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2019 AFC Championship Game: The brighter the spotlight, the better Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski

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The 29-year old had another memorable performance.

AFC Championship - New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Rob Gronkowski’s 2018 can best be described as up-and-down. After being the subject of retirement rumors all offseason and skipping the voluntary workout program, he looked outstanding in training camp and followed it up with a very good performance in the season opener. Since then, the general nature of this season continued: he saw inconsistent touches, looked slow at times, and struggled with injuries.

Then again, every now and then Gronkowski was able to prove that he is still in the upper echelon of tight ends. He was outstanding as a blocker over the second half of the season and had good receiving performances in games against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. Yesterday’s AFC Championship Game versus the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs certainly belongs in that category as well — at the least.

Gronkowski finished the game with six catches for 79 yards and proved once again that he can still rise up to the occasion when his number is being called. “It’s just basically what the doctor orders. Or what the coach orders... coach/doctor orders — whatever it is,” he said after yesterday’s 37-31 victory over the Chiefs when asked about his thoughts on seeing his targets increase during the team’s biggest game of the year so far.

“I have to block, I have to receive. It’s crucial,” continued the 29-year old, who caught a combined 48 passes for 707 yards and three touchdowns leading into the game. “The team depends on me in many situations in the run game and in the pass game. I’ve just been fighting all year long so when situations come like this I’m ready to go and ready to make some plays. Whatever coaches ask me to do, I’m always down to try my best and give it my all.”

Yesterday, Gronkowski did just that when he saw a team-high eleven passes thrown his way. None of them were bigger than a pair of receptions in the fourth quarter and the subsequent overtime period. First, with the New England Patriots down 28-24 with only 54 seconds left in regulation, Tom Brady targeted the big tight end on a 3rd and 5. Gronkowski made the 25-yard reception over safety Eric Berry to set up a goal-to-go situation for New England.

In extra time, Gronkowski caught a 15-yard pass to convert a 3rd and 10 — the Patriots’ third conversion on the series — to move the team to the Kansas City 15. Both plays are among New England’s biggest of the year, and proof that the tight end is still a force to be reckoned with; one for which the Los Angeles Rams need to account when they face off against the AFC champions in two weeks.

“He caught the fade on Eric and then caught the slant,” Brady said about the two catches and Gronkowski’s general performance. “He was playing his butt off. He has done that all year. He is out there, and whatever we ask him to do, he does with an enthusiasm about him. He is an incredible teammate and person. The kind of guy he is – I know everyone doesn’t know him personally — but he is just a great man. Just so happy to have been able to play with him for as long as we have.”

Gronkowski himself pointed out that it felt good to get the victory against the Chiefs, especially is that dramatic a fashion. “It felt good,” said the future Hall of Famer immediately after the conference championship game. “The way the guys have been fighting all year long — the way we fought this game — I couldn’t be more proud to be on this team. I’m more proud to be out here with the boys... how hard we just kept fighting.”

“Defense, offense, special teams, a victory on the road, AFC Championship Game. It was one of my sweeter victories, definitely, in my career,” Gronkowski continued. For how long this career will continue remains to be seen with retirement rumors again on the radar. One thing is certain, though, it will include another Super Bowl appearance.