Earlier this week, Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said tight end Rob Gronkowski played “fine.” Earlier today, we rewatched the game, with an eye out for Gronkowski’s performance.
“Fine” is a far cry from Arians’ August claim that Gronk moves like he did four or five years ago. Five years ago, Gronk was a force of nature who created a weekly mismatch nightmare for defensive coordinators. Indeed, how the Steelers would cover Gronkowski became the top talking point entering the first game of the 2015 season. (At one point, the Steelers tried — unintentionally — covering him with no one.)
On Sunday, after a season out of football, Gronkowski didn’t do much in the passing game. After making his first catch, he looked like he was running in mud. After making his second and final catch, he didn’t move much differently.
His only other target came on a seam route where he wasn’t open but Tom Brady tried to whistle it through to Gronkowski. If he’d somehow caught it, he likely would have been welcomed back to the NFL in rude and aggressive fashion.
Gronk was on the field for 77 percent of the plays against the Saints, the most of any of the team’s tight ends. (O.J. Howard participated in 53 percent of the snaps, and Cameron Brate participated in only 10 percent.) Gronkowski mainly was used as a blocker during the game.
“There were some times where he was matched up on Cam Jordan and some other guys — that’s no easy chore for any tight end, especially if it’s your first game back,” Arians said Wednesday. “We’d like to have seen a little more push, but a stalemate against him — I’ll take that every time. He got his feet wet back in the league and was fine. Nothing glaring, that’s for sure.”
Noting glaring, but nothing spectacular. And nothing like the Gronk of five years ago.