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Rob Gronkowski backs Tom Brady on and off field

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tight end Rob Gronkowski brought the same passion and emotion that had served as the catalyst for New England Patriots' resounding 43-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals right into the postgame locker room late Sunday night.

The topic was quarterback Tom Brady's widely reported demise, and Gronkowski -- who was immense with six catches for 100 yards and one touchdown -- spiked it like he does a Brady-delivered football in the end zone.

"I told my brother before we came to the game, 'I'm going to make 12 look like Tom Brady again today, baby!'" Gronkowski relayed, acknowledging that some of the widespread chatter about Brady's decline had seeped into the locker room.

"And I went out there with my teammates and we made Tom Brady look like Tom Brady after you guys were criticizing him all week, the fans, everything."

As Gronkowski said the words "Tom Brady," he brought his hands together for effect, creating a clapping sound, almost as if he was a professional wrestler giving a spirited postmatch interview.

"It feels so good," he continued. "He's such a leader. He went over 50,000 yards today. He's an unbelievable player, and I'm so glad to play with him."

Gronkowski, still animated, had more to say a bit later when it was pointed out how the crowd also rallied behind Brady by chanting "Brady! Brady! Brady!" at various points throughout the game, bringing back memories of the "Larry! Larry! Larry!" chants from the old Boston Garden with Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird in the 1980s.

"That's why it was so great, all the Brady chants and everything," Gronkowski said. "After the first couple of games, we were a little shaky. It's great to come back strong, and he showed that he's still a young buck and he has a lot in his tank left. I'm proud to be playing with him."

Apprised of Gronkowski's passionate defense of him, Brady volleyed back his own praise.

"I love that guy and everything he's done for this team, and the attitude he brings," Brady said. "He's a phenomenal player. He's been through a lot. Talk about mental toughness -- nobody's got more mental toughness than him."

If it all seemed a bit over the top, you probably weren't in New England at any point over the past six days when the heat was turned up on Brady, head coach Bill Belichick and pretty much everyone associated with the Patriots after an embarrassing performance Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs.

It was an emotional week, which made Sunday night one of the more important games of the Patriots' season. They didn't necessarily have to win, but a more spirited effort was mandatory, and they got it across the board.

How they did it offensively was a throwback to the 2011 season when they relied on the tight end position. Everyone remembers that season when Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez created a two-tight-end matchup nightmare. This time it was, for the most part, Gronkowski and Tim Wright (five catches, 85 yards, touchdown).

Of the Patriots' 84 offensive snaps (including penalties), they had two or more tight ends on the field for 48 of them. Wright's touchdown catch, a 17-yard grab up the left seam in the first quarter, came out of a never-used-this-season three-tight-end package with Gronkowski (6-6, 265), Wright (6-4, 235) and Michael Hoomanawanui (6-4, 260).

"It's definitely a great position to be in, because you have tight ends that are smaller, tight ends that are bigger, and sometimes defenses can't find the right matchup for you," said Wright, who was acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the surprising Aug. 26 trade for offensive lineman Logan Mankins. "That's when you have to expose it and take advantage of what you got."

The Patriots did that against the Bengals, while also utilizing fullback James Develin more than they have in recent weeks, playing him a season-high 27 snaps. Develin's presence, and the hard-charging running of Stevan Ridley (113 yards and a TD on 27 carries) and shiftiness of Shane Vereen (90 yards on nine carries), helped balance out an attack that has been in search of its identity.

They found it Sunday night.

The balanced, two-tight-end offense is back. So is Brady.

And all is good in New England again.