After Tom Brady landed in Tampa Bay last year, he lured Rob Gronkowski out of retirement. Gronkowski has another Super Bowl ring to show for it, and there are plenty of reasons to think he could get another, thanks to the lingering abilities of his 44-year-old quarterback.
“It’s incredible,” Gronkowski told reporters on Friday. “Ever since I started playing with him, I’ve never seen a drop off. I’ve seen some balls drop off but after that it always bounces right back. Just overall, it’s just incredible the way he just takes care of himself and the way he keeps himself at such a high level that there are literally no drop offs since I’ve been playing with him since I think he was my age when I started — 32 or 33 — which is pretty wild to see no difference at all or anything. His game has just improved more.”
The advantage this year comes from the fact that Brady’s other teammates know him even better, after a full season together.
“Just really at this time last year we really didn’t know,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich told reporters regarding Brady. “We knew him on paper. We knew what we did in practice, but it took the actual Saints game for us to really have an idea of [where] we were at from an execution standpoint, where we’re at from an understanding of what we need to do play in and play out. It’s a big difference, big difference than last year. We’ve been around each other now for a full year and we have a good understanding of each other, so it’s a big difference.”
The improvement flows naturally from the familiarity.
“They just know each other now,” Leftwich said of Brady and his teammates. “The difficult part with it is that it didn’t matter if it was Tom or any new quarterback. Any new quarterback, wide receiver tandem, it takes time for them to learn each other. It was not different no matter who the quarterback and who the receivers were. We just so happen to have Tom Brady, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, we brought [Antonio Brown] on. Just like with any other crew, it’s going to take time for them to learn and get to know each other so you can play with consistency. That’s all it is. We had days when we were lights out, but it’s hard to play consistently when you really don’t have an idea of each other. Now that they have an understanding of each other, you see us having more success just by them knowing each other and knowing what each other are going to do in certain situations.”
Leftwich even sees a difference in Brady and Gronkowski, who had plenty of time together before they arrived in Tampa.
“I think it’s a big difference,” Leftwich said. “Both of these guys know the system now. Now, you can see those two guys do their little thing that they’ve been doing for decades now. Now, you can see them better connected with what they do because they’ve always known each other. Both of those guys had to figure out what to do at a certain level so that they can consistently have success.”
Gronkowski agreed that a year in the system — and in Florida — make a difference.
“It feels good,” Gronkowski said. “Just coming in last year and trying to learn the playbook and be thinking when you get up to the line. It just feels a lot more efficient this year. Dealing with the heat, that’s definitely a factor. No doubt about it. Just knowing a whole new system, a whole new playbook and knowing in the back of mind now. So right when I break the huddle I just go out there and just do what I have to do and just react as a football player instead of thinking. I just feel a lot better out there this year and just overall in terms. Just have to keep on working to improve every time.”
It’s a scary proposition for the rest of the league. Not only have the Bucs brought everyone back, but they also are more comfortable with each other. They’re the class of the NFC. The biggest question could be whether the best team the AFC produces can beat Brady in L.A.