FOXBORO, Mass. — Gronk?s a beast.
Those were the exact words Julian Edelman used to describe Rob Gronkowski after the Pro Bowl tight end torched the Pittsburgh Steelers for three touchdowns Thursday night in the New England Patriots? 28-21 win at Gillette Stadium. Truer words never have been spoken.
Not that Edelman provided any new information with his description. Gronkowski has been on another level since entering the league in 2010. Tony Gonzalez, often regarded as the best tight end in NFL history, even said earlier this week that Gronk could supplant him as the greatest of all time.
But there was something special about Gronkowski dominating the Steelers in the Patriots? season-opening win, especially since he didn?t play a single snap for New England in the preseason.
?I?m not going to say I was in top-notch shape. It?s different when you go out there and play for real versus other opponents that are very good,? Gronkowski said on returning to game action. ?I?m definitely a little rusty at some spots and can get better. Just got to keep working hard and keep improving.?
Not in top-notch shape? Definitely a little rusty? Can get better?
We are talking about the same guy who just went off for 94 yards on five catches and, in the words of Edelman, looked like an eighth-grader playing with a bunch of second-graders, correct?
?Watching him (Thursday), I think I feel like all of you, man. The guy?s a beast,? fellow Patriots tight end Scott Chandler said, offering more proof that perhaps it?s time to re-assign Marshawn Lynch?s famous ?Beast Mode? nickname. ?I?m glad he?s on my team. I?ve been watching him do it on the other side (while with the Buffalo Bills) for a while now, and he?s just fun to watch.”
Gronkowski?s first touchdown catch Thursday capped a 13-play, 90-yard drive. Tom Brady connected with Gronk on the outside, and the 6-foot-6 tight end took it into the end zone for a 16-yard score that gave the Patriots their first points of the new campaign. The Steelers completely botched their coverage.
?Our offense was doing a great job getting to the line. We were hustling and getting set throughout the whole offense,? said Gronkowski, who inexplicably was left uncovered. ?Tom just saw it, made the quick throw, and I just had to make the play. It was good execution overall by the offense.?
Gronkowski?s second touchdown catch was the product of an effective play action by Brady on second-and-goal from Pittsburgh?s 6-yard line. Gronk snuck behind two defenders, and Brady, showing great touch, lobbed a beautiful ball to the back of the end one to give the Pats a two-score advantage.
The play marked Gronkowski?s 56th touchdown reception since the beginning of 2010, tying him with Dallas Cowboys stud receiver Dez Bryant for the most in that span. It was fitting because Gronkowski looked a lot like Bryant on his third touchdown of the contest. He lined up out wide and took advantage of single coverage on a fade route.
?Gronk got out there and had a mismatch, and he’s such a big target out there,? Brady said. ?He has a great catch radius, so a lot of times, if you just put it up there close, he comes down with it.?
Gronkowski, who also had a career-long-tying 52-yard reception that helped set up his third touchdown, is tied with Randy Moss for the most games (four) with three or more TDs in Patriots history. It?s a record the 26-year-old almost certainly will break, perhaps as soon as next week, when the Pats travel to Buffalo for a date with Rex Ryan’s Bills.
A beast? Perhaps that?s underselling Gronk?s dominance.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images