BOSTON (CBS) — To be one-hundred-and-fifty percent clear, there is no such thing as “replacing” Rob Gronkowski. The absolutely massive, unbelievably athletic tight end is a unique force, combining sheer power with quickness and soft hands often reserved for men a fraction of his size. So to say anyone can ever “replace” Gronkowski is a fool’s statement.
But, hey, if you don’t have Gronk, you could do a whole lot worse than Zach Sudfeld.
The undrafted rookie was signed in May, and at the time, few even noticed. After all, with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez poised to have great seasons, what role would an unheralded kid from Nevada have on the team? Well, you know what happened with Hernandez, who may have watched Friday night’s preseason game from prison, and Gronkowski is taking a rather long time to recover from his fifth surgery since last season.
Clearly, someone’s going to have to step up, and though the first thought from many was for Jake Ballard to be the guy, Sudfeld instead looks ready to play the part.
The 24-year-old made two spectacular catches on Friday night that resulted in points. The first came on a two-point conversion, when he managed to haul in a Tom Brady pass in double coverage while keeping his feet inbounds in the back of the end zone. The second came on a long touchdown pass from Ryan Mallett, which was actually knocked out of Sudfeld’s hands before he displayed great concentration to secure the ball as he fell to the turf.
And the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Sudfeld exhibited a proportionate amount of humility after the game.
“It was a great pass,” Sudfeld said of the touchdown, before reiterating. “It was a great pass, really. It was probably a better throw than anything. Fortunately I was able to come up with it.”
And of the two-point conversion, which was no easy catch?
“It was a great throw,” Sudfeld said. “Again, it was probably a better throw than anything else.”
Sudfeld wouldn’t boast about his plays, as he seemed to just be happy with playing a role on the Patriots. While that role may never be “replacing” Rob Gronkowski, he looks capable of at least keeping the seat warm for when No. 87 is healthy enough to play.
But Sudfeld wasn’t the only story, so let’s tear through some preseason leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 25-21 win over the Buccaneers.
–First and foremost, Bob Kraft was styling at this football game. The blue jacket, the gold-framed shades, the pocket square, holy hell. The man looked smooth.
I thought he looked like one of Ocean’s Eleven. Bravo, Bobby K. Bravo.
–Tom Brady’s won Super Bowls, so it seems a bit silly to go on and on about how well he plays in a preseason game, but from the standpoint of watching passes, there is simply none better. Seeing Brady look nearly perfect for a quarter was simply incredible, and I dedicated a few words to it in a separate story. But the bottom line is that No. 12 only seems to get better, and he’s not messing around this year.
–Tim Tebow was the opposite of that.
–If you were looking for a positive sign from the defense, you have to like four sacks from the first unit. Brandon Spikes was his usual hyped-up ball of energy, Chandler Jones bullied Donald Penn for a sack, and Rob Ninkovich picked up a sack too. Whatever Tampa’s game plan was, it definitely wasn’t “get sacked four times in the first two drives,” so that was a pretty nice job by the defense.
–I saw Randy Moss working as an analyst on the television, but being in the press box, I couldn’t hear him. There is no torture quite like knowing Randy Moss is speaking on television but being unable to hear it. I’m left to imagine every single thing he said was unforgettable.
–At one point, I looked up at the TV, and Moss was just staring at the camera, not speaking. It was the best TV I’ve ever seen.
–It was a nice play by Logan Ryan to pick off the pass and take it to the house, but the best part was it forced Tebow to spend more time on the sideline. I like the kid, but it was Friday night, and that game was dragging. The fewer incompletions Tebow threw, the better. Gotta keep that clock moving. Thanks, Logan.
–I detailed in the Four Ups, Four Downs feature that I was impressed with Jamie Collins. Mostly, I liked when he filled a hole, drove through running back Mike James and then suplexed him to the ground for the tackle. It wasn’t quite Rolano McClain-on-Danny Amendola, but it was much more legal, which is ideal.
–In the second half, a fan pulled off a pretty incredible feat. He jumped onto the field, apparently unnoticed by security, and sprinted from the end zone up the sideline. He scanned the sideline to try to find Bill Belichick, and once he did, he yelled to get his attention and then bowed before the coach. He bowed! He then ran through the sideline and for a moment thought he had a chance to escape through the open corner, but he was stopped by a couple of sideline workers and was quickly handcuffed by police. The regret was immediately apparent as soon as the cuffs came on, but still, that was quite the show.
–Belichick also put on a show in the second quarter, when he nearly had to tackle an official in order to get his attention to call a timeout. Belichick was mad. Like, mid-January mad. You have to appreciate that kind of passion in August.
–A player who stood out to me was Shane Vereen. He had a very good 2012 season, but he looks a lot quicker this year, with a more explosive first step. The Touchdown Machine is ready for prime time.
–There is a man tasked with determining a quarterback’s intended receiver on every play. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s not that hard, but my oh my, the degree of difficulty rises quite a bit when Tim Tebow is throwing passes. He was in danger of getting called for intentional grounding a couple of times on Friday, he missed his targets so badly.
–And then, poor Tebow couldn’t even take a knee the right way, getting called for a delay of game. Tough night for Tebow. He’ll bounce back.
–As far as I’m concerned, as nice as the positives are and as ugly as some of the negatives are, the most important thing is that the Patriots got through the game without any injuries to any key players. Really, that’s the most you can ask for in the preseason, and after Brady’s knee scare on Wednesday, health was the vital takeaway.