ATLANTA — If this was it for Rob Gronkowski, there could not have been a more symbolic game to sum up his uniquely remarkable NFL career.
“I took a quad shot,” Gronk said as he made his way to the podium. “It’ll be sore tomorrow I’m sure but hey it’s worth it.”
No line better sums up the fearless tight end’s nine years in a Patriots uniform.
The tight end who suffered through ankle, leg and back issues all season, caught six passes from Tom Brady Sunday night for 87 yards and set up the game’s only touchdown with the clutchest of clutch grabs – a 29-yard completion in triple coverage to the Rams 2 midway through the fourth quarter.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) February 4, 2019
On the next play, it was Sony Michel into the end zone for the 10-3 lead with seven minutes left.
“I’ll tell you this, it was the most satisfying year I’ve ever been apart of,” Gronkowski told me. “How we came together, the obstacles we had to overcome, the grind from the beginning of training camp to now, it’s just surreal. We went through life this year. We figured it out, we found our identity. Keep on grinding, that was our identity, wear the other team out. We weren’t making big, flashy plays all the time – once in a while, but we stuck together, grinded, ran the ball, now we’re Super Bowl champions, we’re world champions.”
In the middle of the answer, Gronk spotted Tom Brady heading out of the postgame interview staging area and yelled, “Tom, you know we stuck together! Love you Tom,” To which Brady replied, “we always do!”
That’s the thing with this Patriots team and Gronk perfectly summed it up Sunday after the 13-3 win over the Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Patriots found a way to win a Super Bowl when all phases of their game were not in top form. They were 1-2 at one point. They were 9-5 after losses in Miami and Pittsburgh. There was the lasting image of Gronk unable to tackle Kenyan Drake, who teased “I couldn’t let Gronk tackle me” at the end of the Miracle in Miami.
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) February 4, 2019
If there’s one play Sunday night that summed up just how tough Rob Gronkowski is it happened in the second quarter. The Patriots were facing third-and-9 at the Rams 28. He caught a pass from Brady at the 24 for a simple 4-yard gain but took a vicious hit from Cory Littleton and Mark Barron. Gronkowski limped off before Stephen Gostkowski hit from 42 yards for the first points of the game.
“Yeah, my quad, it hurts a lot. I can barely walk right now,” Gronk told me. “Yeah, it tightened up. Adrenaline was flowing throughout the game, it’s the Super Bowl. I’ve had these quad shots about four times now. Probably won’t be able to walk that good tomorrow, but it’s all good because we’re the Super Bowl Champs.”
No one has mastered the adrenaline rush of the NFL better than Rob Gronkowski over his nine seasons in the NFL, which now have certainly earned him a place in Canton. Which brings us back to the fourth quarter. Brady needed a big play from Gronk to get the Patriots on the doorstep and it was Gronk he turned to.
Brady knew exactly where Gronk was going to be because he’s played with him so long. And even with three defenders converging, there was no doubt the tight end was coming down with the ball.
“Yes, I knew the ball was coming. I saw the coverage,” Gronkowski said. “It was the same coverage as the play before when we ran it. I’m pretty sure it was two plays before when I wound up in the same spot. (Josh) McDaniels saw it, and I saw the same coverage, same play-call.
I just knew it was going to come to me. I just understand how we work as an offense, understand the play-calling. We’ve been together for how many years now? Tom and I, McDaniels and I, everyone. I knew it was going to come to me and I knew I had to make that play. When it comes to crunch time, I always find a way.”
Exactly. No player has sacrificed his body more than the man with three back surgeries, multiple forearm procedures, a torn ACL, a bum ankle and countless other bumps and bruises. He’s done with mostly a smile on his face because he loves football and his teammates love him back all the more.
That’s the beauty of Gronk. It’s why Brady went to Gronk at the end of regulation in the Chiefs game in the AFC Championship. It’s why Brady went to him on the final third-and-10 in overtime. And it’s why Brady went to him in a 3-3 game in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII.
“Incredible catch. He’s an awesome player, great teammate, friend, and just so proud of everything that he’s done for our team,” Brady said of Gronk’s 29-yard go-route. “He just had an incredible game.”
If Rob Gronkowski decides that two Super Bowl wins (inactive in Super Bowl LI) and a hall of fame caliber career is enough, then Sunday was the perfect way to go out. But Gronk passed that decision off until he gets to enjoy a party or two and another duck boat parade.
“Tonight, it’s about celebrating with my teammates, and that decision will be made a week or two down the future, because tonight, that’s what it’s about, is celebrating with my teammates. That’s what I’m worried about tonight,” Gronkowski said. “We’re going to have a good time. Bill (Belichick) told me he’s partying tonight. So, you know it’s going to be good.”
Belichick will no doubt raise a toast to one of the toughest men he’s ever coached. He’s earned it.
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