FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Gronk was back, on the field and as goofy as ever in the locker room.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, out since breaking his left forearm on Nov. 18, returned to the New England Patriots’ lineup Sunday evening, scoring a touchdown in a 28-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins, and then holding court in his usual zany manner.
Coming out of the training room, Gronkowski looked at the swarm of media four deep in front of his locker and said, “I’m not going into that.”
Then he began his press conference where he stood.
“I was out there having a good time with my teammates,” said Gronkowksi, who caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady in the fourth quarter, then punctuated it (as always) with a Gronk Spike. “It was a blast being out on the field.”
His playing time was limited, only 24 of 80 offensive snaps, but it was vital that he got some playing time before the playoffs began. The Patriots earned a bye week with their victory and Houston’s loss earlier in the day.
“It’s always important (to play),” he said. “You always want to get some reps heading into the playoffs. It’s good to get the speed down, the feel of the game. There’s practice, you can go hard. But that was game time.
“It was good to get some reps in and get the flow back into it and be out there with your teammates and connect with some chemistry with your teammates.”
Gronkowski played with a soft wrap on his left forearm, up to his elbow. He was injured while blocking on a PAT kick in the final minutes of the Patriots 59-24 win over Indianapolis. He missed the next five games, yet still finished as the Patriots’ third-leading receiver with 55 catches for 790 yards (14.4 average). His touchdown catch gave him a team-high 11 on the season.
“He made a couple of big catches,” Brady said. “It was nice to get him back in the flow of things.”
Gronkowski finished with two catches for 44 yards, his 19-yarder setting up the first score of the day.
Gronkowski received medical clearance late in the week to play, although he said in his mind, he was ready to play as early as last Monday.
He was looking forward to his first contact.
“It’s been about six weeks since I got hit,” he said. “It’s football. I was ready to get hit. I was ready to get knocked down. You just got to get back up and get back in the huddle. It felt good to be back out there.”
Asked if the wrap hindered him in any way, Gronkowksi said, “I was just out there doing what I had to do, doing what the coaches asked and we got a week off now. I’m just going to be in training room now, trying to get stronger every day.”
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Defensive end Rob Ninkovich left with a hip injury in the second quarter. Coach Bill Belichick, as usual, didn’t have an update. “We’ll see what it is,” he said.
But if the injury is serious, it could be a big blow to this defense. Ninkovich has a team-high eight sacks.
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Big day for Brady and moving up in the NFL record book.
With his 9-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker in the first quarter, Brady became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass in every game over three consecutive 16-game regular seasons. It was his 48th consecutive game with a touchdown pass, moving him into second place on that list ahead of Johnny Unitas.
Later in the first quarter, Brady hit Welker for a 10-yard completion, moving him past Drew Bledsoe into ninth place on the NFL’s career yardage list. He now has 44,806 passing yards.
Then in the second quarter, Brady completed a 10-yard pass to Danny Woodhead, allowing him to pass Vinny Testaverde for eighth place on the all-time completions list. He now has 3,798.
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The game-time temperature was 28 degrees, with a wind chill of 16. And that meant good things for the Patriots.
Since 1993 (which is when they started keeping track of such things, I guess), the Patriots are now 34-8 when the starting temperature is 34. When it’s 30 or less, the Patriots are even better, going 25-4.
Interestingly, they had lost their last game in such conditions: the 41-34 loss to San Francisco on Dec. 16. It was 34 and rainy that night.