In a season in which the Patriots' offense hasn't yet lived up to its lofty expectations, Gronkowski would normally be relied on to help bolster the passing attack. Instead, Gronk became something of a blocking specialist.
With the Patriots' offensive line struggling to protect Brady from the Ravens' aggressive pass rush, Bill Belichick called on Gronkowski to undertake the role of protecting his quarterback. The reassigned role resulted in just three targets and two catches for 21 yards for the big tight end, marking Gronk's worst statistical showing since hauling in one catch for 15 yards against the Raiders in Week 4 last season.
With Aaron Hernandez absent from Sunday night's showdown, Gronkowski's presence in the passing attack was something of a necessity to get Brady and the offense rolling. And the offense was rolling early on. But once Belichick realized that the protection along the line was struggling so mightily, Gronkowski was forced into action.
The passing attack took a significant hit in his stead, as an ailment to Brandon Lloyd and the loss of Julian Edelman for the entire second half slowed Brady from developing any sort of consistency through the air. But the need up front — at the time at least — was more important than the impact Gronk could have had while spread out wide.
At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, Gronk is a physical specimen perfectly fit to push defensive linemen around. His best use still lies as a receiver, but Gronk's monstrous frame and strength make him an almost impenetrable force on the line.
While he wasn't a major part of the passing attack, Gronk still had a big impact on the Patriots' offensive success in Baltimore. Being used as a blocker along the line a lot more than normal, Gronkowski was able to help alleviate some of the pressure on second-year tackle Nate Solder on the left side and keep Brady vertical for much of the second half.
Gronkowski dealt with continuous heat from the likes of Courtney Upshaw, Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and even Chandler Jones' older brother, Arthur, at times. But he was able to keep the Ravens' rushers at bay, and he made sure Brady didn't have to endure any more than the six QB hits and the pair of sacks the Ravens unloaded.
The result of Gronkowski's changing role was a success, for the most part, as he limited the Ravens' ability to both get to Brady and disrupt the running game. But with Gronk largely missing from the aerial attack, the Patriots just never found a rhythm and consequently only racked up 10 points in the second half — not enough to pull out the win.
Gronkowski's ability to hold down blocks and help out a line recuperating from a number of injuries was important, but New England better hope that the offensive line gets healthy — and fast — because Gronk is far too valuable as a receiver to be spending the majority of his time doubling as a sixth offensive lineman.