Gronkowski getting back in rhythm for Patriots

Gronkowski getting back in rhythm for Patriots
November 27, 2013, 2:30 pm
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FOXBORO -- In the fourth quarter of New England's 34-31 overtime win over the Broncos, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady lobbed a high-arcing pass to Rob Gronkowski as the tight end barreled toward the front corner of the end zone with Denver linebacker Danny Trevathan alongside in coverage. At full speed, Gronkowski laid out to grab the pass and landed hard on his heavily-padded left arm as the ball bounced away incomplete.

Though Gronkowski finished the game with seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, that incompletion showed as well as any other play on Sunday night that Gronkowski is feeling like the Gronk of old. Without any hesitation, he fully extended himself, much like he did when he broke his arm for the second time last season, hoping to make a catch few others could.

While meeting with media members in front of his locker on Wednesday, Gronkowski said he felt as though he was getting more comfortable back on the field with each passing week.

"I would say so," he said. "The more you're playing, the more weeks you're going, the more you're into it, the more everything's flowing together. Just trying to improve every week. On the field, off the field, in the weight room, in the meeting room. Just overall trying to improve every week."

Gronkowski, still sweating from his post-practice workout, explained that he's feeling like he has now worked himself back into football shape by giving a healthy effort in practice and off the field in his conditioning.

"The harder you work," he said, "the easier it comes the following days."

Gronkowski missed all of training camp and the first six weeks of the regular season as his arm and back ailments got closer to full strength. In his first two games back -- a 30-27 loss to the Jets and a 27-17 win over the Dolphins -- he had 10 catches on 23 targets for 141 yards.

Through November, though, the Patriots offense has been clicking unlike it has at any other time this season. That's thanks in large part to Gronkowski getting back in rhythm.

In the last three weeks, Gronkowski has 21 catches for 292 yards and three touchdowns. Brady and Gronkowski have been connecting on a much higher rate of Gronkowski's targets (21 of 27) in that span, and Gronkowski's imposing presence on the field has opened up lanes for Brady to throw to other Patriots receivers.

In his past three games, Brady has a completion percentage of 69.9 percent. Before that, Brady was completing passes at a clip of 55.7 percent.

"He’s done a good job coming back," Brady said. "Really his mental toughness, this really was the last game where he played most of the game. He’s getting his football legs back and it’s been fun to have him out there. He’s a big presence. He’s tough to play against. Really, it helps the other guys get open and the other guys help him get open and the running game helps all the guys in the pass game get open. It has to be a complementary thing."

On Sunday night, Brady put on display just how much he appreciates Gronkowski's presence and what he brings to the Patriots offense. After the two hooked up for a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter to cut Denver's lead to 24-21, Brady shared in an extended -- and highly animated -- celebration with his biggest target.

"I don’t really remember what I said," Brady said. "I was pretty fired up. He and I have a good relationship. We’ve played together in a lot of games. He gets excited and I get excited when he’s out there because I have so much familiarity with him and he’s a big part of why our offense goes. When he’s making plays, it just helps other guys make plays. A score like that, it was a very emotional time in the game. I kind of lost my mind."