ATLANTA — The week had the feel of the final days of high school whenever the cameras and the microphones came around Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. All year long had felt like something of a farewell tour, even if Gronkowski never actually said he was thinking that way, other than cryptically.
“Today’s a maybe,” he joked in the last Patriots pregame availability, cutting off at the pass that day’s edition of the retirement question.
Well, if this was it for Gronkowski, then it was a heck of a way to go out. He caught six passes for 87 yards, and he’s had plenty of games in his career with higher totals. But he has never been more clutch than he was in helping push the Patriots to a 13-3 win over the Rams for the franchise’s sixth championship, the third since they drafted him out of Arizona in 2010.
On the biggest drive of the season, with the score tied at 3-3 with 9:43 left in the fourth quarter, Gronkowski feinted as if he were staying in to block and then faded out and caught a delicate touch pass from Tom Brady for 18 yards, getting the possession off to a terrific start.
Three plays later he gathered in a 29-yard pass from Brady and rumbled to the 2-yard line — the first time all afternoon that either team had ventured into the red zone. One play later the Patriots had a 10-3 lead, and seven minutes later they had their title.
At game’s end, Gronkowski’s stream of consciousness ramblings were a perfect summation of who he’s been his entire career.
“This is unbelievable,” he said. “This is amazing. This is surreal. Everything we’ve been through this season … just unreal.”
The ardently pro-Pats crowd of 70,081 loves all of the prominent Patriots, but they seem to hold a special place in their hearts for No. 87, and the catch that set up the TD elicited the biggest roars on a day that was brimming with them.
“Tom threw it to me and I had to make a play,” he said. “He knows to trust me and throw that ball and I’m going to go grab it. We played together as a team and that’s why we won this game, as a team. This whole year was the biggest team win, biggest team Super Bowl that I’ve ever been a part of.”
Gronkowski said he had nothing to say about 2019, though earlier in the week he admitted, “To take hits to the thigh, take hits to your head, abusing your body isn’t what your brain wants. When your body is abused, it can bring down your mood. You’ve got to be able to deal with that, too, throughout the season.”
If this is it, he can enjoy a pain-free retirement. With an outstanding going-away memory.