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Patriots Bye-Week Breakdown: Tight ends

10.31.12 at 7:51 pm ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend, we’€™ve got our Bye Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots. We kicked things off with the running backs and wide receivers. Now, it’€™s the tight ends.

Overview: Entering their third full season together, it was believed that no team could match the young tight end combo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And while they’€™ve both been banged up over the course of the first eight games of the year, it’€™s clear that they are without peer when they are healthy and work together. While the Patriots have had to make some tweaks to their passing game with the two of them at less than 100 percent, it will be interesting to see how the New England offense changes when they’€™re back at full strength. Over the first half of the season, both Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui have provided depth and blocking skills. In fact, the entire group — even Hernandez, who is an occasionally reluctant participant as a blocker — deserves credit for their work as road graders, particularly in the running game. It’€™s one of the big reasons the Patriots have been able to become one of the more balanced offenses in the league.

Depth chart: Gronkowski (43 catches, 580 yards, seven TDs), Hernandez (17 catches, 143 yards, two TDs), Fells (two catches, 53 yards), Hoomanawanui (two catches, 22 yards), Winslow (one catch, 12 yards). For a closer look at how Gronkowski and Hernandez’€™s numbers compare to last year, CLICK HERE.

(If Gronk’€™s numbers seem kind of pedestrian compared to what he did last year, keep two things in mind: One, with the addition of Brandon Lloyd, his numbers were likely to take a dip. We saw that with Wes Welker. And two, it’€™s important to keep in mind that, at least statistically, he had a better second half in 2011. Over the last eight games last season, he had 46 catches and 11 touchdowns — including five games where he had two touchdowns each. Is he poised for a similar streak down the stretch in 2012?)

Best moment: We’€™ve got two. First, Gronkowski’€™s eight-catch, 146-yard effort last Sunday against the Rams was vintage Gronk, right down to his two touchdown celebrations. Second, Hernandez’€™s performance in the season opener against the Titans was amazing not so much because of his numbers (six catches on seven targets for 59 yards and a touchdown), but because he lined up at 10 different spots on the field.

Worst moment: Hernandez going down with an ankle injury in the first half against the Cardinals. Much of the offense is built around the versatility and flexibility of the Florida product, and the sudden removal of the tight end from the lineup caused the New England offense to struggle against Arizona. He’€™s still not at 100 percent.

By the numbers: After Sunday, Gronkowski now has 34 touchdown catches in his first 40 career games, the most in that number of games since Randy Moss started his career with 40 touchdowns in as many games between 1998-2000. (John Jefferson had 34 in his first 40 career games; Bob Hayes scored 35 touchdowns in his first 40 games; and Jerry Rice had 32 in his first 40 career games.)

Money quote: ‘€œThat little nutcracker dude that’€™s guarding the house. I like how he just sits there and stays still. It’€™s pretty cool.’€ — Gronkowski on who he was honoring with his first touchdown celebration last Sunday against the Rams.

Read More: bye week breakdown,
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