By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — You have to give the New York tabloids credit for this: Even in a year when the New York Jets are completely and utterly terrible, they know how to keep things interesting.
Or, well, at least, they know how to try to keep things interesting, as evidenced by Manish Mehta’s latest column and the accompanying artwork that appears on the New York Daily News back page on Wednesday. The story counts all the ways that Rob Gronkowski, “the best tight end of this generation,” is done. Finished. Finito.
“He’s Bernie … and the weekend is nearly upon us,” Mehta wrote, referencing a 29-year-old film.
That line led to the graphics department getting to work on a back page that is … well, it’s objectively pretty great.
You can disagree with parts of the story all you want, but you can’t deny that the newspaper page designers earned their paychecks this week.
As for the story, it is partially accurate. Gronkowski, having missed three of the last four games, has obviously not been his usual dominant self this season. He’s caught just one touchdown, and he’s had just three games this season (Houston, Kansas City, Indianapolis) where he put up Gronk-like performances. (Mehta saying Gronkowski only has one 100-yard game, while overlooking a 97-yard game, is a classic move, if we’re being honest with one another.)
That being said, Mehta obviously took things a bit overboard. But that’s to be expected, isn’t it? Mehta has written countless pie-in-the-sky predictions over the years (and tweeted each of them out dozens of times), because they serve a bit of a dual purpose. Or, maybe a triple purpose. The stories first and foremost drive Patriots fans nuts (can you believe this?!), and they also might jack up some Jets fans (The CHEATING Patriots make me MAD!), and as a side benefit they probably provide some entertainment to Giants fans who — whether they want to admit it or not — can’t get enough of Tom Brady and the Patriots. That’d be a win-win-win from the newspaper’s perspective; whether the predictions and prognostications actually prove to be true? That’s of less importance.
So, whether it’s throwing a celebration for the Jets’ re-signing of Darrelle Revis (LOL), or predicting that the Jets would seize first place after Jimmy Garoppolo’s 2016 injury (the Jets promptly lost their next two games, by a combined score of 51-20), or forecasting the Bills to take first place a year prior, or suggesting that the Jets were wrong for letting Mark Sanchez go — that’s not what matters. What does matter is saying something, getting the people going, and then moving on to the next one.
That’s why the story itself is not short on hyperbole: Gronkowski is “toast,” watching Gronkowski play in 2018 is “cringe-worthy stuff,” he “can barely move for Pete’s sake,” etc., etc., etc. It’s all good stuff, and it accomplishes what it sets out to do. You can grovel with some of the details. I know I’d take issue with the suggestion that “watching Gronk trudge along a few weeks ago in Buffalo was just sad.” I don’t know. That toe-tapping catch he made while physically dominating another human was pretty monstrous.
(Mehta’s also probably right in his main point, which is that these next few months may indeed be Gronkowski’s final days as a member of the Patriots.)
However … one must remember that, at least theoretically, Gronkowski has benefited from three weeks without physical contact … and he’ll be going up against a Jets defense that gave up 232 passing yards and two touchdowns to Matt Barkley in Week 10 … which is the equivalent of about 550 yards and 11 touchdowns to a real NFL quarterback (when you compute the calculation) … in a place where he scored two touchdowns and picked up 83 receiving yards last season and … whoa, doggy. There’s a chance that this story ends up blowing up in a big way come Sunday afternoon. The Weekend At Bernie’s/Weak End At Gronkie’s back page has the chance to live on forever in infamy if Gronkowski has himself a football game against the Jets.