When tight end Rob Gronkowski walked off the field after winning Super Bowl LIII two years ago, he told himself wasn’t coming back to the Patriots — or to football.
“I remember after that win, I was so done,” Gronkowski recalled Sunday. “Coming off the field, I was like, ‘I’m just glad it’s over,’ with the pain I was in. It was great to be a champ, but it just felt great to be done.”
Gronkowski ultimately decided to take the following year off, citing the physical and emotional toll from the sport.
But quarterback Tom Brady, after signing with Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason, managed to lure his friend and teammate out of retirement, and Super Bowl LV showed why he wanted the fun-loving tight end back on his side.
Gronkowski was Brady’s most popular target against the Kansas City Chiefs, catching six passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns en route to another championship together.
The two made history in the first quarter, setting a record for most touchdowns by any duo in the NFL postseason. With the ball on Kansas City’s 8-yard line, Brady faked a handoff before hitting a wide-open Gronkowski, who ran untouched into the end zone.
The pair, previously tied with the Hall of Fame tandem of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, didn’t waste any time in adding to their new record, scoring again midway through the second quarter.
The Bucs initially settled for a 40-yard field goal on a fourth-and-5 from Kansas City’s 22-yard line, but an offsides penalty gave them a new set of downs. Tampa Bay immediately cashed in on the next play, when Brady found Gronkowski in the back of the end zone for a 17-yard score.
Coach Bruce Arians credited Gronkowski for the adjustment he made to get open. When Brady let go of the ball, Gronkowski had only a yard of separation from Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, according to Next Gen Stats. When the pass arrived, he had built 3.8 yards of separation and caught the ball untouched.
“That was huge, man,” Arians said after his team’s decisive 31-9 victory. “That was huge.”
For anyone questioning whether Gronkowski’s still got it after a year away from football, the 31-year-old also showed elite burst off of the line of scrimmage on his second touchdown. According to Next Gen Stats, he reached a top speed of 11.64 miles per hour within 1 second of his route, besting his second-average top speed of 8.42 m.p.h. within 1 second.
With two touchdowns in both Super Bowls LII and LV, Gronkowski joins Rice (Super Bowls XXIV and XXIX) as the only players in NFL history with multiple Super Bowl performances with at least two touchdown receptions. Gronkowski now has four multi-touchdown postseason performances.
Gronkowski also moved ahead of former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver John Stallworth for the second-most number of receiving touchdowns in NFL postseason history. Rice sits in first, with 22.
His impact wasn’t limited to just touchdowns, though.
In the final minute of the second quarter, Gronkowski powered his way to a first down on a critical third-and-2. Trailing 14-6, the Chiefs had utilized two of their timeouts in an effort to preserve the clock should they get the ball back. But Gronkowski thwarted their plans, catching a short pass from Brady and powering his way to the first-down marker.
Later, in the third quarter, Gronkowski’s first target of the second half generated a gain of 25 yards. For a moment, it seemed as if he was on his way to his third touchdown of the game, with an open field ahead, but Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill managed to grab his ankles.
On Tampa Bay’s very next play, Gronkowski levied a key block to set up running back Leonard Fournette’s 27-yard touchdown run, giving the Bucs a 28-9 lead.
Gronkowski’s lone miss came on a long ball on third-and-1 in the fourth quarter.
“Whoever got the ball, got the ball,” Gronkowski said. “We were all happy for each other. We knew that we were all going to have to play together and work together in order to win the game. That’s what we did. That’s what we did all year long.
“That’s what was so great about being with this team. There was no one that was selfish. It just happened to me this time, to be me making the plays, to have the touchdown passes thrown to me.”
Prior to reuniting in Tampa Bay this season, Gronkowski and Brady played together for nine seasons in New England. Gronkowski appeared in four Super Bowls with the Patriots, earning three rings while missing one game (LI) with a back injury.
So, how does it feel to do it again in Tampa?
“It definitely ranks as one of my greatest accomplishments ever,” Gronkowski said. “It’s just an unbelievable story.
Oh, and as for whether he’ll be playing again next year? Gronkowski, who signed a one-year deal, is set to hit free agency, but it sure sounds like he’ll be back in Tampa with Brady.
“I definitely see myself coming back,” Gronkowski said. “I don’t see why not.”
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