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Rob Gronkowski continues his march into history

10.28.12 at 9:59 pm ET

As Rob Gronkowski marched in the end zone, his attempt to pay homage to the Changing of the Guard — in his words to reporters, ‘€œThat little nutcracker dude that’s guarding the house’€ — more closely resembled a mechanical toy soldier. And in some ways, his mechanical march perfectly embodied what the third-year tight end has become.

Simply put, he is a touchdown machine. In 2½ NFL seasons, he’€™s established himself as one of the foremost scoring threats in league history, someone who has assumed end zone residence as no one else at his position in the modern history of the game.

That notion was underscored on Sunday against an overmatched Rams team, as Gronkowski delivered one of the most dominating games of his career. He matched a career high with eight catches and two touchdowns while amassing 146 receiving yards, the second most of his career. He nearly had a third score, in fact, getting touched down at the 1-yard line on a tremendous diving catch at the end of the first quarter.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the performance — aside from the celebration and charming absurdity of its explanation — was the fact that it was almost unremarkable. It simply represented what has become a characteristic romp over NFL defenses, which have yet to identify a defensive grouping — defensive linemen are too big and slow; linebackers too small and slow; safeties and defensive backs too small — to prevent Gronkowski from getting to the end zone.

The result? Gronkowski has scored 34 touchdowns in 40 games in his career, and he now is marching through end zones and into history books in a fashion befitting his robotic Sunday celebration.

Gronkowski now has 11 games with multiple touchdown catches in his career. He joins Jerry Rice as the only players in NFL history with that many multi-TD games in his first three seasons; but Gronkowski, of course, still has eight games left this year to set a new standard. No tight end has come remotely close to such a figure.

Overall, Gronkowski now has 34 touchdown catches in his first 40 career games, the most in that number of games since Randy Moss started his career with 40 touchdowns in as many games between 1998-2000. (John Jefferson had 34 in his first 40 career games; Bob Hayes scored 35 touchdowns in his first 40 games; and Rice had 32 in his first 40 career games.)

Think about it: Ben Coates had nine games with multiple touchdowns in his long, illustrious career. It’€™s taken Gronkowski 2½ seasons to bulldoze past that standard.

He’€™s already owns the single-season records for most touchdowns (17) and receiving yards (1,327) in a season by a tight end. By all indications, he’€™s off to the sort of career start that makes it fair to wonder whether he may one day be known as the greatest tight end in history.

This year, he’€™s got 580 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, on pace for 1,160 yards and 14 TDs. If he hits those marks, then he’€™d finish this year with 3,033 yards and 41 touchdowns. A look at the eight modern Hall of Fame tight ends and two active members of that position who have legitimate Canton aspirations underscores the degree to which Gronkowski is separating himself statistically from anyone else to play tight end.

Tony Gonzalez (1997-2012)

16 career multi-TD games

First three years:
168 receptions
1,838 yards
15 TDs
3 multi-TD games

Antonio Gates (2003-12)

15 career multi-TD games

First three years:
194 catches
2,454 yards
25 TDs
5 multi-TD games

Shannon Sharpe (HOF 2011)

9 career multi-TD games

First three years:
82 catches
1,061 yards
4 TDs
0 multi-TD games

Charlie Sanders (HOF 2007)

2 career multi-TD games

First three years:
122 catches
1,733 yards
10 TDs
1 multi-TD game

Dave Casper (HOF 2002)

4 career multi-TD games

First three years:
62 catches
788 yards
14 TDs
3 multi-TD games

Ozzie Newsome (HOF 1999)

4 career multi-TD games

First three years:
144 catches
1,964 yards
14 TDs
1 multi-TD game

Kellen Winslow (HOF 1995)

9 career multi-TD games

First three years:
202 catches
2,620 yards
21 TDs
4 multi-TD games

Jackie Smith (HOF 1994)

4 career multi-TD games

First three years:
116 receptions
1,750 yards
8 TDs
1 multi-TD game

John Mackey (HOF 1992)

5 career multi-TD games

First three years:
97 catches
1,946 yards
16 TDs
2 multi-TD games

Mike Ditka (HOF 1988)

6 career multi-TD games

First three years:
173 catches
2,774 yards
25 TDs
5 multi-TD games

Gronkowski, of course, benefits from being in a tremendous offense with almost innumerable weapons, led by one of the great quarterbacking decision-makers of all time. But suffice it to say, Tom Brady recognizes the value of exploiting great teammates — see Moss, Randy, c. 2007 — and in Gronkowski, he’€™s discovered a partner in crime with the ability to assert himself as one of the greatest scoring receivers in the game’€™s history.

Read More: Antonio Gates, Ben Coates, charlie sanders, dave casper



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