What a way to make amends.
Coming off his one-game suspension that coincided with the Patriots going 0-for-11 on third down and losing 27-20 in Miami, Rob Gronkowski had a monster game in the clutch in Pittsburgh, leading the Patriots to a key 27-24 win. Gronkowski finished the game with nine receptions for a career-high 168 yards. The 168-yards pushed his 2017 total to 1,017 yards, giving him his fourth 1,000-yard season.
For that performance, Gronkowski was named Wednesday the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
It marks the second time in his career that he has been named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. He first earned the award in Week 14 of the 2011 season.
Gronkowski joins Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten as the only NFL tight ends with four 1,000-yard seasons. In addition, to his 168-yard performance, Gronkowski converted a key 2-point play after the game-winning touchdown to give the Patriots a 27-24 lead.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 18, 2017
Gronkowski must now turn his focus to a rematch with the Bills, a team that publicly said they had it out for him after the 23-3 win in Buffalo two weeks ago, when Gronkowski threw his elbow to the back of Tre’Davious White’s head.
“Well, we focus on what’s important which and that’s the means and the steps necessary to win the football game,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said in a Wednesday conference call. “Any time spent on that situation is really unnecessary and a waste of time. We’ve got too much work to do and these week are too short to do anything like that.”
The Bills, at 8-6, are on the verge of ending an 18-year playoff drought, and it will be up to McDermott to keep his team focused on the task at hand and keeping their collective emotions under control when the stakes are so high.
“You know what, I think they’re very aware of the situation,” McDermott added. “This day in age of social media ‘encourages’ that but we have to remain focused on what we’ve got to do with our process and really just earn the right to win. Staying within our routine every week, trying to improve our routine, as a matter of fact, so that we can continue to grow as a football team.”
It was Patriots coach Bill Belichick who apologized to McDermott for Gronkowski’s hit to the back of the head of Tre’Davious White in the Dec. 3 game that resulted in Gronk’s one-game suspension for the Miami game.
“I’m sure it’ll be a very competitive game, like it always is against Buffalo,” Belichick said Wednesday. “I think that the Bills have played great football all year long. Coach McDermott’s done a great job with the team. They’re very disciplined. They’re tough. They’re physical. They’re very competitive in every phase of the game on every play. There’s no downs off. There’s no plays off. We’re going to have to play a good 60-minute game.
“We need to play with fewer penalties, fewer mistakes, better ball security, better tackling, better discipline. There’s a lot of things we need to do better than the last time that we played them, but they’re a good football team. They’re well-coached and I’m sure that we’ll get their best shot. We need to give them ours.”
On Wednesday, Belichick also noted how the Patriots tight end has seen multiple schemes designed to slow him down over the years, comparing his impact on game-planning to how teams have addressed Matthew Slater and Lawrence Taylor over the years.
“I think Rob’s seen a lot of different coverages, seen a lot of different looks, ways that people try to defend him. I think as any player like that sees more of those things he learns how to deal with them. ‘Here’s how I deal with this situation and here’s how I deal with that situation. This works. This doesn’t, or this works better than that, or this has a place.’ I think those kinds of things that specifically apply to him. The same thing that Matt Slater deals with on kick coverage,” Belichick said. “The same thing that when I coached [Lawrence] Taylor that he dealt with as a pass rusher. You see five or six different things that everybody else doesn’t see. They see what they normally see [that] those guys see different things. Slater has seen every kind of double-team block, every type of trap block, every type of short set, deep set. Every way he can be blocked, he has seen that.
“I think Rob has seen every different way you can cover him from an inside or an outside position based on his style of play, the way teams try to play him. So, you learn how to deal with those. That’s certainly something that experience teaches you because there’s a certain point in your career where you don’t deal with those things, but as you build up and have success and different teams use different techniques or schemes, you’ve got to figure out how to deal with them or they can take you out of being a productive player.
Rob’s done a good job of, as I said, just mentioning those players – one on offense, one on defense, one on special teams – not trying to put them into separate categories, but I’ve dealt with those types of things with players in all three areas of the game and that’s what it is. Those players continue to be productive even though they see repeated schemes or techniques to try and slow them down. They find ways to still be productive within those schemes. I think that’s probably the biggest thing for Rob.”
During the game-winning drive, Gronkowski caught three passes for 69 yards with back-to-back 26-yard receptions followed by a 17-yard catch. He had four receptions of at least 20 yards in the game.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 18, 2017
It is the sixth time in 2017 that the Patriots have been honored with a Player of the Week Award. QB Tom Brady was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 2, 3 and 10. RB Dion Lewis was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 10, and K Stephen Gostkowski earned the award after his performance in Week 11. In addition, Brady was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for November.