As he hits the end of one of his least productive and most battering regular seasons, it’d be natural for Rob Gronkowski to be down about the state of all things Gronk. Earlier in his career, that might even have been the case.
Nine seasons into a Canton-worthy career, though, the party boy at tight end is wise to the ride of the NFL season and adapts accordingly.
“You just learn that you’ve got to stay positive. You can never get too down on yourself,” Gronkowski told reporters on Thursday. “That has happened to me before – you get too down and you dig yourself a bigger hole. You’ve just got to stay balanced. It’s a roller coaster season, as you guys have seen all year, but whenever things aren’t going right you’ve just got to stay positive and keep going, keep doing what you need to do and you know you’ll bounce back.”
Guaranteed a first-round playoff bye with a win at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, the Patriots are treating the Jets with respect well beyond their 4-11 record — Gang Green’s third straight losing season and fourth in five losing that many. Gronkowski called it “as close as it can get to a playoff game for us” while admitting practice wasn’t all business.
“We were goofing off, but at the same time we were getting our work done,” he said. “Today was a good day.”
That goofiness remains his calling card, but has generally come with numbers unlike few seen from a tight end in NFL history. Not this season, to the point the New York Daily News declared No. 87 “a beaten and battered prized fighter who looks sad and lost” prior to the Jets-Patriots meeting during Thanksgiving week.
Gronkowski had a touchdown early in that game, but caught just three balls for 56 yards in the victory. A dominant force two weeks later, reeling in all eight of his targets for 107 yards and another touchdown in Miami, he fell on his face as the Patriots lost on a miracle touchdown and is yet to really recover. Just 21 yards in the loss at Pittsburgh, then nothing on the stat sheet against Buffalo but an assist on a Bills interception when a catchable ball hit off his hands.
Gronkowski’s monster opening Sunday against Houston, complete with a tone-setting first quarter touchdown, was an anomaly. He enters Sunday with just 45 catches for 658 yards — both his fewest in a full season since his 2010 rookie year — and the three touchdowns just referenced. All are well below earning his contract incentives, and rumors continue to bubble that a player who mulled retirement last offseason might pull the trigger on it this one.
Gronkowski wouldn’t entertain those questions on Thursday, instead maintaining he loves the time with teammates, the bonding and the grind.
“I’ve been all in all season no matter if it’s been up, if it’s been down, and I’m going to tell you this right now – I’m going to be all in for the rest of the year, no matter when it is,” he said. “Every season brings its own little challenges and you’ve just got to keep on grinding.”
This season’s have been plenty mental. Four games missed. Plenty of time on the injury report with back and ankle problems, with that contributing to him becoming more pivotal in the running game as a blocker than in the passing game. If it’s bothering him, he wouldn’t speak to it on Thursday.
“If we run the ball 50 times, we run the ball 50 times. We’ve got to get that win. If we pass the ball 50 times then we pass the ball 50 times. It’s all about the win, it’s all about doing what you need to do to help out the team,” he said. “If it’s blocking, if it’s catching 10 balls that game, if it’s catching one ball that game, if it’s blocking the whole game. No matter what it is, I’m going to go full speed.”
Yet those performances against Houston and Miami also show, in a league where game plans flip from week to week, even a 29-year-old Gronkowski is to be ignored at an opponent’s peril. Which brings us back to those lessons about the ups and downs. Asked for an example of a time he got too down, the studied veteran reverted to the goof we grew up with.
“I don’t know. I probably have before, but it’s over,” Gronkowski said. “I’m back on the roller coaster, baby. I’m going. I’m here for the ride.”