Rob Gronkowski is smart and super for Bucs

By Rick Stroud

TAMPA, Fla. — Rob Gronkowski may be known for his brawn, but he’s one of the brainiacs of the NFL.

The Bucs’ 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end demonstrated his football intelligence during his first touchdown in Thursday’s 31-29, season-opening win over the Cowboys.

During a play-action run fake, Gronkowski blocked down on Cowboys defensive end Tarell Basham and spun open into the right flat. But seeing receiver Chris Godwin poorly spaced in front of him, he sat down in the end zone and Tom Brady put the football on him for a 2-yard TD pass.

Gronkowski had eight catches on as many targets for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the game.

More importantly, with the Bucs needing a game-winning drive in the final minutes, Brady targeted Gronkowski twice, connecting on passes of 6 and 20 yards to set up Ryan Succop’s 36-yard field goal with two seconds remaining.

“Gronk’s a hell of a player,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Gronk is in the best shape he’s been in, in a few years. (He and Brady) have that history. He doesn’t have to be looking, Tom is going to throw it at the back of his head, and (Gronkowski) knows it’s probably coming there. It’s unbelievable chemistry that they have for a long time.”

It’s that clairvoyance that Brady wanted shortly after signing with the Bucs, which is why he successfully lobbied the Bucs to trade for the rights to Gronkowski, who had been retired from football for a year.

Gronkowski, 32, at first struggled with the Tampa Bay heat and humidity and labored getting back into football shape. Still, he played in all 20 games and finished the regular season with 45 receptions for 623 yards and seven touchdowns.

In Super Bowl 55, he added two more tuddies from Brady to win his fourth championship ring.

Gronkowski’s second touchdown Thursday highlighted his chemistry with Brady after 11 seasons together, including nine in New England.

It was somewhat reminiscent of one of his touchdowns in the Super Bowl, when Gronkowski was supposed to run a flag route to the back pylon. But seeing the cornerback had outside leverage, he cut back inside. Brady anticipated the move and led him perfectly for a touchdown.

Brady called one play in the huddle, then made two route adjustments for Gronkowski with audibles.

“I think I was actually on a route and then he checked me into blocking, then checked me into blocking and releasing. I was like, ‘Oh man, he just sees it all on the field.’

“It’s impressive. He’s been playing for, like, 80 years, so he’s seen every defense and every player. He has played with so many and has seen so many fronts, too. He saw it, he read it well. It’s a play we have scored a couple (touchdowns) on in our career.”

It was not exactly how they drew it up in practice, Brady said, but they made it work.

“That was not the design,” he admitted. “There was a lot of things that were off on that play, but one of a few where we didn’t quite execute things the way that we were hoping. I’m glad we made the play. Again, you can’t live on those, and I think the margin of error is thin in the NFL. One or two plays and that’s the way the game goes.”

Gronkowski and Brady have now connected for 86 regular-season touchdowns, passing Steve Young and Jerry Rice, who had 85. Including playoffs, they have 100 touchdowns.

“Brady and Gronky” is more than a comedic routine created by the Bucs’ social media team. It’s the most lethal passing combo in NFL history by the smartest quarterback and tight end in the league.

“Gronk is a stud,” Godwin said. “He’s been doing this for his whole career. He amazes me every time because he’s so big, but he runs so smooth and covers so much ground and he’s so difficult to guard and tackle. I’m glad he’s on our team.”


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