It’s been quite an interesting week as the Patriots continue getting ready to take on the high-powered Saints this Sunday, and here are some final thoughts heading into the weekend:


Gronkowski’s status remains up in the air for this weeeknd.
(USA TODAY Images)

1) Rob Gronkowski is learning what it’s like to play in New England – After seeing a few people on Twitter lay into the veteran tight end last week after the story surfaced in the Boston Herald that the veteran’s return was being delayed because he wanted to make sure he felt ready enough to perform, I opened up a column watching Tweets directed directly at him and have followed them all week.  It’s been an eye-opening experiment and it’s hard not to be surprised – and disturbed – by the results from many fans who seem to be more concerned with their fantasy teams than with Gronkowski’s long-health.  The derogatory comments, people questioning his toughness, and many other things that aren’t fit to write came out in force this week, likely amplified by the fact the team suffered their first loss last weekend.  It’s amazing that people clearly can’t grasp the fact that this is a pivotal point in his career, and it’s more important that he return for what will hopefully be the long-haul after all the setbacks he’s suffered.  There’s already Mike Petraglia of WEEI.com’s report that Gronkowski could have avoided all this if the team had just let the bone heal on its own to begin with, which explains why Dr. Andrews is being brought in as a third party to evaluate him before he’s cleared, and it’s still not a given that he’ll be back this weekend.  But give credit to Gronkowski – and his family – for stepping in and standing up for himself because in the end they’re more focused on what everyone wants to begin with, and that’s for the tight end to be able to get back in there so he can live up to the contract that will have him here through 2017.

2) If Kelly can’t go, New England’s defense may still be O.K. – at least for this weekend – It was bad enough seeing Vince Wilfork go down in Atlanta two weeks ago, but seeing Tommy Kelly drop to the turf untouched was certainly upsetting Sunday in Cincinnati.  It’s disappointing because when the season began, for the first time in a long time New England actually had a pretty solid duo in the center of their defensive line in Wilfork and Kelly.  When Wilfork initially went down the thought was, “well, at least they still have Kelly.”  Now after potentially losing both things certainly look a little different.   The one saving grace is the fact that the Saints are not a running team, as they’re currently ranked 26th in the league in yards per game with 77.8  and are 19th in average attempts with 25.2.  They also only average 3.1 yards per carry (29th in the NFL).  The biggest issue is the fact that the Patriots’ interior pass rush will suffer, which could potentially be an issue.  If it comes down to Drew Brees against the Patriots secondary, it will be difficult, however, for the first time in years there’s at least reason to be optimistic because the Patriots have the personnel to compete.  Kelly hasn’t practiced this week thus far, but New England may be able to survive his absence if he’s out this weekend.  After that may be a different story, so it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

3) Stevan Ridley is this week’s “X-Factor” offensively- After sitting out last week’s game against the Bengals, Ridley has participated in practice this week and all indications seem to point to him playing on Sunday against the Saints.  That’s good news for the Patriots, who are going up against a tough defense and need a more viable threat rushing the football to help keep Rob Ryan’s group off balance.  Ridley’s still the most explosive back this team has and aside from the rough start he had in the season opener, he’s done a good job carrying the football since then.  We’ve seen more of an emphasis on play action from New England’s offense so far this season, although last weekend the Bengals got some interior pressure that has hopefully been corrected.  The lack of balance hurt them last weekend after Brady threw the football 17 times on first down, with just five completions, compared to only nine rushes. Needless to say Ridley should be able to help them there and give them a threat they were sorely missing last weekend.

NINKOVICH ISN’T BITTER TOWARD NEW ORLEANS:

It’s interesting to note that linebacker Rob Ninkovich was a former fifth round pick with New Oreans back in 2006, and a knee injury ultimately led to the Saints waiving him the following year after they seemingly had given up on him.  After a couple of seasons with Miami he re-joined New Orleans in ’08 but never was able to earn a role with the team that drafted him.  Now he’s thriving in New England, which is obviously great for fans here who have seen him become a key part of the Patriots’ defense.  Looking back, Ninkovich told reporters on Thursday that he has no ill-feelings toward them and understood that it’s a business, and he’s happy things worked out the way they  did.

“I have no ill feelings towards the Saints or towards Sean (Payton),” said Ninkovich. “I know that its business and I’m happy that I was able to get the opportunity to come here and play football for the New England Patriots. It was a great learning experience for me, not only just in general but in life. It was a life lesson to pursue your goals and go after things that you want. It just kept me motivated, really, and to stay hungry for my long term goals and playing in the NFL.”

SPOTLIGHT ON THE RED ZONE PASSING OFFENSE:

As we know, the Patriots have struggled in the red zone this season and taking a closer look at our stats database, there were some numbers that stood out.  Overall, Tom Brady so far is 12-of-28 (43%) passing with six touchdowns and one interception.  Rookie Kenbrell Thompkins has been the Patriots’ most targeted receiver, having been targeted 9 times with four receptions and three touchdowns.  Julian Edelman is next, having been targeted 7 times with two touchdowns.  The biggest number that stands out is Brady is 0-for-4 targeting Aaron Dobson in scoring territory, as the two haven’t been able to connect thus far.  Hopefully when Gronkowski returns things will begin to open up, as Brady threw 8 red zone touchdowns to him last season, the highest to any player in 2012.

A QUICK THANKS TO ALL OF YOU:

Just a quick note of thanks to each of you who have been reading this feature each morning.  It’s grown quite a bit since the start of the season and I appreciate all of you coming here every day to read this, it definitely means a lot.  We also recently surpassed 5,000 followers on Twitter, which was also a pretty good milestone considering we were a little late in getting involved with that portion of the social networking world.  It’s been a fun endeavor so far, and I’ll do my best to continue working toward making this an interesting piece each morning.  So thank you for being a part of it through the first six weeks of this season, and hope you all have a great weekend.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON HERALD:

Notebook: Rob Gronkowski in a days – Jeff Howe – Howe writes that Rob Gronkowski is on day 39 of his classification as “day-to-day”, with the tight end telling reporters yesterday there was, “Basically, nothing new” to report regarding his status.

Rob Ninkovich works way to reach goals – Jeff Howe – Howe has a good read on Rob Ninkovich, who was actually drafted by the Saints in the fifth round in 2006.

Chatham: Jimmy Graham poses unique problem – Matt Chatham – Chatham has his weekly, “Chatham Report” and talks about the fact he’ll be watching how the Patriots handle Graham this Sunday.

BOSTON GLOBE:

Rob Gronkowski stays tight-lipped on status – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young files her notebook this morning, which leads off with words from Gronkowski as well as a couple of injury related notes.

Saints defense comes a long way under Rob Ryan – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer has a good read on how far the Saints defense has come since Rob Ryan was hired during this past offseason.

ESPN BOSTON:

Highlighting Patriots-Saints connections - Field Yates - Yates has a good read on some of the connections between these two teams, including former Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson, who is having a good season thus far.

WEEI:

Oh, brother: Rob Ryan’s Saints defense presents Patriots with major challenge - Christopher Price – Price writes that if it’s not one Ryan giving the Patriots trouble, it’s the other and that will likely be the case when New England takes on defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s Saints this weekend.

Source: ‘Serious concern’ over Gronk health - Mike Petraglia – Petraglia has an interesting report this morning surrounding Gronkowski’s injury and cites a source that said there is still “serious concern” over the tight end’s bone in his surgically repaired arm.

MASS LIVE:

Rob Gronkowski injury: New England Patriots hoping the tight end returns, but situation remains fluid – Nick Underhill – Underhill writes that while Gronkowski remains a possibility for this weekend, it’s not a guarantee yet.

NESN:

Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson Developing Well, Patriots’ Receivers Not to Blame for Struggles on Offense - Doug Kyed – Kyed has an article on the rookie receivers, who he writes that the rookie season for both Dobson and Thompkins might not be perfect, but it’s gone better than expected.

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski keeps lid on status for Sunday – Jennifer Toland – Toland writes that Gronkowski wouldn’t – or couldn’t – answer the question everyone wanted to know, and that’s: Will he play when the Patriots host the Saints?

Patriots prepare for Saints, Drew Brees’ pass attack – Jennifer Toland – Toland has a good look at the Saints offense, which obviously prevents quite a challenge Sunday.

GO LOCAL PROV:

What to Watch For: Patriots vs. Saints – John Rooke – Rooke has his what to watch for, and writes that maybe now the Patirots can get back to the important business at hand, “like getting better”.

PROVIDENCE JOURNAL:

Facing Saints defensive coordinator Ryan, Pats have been down this road before - Paul Kenyon – Kenyon writes that while the Patriots have gone up against a Ryan coached defense twice a year recently, this season prevents a bonus as they get to do it three times.