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On a team loaded with questions, Rob Gronkowski a sure thing

12.04.11 at 6:36 pm ET

FOXBORO — There is still plenty to figure out when it comes to the 2011 New England Patriots.

Listen, we still know nothing about this defense. Sorry, but if you want to make a case for progress over the last three weeks — which I guess is fair — there has to then be pause when Dan Orlovsky leads an 0-12 team on drives of 86, 93 and 90 yards over the last quarter and half. I know the game was over and I understand that when it really mattered the score was 31-3, but come on. There is no way anyone with a shred of credibility can convince me that this defense is ready to step up and stop a top-10 quarterback in the postseason. I’m still buying that it could maybe happen, but we’re all watching the games, right? Zero proof that this team is going to slow down Big Ben or Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. None. They are on pace to allow 4,980 yards passing this season, which would shatter the exisiting NFL record.

But this isn’t the place for questions. Nope, this piece of the real estate is today reserved for an appreciation of Rob Gronkowski, who catches touchdowns with a frequency never before seen at his position.

Gronkowski caught a pair of touchdown passes in Sunday’s 31-24 Not As Close As The Score Might Tell You But Still Plenty Troubling 31-24 win over the soon to be 0-16 Colts, and is now tied with Antonio Gates (2004) and Vernon Davis (2009) for most touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history.

Yup, 13 TDs on the season for Gronkowski, and understand this: When it comes to catching touchdowns, no tight end in history — not Kellen Winslow, not John Mackey, not Ben Coates, not Gates, not Mike Ditka, no one — has been as productive over a two-year stretch as Gronkowski has been in his first 28 games (24 TDs) with the Patriots.

Gronkowski caught his first TD in the second quarter, an 11-yarder that saw Brady spilt the middle of a confused Indianapolis defense (I’m no Rod Rust, but here’s a nickel’s worth of defensive advice: When in the red zone, always make sure someone is covering the guy with the most touchdowns in the league). He tied the record in the third quarter, beating Antoine Bethea (the President of the Suck for Luck campaign, just awful on Sunday) and hauling in a 21-yarder from Brady.

“It’s whatever,” said Gronkowski (never to be confused with Bill Bradley) at his locker after the game. “Numbers aren’t really important, records aren’t really important, what’s important is getting the victory, which we did.”

And for a couple of minutes, it was believed Gronkowski actually broke the record with what was first thought to be a two-yard TD catch in the third quarter (the new record was announced to a largely apathetic — fat and happy central — crowd at Gillette, Gronkowski elected to keep the ball instead of spiking it), but the play was later (correctly, it seemed after watching it a couple of times, though very close) ruled a lateral and a rushing score for the tight end.

“That’s what I heard but I’m cool with it,” said Gronkowski after the game. “It’s the first rush of my whole life and I got a touchdown off it. That’s cool.”

Look, if Rob Gronkowski had been drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins or Buffalo Bills (the three teams that picked before the Patriots tabbed Gronkowski with the 42nd pick in 2010) he’d probably be a promising but still mostly unknown tight end. Of course it helps him to be in this system with this quarterback. Fair enough.

But there have been plenty of tight ends during the Brady Era, and no one comes close to matching the numbers put up by Gronkowski during his still young career.

The best tight end in football? Maybe, but if not there is no way he’s outside the top three.

And when it comes to catching touchdown passes, there is no competition. Not just among active players, but all at the position (think about this: Gronkowski has 17 touchdown catches in his last 16 games). You are watching the greatest stretch of TD receiving by tight end, ever.

Plenty of questions remain for the 2011 Patriots, but Gronkowski is a sure thing.

Read More: New Engalnd Patriots, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady,



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