MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Rob Gronkowski was Gronk again.
The big tight end knows his best performance of the season likely will be just a footnote in New England’s stunning 34-33 loss to the Dolphins Sunday. But the defeat is done with, and Gronkowski proved he’s not.
Gronkowski caught eight passes on eight targets for 107 yards and his first red-zone touchdown of the season. It was his third score of the season. It was Gronkowski’s 28th career 100-yard game, and only Tony Gonzalez (31) has more among tight ends. Only Stanley Morgan (38) has more 100-yard receiving games in franchise history.
“Yeah, I mean, that’s good enough, but it just shows what happens when you lose,’’ Gronkowski said. “You can have a great game, whatever, but if you don’t get the W, it really doesn’t matter.’’
Truth be told, however, it does matter.
Having Gronkowski return to his force-of-nature ways would be a tremendous boost to a team that likely will need to reel off three straight wins to hold on to one of the two top AFC seeds and the coveted bye that comes with it.
Gronkowski has been dealing with nagging ankle and back injuries most of the season, but on Sunday he played the majority of the snaps and was engaged both as a receiver and a blocker.
“I felt good out there, definitely,’’ Gronkowski said. “I’m making plays, blocking, getting some chemistry built back up. So overall, I mean, on the offensive unit, we’re moving the ball. I wish we could have put up more points in the red zone, but as a unit, we were playing well, moving the ball, and we’ve just got to continue that positive streak going of moving the ball on the offensive side.’’
Bolden, the TD maker
Brandon Bolden, the running back/special teamer who played six seasons in New England before the Patriots cut him at the end of training camp, had one carry this season for 10 yards.
Against his old team, he got twice as many carries, and both went for touchdowns. Early in the second quarter, Bolden went off-tackle right, slipped through a seam, and outraced everyone to the end zone for a 54-yard touchdown that put Miami up, 14-13.
“You kind of just practice those plays all week, waiting for a perfect look, and once I got past the safety, I was just like, ‘I just hope nobody catches me,’ ” Bolden said. “I even peeked up at the [video] board to make sure nobody was catching me. Just hit the jets and keep running until the whistle blows.”
Once he passed linebacker Dont’a Hightower, Bolden outraced safety Duron Harmon to the end zone.
“Oh man, that was a lot of green grass. I just hoped I didn’t trip and fall because my eyes got too big,” he said.
Later in the quarter, Bolden gave the Dolphins a 21-20 lead on a 6-yard touchdown run to cap a six-play, 75-yard drive. He heaved the ball deep into the stands, but said facing the Patriots was not a motivator for him.
“I treat this game like every other game,’’ he said. “I mean, yeah, it was against the Patriots, my former team, but we could have been out there playing a pee-wee team, I would have felt the same way going out there. I wanted to go out there and win, I wanted to go out there and fight with my team, and that’s what we did today.”
Another Brady milestone
Another week, another milestone for Tom Brady.
With his 2-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman in the first quarter, Brady surpassed old foe Peyton Manning for most touchdown passes in NFL history.
Brady, 41, wasted no time adding to his record total, connecting with Cordarrelle Patterson for a 37-yard score on the next drive. He added a third touchdown, his 582nd, with a 16-yard pass to Gronkowski with 3:39 left in the second quarter.
Brady (510) still trails Manning (539) and Drew Brees (518) for most regular-season touchdown passes.
Against the Jets in Week 12, Brady eclipsed Manning for most career passing yards, regular season and playoffs combined.
Shelton inactive again
Defensive tackle Danny Shelton headlined the Patriots’ list of inactives. It was the second straight week Shelton has been left off the game-day roster, after playing in the first 11 games.
Known as a run stuffer, Shelton’s wide body was missed as the Patriots yielded 189 rushing yards on 21 carries.
The other inactives were defensive backs Keion Crossen and Duke Dawson; offensive lineman James Ferentz; defensive ends Keionta Davis and Derek Rivers; and tight end Dwayne Allen.
Brady and Brian Hoyer spent a few moments catching up with former teammate Danny Amendola prior to the game . . . Former New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork greeted some of the Patriots along the sideline before the game as well . . . Former Dolphins coach Don Shula and Drew Rosenhaus, who represents Gronkowski and Trent Brown, were among other on-field notables . . . A large chunk of the Hard Rock Stadium turf came up on the first play of the second half. A crew did some repairs that seemed to hold up.