EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Tom Brady was not going to let his returning toy go untargeted.
Rob Gronkowski was thrown to a game-high 17 times on Sunday in the Patriots’ loss to the Jets. He caught eight of those passes for 114 yards, but the return certainly could have gone better for the All-Pro tight end. And a win would have cleared all mistakes.
Gronkowski lost one ball in the lights in the end zone and he had two key drops on the Patriots’ fourth quarter drive that resulted in a game-tying field goal. He wouldn’t admit he was knocking off any rust, though.
“I wouldn’t want to put it like that, because that’s what practice is for — to knock off the rust,” Gronkowski said. “There’s just no excuses. Just gotta make plays at all times. Just gotta work hard in practice and got to keep on grinding. I have to keep on getting better every week.”
Gronkowski admitted he lost the ball in the lights in the end zone. It wasn’t clear what happened on the play at the time as the ball sailed over his head and he didn’t reach up for it.
“Nah, I didn’t see the ball at all,” Gronkowski said. “But that’s not an excuse. You gotta be prepared for situations like that and I gotta do a better job there. It was a nice throw and it could have potentially been a good play.”
Gronkowski will get better. And when he improves, the offense will as well. But the tight end played the majority of snaps and the offense really only looked better in the first quarter. They had issues in the second quarter and came out cold after halftime for the seventh straight week.
“We moved the ball sometimes,” Gronkowski said. “But we have to move the ball at all times better and we gotta make more plays. Personally, myself, I gotta come down with some of those plays. I could have had some of them. And I gotta make them.”
It was important that Gronkowski did not look hesitant on the field, though, despite missing so many weeks of action. He wore a black padded sleeve on his left arm, but did not seem to be favoring it at all.
“It felt good to get back out there with the teammates, play with your team, play hard with your team,” Gronkowski said. “You win as a team and you lose as a team. You gotta give it up to the Jets, they’re a good team. They have a good defense. We just have to make more plays out there and do better.”
He said the sleeve did not bother him. He’s been wearing it at practice and he’s used to it. Brady said his tight end “played his butt off” and Bill Belichick said “I thought he went out there and competed.”
He was a boost to the offense, but not as impactful as some may have imagined. It appeared that Brady keyed in on Gronkowski, especially toward the end of the game. Brady targeted Gronkowski six times on the final two drives. He caught just three of those passes.
It’s not clear where the offense goes from here. The Jets deserve a lot of credit, as Gronkowski mentioned, but the Patriots will need to play better against quality defenses as the season progresses. The offense will need to step up, especially after losing Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork for the season.
Of course, there’s still hope on the horizon. The Patriots will get Aqib Talib, Tommy Kelly, Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola back. And Gronkowski will get better and the rookies will keep improving. New England is lucky to be 5-2 at this point in the season, but they have plenty of issues, especially on offense, to solve in the final 10 weeks.