewhere.

That didn't happen. And now, with the Vikings and their formidable defense (ranked fifth in efficiency by Football Outsiders) set to visit Gillette, Josh McDaniels and the Patriots coaches have enough data that will tell them it's time for them to adjust to a new offensive reality — before it's too late.