FOXBOROUGH — If you listen to Rob Gronkowski explain it, his record-tying 13 receiving touchdowns this season are more a matter of being in the right place at the right time than anything Gronkowski himself does.
“The wide receivers are getting so open, they’re so good that they forget about the tight ends,” said Gronkowski. “They’re catching passes down the field getting us into the red zone, and Tom was making nice throws. I was the open one and just had to make the catch.”
Gronkowski made what he thought were three touchdown catches today, spiking up the score after a first quarter in which both teams were bogged down by offensive inefficiency. Gronkowski’s first touchdown was an 11-yard reception with 2:57 left in the second quarter that put the Patriots up 10-3. His second touchdown, a 21-yard reception with 12:16 left in the third quarter, gave him 13 receiving touchdowns for the season and tied him with Vernon Davis and Antonio Gates for the most receiving touchdowns in one season by a tight end.
“That guy is an athlete and he gets it done,” said Colts defensive back Jerraud Powers. “He is a tough kid and he knows how to run the routes.”
The route Gronkowski ran on this third touchdown of the day turned out to not be a route at all, as Tom Brady hit him with a lateral that Gronkowski ran into the end zone from two yards out to put the Patriots up, 31-3, with 4:13 remaining in the third quarter.
“I thought it was a forward pass,” Brady said after the game. “I threw it.”
Thinking he had the record, Gronkowski held onto the ball rather than spiking it into the turf, a celebration that has become his trademark. He said he found out after the game that his third touchdown would not count toward the record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end.
“That was my first rushing touchdown of my career, so that was pretty cool,” said Gronkowski. “But I wish I spiked it now.”
No NFL tight end has ever scored 14 touchdowns in a season by any measure, so Gronkowski’s mark stands alone in some right. Regardless of whether or not Gronkowski breaks the record later this season, the big tight end said he wasn’t chasing history.
“It’s whatever,” said Gronkowski. “Numbers aren’t really important, records aren’t really important anyway. They mean really nothing at the end of the day. The only thing that really matters is the whole team.”
Which brings us back to who really does get credit for Gronkowski’s touchdowns. Gronkowski leads all NFL players in receiving touchdowns this season, and his fifth straight game with a receiving touchdown ties a team record (Randy Moss, Daniel Graham, Michael Timpson, and Jimmy Coclough).
“He understands where he needs to be and makes plays in key situations,” said Patriots receiver Wes Welker. “He’s such a big target.”
A big target who has put up bigger numbers than most could have predicted before the season, Gronkowski will set his sights on claiming the single-season tight end touchdown reception record for himself against the Redskins Sunday. He broke his own team record of 10 touchdowns this season.