The Boston sports media may be focusing too much on the blow-up between New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and franchise quarterback Tom Brady, after the latter threw his first interception in a month, but don’t let that prevent you from realizing the more important stories of yesterday’s 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins. It was the first ever win for the franchise in this opponent’s stadium, put the Patriots, now 10-3, one win away from clinching the AFC East division title (again), and featured the real, history-making star of the game, Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski.
After literally dragging Redskins opponents and escaping other tackles down the sideline late in the first quarter for 49 yards, Brady three the unstoppable Gronk an 11-yard pass for a touchdown, his 14th of the season, thereby setting a new NFL record. He added a 15th later on in the game. Both put the Pats in the lead in this exciting, back-and-forth match-up.
Though WR Wes Welker is quietly having a career year (after catching a new career-high ninth TD yesterday to put the Pats in the lead for good, and with his NFL-leading 100 receptions and 1,339 receiving yards), Gronkowski has supplanted him as the go-to weapon in Brady’s offense (that also includes the pretty good and speedy second-year TE Aaron Hernandez and unfortunately, the ongoing bust that is Ochocinco).
Gronk is well on his way to having the best season any Patriots tight end has ever had, with already 1,088 yards and of course, those 15 TDs, which leads all offensive players who aren’t QBs. He is also without question one of the league’s elite TEs, in only his second season as a pro. If he keeps this production up over the next couple of years, he’ll be in the same conversation of current greats as (ex-Kansas City Chiefs TE) Tony Gonzalez (now of the Atlanta Falcons).
And while Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers QB) may be putting up Brady and Peyton Manning-like numbers this year to lead his team to a 13-0 record, it should now be a legitimate race for the MVP award. Rodgers may still easily win it, but now there should be talk of a competitor, because without Gronk’s reliable hands, tons of yards after catch, huge wingspan and crucial red zone production this year, it’s hard to see how the Pats would’ve been 10-3 at this point. But it’s also hard to see a TE beating out a QB for this prestigious award. But the fact that a Patriots player not named Brady is putting up MVP-like stats is a revelation.
Opponents may never be able to figure out Gronk, but they know how to tear apart the Patriots’ secondary. Now, if only the Pats’ running game could get going again and if Bill Belichick could’ve done a better job drafting and acquiring better talent there, then we’d be talking not just MVP candidates, but Super Bowl contenders.