EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In his first game back of the season, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski had a significant role for the team's offense against the New York Jets.
Gronkowski was targeted 17 times and caught eight passes for 114 yards. It was a big step for the tight end who had been rehabbing from five different surgeries, including four on his forearm, for the past nine months. He wore a protective sleeve, but he didn't appear to be hindered by it.
"It felt good to get back out there with the teammates, fighting with the team, playing hard with the team; you win as a team, you lose as a team," Gronkowski said. "You’ve got to give it to the Jets, they’re a good team, they’ve definitely got a good defense. We’ve just got to make more plays."
The Patriots lost 30-27 in overtime after a controversial penalty set up a game-winning field goal by Nick Folk. But in the fourth quarter, Gronkowski had an opportunity to come down with a big catch near the Jets' 10-yard line as the Patriots were looking for a go-ahead touchdown. It would have been a one-handed grab, but he couldn't hold onto it.
"I'm still mad at myself about that," Gronkowski said. "I had it, I brought it in, and I dropped it. I’ve got to keep working hard in practice, got to catch more balls in practice, keep practicing hard and get better so when plays like that happen again I can make them."
The Patriots settled for a 44-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime.
"He ran a great route and we gave him an opportunity," said Tom Brady. "He makes that 99 out of 100, but it was just one of those days where it doesn't happen for us. We still had plenty of other opportunities after that. It really shouldn't have come down to that play if we had been executing better over the course of the day."
Gronkowski's return certainly changed the way other players on team's offense were treated, which is the impact many had expected for the Patriots. He opened up some passing lanes for others that had not been there in his absence.
"Of course," Brady said. "He's one of the best players in the NFL. You saw what he does today and it was his first game back."