Rob Gronkowski wanted to clarify just how juiced the Patriots are about clinching a berth in their third straight Super Bowl.
“We’re juiced, but we’re not super juiced,” the tight end told reporters after beating the Kansas City Chiefs 37-31. “Because we know we still got to put the work in. The Rams are a great team.”
The Rams of Los Angeles are the only team left standing between New England and the Lombardi Trophy. A victory in Atlanta on Feb. 3 would mark Gronkowski’s third time as an NFL champion. The 29-year-old ranked Sunday’s win up there with the best in his nine-year career.
“The way we fought this game, I mean, couldn’t be more proud to be on this team,” Gronkowski told reporters. “More proud to be out there with the boys, how hard we just kept fighting. Defense, offense, special teams. A victory on the road — AFC Championship game — it was one of my sweeter victories, definitely. In my career, for sure.”
Gronkowski caught the first ball Tom Brady threw, a 13-yard completion on the third snap of the game. And he caught the last, for a 15-yard gain on 3rd and 10 in overtime that led to Rex Burkhead’s game-winning touchdown three plays later. In between, he caught four other passes for a total of 79 yards on the night.
Perhaps his best catch came as the Patriots drove downfield at the end of regulation. Facing third and 5 with 54 seconds remaining, Brady looked to his favorite towering target. Gronkowski fought off the defender, blanketing him and reeling in a 25-yard pass along the sideline.
On the very next snap, Burkhead burst through the Kansas City front for a touchdown that gave New England a three point cushion — one they’d need when the Chiefs kicked a field goal to send the game to overtime.
Gronkowski acknowledged that, “Yes, [he] made a couple great catches at the end.” But he added that if you examined the drives, they required contributions from every teammate on the field. The tight end credited Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan in particular for keeping the chains moving and opening the door for his receptions.
Once the Patriots won the coin toss and knew they’d receive the ball first in the extra period, Gronkowski said the offense knew what it had to do.
“We were saying on the sidelines, ‘Let’s just go down and end this now. Let’s make some plays. Everyone step up,’” he said. “Which everyone did. Everyone was making highlight catches left and right, getting first downs. It was just huge.”
The six catches on 11 targets were a far cry from last week’s divisional round game against the Chargers, when Gronkowski was targeted once. Asked about making that transition from primarily acting as a blocker to keying the passing game, he said he was simply following orders.
“What the doctor orders,” Gronkowski said. “Or the coach. What the coach orders. Coach/doctor orders. Whatever it is, I got to block, I got to receive. It’s crucial.”
Bill Belichick, M.D., will have Gronkowski’s next set of instructions ready for Super Bowl LIII.