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Merrimack Valley

November 17, 2013

Panthers' Luke Kuechly vs. Patriots' Rob Gronkowski matchup could be crucial for both teams

When Luke Kuechly played at Boston College, the Eagles practiced on Sundays during the season, preventing him from heading south to Foxborough to see the New England Patriots play.

But the Carolina Panthers’ linebacker will get a close-up look at the Patriots on Monday night in Charlotte, and figures to spend part of the game matched against the (wild) man known as Gronk.

The Panthers’ defensive schemes and Patriots’ play calls will dictate how often Kuechly is asked to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski, whose return from a forearm injury has helped kick New England’s passing game into high gear.

But Kuechly is looking forward to the matchup, regardless of how many plays it turns out to be.

“It’s fun going against good players,” Kuechly said Thursday. “He’s a good player. He’s big. He’s physical. He’s one of the top tight ends. So it should be fun for us.”

Gronkowski, a Pro Bowler the past two seasons, missed the first six games while waiting for his forearm to heal. Gronkowski underwent four operations in a 10-month span to repair a broken bone and to treat subsequent infections, according to the Boston Globe.

Gronkowski’s injury added to the Patriots’ early-season issues with their passing attack following the losses of receiver Wes Welker and pass-catching running back Danny Woodhead in free agency.

Gronkowski’s return has taken the pressure off rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, who struggled with dropped passes early on.

In a 55-31 win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 3, the Patriots put up the most points and yards (610) against the Steelers in their 81-year history. Gronkowski caught a career-high nine passes for 143 yards, as the Patriots had three players finish with 100 yards receiving for the first time in their history.

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