By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Rob Gronkowski is just itching to play some playoff football.
His last taste of the playoffs came way back in 2016 when the Patriots fell to the Denver Broncos in the 2015 AFC Championship game, a disappointing loss for a team looking to win back-to-back Super Bowls.
The Patriots made it two championships in three seasons with their dramatic comeback win over the Falcons 11 months ago, a playoff run that Gronkowski had to watch from the sidelines as he recovered from season-ending back surgery. This time around, he’s healthy and coming off an All Pro season as the Patriots look to add to their ever-growing collection of Lombardi Trophies at 1 Patriot Place.
It makes him all the more eager to take the field on Saturday night when New England hosts the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Round. But when that game kicks off, his All Pro nod and past playoff triumphs and defeats will be gone from his mind. Gronkowski said earning a spot on the All Pro team was humbling, but it means nothing heading into Saturday’s game.
“It’s the playoffs now; it’s one and done if you lose. We need to look forward and not live in the past,” he told reporters at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday.
Looking forward means blocking out all the outside distractions, and there’s been a fairly hefty one lingering over Foxboro for the last week. Players have been bombarded with questions about last week’s ESPN article on a rift between New England triumvirate of Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and Tom Brady. With that chasm has come a “lingering sadness” throughout the organization, a fairly comical description for a franchise that just enjoyed its eighth straight postseason bye.
Gronkowski said that article is just the latest in a long line of outsider scribes trying to detract from what the Patriots have been able to accomplish. As always, they’ll ignore the noise and continue to do what they do best.
“Throughout all my years here I’ve seen a lot of negative and a lot of positive. The reputation that coach tries to get us to have is ‘ignore the noise on the outside.’ I feel like that’s what myself and a lot of other players have been doing,” he said. “We need to ignore the noise and focus on what we’ve been doing all year; prepare hard, study our opponent, get ready mentally and physically for the big game. No matter what is going on on the outside, as a team, as an organization we just have to keep grinding, keep going and keep doing our job.
“If anything, it’s just going to bring us closer,” said Gronkowski. “It’s going to bond us together.”
Patriots safety Devin McCourty, a team captain ever since his second year in the NFL, doesn’t completely agree. He said on Tuesday that guys play for each other, not to silence the haters outside of New England.
“I don’t care about it. I think a lot of guys don’t really care about what goes on outside and who writes what,” said McCourty. “I think guys are motivated by playing for each other and their families more than an ESPN article. … It’s a great thing for our fans and people on the outside, but we’re playing for us. An ESPN article doesn’t help us when it’s negative nine degrees.”
After the initial shooting-down of the article, the Patriots have been doing their best to focus the attention on all that matters: The Tennessee Titans. Belichick was done talking about the story after he tore it to pieces on a Monday morning conference call, and don’t expect to hear much on the subject from Brady come Thursday after he spent his Tuesday morning dismissing much of what was written.
The Patriots are focused on the Titans, who are coming to Foxboro after an impressive comeback win against the Chiefs in Kansas City. The odds are certainly stacked against the Titans to pull off another upset this weekend at Gillette Stadium, but for the Patriots, that too is just outside noise.
For the Patriots, it’s just the next game in a win-or-go-home setting. That is the only noise you’ll hear echoing through their locker room ahead of Saturday.
Tune in to Saturday night’s Patriots-Titans AFC Divisional Round game on WBZ-TV — the flagship station of the New England Patriots. Coverage begins with a special Patriots GameDay at 7pm, and after the game stick with WBZ-TV for full reaction and analysis on Patriots 5th Quarter!