Gronkowski, Bucs await test from Bills

by Gary Shelton on December 9, 2021

in general

Gronkowski has been better this year than last./ TIM WIRT

Thursday, 4 a.m.

When Rob Gronkowski was 31, it was a very good year.

That was last year, the year he returned to pro football. He had a new team and an old quarterback, and he caught 45 passes, His team caught fire in the playoffs, and Gronk ended up winning his fourth Super Bowl title.

Still, Gronk wasn't Gronk. Not completely.

This year, despite injuries, he is closer. There are flashes of the old, unstoppable Gronk, the guy who is in the conversation about the best tight

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ends in league history. This year, he and his old buddy Tom Brady are clicking again. In the last three games, he has 17 catches for 252 yards.

"It's light-years from last year, even all the way through the playoffs," Bucs' coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday. "We were still learning last year. This year, there's a hand signal, there's eyeball contact, let's play. We're so much more advanced, not just those two but everybody."

Re-establishing himself was nothing new for Gronkowski. He remembers when he first came into the league, and how he had to strive to gain acceptance.

“It took a while," Gronkowski said. "It wasn’t like I walked in when I was a rookie and we had it down. I would say [it took] about a year. He saw the potential [in me with] the page I can be on. At the beginning, we were up and down. It was basically like I was up and down because he knew what he wanted out of me and I didn’t totally understand everything. I would say [it took] about a year. By the end of my rookie year, we had that connection going and we followed up with it big time in the offseason after my first year. From there on out from my second year in the league, we were kind of on the same page and just working on it year-in and year-out.”

Now, the relationship has blossomed to the point a brief look between him and Brady will tell the players all they need to know.

“We’re always striving for success," Gronkowski said. "Striving for greatness. Striving to be on the same page. Striving to win. That’s all you could really ask for. It was kind of up there on how it was going to go and some days I [would think] it was going to go great and some days were not so great.

"But I just know if you keep on working, keep on going day-in and day-out, things are going to turn even if they’re not going great. If they are going great, you just keep working and things will stay on the positive side.”

Sunday's game (4:25 p.m., Raymond James Stadium) will be a matchup of excellent teams.

“We have a good team coming into town," Gronk said. "We have to be ready. They play hard football. They play four quarters of football and they bring it. They’re going to be prepared. They’re going to be coming mentally and physically. They’re going to be bringing it, so we have to study up. We have to keep our preparation going like we have the last few weeks. We have to be ready and on our toes ready to roll from the opening kickoff.”

Brady suggested that the Bills game is the Bucs' most important game of the season.

“I do feel that intensity," Gronkowski said. "We have a playoff team coming into our house. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on the line, but like any other week, we have to prepare. But they’re a good team. They have a winning record. They have a lot of playmakers. They have a lot of good players on the defensive side of the ball, so it’s going to be a pretty intense atmosphere. I would say it’s going to be more like another playoff atmosphere.”

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