Yesterday, Bernd wrote a bit about how New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski have been unstoppable in Buffalo. For Gronkowski, it’s special to have such strong showings at Orchard Park because he grew up “about 20 minutes away from the stadium” rooting for the Bills.
“It's always challenging going in there [...] where you're from,” Gronkowski said on Thursday. “It's just a dream come true every single time you get to go to your hometown and play. “I treat it as an honor to go back and play and I always get excited for it because you're playing in front of your family and friends you grew up with.”
Gronkowski has collected 35 passes for 583 yards (97.2 YPG) and 7 touchdowns on 56 targets over six games in Buffalo, with impressive consistency; five of his six games have between 5 and 7 catches, between 94 and 113 yards, and at least one touchdown.
The Bills have been pretty good against tight ends in 2017, holding opposing tight ends to 616 yards and 2 touchdowns over 11 games, ranking 12th in Football Outsiders DVOA, but that means little to Gronkowski.
Last year the Bills ranked 11th against tight ends in DVOA and Gronkowski put up 109 yards and a touchdown. In 2015, they ranked 13th and Gronkowski posted 113 yards and a touchdown. In 2014, they ranked 2nd against tight ends and Gronkowski still managed 94 yards on 7 receptions. He’s impervious to the match-up.
“I love the atmosphere,” Gronkowski said about playing in Buffalo. “It’s a football atmosphere, no doubt. It’s loud. Third down you're going to barely be able to hear Tom [Brady] if he's not in the silent cadence. It's just a good atmosphere, a good football atmosphere. Whenever there is a good football atmosphere, it's always competitive.”
The Patriots will be ready for the difficult environment and will need Gronkowski to stand out on the field. Buffalo limited Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce to a mere 39 yards in week 12 and New England will need much more production than that.
Only the Buccaneers have been able to crack the Bills defense, with teammates O.J. Howard (98 yards, 2 TDs) and Cameron Brate (60 yards) combining for 12 receptions, 158 yards, and 2 touchdowns in week 7. No other tight end has a touchdown against the Bills in 2017 and no other tight end has more than 57 yards. Tampa utilized a lot of play action and delayed releases to take advantage of the aggression of Bills linebackers and get their tight ends in favorable match-ups.
A lot of teams have had success on the ground against the Bills in recent weeks- they gave up an average of 213 rushing yards from weeks 9 to 11. The Patriots haven’t cracked 200 rushing yards since 2014- and big receivers to the outside, like A.J. Green, Keenan Allen, Michael Thomas, Demaryius Thomas, and Mike Evans, have succeeded, too.
But Gronkowski is the Patriots big target and he’ll have to step up as both a blocker and a receiver to keep New England ahead of the Bills.
Gronkowski also shared some of his memories growing up in Buffalo:
Growing up as a Bills fan
Q: Do you have any specific memories of Buffalo Bills fans from games prior?
RG: Well, they're wild, for sure. I grew up there. I could explain myself a little bit in my early 20's, if that makes sense. I think it does. They're wild, man. I love it though. I love that wildness. That’s what I grew up in. That’s why I said it’s a fun atmosphere to go play. They’re super loud, super proud of their team. It’s a good football atmosphere, and when it’s a good football atmosphere you just love playing the game.
Q: Did you ever go through any tables like the Bills fans do during the tailgates?
RG: Not at a tailgate, but I've been through tables before, for sure.
Q: In what setting?
RG: Like at family get-togethers. I've definitely been, growing up, through tables.
Joining the Punt, Pass, and Kick competition
Q: Do you have memories of attending any games in Buffalo as a kid?
RG: I did punt, pass and kick once. That was my best memory because they were actually playing New England that game that I went to and I was in punt, pass and kick. I made it to the final round of the region and we threw the football at halftime on the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Q: How did you do in that competition?
RG: I didn’t win that round, but I made it to that far. I threw the ball pretty far as a little kid and got some roars from the crowd. So, I know they liked me at one point in my career.
Q: What year would that have been? How old were you?
RG: Like, 10, probably; around there.
Advice on Buffalo Wings
Q: Which Buffalo wing restaurant do you prefer, Anchor Bar or Duffs?
RG: Wow. I get that question all the time. I got it yesterday when I did the media call, but to tell you the truth, everyone always asks, 'Where do you go for wings? What do you do for wings? What's the spot?' And that's like the touristy spots, Duffs and Anchor Bar. I mean, in my opinion, because I've been to Anchor Bar before. I swear I've never been to Duffs, but I hear about it every day. I drive by it every day. I've just never been there. I don’t know why, but I’ve got to definitely try it out one time, or many times, in the future. But, you can go anywhere for wings there. I usually go to Amherst Ale House. That’s right down the street from where I grew up, but you can go anywhere. What's key is having that blue cheese. Buffalo blue cheese, Rootie's blue cheese – you've got to have that or else you don’t have wings.
Q: Do you get an order of wings on Saturday night when you guys travel back there before games?
RG: All the coaches get those. They get like 100 wings and eat them all.
Q: They don't share?
RG: No, they don’t share either.
Q: That's tough.
RG: I know. After the game, I dip in all the blue cheese. Rootie's blue cheese – you've got to try it. That's the one.