HOUSTON -- Here's one way to sum up the New England Patriots' offense in recent weeks: "What a difference a Gronk makes."
While Rob Gronkowski officially returned to action on Oct. 20 against the New York Jets, he has only recently returned to top form and it's no coincidence that the Patriots' attack has started to click as that has happened. The latest example came in Sunday's 34-31 victory against the Houston Texans when Gronkowski finished with six catches for 127 yards and one touchdown.
"I mean, Gronk is one of the top tight ends in the league," receiver Julian Edelman said. "Anytime you have 'Big Gronk' out there, it definitely makes the team better."
In this case, it's more about the "Full Gronk."
It took Gronkowski a while to get to this point after missing all of training camp and the first six games of the season, so his first three to four games essentially served as his preseason-within-the-season. The breakthrough has just recently occurred.
In the Nov. 24 victory against the Denver Broncos, Gronkowski played every snap, which was the first sign that he's at top form. He nearly did the same Sunday against the Texans, with the top highlight coming on a 50-yard catch early in the third quarter that helped spark an offense that had been inconsistent in the first half. Gronkowski dragged two defenders along for a ride at the end of the catch-and-run. Then there was his 23-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter when he plucked a low throw from quarterback Tom Brady over the middle.
"The touchdown was a great play. It was an adjustment," Brady said. "He was covered early and wheeled out of the route and made a great catch. The catch in the third quarter to drag those guys down the field was awesome too. He made a great play on a catch-and-run there."
Gronkowski appeared to get his foot/ankle caught when tackled in the fourth quarter. He finished the game and didn't appear to have any issues with it after the game.
That's good news because after seeing what Gronkowski means to the offense, it would be a major setback if he was sidelined for any period of time.
"Whenever he gets going, the rest of us get going," Brady said. "I hope he realizes the importance for him to be able to play that kind of style for us. It really helps everyone."