FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On a day the Buffalo Bills’ best revenge would have been beating tight end Rob Gronkowski and the New England Patriots, it turned out Gronkowski was simply more than they could handle.
Coming off arguably the best game of his eight-year career the week before in Pittsburgh, Gronkowski dazzled again in a 37-16 victory that puts the Patriots one victory away from earning home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
His 17-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter might have been the best of his career, as he reached up with his right arm while tightly covered by safety Micah Hyde in the front-left corner of the end zone. Gronkowski snared it with one hand while also somehow keeping his feet inbounds.
Sign the TD up for a prime spot in SportsCenter’s Top 10.
It is an indefensible play on a back-shoulder throw, an example of what coach Bill Belichick said last week when he referred to the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski being open even when he’s covered.
"It was a great catch, spectacular," quarterback Tom Brady said. "It was man coverage, I was trying to give him a back-shoulder [throw] and it was probably a foot further back than I wanted to. He's got incredible control, hand-eye coordination, and that was a big play in the game."
It was actually supposed to be a run play, according to Gronkowski.
"Tom alerted it, and the alert was me on a go [route]," Gronkowski explained. "He put the ball up there where only I can go get it. I would say it started off in practice the last couple weeks. We've just been hitting the same page, practicing hard and it pays off."
Then in the third quarter, which is when the game decisively turned in the Patriots’ favor, Gronkowski drew a 29-yard pass-interference penalty on safety Trae Elston in the end zone to set up a Mike Gillislee 1-yard touchdown run, giving New England a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
"It's just as big as a catch," Gronkowski said, lamenting that he didn't come away with the reception anyway.
On a day when the Patriots didn’t play their best and the officials overturned an apparent touchdown catch by Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin at the end of the second quarter, some could call it an early Christmas gift. But in the end, the Patriots made more plays than the Bills in the second half to break open a halftime tie and help Brady -- who didn’t have his trademark accuracy early -- improve to 28-3 lifetime against the Bills. The result extends his own record for most wins over a single opponent in NFL history.
Once again, the primary difference-maker was Gronkowski, who made it through the game without incident as he faced the Bills for the first time since his late hit on cornerback Tre'Davious White three weeks ago that led to a one-game suspension. He finished with five catches for 67 yards and the touchdown -- a stat line that didn’t truly reflect his full impact.
Asked why he always seems to play his best against the Bills, he said, "When your hometown team passes on you twice in the draft, you kind of remember it still. No lie, I remember it every single time I play them."
That might be the best news of all for the Patriots: As they set their sights on home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs -- which they can earn with a win over the visiting New York Jets next Sunday -- Gronkowski has never looked better.
"Any time you can throw it to Rob," Brady said, "it's a good play."