Carrying more than his share
Gronkowski pulls in two TD passes
FOXBOROUGH — Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis may never be able to forget the scene as all 6 foot 2 inches, 247 pounds of his body was dragged along the turf at Gillette Stadium toward the end zone, like a kid hanging onto his older brother’s foot.
The big kid involved in that second-quarter play was Patriots rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski. On a second-and-6 play from the Rams’ 14, Gronkowski secured a short pass from Tom Brady and turned toward the end zone. Laurinaitis fell to Gronkowski’s feet as Gronkowski dragged the linebacker 2 yards before he could stretch his 6-foot-6-inch body toward the goal line.
The initial ruling was that Gronkowski didn’t stretch quite far enough, but the Patriots challenged, the call was reversed, and Gronkowski had a touchdown. The TD, which cut the Patriots’ deficit to 17-14, was the first of two on the night for Gronkowski. He caught another pass, too, for 66 yards receiving in the Patriots’ 36-35 exhibition loss.
Not much went through Gronkowski’s head as he inched toward the end zone on his first touchdown, except, he said, “tuck the ball away and try to get as much as I can.’’
There were plenty of eyes watching Gronkowski make the most of his catch.
“Yeah, that was a great play,’’ Brady said. “He’s such a big kid, it’s hard to tackle him because he’s so strong. That second touchdown catch he made was equally impressive. I threw it and he went up and got it.
“That’s what we need this year. We need guys to make those type of plays because they’re not going to be wide open on every play, and I’m not going to have all the time in the world on every play. So we want to make the plays when they’re close.’’
Gronkowski provided some of the rare highlights for an offense that mustered one first down in the first quarter. Although he was part of a memorable play, it wasn’t one that coach Bill Belichick was ready to praise.
“When you can’t make a first down in the first half, it’s hard to find a lot of bright spots on offense,’’ Belichick said.
Gronkowski added, “I’m just going out there whatever [Belichick] puts me in, I’m just going to go out there work hard. It was great getting time out there.’’
With each preseason game, it seems the Patriots are going to get their tight ends more involved this season. Fellow rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez did not play last night, but veteran Alge Crumpler got involved, stretching to snag a 24-yard pass as he fell out of bounds. The catch, which was also reviewed, moved the Patriots to the Rams’ 18 and came two plays before Gronkowski’s first touchdown.
Gronkowski’s other two catches came in a 98-yard no-huddle drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters. On the fourth play of the 10-play march, Brady found Gronkowski over the middle for 32 yards, which put the ball in Rams’ territory. Six plays later, Gronkowski and Brady hooked up again for a 20-yard score down the middle.
“The tight end position was really productive for us again,’’ Brady said. “Alge really sparked us on that one play on the sideline, which was an incredible catch.’’
Gronkowski said that with each practice he is learning more about his place in the offense, but that he is not feeling like he has established himself yet.
“I definitely feel more comfortable from the beginning,’’ Gronkowski said. “I didn’t know a play coming into here, but I’ve got a lot to learn.’’