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A fine stitch: Rob Gronkowski is making an art form of the seam route

09.27.11 at 1:25 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski has found his perfect fit running the seam route.

FOXBORO — It has quickly become one of the trademarks of the highest-powered offense in the game. It’s bigger than a single receiver or running back. It even starred in the recent Bill Belichick biography on the NFL Network.

It is the seam route.

Anyone watching the Patriots decimate the Bills in the opening 20 minutes Sunday saw plenty of examples of just how proficient Tom Brady has become in isolating a receiver in the slot on a mismatched safety or linebacker. The receiver finds a gap between the outside cornerback and the closest defender on the inside of the defense and splits the seam almost evenly, allowing the quarterback to hit the receiver in stride.

It has already produced four touchdowns directly and been the key play in several other scoring drives in the opening three games, a three-game stretch that has seen Brady throw for an NFL-record 1,327 yards.

The most notable example of course was 1st-and-10 at the Patriots 1 on opening night in Miami. The Patriots had just stopped the Dolphins on 4th-and-goal at the 1, protecting a 14-point lead when Brady spotted Wes Welker on his left, isolated.

He wasted little team finding enough space in the seam to fire the ball to Welker. And 99 yards later, Brady, Welker and the Patriots made history with the longest play in franchise history, just the 13th 99-yard TD play in NFL history. Aaron Hernandez has become another favorite of Brady’s on the route. And as we all saw on Sunday, when Hernandez isn’t available due to his knee injury, Rob Gronkowski has no problem filling the void.

“Whatever it is, whatever the coaches want me to do. We just have one tight end, we just go in with our game plan. It is what it is, definitely whatever it is the coaches bring out, we definitely have to perform.”

It’s a simple enough route if you have a quarterback accurate enough to thread the needle consistently, and Sunday in Western New York aside, Brady certainly qualifies.

So with the Patriots up, 14-0 already, Brady spotted Gronkowski off to his right in the slot and again with a mismatch. At 6-feet-5, Gronkowski is going to get a lot of those and Brady won’t hesitate.

Brady fired a strike to Gronkowski and the Patriots were in full turbo-mode offense. Up 21 points, the Patriots machine was firing on all cylinders.

That is, until late in the second quarter, when a pass went off the shoulder pads of Danny Woodhead and into the arms of Bryan Scott. The Bills went down and scored and all of a sudden the Patriots lost their mojo. And the Bills were catching on.

“The first half, obviously, we came out on fire, scoring on the first two or three drives,” Gronkowski said. “Then, we kind of let up. Going into the second half, you just have to keep on going, keep doing what we were doing in the first half, got to keep completing balls, finishing plays overall and working hard out there to get the job done.”

Was it more pressure on Brady, more of a zone look in the third quarter or the Patriots going to the well once too often?

“Not really,” said Gronkowski, “just our execution. We have to go out there executing every single play, not just in the first half but come out in the second half on fire, executing plays.”

Gronkowski and Brady no doubt spent plenty of time going over a seam route that wasn’t executed that resulted in a critical interception on Sunday. Early in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots driving down the field and looking to add to a 24-17 lead, Brady underthrew Gronkowski on a seam route.

The difference this time was that safety George Wilson read it perfectly and Gronkowski didn’t get enough separation to the outside. Wilson read it, stepped up and picked off the pass. It led to the game-tying TD by the Bills.

“Practice,” Gronkowski said. “It’s just basically practice. That’s where it all starts and learning how to get open. Same basically with every route. It’s learn how to get open and it starts in practice and it gets the connection going out at practice with the quarterbacks.  Practice is the key.”

It’s somewhat ironic that the seam route was featured in Part I of the NFL Network show “A Football Life – Bill Belichick.”

The night before their 2009 Week 2 showdown with the Jets in the Meadowlands, Belichick worried aloud in a coaches meeting about how much damage the Jets and – in particular – Jerricho Cotchery – could do in the seam route after the Jets burned the Patriots big time the previous season with the route.

His worst fears were realized as Mark Sanchez found Cotchery running up the seam for 45 yards, leading to the game’s only TD, as the Jets held on for a 16-9 win that day.

No doubt, the Patriots could be seeing a lot more of the seam route on both sides of the ball as the 2011 NFL season moves along.

Read More: A Football Life, Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Buffalo Bills
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