Rob Gronkowski sets TE yardage mark

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski eclipsed the NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end, then won a battle with the New Orleans Saints' Jimmy Graham to get his name in the record books.

With the Patriots leading the Buffalo Bills, 49-21, New England got the ball with 1:30 remaining in the game and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer behind center.

Rather than taking a knee, Hoyer hit Gronkowski up the left sideline for a 22-yard gain that pushed Gronkowski's season yardage total to 1,327. Graham's total stood at 1,310 as the Saints' game against the Carolina Panthers ended just moments earlier.

After Gronkowski's catch in front of the New England bench, Patriots players and coach Bill Belichick erupted in applause. Hoyer then took a knee three times to run out the clock.

"That last play, I had (offensive coordinator) Billy (O'Brien) call that because I wasn't sure exactly where he was (in relation to Graham's numbers) and I thought he deserved a chance to go up and try to make another play. He's had a great year. He's worked hard. I thought he deserved that," said Belichick.

Gronkowski admitted he was aware he was trailing Graham when the Pats' offense trotted back onto the field with 1:30 left, thanks to an interception by Antwaun Molden.

"Did I know about it? Maybe. Yeah, obviously or we wouldn't have called that play. I'm not going to lie about it," said Gronkowski.

When Gronkowski hauled in a 19-yard pass from Tom Brady with just less than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, it boosted his season yardage total to 1,296, six more yards than the previous record of 1,290, established by Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow of the San Diego Chargers in 1980.

But at that point, Graham's total was 1,298.

Gronkowski nabbed a 7-yard touchdown pass from Brady with 3:02 left in the game to push his total to 1,305 yards. At that point, though, Graham had boosted his total to 1,310.

Gronkowski said that the record was special to him, as was the way in which his coach made sure he had an opportunity to get it, especially in an organization that de-emphasizes personal accomplishment and espouses team goals.

"It means a lot," said Gronkowski. "It's unbelievable. It's surreal they even let me go out there. It's cool they let me do that. We could have kneeled there. Hoyer just came in the game. He made a great pass. That's why I love it here. It's such a great organization with great coaches and players. This would never have happened without (fellow tight end) Aaron (Hernandez), my coaches and the players."

His teammates were happy for him, too.

"We knew he had a chance to break the record," said Hernandez. "That doesn't happen every day. He's a great player. He deserved the record."

Gronkowski's pair of touchdown catches gave him 17 for the season, and 18 TDs overall, extending another pair of NFL records. His 17-yard TD reception with 1:32 remaining in the third gave New England a 28-21 lead after it had trailed 21-0 in the first quarter.

Those 18 TDs account for the second-highest total in team history, lifting him past Curtis Martin, who scored 17 in 1996. Randy Moss reached the end zone a New England-record 23 times in 2007.

For the game, Gronkowski had eight catches for 108 yards.

In the first half, the 6-foot-6, 265-pounder was targeted only three times by Brady, but made the catch each time, totaling 26 yards and leaving him 46 yards shy of the record. He added 17 on a catch during New England's first drive in the third quarter.

It already had been a record-setting season for the second-year tight end.

Gronkowski entered the game with 15 receiving touchdowns, an NFL record for tight ends, eclipsing San Francisco's Vernon Davis (2009) and San Diego's Antonio Gates (2004), each of whom grabbed 13. Gronkowski also had a 2-yard scoring run, giving him a total of 16 touchdowns, the highest number by a tight end in NFL history.

Last week, Gronkowski passed Ben Coates (1,174) for the most receiving yards by a Patriots tight end. Coastes had established the franchise mark in 1994.

Gronkowksi is one of only seven tight ends to reach 1,200 yards in a season. Gronkowski had grabbed 27 TD passes in 33 career games, reaching 20 in the fewest games ever by a tight end.

ESPNBoston.com's Steven Krasner contributed to this report.