Patriots Notebook

Gronkowski completes homework

By Shalise Manza Young and Monique Walker
Globe Staff / December 27, 2010

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Growing up in Amherst, N.Y., about a dozen miles from Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Gronkowski family had as a neighbor NFL beat writer Vic Carucci.

When Rob Gronkowski was a freshman in high school, running in the same circle of friends with Carucci’s older daughter, he sidled up to the reporter.

“Mr. Carucci,’’ said Gronkowski, who towered over Carucci even at 14 years old. “You’re going to write a paper about me someday.’’

Yesterday, as Patriots tight end Gronkowski returned to his hometown for the first time as an NFL player, Carucci was in the press box, and about 100 family members and friends were in the stands.

After a bad drop on the first play of the game, Gronkowski turned things around, pulling in four passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a strong block on Danny Woodhead’s 29-yard touchdown, the Patriots’ first score of the day.

Gronkowski set up his first score with a one-handed, reaching-behind-him catch that went for 23 yards; two plays later, he was wide open as Tom Brady found him a couple yards short of the end zone. Gronkowski had a clear path to the touchdown.

“It just happens with natural reaction,’’ Gronkowski said of his highlight-worthy grab. “You’re not thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to one-hand this,’ it just happens like that, real quick. It was a great throw and I just made a play on it.’’

With nine touchdowns on the season, the second-round pick tied the team record for most TDs by a tight end in a season (Ben Coates, 1996), and he also has the second-most TDs for a rookie tight end in NFL history, behind Mike Ditka’s 12 in 1961. He shares second place with the Falcons’ Junior Miller (1980).

The only other time Gronkowski had been on the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium was as a middle schooler, when he took part in a Punt, Pass, and Kick competition at halftime of a Bills game.

Gronkowski wanted no part of coordinating tickets for friends and family, not wanting the distraction, and he had no idea how many were there. He knew his dad Gordon, mom Diane, oldest brother Gordie, and younger brother Glenn were in attendance; brothers Dan and Chris play for the Broncos and Cowboys, respectively, and couldn’t be there.

“It was kind of like a homecoming in front of the family; it’s just great going home and scoring twice in front of them,’’ he said. “It’s a dream come true. I would’ve never thought this was going to happen when I was back in high school and college. This is amazing.’’

Stay right there The storm that rolled into New England last night forced the Patriots to spend another night in New York. Their travel plans to Providence were canceled and the team spent the night in Rochester.

With another night on the road, Belichick said the team’s plans would include “rest.’’

“We’re excited about staying here a little longer,’’ Belichick said. “We’ll let our travel people figure that out.’’

Running it up Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis combined for 197 of the Patriots’ 217 rushing yards. For the first time since 2008, the Patriots rushed for 200 yards or more at least twice in a season.

Green-Ellis had 104 yards on 19 carries, while Woodhead had 93 yards on 13 carries and added a touchdown. The team had the majority of its rushing yards (163) in the first half.

Belichick said he attributed the success of the ground game to “good blocking, good running, and good play calling. The players are the ones who gain yards. They’re the ones that blocked. They’re the ones that ran.’’

Green-Ellis collected his third career 100-yard rushing game and his second this season. He now is 72 yards shy of reaching 1,000 rushing yards for the season. If he does it, he will become the first Patriot to reach the mark since Corey Dillon in 2004.

Making impact Shayne Graham continues to quietly contribute after the Patriots had to place Stephen Gostkowski on injured reserve. Graham converted field goals from 34 and 26 yards.

“Shayne’s come in and done a good job,’’ Belichick said. “I mean, we can certainly improve and fine-tune the operation, but we’ve been productive with it for the most part, so that’s been good.’’

In a tight spot The tight ends accounted for all of Brady’s touchdown passes. In addition to Gronkowski’s two, veteran Alge Crumpler caught a 4-yarder in the second quarter, his first TD reception as a Patriot.

Crumpler gets most of his work as a blocker, but he said that’s not all he can do.

“I run routes, too,’’ he said with a grin. “It was a great [throw] and a great play. I was excited about it.’’

Butler doing it Cornerback Darius Butler was one of the first to pull out his AFC East championship hat. Butler has been through his share of ups and downs in his second season. After losing his starting job after Week 2, he has been doing his best to earn more playing time. Yesterday, Butler got more time and came up with a couple of big plays, breaking up at least three passes. In working with Belichick and focusing on fundamentals, Butler said he believes he is improving. “I feel like it was a good game,’’ Butler said. “I didn’t give up a completion, which was good, and we won the game, which was important.’’ . . . Linebacker Jerod Mayo had an impressive game. In the first quarter, he recovered a fumble after linebacker Gary Guyton sacked Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and jarred the ball loose. The Patriots scored a touchdown off the turnover that gave them a 14-3 lead. It was the third fumble recovery of the season for Mayo. He also had a quarterback hit, deflected two passes, and forced a fumble. He ended the game with five tackles.

Connolly takes seat A week after being a special teams hero, offensive lineman Dan Connolly sat out because of a concussion. Ryan Wendell filled in, picking up his first career start in his third NFL season . . . Rookie defensive lineman Kyle Love had the first sack of his career, for a 4-yard loss in the third quarter . . . Offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger saw his first action of the season, on special teams . . . Defensive lineman Landon Cohen, who signed last week, started at nose tackle . . . The Patriots were without a host of players, including Connolly, linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, tight end Aaron Hernandez, defensive linemen Brandon Deaderick, Myron Pryor, and Mike Wright, wide receiver Taylor Price, and running back Thomas Clayton.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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