FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With three games and a bye week under his belt, Rob Gronkowski is ready for anything in Monday night’s game against the surging Carolina Panthers.
The New England Patriots tight end is ready for some extra blocking against a strong front seven, as much as he’s prepared to run his routes, and catch passes. At this point, he just wants to play.
“Whatever the coaches have me doing,” Gronkowski said Friday after practice. “I’m going to perform to the best of my ability.”
Gronkowski missed the first six games of the season recovering from back and arm surgeries, but has caught 19 passes in three games. He returned with nine receptions vs. the New York Jets on Oct. 20.
“It’s going well,” he said, “and I just have to keep working hard and getting better.”
The Patriots (7-2) and Panthers (6-3) have combined to win seven straight games.
It’s no secret how important Gronkowski is to Tom Brady and the offense. His return —coinciding with that of slot receiver Danny Amendola — has helped the Patriots score 82 points in two games.
“I think Rob gives good balance to his position,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He can block, he can run, he can catch. He gives us balance. He’s a guy that whatever the play calls for, whatever we need to do, we feel like he has a pretty good opportunity to do it.
“That definitely helps us overall on the offense.”
On Monday, he’ll likely roam the middle of the field against Luke Kuechly, a standout linebacker from Carolina who has 239 tackles in less than two seasons since leaving Boston College.
“He’s a great player,” Gronkowski said. “You’ve got to be aware of Luke wherever he is. He can cover. He can play the run. Basically, he is very disruptive and he knows how to make plays.
“But they’ve got a lot of great players on defense.”
NEW YORK — Atlanta safety William Moore and Miami linebacker Philip Wheeler were each fined more than $20,000 by the NFL on Friday for illegal hits during games last weekend.
Moore was docked $22,050 for hitting Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate in the head and neck area, a blow that drew a penalty in the Falcons’ loss last Sunday. It was the fourth time this season that Moore had been fined.
Wheeler was fined $21,000 for his hit in the head and neck area of Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon last Monday night. Dolphins teammate and starting center Mike Pouncey was docked $7,875 for punching the helmet of Buccaneers defensive lineman Akeem Spence, which drew an unnecessary roughness penalty.
San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick was docked $7,875 for grabbing the facemask of Carolina’s A.J. Klein while he was being sacked, a rare fine for a quarterback.
Detroit defensive linemen Nick Fairley and Willie Young were both fined $15,750 for hits on Chicago quarterback Josh McCown. Fairley threw McCown to the turf after the quarterback released the ball, drawing a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. Young was fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit on McCown.
Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap was fined $15,750 for a horse-collar tackle on his sack of Baltimore’s Joe Flacco. Bengals safety Chris Crocker was docked $7,875 for a facemask penalty.
Tennessee safety Bernard Pollard, Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews and Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett were also fined for rough hits on quarterbacks, each docked $15,750.
Philadelphia linebacker Najee Goode was fined $10,000 for a hit to the helmet of Green Bay quarterback Scott Tolzien.
St. Louis cornerback Trumaine Johnson was fined $7,875 for making a throat-slashing gesture during the Rams’ victory over Indianapolis.
Also docked $7,875 by the league were: Chicago’s Charles Tillman (facemask), Green Bay’s Mike Neal (facemask), Tampa Bay’s Eric Page (late hit) and New Orleans’ Kevin Reddick (late hit).
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
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