Hannable: Rob Gronkowski can make up for being suspended with huge game vs. Steelers

Ryan Hannable
December 14, 2017 - 11:47 pm

Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today Sports

FOXBORO — Monday night was probably not a good night for Rob Gronkowski.

The tight end was sitting at home watching his team fall to the Dolphins 27-20, in a game that likely would have been different if the Patriots had him in the lineup. Gronkowski was suspended following his late hit to the head/neck of Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White the week before.

New England’s offense couldn’t get anything going seemingly the whole game and Tom Brady had one of his worst games in a long time. Clearly, he missed his tight end and his No. 1 target this season.

The Patriots went 0-for-11 on third down, the first time they had no third-down conversions in a game since 1991. This is what Gronkowski does best. Of Gronkowski’s 85 targets this year, 45 of them have gone for first downs. At 53 percent, that’s the second-highest mark in the NFL.

Fortunately for the Patriots, Monday’s loss won’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things as long as the team takes care of business in the final three games of the year, starting Sunday in Pittsburgh. If the Patriots beat the Steelers and win in Weeks 16 and 17, they will be the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

So while Gronkowski may have cost the team a win a week ago, he has the chance to put his team on his back against the Steelers.

Gronkowski has dominated Pittsburgh over the course of his career.

In five career games, he’s caught 30 passes on 36 targets (83.3 percent) for 496 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s averaging an insane 99.2 yards per game, and two of his three career three-touchdown games have come against Pittsburgh.

Brady seemed excited to get Gronkowski back on the field when speaking at Gillette Stadium on Thursday.

“I mean, he’s a great player, so he’s a great matchup for us in the passing game,” the 40-year-old said. “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. So, it’s good for our offense.”

Pittsburgh has done fairly well against tight ends this year, limiting them to 48 receptions for 534 yards and two touchdowns, but it hasn’t faced a talent like Gronkowski.

The magnitude of Sunday’s game is unlike any other in recent years. It definitely is one of the biggest regular-season games in the Bill Belichick era. With a win, the Patriots would be well on their way to a No. 1 seed, but with a loss, there’s a chance the Patriots could drop to the No. 3 seed and need to play on wild card weekend.

With a big performance on Sunday, Gronkowski can make up for missing the last game, as with a win Monday’s loss against the Dolphins means essentially nothing.

And based on past history, this is what we should expect to happen.

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