By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Rob Gronkowski finally reunited with the end zone on Sunday.
Gronk has not been himself this season, with back issues causing him to miss three of the last four games. The Patriots tight end hadn’t found the end zone since Week 1 heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Jets at MetLife Stadium. Last month, Gronkowski said the end zone missed him. The two got reacquainted on Sunday as Gronkowski, on the field for the first time in 27 days, hauled in a 34-yard touchdown grab over a pair of Jets defenders in the first quarter.
After the Jets questionably accepted a penalty to give the Patriots a third-and-12 at the New York 34-yard line (rather than face a fourth down), Tom Brady patiently waited for his tight end to free himself over the middle. Gronkowski was able to find space between linebacker Avery Williamson and defensive back Morris Claiborne, reaching up for and snagging Brady’s bullet out of the sky before tumbling into the end zone for New England’s first score of the game. He took a shot from Claiborne as he came down with the ball, but in true Gronk fashion, held on for the touchdown. It’s the downfield strike the Patriots offense has sorely missed for much of the season.
Gronkowski bounced right up and looked like a gigantic kid in a candy shop. He launched an emphatic spike in celebration, the kind of release you’d expect from an All-Pro who hadn’t scored in nearly three months.
“It feels good,” Gronkowski said of re-entering the scoring fray after the game. “But what feels better is getting that win.”
Their 27-13 win over the Jets puts the Patriots at 8-3 on the season. Paired with a Pittsburgh loss in Denver on Sunday, and New England now sits in the No. 2 seed in the AFC. But the offense knows if they want to do any damage over the last five weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs, Gronkowski will need to be as close to the real Rob Gronkowski as possible.
While his three catches for 56 yards are a far cry of the monster box scores we’re used to seeing out of Gronkowski, he makes life a whole lot easier on the rest of the New England offense just by being on the field. On Sunday, we got a brief glimpse of that real Rob Gronkowski once again.
“I think those are certain ones where Gronk is probably the only tight end in the league that can make that play,” quarterback Tom Brady said of Gronkowski’s touchdown grab.
Julian Edelman had New England’s other aerial score of the afternoon, a 21-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter to break a 13-13 tie, and found paydirt thanks to a Gronkowski block.
“Kudos to Gronk for getting that done,” Edelman said after the win. “There are a lot of other plays and other things he did; it’s always great to have him back.
“There’s a lot of eyes going to him,” added Edelman, who had four receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s victory. “He’s single handedly probably the best tight end ever to suit up. Anytime he’s on the field he is going to attract attention and it helps everyone.”
As the Patriots offense continues to try to round into shape as they hit the stretch run of the season, much of their success the rest of the way will depend on the health of No. 87. He’s their biggest weapon when he’s on the field, whether he’s catching long passes or plowing the way for Brady’s other targets, and now it’s just a matter of keeping him healthy.
Gronkowski knows all of this, and hopes that missing time over the last month will lead to him making some big plays when they matter the most.
“I’ve just been putting the work in the last couple of weeks, whatever it was, to get back. Now I just feel like I can keep on improving week in and week out now and do what I have to do to help the team,” he said. “It felt good to be back out there, and it was a good win overall.”