Few players in NFL history produced so many big moments than now-retired Rob Gronkowski: during his nine seasons playing for the New England Patriots, the most talented man to ever play the tight end position made highlight reel plays almost on a weekly basis — building the foundation for a certain trip to the Hall of Fame while also playing a key role in helping the Patriots win three Super Bowls.
Picking the best moments of his career is near impossible, and the same story holds true when it comes to his best ever plays: there are simply too many to pick from, and every ranking is done with a serious subjective element involved. Nevertheless, let’s try to go through the 12 — this is a Patriots blog, 12 is the most important number here — plays that best show what the Gronk was all about as a player.
Enjoy the trip down memory lane, through an outstanding career.
Honorable mention: 2010 vs. St. Louis Rams (Preseason Week 2)
Let’s start in August 2010, four months after the Patriots selected Gronkowski with the 42nd pick in the draft. New England hosted the then-St. Louis Rams in week two of the preseason and coming out of the first half’s two-minute warning, the Arizona product showed a first glimpse of the player he would become: Gronkowski caught a short pass and was immediately contacted by linebacker James Laurinaitis. However, the rookie wouldn’t go down and instead dragged the helpless defender six yards into the end zone:
Rob Gronkowski's 2nd TD in the 2010 preseason, vs Rams. He dragged James Laurinaitis with him to the end-zone! pic.twitter.com/M24XGKZ6YQ— 69 (@ftbeard_17) March 25, 2019
#12: 2018 vs. New York Jets (Week 12)
Gronkowski’s final NFL season might have been his statistically worst since his rookie campaign, but it still produced plenty of great moments. Just take New England’s week 12 win over the Jets and what was just his second touchdown of the season up to that point: on a 3rd and 12, Gronkowski got open down the seam just enough for Tom Brady to trust him to make the catch. A smart decision, as the 29-year-old was able to hold onto the football despite simultaneously getting hit by cornerback Morris Claiborne.
Patritos-Jets 2018: Gronk finished with 3 catches, 56 yards & 1 TD— 69 (@ftbeard_17) March 25, 2019
The TD over Morris Claiborne was beautiful! pic.twitter.com/R9kdevPOdl
#11: 2011 vs. Baltimore Ravens (AFC Championship)
Rob Gronkowski was not the NFL’s best tight end for nearly a decade because simply because of his elite abilities to catch the football — that did help, though — but also due to his blocking skills: at 6’6 and almost 270 pounds, he possessed the frame and the strength of an offensive tackle. Gronkowski certainly knew how to use it, and the 2011 AFC title game is a perfect example for this. In the game’s second quarter, he went against fellow All-Pro selection Haloti Ngata one-on-one and able to hold his ground to create space for BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ touchdown run. That the coaches trusted him with the assignment speaks volumes about his abilities as a blocker.
2011 AFC Championship: Gronk blocked 330 pound HALOTI NGATA ONE-ON-ONE!!— 69 (@ftbeard_17) March 25, 2019
And this was when Ngata was a Pro Bowler/All-Pro!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/T6AvDuPGl4
#10: 2011 vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Week 11)
While Gronkowski struggled with injuries for much of his career — he ended three of his nine seasons on injured reserve — there was no denying his toughness. In 2011, when the Patriots blew out the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, this was clearly illustrated on a 19-yard touchdown reception. Gronkowski caught a short pass, broke a tackle, and rumbled down the sideline towards the end zone. All that was left to do was jump over a tackling attempt. He did that, landed awkwardly on his neck... but got up and did not miss a snap for the rest of the game.
TD #10: 19 yards - week 11 vs Kansas City— 69 (@ftbeard_17) February 1, 2019
I thought that was it for his neck. pic.twitter.com/qVZWAEqXSK
#9: 2017 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 15)
In December 2017, Gronkowski set a new career-high when he had 168 receiving yards against the Steelers — the non-AFC East team he terrorized the most over the course of his career. He was at his unstoppable best on the Patriots’ game-winning drive: Gronkowski caught three straight passes to get his team from its own 23-yard line to the Pittsburgh 8, and after a Dion Lewis touchdown run added a two-point reception as the icing on the cake. All four plays show the sheer brilliance of Gronkowski as a receiver, but it might be his 17-yarder to set up Lewis’ score that takes the cake. The big tight end was able to get the ball just inches from the ground, showing that he had some of the best hands in the game.
Patriots-Steelers 2017: Gronk took over in the 2nd half! He finished with 9 catches for 168 yards & caught a 2pt conversion to put the Pats up 3 late! This was Gronk's last 150+ yard game! pic.twitter.com/1prRcqLzJL— 69 (@ftbeard_17) March 25, 2019
#8: 2011 vs. Washington Redskins (Week 14)
Nowadays, this play can be described as prototypically Gronk. Back when it happened in 2011, however, the experience of seeing him shed blockers as if they weren’t even there was still a relative new one. Washington experienced it early during the two teams’ week 14 meeting: Gronkowski caught a short pass by Tom Brady, got up immediately after not being touched, and on he went to turn a 10-yard gain into a 50-yarder. Along the way he just powered through two defenders trying to take him down.
Patriots-Redskins 2011: Gronk's dominant day vs Washington, 6 rec / 160 yds / 2 TDs— 69 (@ftbeard_17) March 24, 2019
This was Gronk's first 150+ yard game of his career! pic.twitter.com/XYvqt8Frj3
#7: 2014 vs. Chicago Bears (Week 8)
9 catches, 149 yards, and 3 touchdowns — the Bears had no answer to the Gronk during their regular season trip to Foxboro in 2014. He was simply unstoppable that day and single-handedly tore through Chicago’s defense. The exclamation point came in the early third quarter: Gronkowski was able to get open on a 3rd and 4, catch Brady’s pass for the conversion, push safety Ryan Mundy away from him with one of the most vicious stiff arms you will ever see, and in the end cross the goal line despite a defender being draped all over him. Pure dominance.
Patriots-Bears 2014: One of Gronkowski's most dominant games of his career!— 69 (@ftbeard_17) March 25, 2019
9 catches, 149 yards & 3 TDs (including one of his greatest TDs that will be showed when he goes to Canton, the 46 yarder!) pic.twitter.com/2NxCXOHvkB
#6: 2014 vs. Denver Broncos (Week 9)
“How the f— did you catch that?” asked Tom Brady after Gronkowski’s 20-yard reception against the Broncos in 2014. The catch itself was probably one of the toughest of the future Hall of Famer’s illustrious career: Brady was forced to pump the football and ultimately threw a bit behind his big target. Nevertheless, Gronkowski was able to get up and grab the football with his left hand — holding onto it despite safety T.J. Ward immediately tackling him as soon as the football landed in his hand. He was ruled down by contact at the 1-yard line, but able to get into the end zone on the very next play.
Patriots-Broncos 2014: Gronk's incredible one-handed catch & 1 yard TD vs Von Miller pic.twitter.com/4CbWcgW16c— 69 (@ftbeard_17) March 25, 2019
#5: 2014 vs. Seattle Seahawks (Super Bowl 49)
Covering Gronkowski one-on-one was a risky endeavor. Covering him one-on-one with a linebacker was a mismatch in the Patriots’ favor that was exploited on a regular basis — even when going against one of the NFL’s best ever defenses. In Super Bowl 49, with the game tied at seven, New England took advantage of K.J. Wright trying to stop Gronk. The result was the big tight end’s first-ever touchdown in a Super Bowl and New England taking a 14-7 lead.
Super Bowl XLIX: Gronk's 22 yard TD catch vs KJ Wright pic.twitter.com/Yp9N8KnU9C— 69 (@ftbeard_17) March 25, 2019
#4: 2015 vs. Denver Broncos (AFC Championship)
The Patriots lost the 2015 AFC title game in Denver, but it was not for Gronkowski’s lack of effort: he was his usual dominant self and finished the day with eight catches for 144 yards. He was at his peak on New England’s final drive — making two huge fourth down receptions. The first saw him get deep on a 4th and 10 to keep the drive alive, the second fight back against a defender near the end line to make a catch on 4th and goal. As great as his first catch was, the second would have been a signature moment if not for the fact that a) the Patriots failed to convert the ensuing two-point try, and b) he has some even greater plays on his record.
Patriots-Broncos 2015 AFC Championship: Gronk finished with 8 catches, 144 yards & 1 TD. Pats lost the game but Gronk had some big/clutch moments! pic.twitter.com/Q2y8Bk72Or— 69 (@ftbeard_17) March 25, 2019
#3: 2018 vs. Kansas City Chiefs (AFC Championship)
Coming off a comparatively quiet 2018 regular season, Gronkowski showed why he was still a force to be reckoned with in the AFC championship against Kansas City. He finished the day with a solid but unspectacular 6 catches for 79 yards, but also had some big contributions as a blocker and a chain-mover in the passing game. The best example of the latter came with under a minute left in the game and New England driving for the lead. On a 3rd and 5, Brady trusted Gronkowski to win his one-on-one matchup against Chiefs safety Eric Berry on a contested pass. A smart decision on the quarterback’s part — and a big 25-yarder for the team.
The deep catch vs Denver in the 2015 AFC championship and this catch are two of my favorite Gronk plays.— 69 (@ftbeard_17) January 23, 2019
One on one with Berry, goes up and makes the catch. Incredible! #Clutch pic.twitter.com/LCgUIk6zgT
#2: 2014 vs. Indianapolis Colts (Week 11)
While a regular season contest doesn’t carry the same weight as a conference championship game or a Super Bowl, Gronkowski’s 2014 performance against the Colts — a team competing for playoff positioning and eventual opponent in the AFC title game — needs to be highlighted among his very best. He finished the game with 4 catches for 71 yards and arguably the most spectacular touchdown of his nine-year career: Brady threw a quick out to Gronkowski to convert the 3rd and 4, but the tight end was not happy with gaining just a few yards. First, he spin-moved out of a tackle attempt. The he ran away from one defender and over another. Finally, like a freight train on the loose, he sprinted towards the end zone where he ran over poor Vontae Davis.
Also from Pats-Colts 2014: Gronk's ridiculous 26-yard TD! pic.twitter.com/VmJ2snDxPY— 69 (@ftbeard_17) March 25, 2019
#1: 2018 vs. Los Angeles Rams (Super Bowl 53)
With 7:43 left in Super Bowl 53 and the game tied at three, the Patriots faced a 2nd and 3 at the Rams 31-yard line. Gronkowski lined up in the left-side slot of the Patriots’ formation, running up the seam once the football was snapped. Rams linebacker Cory Littleton was trailing him in one-on-one coverage, with cornerback Marcus Peters also coming over to help. Safety John Johnson also reacted to the situation, but it was already too late: Gronkowski was open just enough for him to catch Brady’s perfectly placed pass into what was essentially triple coverage but unable to stop a completion. 29 yards, 1st and goal from the 2. One play later, Gronkowski threw a key block on the game’s only touchdown — one that would not have been possible without the final catch of his career.
The catch that's missing from the video above is this one, the last catch of Gronk's career, 29 yards! Wanted to end the thread with it.— 69 (@ftbeard_17) March 25, 2019
Helped set up the only TD of Super Bowl 53 & helped the Pats win #6!
Thanks for everything @RobGronkowski! It's been real! #GOAT pic.twitter.com/o0av3uRd2b