Gronkowski changed the offense quite a bit during his brief time last season. (USA TODAY Images)

The news of Rob Gronkowski’s potential availability for week one was a positive sign on Monday, and his brief availability last season, while being short-lived, was still a reminder of what a difference maker he really is in this offense.

Looking back at how things went during the first six weeks of the season, between Danny Amendola missing games 2-4 along with Gronkowski’s absence, it’s amazing that New England was able to lose just one game over that span considering who Tom Brady had to work with.

Through the first six games Brady completed 136 passes on 239 attempts (57% completion rate) for 1480 yards along with 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.  He was also sacked 13 times.

Julian Edelman carried much of the weight of the offense, catching 41 passes for 411 yards and two touchdowns.  Brady also leaned on him quite a bit on third down, with the receiver catching 12 of 16 targets, including 3 of 4 in the red zone along with his two scoring receptions.

When Gronkowski returned to the line-up in Week 7 against the Jets, things changed, although it didn’t start out for the better. ¬†Brady targeted the veteran tight end 17 times with just eight completions, including connecting just once on five tries on third down. ¬†His interception in the third quarter on a pass to Gronkowski ended up being one of the key plays of the game, after Antonio Allen picked the ball off at the Patriots own 23 yard line and took it in for a touchdown. ¬†That got the Jets back in the game and played a big part in New York’s win.

But from there, things certainly came together.  Over the next six games Brady completed 160 of 238 attempts (67% completion rate) for 1977 yards along with 13 touchdowns.  However, one of the biggest changes was down in the red zone where he had previous struggled.   Through the first six games Brady completed just 16 passes on 33 attempts (48%) with seven touchdowns and one interception.

With Gronkowski back in the line-up, Brady’s success down in the red zone improved. ¬†Over the next six contests he completed 20-of-32 attempts¬†(63%) with 10 touchdowns, three¬†of which were caught by Gronkowski. ¬†Overall he completed over 60% of his passes during that stretch, connecting on 182-of-284 for 2205 yards along with 13 touchdowns.

After seeing Gronkowski carted off the field against the Browns following his torn ACL, Brady downplayed the loss of the tight end¬†leading up to the Miami game, and said that having already been without him for much of the season they’d just have to adjust.

“It‚Äôs disappointing to lose anybody,” said Brady that Wednesday. “But we‚Äôve faced that before this year and at different times, so I‚Äôd say at least we‚Äôre adjusted to it a little bit. We still have confidence that we can go out and win games. ”

They ended up losing that game in Miami, which cost them a shot at the number one seed in the playoffs and saw Brady so frustrated after it was over that it ended in him dropping an expletive during his press conference before he walked away from the podium after just two questions.  

Looking back at the numbers over the final three games after Gronkowski was lost for the season, they really struggled.  Brady was just 6-of-18 down in scoring territory (33% completion rate) with just three touchdowns and an interception, and dropped back below 60% overall throwing the football while completing 62 passes on 105 attempts (59%) over that span along with four touchdowns and two picks.

Needless to say the news of a potential return to start the season is certainly good news. ¬†Brady can downplay Gronkowski’s importance but it’s obvious that he’s such a big difference maker when he’s on the field. ¬†It’s been a couple of years since he last played a full season, and hopefully 2014 will be the start of a better stretch for him moving forward.

DOUG FLUTIE FEELS THE NFL IS BECOMING LIKE THE CFL:

Former Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie wrote a column in Tuesday’s MMQB’s “Canada Week” about his time in the CFL, and after seeing the changes in the NFL in recent years believes the style of play is becoming very similar.

“The game in Canada was more exciting, more explosive, more wide open,” Flutie wrote. “It was what the NFL is now becoming. We were going no huddle, over the ball, from the time I got up there. No-back sets, six wide receivers, throwing the ball all over the field. There is a 20-second clock between plays rather than 40. It just creates a pace that the NFL is now realizing to be more exciting-and actually more effective. The NFL is turning into a no-huddle, up-tempo, fast-paced, throw-the-football type of game now. The CFL has been that for the past 30 years.”

Flutie remains bitter over the lack of opportunity he received early in his career, and believes that had the NFL adjusted to this style of offense when he first arrived that his career may have turned out differently.

“I’m pretty sure the trajectory of my career would have been different today,” he wrote. “I would have been in a position to be more successful in the NFL running some of these current styles of offenses, and I think an NFL team would have been more open to turning me into a franchise guy if things went well.”

TROY BROWN AMONG FACES IN A NEW SECURITY SYSTEM:

There was an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Magazine that took a look at the potential future of passwords, which could see a move toward using faces as an alternative to conventional passwords.

According the article, the study, which was conducted by researchers at the Universities of York and Glasgow, tested the feasibility of a “facelock” that blocks access to a given program or device until the user can recognize several familiar faces in a sea of unfamiliar ones. Users selected faces familiar to them, and then both they and hypothetical “attackers” were asked to try to get into their accounts by successfully selecting the right face out of a grid of nine four times in a row.

One of the big keys to the system was the fact that users were asked to select photos of people they could easily recognize, and one of the players who surprisingly made the list was Troy Brown, who is apparently a favorite of author Jesse Singal, as well as a Patriots fan.  Singal linked to the blocked field goal in the AFC Championship game by Brown as a favorite memory.

The study overall was interesting as the usability saw 97.5 percent of users being able to have success recognizing the faces they picked a week later, and one year later it only dropped to 86 percent.  Also pointed out was the fact that neither strangers (0.9 percent) nor close friends and family members of the person who chose the photos (6.6 percent) had much luck cracking facelocks, and those numbers dropped even further when it came to succeeding on the first attempt.

We’ll see if it ends up coming to fruition in the years to come.

ANDRUZZI CONTRIBUTING IN A LIMTED ROLE:

Accoding to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, former offensive lineman and fan favorite Joe Andruzzi was spotted at the recent offseason practices while working as an assistant coach with the team’s strength and conditioning staff.

While Andruzzi doesn’t officially have a title, being around the players and trying to provide some guidance¬†is something he says he enjoys doing and it’s an opportunity for him to “pay it forward”.

“I had good numbers coming out of a small school, which I think helped get me in the league, and then I think it helped me stay in the league,” Andruzzi told Reiss. ¬†“I enjoy it, I love being a part of it, and this is a way for me to pay it forward.”

His Charitable foundation is hosting its annual golf tournament on Monday at Pinehills Golf Course in Plymouth, Mass. Current Patriots Rob Ninkovich and Matthew Slater are reportedly expected to be co-hosts of the tournament.

QUESTIONS CONTINUE ABOUT ARMOND ARMSTEAD:

There have been plenty of questions surrounding Patriots defensive lineman Armond Armstead, and for fans hoping to see him contribute, it appears those hopes may be fading.

Mike Reiss held his weekly mailbag this week and one of the questions touched on whether or not Armstead would ever suit up for the team after missing the recent¬†mini camp practices. ¬†According to Reiss, it’s beginning to sound like the health issues he’s been dealing with may ultimately prevent him from contributing at this point, which is bad news for someone who many thought could potentially make an impact.

Reiss also points out a recent article by the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels, who noticed a Tweet from Armstead’s father during the week Armstead wasn‚Äôt seen at OTAs. ¬†According to Daniels his father Tweeted that Armstead¬†was in Boston, and then three days later, on July 9, wrote the following:

‚ÄúRough week for our family, God spoke to me and said continue to live out your faith. So as for me and the Armstead house we will [praise the Lord].‚ÄĚ

It’s hard to know exactly what that all may mean, but the overall picture doesn’t appear to be promising.

Belichick talked about Armstead prior to the team’s first minicamp practice and had positive things to say about him, but the question will remain whether or not he’ll be able to contribute moving forward.

‚ÄúArmond‚Äôs really worked hard. He‚Äôs had a lot of adversity personally that he‚Äôs had to deal with. Unusual compared to most other players,‚ÄĚ Belichick said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs had a great attitude, worked hard. He‚Äôs really done everything we‚Äôve asked him to do.‚ÄĚ