The New England Patriots were careful when tight end Rob Gronkowski returned to the field. Gronkowski played just 61% of the snaps as the coaching staff monitored his knee injury.
It didn't really matter. Gronkowski was always going to have an impact as he finished the day with four catches on four targets for an emphatic 87 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots know that Gronkowski is the key to postseason success, but they also rely on him to jump start the offense. The tight end's playmaking ability was on display early against the Houston Texans.
The game was tied 0-0, with both teams exchanging punts after three-and-outs. Someone had to stand out on offense and, naturally, it was Gronkowski.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels drew up a play to get their All Pro tight end back into the game with a favorable match-up against a linebacker and quarterback Tom Brady was sure to deliver a strike.
"We were trying to get him [Gronkowski] back there," Brady explained as he broke down the play. "So I rolled right further than normal, I don't know what happened on the play, but I kind of got flushed, I knew where he was heading and he had a linebacker on him so I thought I'd give him a chance and usually he comes down with those.
"That was a great play."
Brady rolled to the right to draw the coverage away from the far sideline, before ultimately breaking every rule in the quarterbacking book by slinging the ball across the field. The play would only be a success if the target was able to reel in the pass.
It turns out that his target couldn't even see the ball.
"Oh yeah, I mean, I was running that route and it was taking a while and I couldn't even see Tom," tight end Rob Gronkowski said. "I had no clue where he was.
"Next thing you know I just see the ball go flying in the air coming to me and then I couldn't see the ball anymore in that stadium. It went right in to the lights for like half the way and I'm like 'I know it's coming to me,' and then like, when it was like 20 feet coming down I saw it like 'there it is,' and just had to make that catch and it was just a good pass overall."
Gronkowski wasn't overly involved in the offense for most of the game, but he managed to chip in a score right before the half. It wouldn't be a surprise if Gronkowski remained on a snap count for the rest of the regular season, as wide receiver Danny Amendola, who also suffered a knee sprain, has been on a snap count for the past two games.
Even if Gronkowski won't be playing every down, he'll make sure his presence will be felt in his limited opportunities.