Patriots Player Recap/2016 Outlook – Rob Gronkowski
2015 SEASON RECAP:
When you’re coming off of a championship season, everyone is gunning for you.
Rob Gronkowski is no stranger to being every defense’s priority, but 2015 proved to be a bigger challenge, especially given that one of his biggest foes seemingly included the officials for much of the season. Gronkowski was flagged for offensive pass interference an unprecedented five times, with NFL referees repeatedly calling him for pushing off, leading to the point the veteran was frustrated and felt he was being unfairly targeted and wondering what exactly he was allowed to do with defenders draped all over him past five yards.
That frustration boiled over in Week 12, after having a huge reception nullified in Denver during their first loss of the season. To add to the frustration, Gronkowski was carted off the field that evening after taking a vicious shot to his knee in the fourth quarter, which took the air out of what little momentum they had as Tom Brady and the Patriots battled back to force overtime. But with Julian Edelman already out with a broken foot, Gronkowski’s injury took away one of the few weapons Brady had left and it eventually lead to their first loss of 2015.
To that point, Gronkowski had already totaled 57 receptions and 9 touchdowns and the thought of being without him was certainly at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
However, while many feared Gronowski’s season was over, by some miracle the tight end suffered no damage to his knee and the injury was revealed to be nothing more than a bone bruise. He missed the following week against the Eagles, but that didn’t seem to be a big deal early on as the Patriots quickly jumped out to a 14-0 lead. But a botched onside kick by Nate Ebner started a run of 35-unanswered points by Philadelphia and New England dropped their second straight loss in a frustrating 35-28 defeat.
Gronkowski came back the following week and played in each of the final four games, catching 15 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns, with the veteran amassing four receiving plays of over 20-yards over that span, the most of any Patriots player.
In the playoffs, Gronkowski caught two touchdowns against the Chiefs and was the lone player with any success against the Broncos, hauling in 8 receptions for 144 yards. His final two catches are ones that were done thanks to sheer grit and determination after making a tremendous 40-yard play on 4th-and-10 on New England’s final drive followed by another terrific 4th down touchdown grab that pulled the Patriots within two points and had them just a 2-point conversion away from forcing overtime.
Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be, as the Patriots ultimately came up short on a day where the Broncos’ defense pummeled Tom Brady and hit him 20 times along with four sacks. But Gronkowski’s performance was one that might have gone down as one of the most incredible in team history had they pulled off the win after two terrific individual efforts by the veteran tight end. Unfortunately, instead it’s one that few will want to reflect on following the abrupt end to a promising season. The good news is, Gronkowski finished relatively healthy, giving him the ability to get himself ready this offseason for a strong 2016.
Gronkowski finished the regular season with 72 receptions along with 52 first downs and 11 touchdowns, which means that 72% of his receptions were either first downs or touchdowns. To take it a step further, Gronkowski never went longer than three receptions without a first down, and never went longer than 13 receptions in between touchdowns all season (VIEW GRAPHIC) He was also the Patriots lone big-play receiver, totaling 22 plays of over 20 yards overall during the regular season, more than three times the next closest player, which was Brandon LaFell, who had 7.
“I think if I got some room and caught it on the move I think I could do some damage. Just don’t let me catch it when there are already 100 guys in front of me. I need to be on my wheels already.” – Gronkowski on whether or not he’d be a good punt returner back on 11/12/2015.
One thing that was revealed this season was that the best compliment to Gronkowski is a healthy Julian Edelman, which was an element that was missing from Week 10 on for New England. Through the first 10 weeks of the season, Brady completed 65% of his passes looking Gronkowski’s way before Edelman got hurt. After Week 10, Tom Brady’s completion percentage targeting Gronkowski dropped to 51%. During the playoffs with Edelman back in the mix, Brady again completed 65% of the passes thrown his way, and it’s clear that the two are a dynamic duo who feed off each other in this offense. As a result, a big key to Gronkowski’s success will ultimately come down to how healthy Edelman is coming off of a full offseason to heal his broken foot.
After a disappointing 2015, Scott Chandler didn’t end up being the lethal bookend most had hoped he’d turn out to be, which should have the Patriots looking for a compliment to their all-world tight end again this offseason. Adding another threat will only further open up an offense that is so much more dangerous with Gronkowski on the field, and there seem to be changes on the way both at tight end and receiver positions this offseason that could make this offense look quite different next year. But either way, expect Gronkowski to come back and spend another season wreaking havoc on opposing defenders when he steps on the field in 2016.
Gronkowski remained a dominant force and caused defenses problems all season.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary