FOXBORO, Mass. — A familiar element has been missing from Rob Gronkowski’s game this season.
We’re talking, of course, about the “Gronk Spike.”
The New England Patriots tight end is used to unleashing his trademark end-zone spike: He needed just 91 games to record 70 receiving touchdowns, a rate surpassed only by four Hall of Fame wide receivers.
Gronkowski has been a virtual non-factor in the red zone this season, though. After catching a 21-yard touchdown pass in Week 1 against the Houston Texans, the 29-year-old hasn’t scored since.
In fact, Gronkowski has exactly zero catches in the red zone this season (that TD was 21 yards, after all) on just one target: An incomplete Tom Brady pass in Week 4 against the Miami Dolphins.
The All-Pro tight end was asked about that eye-opening lack of production Wednesday as his team prepares for the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
“It is what it is,” Gronkowski said during a press conference at Gillette Stadium. “First off, I’ve got to get open. I’ve got to get out there and run better routes, and then I’ll start seeing more targets — whatever the play is called.”
Gronk’s red zone disappearance hardly is his own fault, though. As the Patriots’ most dangerous red zone threat, he draws a ton of attention from opposing defenses and routinely sees double-teams inside the 20-yard line.
That extra attention opens up the rest of the offense, too. Despite Gronkowski’s struggles, New England has scored a touchdown on 68 percent of its red zone trips this season — seventh-best in the NFL — while Brady has thrown a TD pass to six pass-catchers not named Gronkowski.
The big tight end insists he doesn’t mind sharing.
“I mean, we’re scoring down there,” Gronkowski said. “Whatever I have to do to help out the team, even if the ball’s not going my way, I’ve just got to do.
” … We’ve got so many other great players, you’ve got to focus on them, too. We’ve got (James) White, (Josh) Gordon, Julian (Edelman), (Chris) Hogan, Sony (Michel). We’ve just got so many good players out there that you’ve got to watch out for them, too. I don’t mind that.”
That doesn’t mean Gronkowski is content with being covered, though. The ninth-year veteran has been working on improving his releases off the line so he can find open spots on the field, even when multiple defenders are assigned to him.
“You’ve got to get a good release off of press coverage,” he said. “I’ve seen wide receivers, watched them before, and every time they get a good release, they get open pretty much a lot of the time.
“So, I would say sometimes I really haven’t been doing that, sometimes I have. So, just got to keep working on it and keep getting better.”