Few players could energize a crowd quite like Rob Gronkowski.
Whether it was an acrobatic catch down the seam, a powerful open-field stiff-arm, throwing a guy out of the club, or one of his thunderous post-touchdown spikes, Gronkowski could really get Gillette Stadium rocking and rolling to its core.
But the big tight end also had the uncanny ability to shut a crowd up, too.
While there are myriad examples of Gronkowski bringing a crowd to its feet, perhaps the best example of him keeping one sitting on its hands came in Pittsburgh in December 2017.
With the Steelers holding a 24-19 lead and the Heinz Field faithful at full throat after a raucous rendition of “Renegade,” Gronkowski stepped up and delivered a four-play tour de force that reduced the Terrible Towels to handy handkerchiefs.
Tom Brady connected with Gronkowski on three straight passes for 69 yards to set up Dion Lewis’s go-ahead touchdown run with exactly one minute left. Brady then dropped a dime to Gronkowski on the 2-point conversion pass for a 27-24 lead.
The game wasn’t sealed until Duron Harmon’s closing interception — following some head-scratching Steeler decisions — but it was Gronkowski’s torrid two minutes that put the Patriots in position for a win that virtually clinched the top playoff seed in the AFC.
The drive was kind of a microcosm of Gronkowski’s career, as he was able to show off his strength, athleticism, grace, and personality. That it came during crunch time was no surprise, either, as the 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pounder always played his biggest in the biggest moments.
Following a first-down incompletion (yes, Gronkowski was the target), Brady and Gronkowski went to work.
On second down, Gronkowski was in the slot left in a five-receiver set. Steelers safety Sean Davis tried a little press coverage at the line but Gronkowski turnstiled him as he grabbed for air 10 yards downfield. Brady hit Gronkowski in stride for a 26-yard gain to midfield.
The Steelers decided to give Gronkowski a clean break on the next snap (choosing to go with an inexplicable corner blitz) and Brady went over the top and hit Gronkowski for another 26-yard gain.
Gronkowski lined up for the third straight time in the slot to Brady’s left. Davis was back for another shot at press coverage but Gronkowski undressed him again with a little juke step and acceleration.
Under pressure, Brady sidestepped the rush and delivered a low ball between two defenders toward his tight end. No problem. Gronkowski bent down and plucked it just before it hit the turf, setting up first and goal at the 8-yard line.
After Lewis’s touchdown run, Brady and Gronkowski went back to work.
This time Gronkowski lined up wide right and again, the Steelers chose to leave Davis on an island again. Gronkowski shook Davis at the line with a quick juke step and Brady lofted a perfect fade into his hands.
With Davis defeated at his feet, Gronkowski did a few robotic dance moves before unleashing a Richter-scale spike.
“He’s killing Davis,’’ quipped Jim Nantz on the broadcast.
And he silenced 68,574 in the process.
Everyone has their own list of favorite Gronkowski highlight plays — OK, maybe not Sean Davis or Mike Tomlin — but here are five goodies.
■ His touchdown catch against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Gronkowski drew single coverage from linebacker K.J. Wright, and this was a mismatch from the get-go. Gronkowski simply blew by a confused Wright (who kept jabbing at him like a dazed boxer) and collected Brady’s pass in stride in the end zone.
■ His stiff-arm en route to a 46-yard TD against Chicago in 2014. After flattening a linebacker over the middle, Gronkowski caught the ball, fought off Ryan Mundy in the open field, then outraced a slew of Bears to the end zone.
■ His diving fingertip TD catch against the Broncos in 2012. After gaining separation on a pair of defenders, Gronkowski stretched himself to the max, tipped the ball in midair with his left hand, and snagged it with both hands before hitting the turf. This phenomenal display of body control might have been the play that started the Gronk phenomenon.
■ His one-handed catch in traffic vs. the Broncos in 2014. As Gronkowski cut across the middle, Brady’s pass was just a tad behind him, but Gronkowski simply reached back with his left arm (which was covered with his black cyborg-looking-brace) and hauled it in. Denver’s Chris Harris Jr. can be seen with his hands on his helmet in utter disgust/disbelief.
■ His bouncer act against the Colts in 2014. During a Jonas Gray touchdown run, Gronkowski engaged safety Sergio Brown, who had been trash-talking the tight end all game. Gronkowski locked on and drove Brown like a blocking sled halfway to South Bend.
“I took him and threw him out of the club,’’ Gronkowski said.