That was a question that came to mind after Sunday’s 26-6 victory over the New York Jets in the regular-season finale, as Gronkowski had played every snap in the first half but wasn’t even targeted with a pass. He then had his load lightened in the second half with the Patriots in command of the game.
Technically, it has happened three times: Sept. 22, 2016 against the Texans, Nov. 27, 2016 against the Jets and Jan. 13, 2013 against the Texans.
But the difference between those games and what unfolded Sunday is that in the previous games Gronkowski either had an injury that knocked him out of the game or was coming back from an injury and used sparingly.
Quarterback Tom Brady seemed surprised in his postgame news conference when informed that Gronkowski didn’t have a single target in the game.
"Really? I didn't know that," he said. "So, I didn't notice."
Gronkowski, who received a lot of attention from the Jets in the form of double coverage, finished the season with 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns. His only hope to earn the top tier of his incentives is to be named first-team All-Pro.
Gronkowski’s quiet day leads off the weekly snap-count analysis:
Offense: 85 (second highest total of season, behind 86 vs. Chargers)
Rob Gronkowski: 58
Dwayne Allen: 36
This group was more of a factor as blockers, with no targets for Gronkowski and one apiece for Allen and Hollister (but no catches).
Brandin Cooks: 78
Danny Amendola: 55
Phillip Dorsett: 45
Kenny Britt: 29
Cooks ended up playing 92.7 percent of the offensive snaps in the regular season, with Amendola at 49.9 percent. The hopeful return of Chris Hogan (shoulder) and maybe even Malcolm Mitchell (knee, designated to return off IR) would cut into the playing time for Dorsett (33 percent) and Britt.
Dion Lewis: 52
Brandon Bolden: 34
The 52 snaps are a season high for Lewis, topping the 51 he had the week before against Buffalo. Prior to those two games, the most snaps Lewis had in a game this season was 33.
James Develin: 31
With the frigid conditions, this was a Develin type of day, with more two-back sets than the norm.
RT Cameron Fleming: 85
RG Shaq Mason: 85
LG Joe Thuney: 85
LT Nate Solder: 79
C David Andrews: 79
C Ted Karras: 6
LT LaAdrian Waddle: 6
After missing all four preseason games, Solder ended up playing 97.5 percent of the offensive snaps this season, while Mason (99.7) and Thuney (99.6) were consistently available. Andrews’ two-game absence due to illness dropped his number to 86.9, while the right tackle/swing spot was a combination of Marcus Cannon (41.9), Fleming (32.3) and Waddle (29.4).
Tom Brady: 80
Brian Hoyer: 5
Brady finished the year having played 1,118 offensive snaps. The bye week should help him from a rest perspective to be ready for the playoffs.
Trey Flowers: 37
Eric Lee: 34
Deatrich Wise Jr.: 29
James Harrison: 27
The run defense was improved, which seemed to be due, in part, to Harrison’s debut. He set a solid edge on a first-quarter play in which Elijah McGuire was stopped for a loss of one yard. Harrison also showed late in the game that he still has something to offer as a pass-rusher.
Malcom Brown: 33
Adam Butler: 28
Lawrence Guy: 27
Butler came on as an interior rusher in the seven-DB package in obvious passing situations, while Brown and Guy are playing some of their best football of late. If Alan Branch (knee) is ready to return for the playoffs, the team might be stressed from a roster standpoint to keep Jean Francois.
Marquis Flowers: 31
Elandon Roberts: 28
Nicholas Grigsby: 14
Kyle Van Noy: 12
The Patriots eased Van Noy (calf) back into the mix upon his return from missing three games, while Flowers seems to be blossoming in the team’s 7-DB package as the lone linebacker. Roberts’ toughness is commendable; it looked like he might have popped his shoulder back into place on the field before returning to action.
Malcolm Butler: 59
Stephon Gilmore: 47
Eric Rowe: 37
Jonathan Jones: 21
Johnson Bademosi: 12
While the Jets aren’t a threatening passing offense, it was a bounce-back performance for Butler and Gilmore compared to the Week 16 win over the Bills. Butler led the defense in terms of snaps played in the season (97.8). Rowe has been serving as the third corner over Jones. Thankfully, Bademosi wasn’t in too much pain after absorbing a spike on the sideline (yuk, yuk) and was able to chip in at the end of the game.
Patrick Chung: 45
Devin McCourty: 40
Duron Harmon: 40
Jordan Richards: 30
McCourty, who has been playing through a shoulder injury, got some time off in the second half with the Patriots in command. That’s always unusual to see because he seldom comes off the field. McCourty finished the year at 97.1 percent playing time.