By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — It was a busy offseason for Rob Gronkowski. And that’s putting it mildly.
From trade rumors, to retirement contemplations, to contract discussions to ongoing speculation about his relationship with Bill Belichick, the Patriots’ star tight end was in the news quite a bit for reasons that didn’t really relate to his on-field impact with the Patriots.
That all quickly changed on Sunday afternoon.
Gronkowski suited up on Sunday as the Patriots opened their season against the Houston Texans. And it didn’t take long for Gronkowski to find himself on the receiving end of a perfect pass from Tom Brady — another Patriots star whose actions and words over the past six months have caused quite a ripple.
But despite the offseason soap opera, Brady and Gronkowski appeared to be in perfect harmony once the game began.
The first evidence came just three minutes into the game. The Patriots faced a third-and-12 from the Houston 21-yard line, following a Houston fumble. Brady looked to Gronkowski up the left sideline and fired a pass toward No. 87, despite tight coverage and a safety coming over the top for help. On this play, it didn’t really matter who was covering Gronkowski, because this pass was perfect:
Gronkowski spun, made the catch, and tiptoed his way past the pylon for the 21-yard touchdown reception, scoring the first Patriots points of the season.
It was, of course, accentuated with an emphatic spike:
Later in the first half, with the Patriots trying to tack on some points before halftime, Brady threw a pass to Gronkowski that would likely qualify as a “prayer” if it were thrown to any other player. But any pass thrown Gronkowski’s way has a chance of being caught, and on this one, the tight end made an absolutely ridiculous catch:
The Patriots hurried to the line and immediately ran a play after that one, and the call from the booth to review the play on replay was too late. While there was clearly some movement of the football on that play, the NFL’s new catch rule might afford for such movement. At least, that much can be gleaned from the ruling on Austin Hooper’s catch early in the NFL’s season opener on Thursday.
The Patriots would go on to score on that drive, with Brady hitting Phillip Dorsett on two consecutive passes — first for a gain of 14 yards, then for a four-yard touchdown. Brady had his third touchdown pass of the half, and New England took a 21-6 lead into halftime.
In that first half, Gronkowksi caught four passes for 60 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. Gronkowski also drew a 14-yard pass interference penalty on a drive that ended with a Patriots touchdown. He and Brady skipped all of the Patriots’ voluntary offseason OTA sessions, but the early returns show no ill effects of those absences.