They’re the odd couple off the field.
Tom Brady is a family man that claims to go to bed by 8:30 every night. Rob Gronkowski is one of the most prominent athlete-bachelors in the country, known for a highly publicized, fast and loose lifestyle that, two summers ago, earned the nickname neatly summarized as, “The Summer of Gronk.”
But on the field no two players are more connected. The two Patriots stars are seemingly always in sync as Brady is having an MVP caliber season and Gronk has bounced right back to his All-World form after tearing his ACL last December.
“He surprises me all the time, just what his ability is,” Brady said during his weekly appearance on WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan show. “He’s got just incredible ability to make catches, runs, and the way he blocks, as a teammate, there’s nothing he can’t do. It’s so fun to play with people like that. Gronk’s been a guy I've loved playing with since he’s been here, he’s just a phenomenal player, a phenomenal athlete. He’s a tough matchup for everybody because he’s just big, and fast, and athletic and he great attitude. It’s the whole package with him and the biggest issue that he’s had is just being able to stay on the field and that’s hard for a lot of people, and I think he’s really worked hard to put himself in a position where he can be on the field, so it’s just been great to see.”
The one knock on Gronk has been his inability to stay healthy and avoid injuries. He continues to employ a physical, punishing running style after the catch and usually ends the play by giving or taking a big hit. That style was on display Sunday during Gronk’s 26-yard touchdown play where he ran over several Colt defenders en route to the end zone. On the play, Gronkowski became the first tight end in NFL history to have three consecutive 10-plus touchdown seasons. It was also the 51st time Brady and Gronkowski have connected for a TD -- the second most receiving touchdowns in NFL history for a quarterback-tight end combo.
Brady was asked if he thought the big receiver would ever play it safe and change his style to avoid contact.
“I think there’s definitely times to play it safe and there’s other times not to, and I don’t think that was one of those times,” Brady said. “The game was still a two-score game and we were trying to really put the nail in the coffin. You don’t want to go — and I've talked with other players over the years about — it’s great to try and gain extra yards and all those things, but it’s also to put yourself at the risk of like cutting back into seven guys on defense and taking a big hit to gain an extra yard and get knocked out of the game and knocked out of next week’s game, and maybe knocked out of next week’s [game]. Those things don’t make sense to me.
“Part of being a smart football player is making really smart decisions and you've got to evaluate the decision and then you've got to try and make a smart one. We all try and do that on our particular plays, with our particular job and what we’re asked to do, but at the same time I think doing things that are in your … you can’t help the team if you’re not out there playing. In that particular situation, Gronk made a great stiff-arm and cut back, and then really ran through the secondary, which was awesome. That’s what he thought he needed to do and that is what he did. That was a great play and a great way to really end the game in a way.”
Depending on the situation, Brady said there are times when going for the extra yard is needed vs. taking the safer route of getting out of bounds.
“It’s different for different players,” Brady said. “If you’re Wes Welker’s size, everyone else is basically bigger than you so when you’re Gronk’s size, you’re basically bigger than everyone else. It’s a little different MO. You've got to protect yourself at certain times, because you do want to be out on the field for 16 weeks but at the same time you want to run hard, you want to give your team a burst when they need it. Gronk’s done all those things. There’s times when you’re running down the sideline and sometimes you cut back to try to gain an extra yard. Yeah, sometimes you do if that yard’s really important, then you do it. Sometimes you step out of bounds and play the next play and then go back and try to catch a 30-yard pass on the next play. It’s just a matter of the game situation.”
With Lucas Oil Stadium in the rear view mirror, the Patriots will be playing the final six games in the great outdoors, which is just fine for Brady.
“It’s cold pretty much here on out," he said. "There’s no more dome games, or any of that BS. It’s all football weather from here on out.”
The next game for the Patriots is against the Lions, who come to Foxborough with a 7-3 record and the NFL’s stingiest defense.
“We’re still doing the evaluation of it,” Brady said when asked about the Lions vaunted defense. “They are a good team, they've always had a good defense and obviously it starts with their guys up front, so they get a lot of pressure. They've got four guys up front and they rotate a lot of guys in and out of their front-four to get pressure. [Ndamukong] Suh has been a great player for a long time. We’ll try and put together a great plan and try and take advantage of things we see. They are athletic. They all run to the ball. They have a lot of speed.
“It’s a big challenge. It’s very different than what we faced last week, so we have to find a different way to win. We have to have a great week and that is where it starts: preparation so you can go out and play with confidence, play with anticipation and you go out and see where you’re at. If that game plan doesn't work you try and get your game plan B as quickly as you can and if that doesn't work you get to another one and you try and keep finding combinations all the way to the end to try and score points.”