Tom Brady is affectionately known by his fans in New England (and around the globe) as the GOAT.

For the acronym-unitiated, that means “Greatest of All Time.” Five Super Bowl championships, four Super Bowl MVP trophies and two NFL MVP trophies earn you that honor.

So, I ask you, what do we call tight end Rob Gronkowski?

A colleague of mine suggested the “BOAT,” or “Best of All Time.”

And I might agree.

Tony Gonzalez, the former Kansas City and Atlanta star, is generally regarded as the gold standard of tight ends. And it’s hard to disagree with that designation, because he holds all the tight end receiving records – 1,325 catches, 15,127 yards, 111 touchdowns. He should become the ninth tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2019.


But Gronk? He’s becoming a standard unto himself. He’s a combination of all the great tight ends: John Mackey, the crushing blocker of the Baltimore Colts; Dave Casper, the former touchdown-maker for the Oakland Raiders; Mike Ditka and Kellen Winslow; Ozzie Newsome and Jackie Smith.

Gronkowski does things that no other tight end can do. Just ask Brady.

“I mean, he’s a great player, so he’s a great matchup for us in the passing game,” said Brady. “He’s a great blocker in the run game. His size, speed is good, so they’ve got to really factor him in. He’s obviously a big part of our offense and gets a lot of targets and he makes a lot of big plays. I think when he’s out there, it’s just tougher to defend. The better of players you have on the field, the tougher it is to defend, and Gronk’s been one of the best to ever play at that position.”

With Julian Edelman unable to play this season because of a knee injury and with a running game that ranks 16th in the NFL, Gronkowski has become indispensable. He leads New England with 64 catches, seven touchdowns and 1,017 receiving yards.

He is the guy Brady looks for when things get tight, as evidenced by last week’s final drive in New England’s amazing 27-24 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Patriots went 77 yards in five plays, with Gronkowski catching three passes for 69 yards to set up Dion Lewis’ winning touchdown run. Gronkowski then caught a 2-point conversion pass that proved important when the Steelers quickly moved into field-goal range on their ensuing drive.


When you look back on the Hall of Fame-bound careers of Brady and Gronkowski, this will be a drive that you’ll remember, a drive that showed they are not mere mortals.

Pittsburgh tried to cover the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski with 6-1, 203-pound safety Sean Davis. It was a mismatch the entire game (Gronkowski caught nine passes for a career-high 168 yards) but was especially evident on the final drive. His fingertip, shoestring catch while tumbling to the 8-yard line was stunning. You don’t see a guy that size reach down like that to catch a ball.

Nothing Gronkowski does surprises Bill Belichick, however. The Patriots coach recently compared him to former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, a defensive game-changer, when he was asked how much Gronkowski has grown in his eight years with the team.

Belichick said Gronkowski has learned to deal with every kind of pass defense coverage, just as Taylor had to learn to deal with different ways to block him.

“I think Rob has seen every different way you can cover him, from an inside or an outside position based on his style of play, the way teams try to play him,” said Belichick. “So, you learn how to deal with those. That’s certainly something that experience teaches you, because there’s a certain point in your career where you don’t deal with those things, but as you build up and have success and different teams use different techniques or schemes, you’ve got to figure out how to deal with them or they can take you out of being a productive player.”

The only thing that has held him back is health. Gronkowski has missed 24 regular-season games and six playoff games because of an assortment of injuries (broken forearm, knee, back).


But when he’s healthy, he’s simply unstoppable. Gronkowski has caught 469 passes for 7,112 yards and 75 touchdowns – the most touchdown catches by anyone in the NFL since he entered the league in 2010 (one ahead of Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant). In the playoffs, he has 52 catches for 754 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games.

He went over 1,000 receiving yards this season for the fourth time in his career, a mark matched only two other tight ends – Gonzalez and Jason Witten of the Cowboys.

Gronkowski also posted his 26th 100-yard receiving game. Only Gonzalez has more (31) among tight ends and he did it in 17 years.

Gronkowski holds NFL single-season tight end records for receiving yards (1,327 in 2011), touchdown catches (17 in 2011) and total touchdowns (18).

The other thing that endears Gronkowski to New England fans is his personality.

He’s a little goofy, someone the average fan can relate to. Who else spends part of a press conference talking about his favorite chicken wings joint in Buffalo? Or wonders why he didn’t get any of Brady’s homemade biscuits at Thanksgiving?

Who’s better than him on the field these days?

No one.


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