Jimmy Garoppolo

Gronk: Belichick knows to how help Pats avoid distractions

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Rob Gronkowski says coach Bill Belichick makes it easy for the New England Patriots to ignore distractions such as the one created by last week’s ESPN report.

“Throughout my years here I’ve seen a lot of negative, a lot of positive,” Gronkowski said Tuesday as the Patriots prepared for Saturday night’s divisional playoff game against the Tennessee Titans.

“The reputation that Coach tries to get us to have is just ignore the noise – ignore the noise from the outside and I feel like that’s what myself and a lot of other players have been doing.

“You just gotta ignore the noise and just focus on what we’ve been doing all year and that’s preparing hard, studying our opponent, getting ready, mentally and physically for the big game, so what’s going on on the outside, as a team, as an organization, just gotta keep grinding, keep going, keep doing our job.”

Gronkowski, healthy this season after missing last year’s Super Bowl-winning run, said such “noise” will “if anything it’s just going to bring us closer and it’s going to bond us together.”

The report concerned the relationship among team owner Robert Kraft, Belichick and Tom Brady, focusing on Brady’s role in the trading of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a second-round draft pick.

Earlier Tuesday, Brady reacted strongly to the claim he was involved in moving Garoppolo, who won five straight games for his new team down the stretch of the season.

“I think that’s just such a poor characterization of anything. In 18 years, I’ve never celebrated when someone has been traded, been cut,” Brady said on his weekly appearance on Boston radio station WEEI.

“I would say that’s disappointing to hear that someone would express that, or a writer would express that, because it’s so far from what my beliefs are about my teammates.”

He continued, saying, “I would never, ever feel that way about when Jimmy got traded, when Jacoby (Brissett) got traded. I’ve kept in touch with all those guys. When Matt Cassel was gone. All these guys I’ve worked with, I felt like I had such a great relationship with all the quarterbacks I’ve worked with. I kept in touch with basically everybody. So to characterize that as a certain way is just completely, completely wrong.”

Gronkowski was asked if Brady is amped up even more than usual.

“I’ve gotten that question many times throughout my career and I’ve said this many times – it’s hard to see him go to another level of intensity because he’s always intense, he’s always preparing hard,” Gronkowski said.

“I’ve just seen him do the same old that he does every week, prepare hard, practice hard and get ready for the game.”

Defensive captain Devin McCourty was asked about the ESPN article.

“I don’t care about it and I think a lot of guys don’t really care about what goes on outside and who writes what and if we stink, if we’re great – it doesn’t matter.

“So, I just think guys are motivated by playing for each other, their families more than an ESPN article.

“I think it’s a great thing for our fans and people outside. I think they enjoy all of that, but I think for us, it’s just going out there and playing for each other.

“An ESPN article doesn’t help us when we go out there and it’s negative-9 degrees. Like you’re not going to be motivated to prove an article wrong. You’re just having fun playing with the guys.”

Wide receiver Brandin Cooks, in his first year with the team, was asked how they keep distractions out of their locker room.

“I think because the guys listen. Coach has been doing this for a while and he knows what the potential distractions can be,” Cooks said.

“I think he does a great job on letting us know what they are and as players we listen to him and being coachable and tune out the noise.”

NOTES: Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey, talking with New England reporters via a conference call, was asked what affect the ESPN story might have on the Patriots, said, “You know what, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know anything about it. I’m not a social media guy. I don’t know enough, I really don’t, to make any comment about something like that.” … Gronkowski, talking about making AP All-Pro for the fourth time, said, “It’s definitely an honor, a humbling honor, but it means nothing now to tell you the truth, it means nothing. It’s the playoffs now, it’s one-and-done if you lose, so you just keep on preparing, looking forward. … “I’m just looking forward to this game, man – super excited to be back out there with the team.”

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Garoppolo leads surging 49ers past Jaguars 44-33

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Jimmy Garoppolo threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score against one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses and the San Francisco 49ers won their fourth straight behind their new quarterback, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 44-33 on Sunday.

The day wasn’t a total loss for the Jaguars (10-5), who clinched their first division title since 1999 earlier in the afternoon when Tennessee lost at home to the Rams. But the defeat dealt a big blow to Jacksonville’s hopes for a first-round bye. The Jaguars need to win next week and hope Pittsburgh loses twice to get a bye.

The 49ers (5-10) saw their playoff hopes die a long time ago during an 0-9 start but the mood and play around the team changed dramatically after Garoppolo was inserted into the starting lineup earlier this month following a midseason trade from New England.

He has led San Francisco to four straight wins but this one might have been the most impressive, considering the quality of Jacksonville’s defense. The Jaguars came into the game having allowed the fewest points and yards passing in the league, while recording the most sacks.

Garoppolo carved Jacksonville up, completing 21 for 30 passes for 242 yards with TD throws to George Kittle and Trent Taylor as San Francisco pulled away in the second half. Garoppolo improved to 6-0 in his career as a starter.

Blake Bortles threw three interceptions for the Jaguars, including one returned for a touchdown by Dontae Johnson in the first half, after going three straight weeks without one in the best stretch of his career . Bortles threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns but it wasn’t enough for the Jaguars.

FAST START

Garoppolo got San Francisco off to a fast start by completing five of six passes for 75 yards on the opening drive that was capped by his 1-yard TD sneak . That marked the first time the Niners scored a touchdown on their opening drive since Dec. 11, 2016, against the Jets and the first time Jacksonville allowed one this year.

BAD TEMPERS

San Francisco scored on its first two drives, leaving the Jaguars frustrated on the sideline. Defensive lineman Malik Jackson and cornerback Aaron Colvin got into a heated argument near the bench that eventually was broken up by teammates. Jacksonville then committed two personal fouls by Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue on a TD drive in the second half. Jackson then committed a personal foul with 1:43 remaining to give the Niners a first down.

MOMENTUM CHANGER

The 49ers appeared in control when Dontae Johnson returned a deflected interception 50 yards for a TD to put San Francisco up 16-0. But the Jaguars blocked the extra point attempt and Colvin returned it for two points. Bortles then led two straight touchdown drives to close the half, while Garoppolo was intercepted in the end zone by Barry Church after getting hit on the pass to leave the game tied at 16 at the half.

INJURIES

Jaguars left tackle Cam Robinson (abdominal strain) and linebacker Blair Brown (concussion) left the game in the first half and didn’t return.

UP NEXT

Jaguars: Visit Tennessee on Sunday.

49ers: Visit Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

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Garoppolo leads 49ers to 26-16 win over Texans

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HOUSTON — After years of struggles at the position, the San Francisco 49ers may have finally found their quarterback of the future in Jimmy Garoppolo.

But even after leading the team to its second straight win, 26-16, over the Houston Texans on Sunday, the former backup to Tom Brady wasn’t convinced the job is his to keep.

“We’ll see what happens this week. That’s on (coach) Kyle (Shanahan),” he said when asked about starting next week. “I don’t know.”

It’s pretty safe to say that Garoppolo will be under center for the rest of the season after throwing for a career-high 334 yards and a touchdown as the 49ers (3-10) won their second straight game.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

Garoppolo was 20 of 33 in his second start for a team that hasn’t had consistent play at quarterback since Colin Kaepernick‘s great 2013 season. Acquired before the trade deadline from New England, Garoppolo threw for 293 yards in his debut with the team last week to help the 49ers to a 15-14 win at Chicago.

“You’ve got to have guys who are fearless, can hang in there and keep their eyes down the field. He does that very, very well,” Shanahan said. “But he also has the foot quickness and agility to get out of there and extend some plays.”

The game was tied when he found Garrett Celek on a 6-yard touchdown pass with about two minutes left in the third quarter to make it 23-16. Celek had a big play earlier in that drive on a 61-yard reception on third down.

“We knew it was kind of feast or famine against this defense because they’re very physical,” Shanahan said. “But sometimes, you get your opportunities, and we were fortunate enough to come down with them.”

DeAndre Hopkins had 149 yards receiving and two touchdowns, but lost a fumble in the fourth quarter with the Texans down by 7 . San Francisco added 41-yard field goal after that to secure the victory.

T.J. Yates threw for 175 yards and two touchdowns after Tom Savage left with a concussion in the second quarter. Texans (4-9) lost their third straight and sixth in seven games.

Savage was injured when he was driven to the ground on a hit by Elvis Dumervil with about nine minutes left in the second. Replays showed Savage looking dazed after his head hit the ground with both of his arms lifted upward shaking.

He was taken to the medical tent, where he stayed for less than three minutes before returning to the bench and going back in for the next series. He threw two incompletions on that drive, and Houston’s team doctor approached him after he returned to the sideline after that possession.

Savage tried repeatedly to enter the game on the next series. But a team official kept grabbing Savage’s jersey and finally his arm and pulled him away from the field. He then could be seen arguing with that person and the team’s trainer before being escorted to the locker room.

Coach Bill O’Brien said he was evaluated for a concussion after the hit and cleared to return, but that he was evaluated again after he returned because “because of what they saw,” without providing details of what that was.

“They try to make the best decision for the player,” O’Brien said. “Whatever they see and the testing that they do they try to make the best decision with the player and they weren’t satisfied with the results of the second test so they decided to pull him, and that’s when he went into the locker room.”

Yates, who hadn’t appeared in a game since Nov. 16, 2015, was signed last month after Deshaun Watson went out with a knee injury. Houston went up 16-13 when Hopkins grabbed a 29-yard touchdown reception on the Texans’ first drive of the second half.

The 49ers took a 10-3 lead when Carlos Hyde ran 2 yards for a touchdown with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the first half.

Yates connected with Hopkins for a 7-yard touchdown on Houston’s next drive, but the kick failed to leave Houston down 10-9.

Robbie Gould added a 35-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter to leave San Francisco up 13-9.

INJURIES: Houston offensive tackle Kendall Lamm sustained a concussion in the first quarter. The Texans have had six players sustain concussions in the last two games combined. … 49ers rookie receiver Victor Bolden injured his ankle in the second quarter and didn’t return. … San Francisco cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon injured his knee in the fourth quarter.

MEMORIES: Sunday was Shanahan’s first visit to NRG Stadium since losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl when he was the offensive coordinator for the Falcons. He said he didn’t think about that game, where the Falcons blew a 25-point lead, until he got to the stadium on Sunday.

“We got off the bus and were walking across the field, and that’s when I remembered,” he said. “I got some feelings of that. I had some real good feelings in that game, but not toward the end. The feelings today were definitely much better at the end.”

UP NEXT

49ERS: Host the Titans next Sunday.

TEXANS: Visit Jaguars next Sunday.

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