Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer had just replaced Tom Brady on Sunday with less than two minutes remaining of New England's 49-21 victory against the Bills, and the Patriots could have evaporated the clock by taking a knee. Yet Bill Belichick wanted to call one more play for Gronkowski, who ran up the left sideline and caught a 22-yard pass to set an NFL record.
Gronkowski and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham were battling to break Kellen Winslow's 31-year-old record for receiving yards by a tight end in a single season. Gronkowski initially set the new record, but Graham seized it moments later, leading to that final play call for Gronkowski, whose gain gave him 1,327 yards — 17 more than Graham.
"I thought he deserved another chance to go up and try to make another play," Belichick said. "He's had a great year, and he's worked hard. I thought he deserved that."
Gronkowski was humbled by it and thanked the coaching staff after the game for the chance to set another NFL record. He also scored 18 touchdowns this season, which was the most ever by a tight end.
"It's unbelievable," Gronkowski said. "It's surreal that they even let me get that opportunity. They saw that opportunity. It's cool that they even let me go out there. We could have just kneed the ball. We put Hoyer in there. He threw a nice pass, and I just went up and made the play. That's what's so great about being here with the teammates, with the coaches. Everyone is so unselfish that it's crazy."