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Patriots Notebook

Kid proves to be kidder

Gronkowski had fun before game

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / November 29, 2011
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FOXBOROUGH - Spend five minutes around Rob Gronkowski and one thing becomes clear: he is a big kid in a massive tight end’s body, a young man with a fun attitude and more than a little goofball in him.

Gronkowski took his sense of humor into the pregame production meeting with CBS broadcasters in Philadelphia Saturday when he said that quarterback Tom Brady had been hard on him in the days leading up to the Patriots’ game against the Eagles and that he felt like it was “dump on Gronk week.’’

But as is often the case with Gronkowski, he wasn’t being serious.

Brady chuckled when he heard Gronkowski’s words during his contractually obligated weekly appearance on WEEI yesterday.

“I never think Gronk even knows when I’m getting on him,’’ Brady joked. “He looks at me with this blind stare like, ‘What are you talking about?’ ’’

“I have a lot of respect for both of those guys [Gronkowski and fellow second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez] and I am tough on them because I think there’s very high expectations for them both, on the practice field, obviously in games, and then in the meeting rooms as well.

“Everyone has high expectations for those two because they’ve proven they can handle it. So when you see certain inconsistencies, you point it out to them and sometimes they don’t want to hear it.

“But ultimately I had a lot of older players do that to me when I was a younger player and part of being a veteran player is pointing things out that you need corrected as a team, because every year that goes on is one less opportunity you’ll have to accomplish the goals that you set out.

“And to be honest, I’ll be damned if I let some rookie or second-year player get in the way of our goals.’’

Gronkowski has an AFC-high 11 touchdowns already this season, and has 60 receptions (tied for fifth in the league) for 864 yards (seventh in the league).

His 11 scores are a franchise season record for tight ends, and he’s two away from tying the NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end. Antonio Gates (San Diego 2004) and Vernon Davis (San Francisco 2009) share the record with 13.

Underwood gets run

Many were surprised that with receiver Chad Ochocinco out Sunday, it was Tiquan Underwood and not Taylor Price whose number of snaps went up. But listening to Brady and coach Bill Belichick yesterday gave a hint of why.

Brady was asked about Underwood and gave the 24-year-old positive reviews.

“Ti was on our team late in the preseason, really picked up our offense very quickly, and he’s just always been on the radar for our scouting department . . . we had an opportunity to bring him back and we did,’’ Brady said. “He’s proven that he’s very dependable in practice, and I was bummed for him [because of a drop Sunday] because I know how badly he wanted to make that play. But he’ll have other opportunities.

“He’s a good young player that really works hard and he deserves an opportunity and he got one and I know he wishes that we would have executed better, but that’s part of football.’’

Underwood has been cut twice by the Patriots this season and was re-signed on Thanksgiving.

Belichick defended Underwood on his missed catch, saying it was a “tough play.’’

When asked what went into the decision to play Underwood over Price - of the 46 players in uniform Sunday, the 2010 third-round draft pick was the only one not to step on the field - Belichick said little.

“What went into it was Tiquan played more than Taylor did,’’ he said flatly. “Maybe it will be that way this week, maybe it won’t. It [wasn’t] that way the week before, so we’ll take it week to week.’’

Thomas leading man

With Ryan Wendell starting at center Sunday, he wasn’t available to play his other sometime role, fullback. So when the Patriots lined up on first-and-goal from the 1 in the second quarter, Donald Thomas got the call to lead the way for BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

“It was cool,’’ said the reserve offensive lineman. “It was a fast play - faster than I expected. But I did my assignment. I’ve done it a little bit during practice, and I had to be ready when it was called.’’

With right guard Brian Waters pulling, Thomas went through the gap he created and Green-Ellis followed for his second touchdown of the game. Neither the pseudo-fullback nor his running back were touched on the play.

The good-natured Thomas, a Connecticut native who welcomed his first son earlier this month, has become the target of an odd, ongoing joke in the locker room: every couple of days since just before his son was born, a different small, costumed rubber duck has appeared in his locker.

His teammates know who the duck culprit is, but Thomas does not.

Awkward landing

At the end of his 8-yard run early in the third quarter, Brady slid, as quarterbacks should, but he did so with his left leg leading, and the bulky brace he’s worn on that knee since his 2008 ACL tear took up a big chunk of Lincoln Financial Field grass, much of which got stuck in the brace.

He was asked whether he works on his sliding like he works on his throwing.

“No, but I probably should, because that was pretty pathetic,’’ Brady said with a laugh. “Maybe I should go over to Fenway and have those guys teach me how to slide. But I’ve got this big knee brace on my left knee. When I slide on grass, it just digs into the turf. There was a huge clump of grass that came up. Maybe I should slide on my right knee.’’

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

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