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Mike Shalin's Working Press: Steelers game looms large for rolling Pats

November 20. 2017 8:40PM
Nov 19, 2017; Mexico City, MEX; New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola celebrates with tight end Rob Gronkowski after catching a touchdown pass in the second quarter of Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders during an NFL International Series game at Estadio Azteca. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Rob Gronkowski wasn’t really a key factor in the Patriots’ south-of-the-border rout of the Raiders, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t important.

The big fella is always a worry to the opposition, thus freeing Tom Brady to do other things. No. 87 also blocks and is just a general nuisance. His 10-yard catch near the end of the first half set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 62-yard field goal that easily could have been a 70-yarder if needed.

But in the world of post-game stuff, Gronk had the two best lines and was part of another.

“Me llamo Roberto,” he said as he opened his stay at the podium.

Then, later, he said, “It was just a fiesta all over the field, man.”

Gostkowski said: “I think every time I’ve had a long kick, I think Gronk makes the catch right beforehand, so I think it’s a nice little Polish connection.”

As usual, Gronk was spot on. It really WAS a fiesta for the Patriots. The sixth win in a row gives them 17 straight seasons of at least .500. It was early when you figured it was time to look ahead.

We know this team isn’t going to go undefeated through 19 games. But how about running the table to a sixth title?

Dec. 17 is the date everyone has circled on the calendar. Forget two games with the Dolphins and Bills and one with the Jets. The Steelers are 8-2 and the Pats have to go there for what could come down to a battle for home field down the road in the playoffs.

Another milestone

Bill Belichick broke his tie with Tom Landry and is now third on the NFL’s all-time wins list — and was presented with the game ball by Robert Kraft.

“That’s a credit to our players. Players win games,” Belichick said. “I think what it means is, No. 1, I’ve been doing it for a long time. No. 2, I’ve coached a lot of great players. So I’ve been fortunate to have a great coaching staff, great players and had a great opportunity to direct those people.”

As usual, the Patriots did everything right on their two-week road trip to high altitude. They outscored the Broncos and Raiders by a combined count of 74-24. Neither opponent showed up, but the Patriots can do that to a team. They hit you early, they end the first half by scoring — seven straight games scoring in the last two minutes of the half and outscoring the opposition 27-0 in those important minutes.

The Broncos stink. The Raiders stink. So many teams stink in that league. But as we said here recently, the Patriots don’t stink and they just keep pounding these inferior opponents.

Add Miami to the list next week.

Keep traveling

Pats president Jonathan Kraft on his team playing future international games: “We are open to doing it. ... We are not afraid of taking the show on the road.”

On that same pregame show Sunday, Kraft, alluding to Jerry Jones’ problem with the commish, said Jones sent a message to his dad that read, “I think you all should take your medicine and focus on winning football games.” ...

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio, whose team has played in Mexico two straight years, likes the idea but says, “If this was a road game I would enjoy it. Stop making them our home games, we’ll be fine.”

Gone too soon

I can recall my first week on the Boston College football/basketball beat. Dan Henning, a very nice man who was an unfortunate victim in the football gambling scandal, had his team in New Jersey to play Ohio State at the Meadowlands.

The Eagles had gone 7-4-1 the previous season and were ranked heading into 1995. But as he stood in a hotel lobby the night before the opener, he knew what his team was up against: an Ohio State roster that was loaded with future NFL players.

Terry Glenn was one of those players. The Buckeyes won 38-6.

Glenn died in a car accident in Texas early Monday morning at age 43.

“Incredibly sad to hear about my buddy Terry Glenn,” tweeted Drew Bledsoe. “Overcame a ton of adversity to become an excellent person. May your soul rest in peace my friend. #riptg88”

As a rookie, after being the seventh player taken in the draft, Glenn butted heads with Bill Parcells, the wrong guy to pick a fight with. Parcells famously referred to Glenn as “she,” a tag that stuck with a productive wide receiver throughout his career. Glenn caught 90 passes that rookie season and helped the Pats to the Super Bowl. He caught Brady’s first NFL touchdown pass.

He also played for the Cowboys and the Packers, finishing with 593 catches for 8,823 yards and 44 touchdowns.

Said Belichick: “I was pretty close with Terry. His rookie season was my first year here in ’96, so I had a lot of interaction with him and other people that were involved in his life and his upbringing separate from the Patriots. Terry was a very smart individual, had a lot of, obviously, a lot of physical skill and talent, could do a lot of things on the football field very naturally. I think he was deep down inside a good person with good intentions and a good heart. Obviously, it’s a very unfortunate passing. I mean, it’s just sad. It’s a sad day. It’s sad news.”

Good trip

The Bruins still aren’t scoring goals, but they did post back-to-back low-scoring victories to close the three-game West Coast portion of a trip that ends — after the team actually came home — with a game in New Jersey on Wednesday night.

If you were awake for the very late games, Anton Khudobin was outstanding in both games. That creates a legitimate goalie controversy on Causeway Street.

Through the first 20 games of the season, Khudobin is 5-0-2 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. Tuukka Rask is 3-7-2 with a 2.89 GAA and .897 save percentage.

If you go back to last year, Khudobin is 11-0-2 in his last 13 starts.

To Rask’s credit, he took it well when Khudobin got the two straight starts on the trip.

“I would have done the same thing if I was the coach,” Rask said. “Doby played a heck of a game. The results have been there. I haven’t been able to get wins in the past three starts. So it’s understandable.”

Said coach Bruce Cassidy: “Tuukka gets it. Anton has played well. We got a lot of hockey left. It’s not like it’s some permanent move.”

Kids come through

Cassidy is impressed with the play of his young players.

“We talked about it in July and August that some of these kids were going to be given an opportunity and you’d never know which ones are gonna step up,” he said. “It was (Anders) Bjork for a while. He’s injured. (Peter) Cehlarik comes in and gets his first goal. He’s playing in key situations. Jake (DeBrusk) has really bounced back from a little banishment up top.

Charlie (McAvoy), you see it on a nightly basis. (Sean) Kuraly doesn’t get talked about much, does a good job for us. He’s out there against (Joe) Thornton sometimes in their end. He’s out there against (Logan) Couture. These are world-class players. Good for them.

“We need it, especially being absent some of the guys we rely on… a lot of positives. You hope it pays off in the long run.”

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is

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