One of the big stories this year for the New England Patriots has been the play of tight end Rob Gronkowski. After being named All-Pro in 2011, Gronkowski has been unable to match the play of his record-breaking season. On Sunday the star looked like his old self.
In just his second NFL season, Gronkowski became a household name. The 22-year old tight end caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. It looked as though the sky was the limit. But the young star would soon become a very controversial figure.
In 2011 the Patriots perfected a dual tight end passing game with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The two dominated the NFL creating major problems for every defense. But Gronkowski injured his ankle during the playoffs and that’s when the controversy started. It was unclear until the game whether or not he would take part in the Super Bowl. He did and nearly made a touchdown catch that would’ve won the Patriots their fourth Super Bowl. Gronkowski was praised as a hero for playing injured to help his team. But questions arose about his injury when video surfaced of him dancing following the game.
Controversy continued into the offseason when, coming off surgery, he was given a six-year extension in favor of free agent Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker. Gronkowski went on to experience what was dubbed the “Summer of Gronk” which included game shows, talk shows, and magazine covers. All was well so long as Gronkowski performed on the field. But his slow start to the season fueled speculation about his true commitment to football.
At the beginning of the season Gronkowski had more receptions for fewer yards than the same time a year earlier. In addition, he was dropping balls that he was catching in 2011. Inconsistency filled his first few games. His worst performance came in week three against the Baltimore Ravens when he had just two catches for 21 yards. He responded a week later catching 5 passes for 104 yards in the Patriots comeback win against the Buffalo Bills. The next game against the Denver Broncos he caught four passes for just 35 yards. Through his first six games, Gronkowski had just three touchdowns.
Things are starting to look up for Gronkowski now though. After a slightly better performance in Seattle, Gronkowski broke out against the rival New York Jets catching 6 passes for 78 yards and 2 touchdowns. It was the first game this season he scored multiple touchdowns. Gronkowski had his biggest day this season in Sunday’s win over the St. Louis Rams. The tight end led his team to victory with 8 catches for 146 yards and another two touchdowns.
It looked as though celebrity or injury was getting to Gronkowski and he would be a one year wonder. But the star tight end has exploded the last two weeks with two terrific performances that remind observers of the player that became a star in 2011. If he can continue his current form, he’ll be the biggest story for the right reasons.