FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Patriots had a vision of what could be when they acquired Martellus Bennett in a trade with the Bears this spring.
They knew what they had in sure-handed 2015 All-Pro Rob Gronkowski, who developed into Tom Brady’s favorite target over his seven years in New England. The question was whether the veteran Bennett, a 2014 Pro Bowl selection, could fit into both the Patriots’ unique culture and having to share the field with an established tight end.
If the past two weeks are any indication, the Patriots may have created the perfect two-headed monster.
Since Brady returned to the field from his four-game suspension, Gronkowski and Bennett have helped New England put up some of its best offensive numbers of the season.
Bennett posted a career-high three touchdowns in a 33-13 win at Cleveland in Brady’s season debut Oct. 9. That was followed by Gronkowski ‘s performance Sunday, grabbing seven receptions for a career-high 162 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots’ win 35-17 win over the Bengals.
“I feel like it’s good,” Bennett said of how his first year in New England has played out. “There’s several different aspects to it — mindset and where you are mentally and different things like that. I’ve felt at home here since Day 1. It’s a place I feel like I belong.”
It turns out the new tandem found each other before Bennett even was traded to the Patriots.
Bennett was in the gym doing an offseason workout when the 6-foot-6 Gronkowski walked up to the 6-7 Bennett.
“He was like, ‘All that sweating? I thought I was the only guy that sweats like that,'” Bennett recalled Gronk saying. “And I was like, ‘You’re not the only other tight end that’s working, bro.’ But the funny thing is I saw him, he was like huge. He was big. He was just like me. But it was funny. We just hit it off from that day. We just told jokes and laughed.”
Bennett was traded to New England a few days later.
That instant camaraderie has carried over from training camp to the regular season. Gronkowski and Bennett are not only sharing moves and tips on the field, but bonding off it as well. It’s there that “Marty” and the “Gronkinator” have come to appreciate one another the most.
“He’s such a complete tight end and he can do it all and it’s just great going out there and learning from each other and helping each other out because both of our goals are the same,” Gronkowski said. “It’s to get the team win and do whatever we can for the team, so it’s awesome having him there.”
It certainly hasn’t hurt that Gronkowski is as healthy as he’s been all season after missing the first two games recovering from a training camp hamstring injury.
The best display so far of the impact Gronkowski and Bennett can have together came early in the third quarter against Cincinnati. The Patriots had just scored on a safety to trim the Bengals lead to 14-12 and gotten the ball back following Cincinnati’s free kick.
Working from a double tight end set, Brady began the drive with a 24-yard pass to Bennett over the middle. He went to Bennett again for a short gain on the next play. Then after a loss by LeGarrette Blount, the drive ended with back-to-back passes to Gronkowski: a 38-yard gain, followed by a 4-yard touchdown to put the Patriots in front to stay.
In total the drive took five plays and 2:05 off the clock.
“We interchange,” Gronkowski said. “Sometimes he’s out there in the sub packages. Then the next play, next series I’m out there in the sub packages, which help each other out big time.”
Bennett said that both he and Gronk leave the more playful parts of their personalities outside the meeting room, where it’s all football as they dissect opposing defenses. It’s there that Gronk has been in awe of Bennett’s voracious note taking.
Bennett said he’s been known to go through a notebook a week sometimes.
“During meetings we don’t really joke around. We don’t really mess around,” Bennett said. “We get our work done and as soon as the meeting’s over it’s like ‘Hey, we can go have fun again.’ There’s a time for work and there’s a time for play.”
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