By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski pairing has been a special duo — one of the best in NFL history. And the two moved closer to an all-time NFL record on Sunday.

Brady connected with his old pal Gronk for a pair of touchdowns in Sunday’s 30-17 Buccaneers win over the Falcons, one on a 27-yard catch-and-run, the other on an 11-yard fade. They were the first touchdowns Gronkowski has scored since Week 2, after he had caught two touchdowns in each of the Bucs’ first two games.

The two scores gave Brady and Gronkowski 90 touchdown connections in their regular-season history together. That lifts them above Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates for second-most touchdowns of all time between one quarterback and one pass catcher.

The all-time record belongs to Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, who connected for touchdowns 112 times in their regular-season career.

Of course, this development is not particularly surprising, as Brady and Gronkowski had notably been chasing Manning and Harrison for the all-time record when regular season and playoff stats are combined.

In that department, Brady and Gronk are now up to 104 touchdowns in the regular season and postseason combined. Manning and Harrison own the record in that category with 114. (It’s a bit shocking to discover that Harrison, a Hall of Famer, only caught two touchdowns in 16 playoff games. Both of those scores came in one game, too, meaning he failed to find the end zone in 15 of his 16 career playoff games.)

Brady helped explain the obvious of how this connection has been so good.

“He’s a great player. He kind of makes it easy for any quarterback. He’s just so big, so quick, great hands, he just does an amazing job. … Obviously, I love being out there with him,” Brady said. “He’s a great in all aspects of the game. So I think what makes him so amazing is his ability to do what he does in the run game, which is block defensive ends and the biggest, strongest guys in the world — literally, in the world. And then to run routes and catch balls and be athletic with the endurance that he has. Just really amazing.”

Brady was asked directly if he thinks he and Gronk can connect 22 more times in the regular season to catch Manning and Harrison.

“I hope so. I hope so,” Brady said. “Yeah, I do.”

Manning is probably not thrilled to hear that.

In reality, though, the regular-season mark is likely safe, unless Brady and Gronkowski keep playing together through 2023. Considering Brady appears to be headed for retirement after 2022 (maybe?), and considering Gronkowski is already operating on a year-to-year basis, that feels like an unlikely scenario.

But the record for regular season and playoffs combined? That’s a different story.

MOST TOUCHDOWNS BY QB-RECEIVER DUO,
REGULAR SEASON ONLY

1. Manning/Harrison, 112
2. Brady/Gronkowski, 90
3. Rivers/Gates, 89

MOST TOUCHDOWNS BY QB-RECEIVER DUO,
REGULAR SEASON AND POSTSEASON COMBINED

1. Manning/Harrison, 114
2. Brady/Gronkowski, 104
3. Young/Rice, 92

While this record seemed untouchable entering the 2021 season, now it’s … somewhat attainable for Brady and Gronkowski. They’ve shown three times this year (and in last year’s Super Bowl) that they connect on multiple TDs in any given game, and the Bucs’ game plan figures to continue to rely on Brady’s right arm as the season heads into its final stretch. If they both stay healthy, the opportunities will be there. And while they’re unlikely to connect for 10 more touchdowns between now and the Super Bowl, they do have that extra week of action. They’re a safe bet to at least make a significant dent in that 10-touchdown lead. And if they’re both back on the field together next year? That record is as good as gone.