FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady talks a lot about the importance of trust with his pass-catchers, noting that when the trust hits an optimum level, it can free up his mind for him to be at his best.
A season-opening win over the Houston Texans proved Brady's trust in tight end Rob Gronkowski has clearly reached that special point. It is a place where only the likes of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman and Deion Branch -- and maybe a select few others over the years -- have occupied.
"Part of it is just playing together as long as we have and as many opportunities to grow from experience that we've had on the field are really important," Brady said of the nine-year connection with Gronkowski. "So it's trust, it's dependability, and then it's ability to execute under pressure when it matters the most."
Because of that, Brady is more willing to give Gronkowski a chance in contested-catch situations in games.
His first touchdown throw of the 2018 season, to a double-covered Gronkowski, was one example. Another came late in the second quarter when Gronkowski had two defenders draped over him as he ran up the right seam and still came up with a diving 28-yard catch.
The next day, in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI, Brady said: "He's just a spectacular player and you have to give those guys opportunities. He's the best tight end in the league and probably the best to ever play the game. When you have that guy on your team, you have to give him looks. We have to match his greatness, all of us, in order to be a great offense."
In advance of Sunday's road game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady relayed that the trust he and Gronkowski enjoy can still grow, which is why they spent time after Wednesday's practice together.
It is also how they have stayed sharp in the offseason.
"I remember a couple years ago, we threw in April, like 40 passes, and we hit them all," Brady recalled. "So I know his body language. I know his ability to run and what routes -- he can do really all the routes. It's just a matter of giving him a chance."
Even if it means throwing it to Gronkowski when he appears to be covered.
One of the greatest compliments for a pass-catcher is that he is open even when he is covered, which rings true for Gronkowski. Just ask the opponents trying to cover him.
"He's unbelievable. How do you match up against him?" Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday. "You've seen it throughout the years -- whether you put two guys on him, he still goes up and makes a play. You put a smaller guy on him. A bigger guy.
"Through my time in Buffalo [2013-2014], we tried to do many different things, and we try to do different things. The guy just always comes up and makes plays."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has seen it unfold against his own defense in practice over the past nine years.
"It makes us better," he said. "Our safeties and linebackers that have to cover him, he's as tough to cover as anybody. So it's good work for us."
That work also helps Gronkowski in those contested-catch situations.
"That's a fundamental that you work on in practice because not every play's going to be open by 4 yards, and most of the time in our league, there's going to be somebody close to you when you're catching the football," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "That's also an area of ball security, and I think that's really important -- a contested catch.
"We try to simulate that as much as we can -- somebody that's close to them, hit their arms as they're catching the football -- and obviously Rob has excelled at that in the past. He made some really tremendous catches [Sunday]."