ATLANTA — Tight end Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots rumbled down the field, got past two defenders and hauled in the ball to set up the go-ahead touchdown Sunday night.

If this was his farewell performance, he went out in playmaking style.

Was it his biggest catch ever?

“You tell me,” Gronkowski said after New England’s 13-3 Super Bowl victory over the Los Angeles Rams. “It’s up there. I like making big catches like that.”

That, of course, is what he’s done his entire nine-year career.

Gronkowski, 29, is a three-time Super Bowl champ who has been one of the most dominant players at his position.

Ever.

But his time is running out, and just when that happens has been a question all season. Back, knee, ankle and arm ailments have sapped him of his ability to stay on the field. And when he did play this season, he looked mostly like a shell of his All-Pro self.

“Tonight it’s about celebrating with my teammates and that decision will be made a week or two down the future,” Gronkowski said. “Because tonight, that’s what it’s about, is celebrating with my teammates. That’s what I’m worried about tonight.”

Gronkowski was seen limping out of the stadium after the game after injuring a quadriceps muscle on a hit in the third quarter.

“Yeah, my quad, it hurts a lot,” he said. “I can barely walk right now.”

He was plenty mobile when it mattered most. His two biggest catches came after the painful hit.

Gronkowski finished with six catches for 87 yards, including two receptions on New England’s only touchdown drive. With the score 3-3, Tom Brady found his tight end for an 18-yard gain on first down. Two plays later the Patriots had second-and-3 from the Rams’ 31 when Brady saw Gronkowski get free.

He launched the ball and Gronkowski reached out to catch it and put New England at the 2.

“When it comes to crunch time,” Gronkowski said, “I always find a way.”

It was just like old times.

“Incredible catch,” Brady said. “He’s an awesome teammate, friend, and I’m just so proud of everything he’s done for our team. He had an incredible game.”

Added center David Andrews: “It was a (great) catch. The best players show up at the best time.”

On the next play, Sony Michel ran up the middle for a touchdown that put the Patriots ahead for good.

“Tom threw it and I had to make a play,” Gronkowski said. “I just come through where it needs to be that time. He knows to trust in me and throw that ball and I’m going to go grab it.”

But for how much longer?

Gronkowski has danced around the question of retirement, but he’s due $9 million in base salary next season – a hefty amount for an aging player whose health is always a concern.

Even if he wants to keep playing, the Patriots could say goodbye to one of their best and most popular players in the next few months.

And, if that’s the case, Gronkowski and the Patriots went out a winner. As they have so often done.

“I’ll tell you this: It was the most satisfying year I’ve ever been a part of,” Gronkowski said. “How we came together, the obstacles we had to overcome, the grind from the beginning of training camp to now, it’s just surreal.”


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