FOXBORO, Mass. — Given his size, strength and athletic ability, allowing Rob Gronkowski to run free through the secondary is the equivalent of a death sentence for an NFL defense.

So, to combat this, defensive backs often resort to roughing up the New England Patriots’ star tight end, grabbing and clawing at him as they jostle for positioning. This was the approach Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry took last Thursday, and Gronkowski finished with just two catches on six targets for 33 yards in a 42-27 Patriots loss.

Gronk, who when fully healthy is perhaps the NFL’s most dangerous offensive weapon, knows the drill. He’d do the same thing if the roles were reversed.

“If I was one of those DBs — and you’ve seen film over the last few years — I mean, I would definitely be doing that if I was the DB,” the four-time All-Pro said Thursday. “One hundred percent. I mean, you don’t really ever see it called ever. So I’ve just got to play with it and play how the game is called, and if I was the DB, I would do it, too.”

Bringing that mindset to the field remains a work in progress, though. Early in last week’s game, Gronkowski could be seen arguing for calls on multiple incompletions. He also appeared more passive on those plays than he typically does, flailing for the ball rather than trying to outmuscle Berry.

Physicality is another area he’s looking to improve in.

“I feel like whenever I think about that like, ‘Oh, I can’t be physical because of the referee, I might get a penalty,’ I actually feel myself off my game,” said Gronkowski, who missed the final two months of last season after undergoing back surgery. “I feel like I should just play my game and just worry about what the ref is calling and be physical. I don’t like thinking like that, like, ‘Oh, I can’t be physical on this play or with this guy.’ It just doesn’t feel right. I’ve just got to stick to my game and just do what I’ve got to do and do it better.”

Gronkowski nearly caught a touchdown pass during the first quarter with Chiefs cornerback Terrance Mitchell draped all over him, but officials ruled he did not complete the catch. The reversal proved to be a critical call in the game, and Gronkowski was a bit slow to get up after falling directly on the football.

“You just got the wind knocked out of you,” he said. “When you get hit in the stomach, for, like, 30 seconds to a minute, you just feel like you can’t move — like you’re helpless. But that’s all. Nothing serious.”

Overall, Gronkowski said he is feeling “fine” physically after playing in his first regular-season game since November.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images