FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Rob Gronkowski made a pair of jaw-dropping plays on Sunday.
Yet nothing the New England Patriots tight end does these days surprises receiver Julian Edelman.
“That guy, he’s a stud,” Edelman said. “It’s Rob Gronkowski. Anytime you’ve got a guy who plays his tail off in the run and pass game, it’s going to help the team.”
Despite suiting up for only half of New England’s games this season after multiple offseason surgeries on his forearm and back, Gronkowski is playing a pivotal part in the Patriots’ (9-3) potent offense since his return.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound matchup nightmare has hauled in 37 receptions for 560 yards in just six games, scoring touchdowns in the last four.
It’s a far cry from his numbers last season, when he set an NFL record for tight ends with 18 overall touchdowns, but his return has been nothing short of swift and spectacular.
He was a major contributor in a win over Houston on Sunday, catching six passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, which may rank atop the list of his 42 career receiving scores.
Gronkowski ran 10 yards across the middle, turned upfield and beat his man, eventually hauling in a 23-yard scoring strike from quarterback Tom Brady.
Sounds routine, right?
The catch was far from it.
Gronkowski lowered his big body, used his monstrous hands to scoop up Brady’s low throw about 12 inches off the ground and rolled the final two yards into the end zone.
He looked more like a shortstop than a tight end.
“Single coverage, double coverage, whatever it is, I’ve got to be prepared and I’ve got to work to the best of my ability to get open and do my job on the team,” Gronkowski said. “The more you’re playing ball, the more you’re building chemistry with your teammates, the more confident you’re going to be.”
He also made a huge catch on the opening drive of the second half with the Patriots trailing by 10, dragging a handful of Texans’ defenders down the field as he picked up 50 yards. The big play set up a touchdown that spurred New England to victory.
While he appears as healthy as ever, Gronkowski wouldn’t say whether this is the best he has felt in his four-year career.
“Every week, just trying to feel as good as possible for the game on Sunday. That’s why the game of football is played only once a week, because after those games, you’re banged up,” he said.
Gronkowski has had an immediate impact on what had been an anemic offense to start the season. Brady was throwing to a new cast of receivers, three of them rookies.
Without Gronkowski in the lineup for the first six games, the Patriots were averaging 20.8 points. They now are averaging 32.8 in their last six with him on the field, going 4-2 during that time.
His presence is enough to warrant double coverage or at least enough to divert attention from other receivers.
“He’s such a physical presence on the field. His size, his length, his speed, his quickness, he’s a tough matchup,” Brady said.
THE PATRIOTS re-signed wide receiver Austin Collie.
Collie played four games this season before being released after hurting his knee in a 55-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 3. He had three catches after signing with the Patriots as a free agent Oct. 3. Two of those came on the winning drive in a 30-27 win over New Orleans.