FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – He is a free spirit on a buttoned-down team, but the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski is as serious as anybody when it’s time to get down to business, especially in the postseason.
With 835 career postseason receiving yards, he is 13 away from breaking the all-time mark for tight ends of 847 by Dallas Clark. He has 58 career playoff receptions, fifth all-time among tight ends and just six receptions from tying Clark at No. 1. Gronkowski and Tom Brady have connected for 10 postseason touchdown passes, two behind the all-time mark set by Joe Montana and Jerry Rice with the San Francisco 49ers.
By the time Sunday’s AFC championship game with the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars concludes, Gronkowski might be on top in all three postseason categories.
At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, Gronkowski is too strong for defensive backs, too fast for linebackers.
When a reporter suggested on Wednesday’s conference call that Gronkowski was a matchup nightmare, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone was in total agreement.
“That is probably a good way to describe it, a nightmare,” Marrone said. “I just don’t know if there is any great answer to matching up with him.”
Marrone was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2013 and 2014, but Gronkowski played just one of four games against the Bills during that time. That was more than enough for Marrone.
“He is an outstanding player and you hope that what you are doing or how you defend him — I don’t know if you could ever limit him but maybe where it doesn’t hurt you,” Marrone said.
As well as he has done in the playoffs, Gronkowski has been equally dominating in the regular season.
Gronkowski, 28, should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. With 76 career receiving touchdowns in the regular season, he is third all-time among NFL tight ends, trailing Antonio Gates (114) and Tony Gonzalez (111).
The only knock on Gronkowski has been his durability. A second-round draft choice from the University of Arizona, Gronkowski has missed 28 games in his eight-year career. Last season he played just eight games, missed the Patriots’ run to their fifth Super Bowl title and underwent back surgery.
Like all the Patriots, Gronkowski would rather talk about the future. When asked how frustrating it was to miss last year’s Super Bowl run and how good it is to be back, Gronkowski said during Wednesday’s session with the media that he went over that story last week before the start of the playoffs.
“I am just focused on the Jaguars right now, a tough team that I am putting all my focus [on],” he said. “I am not looking [back] when I didn’t play. I am just studying up and getting ready for the game on Sunday.”
He played in 14 of 16 regular-season games and had six receptions for 81 yards and a score in last week’s 35-14 divisional playoff win over Tennessee. One of the two he missed this season was due to his first-ever suspension for a late hit on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White.
Patriots cornerback Eric Rowe, the former Eagle, goes against Gronkowski every day in practice.
“It’s tough,” Rowe said. “He is not going to run away from you but has such a big frame to throw to and it is tough to guard him, especially with Tom [Brady] throwing in spots where only he can get it. That makes it tough.”
Part of Gronkowski’s success is his singular focus.
“It [Jacksonville] is the best team we are facing all year coming up in the AFC championship game this weekend,” he said “We have to be ready. We have to be prepared. It is going to be a big, tough challenge, for sure.”
No tougher than trying to contain one of the best tight ends in NFL history.
Brady didn’t meet with the media because was he was with the medical staff at the time of his scheduled availability. The practice report listed Brady as a limited participant with a right-hand injury. He has been on the team’s injury reports several times this season. Teammates who were informally surveyed seemed to think Brady looked fine. Brady has not missed a game due to injury since 2008.