Gronkowski comes up 'huge' for Pats in AFC title game

Rob Gronkowski is not dead yet.

The New England Patriots' tight end spent most of the 2018 season looking like he was running with a grand piano strapped to his back. Last week he was targeted just once. The lumbering tight end, however, enjoyed a monumental role in Sunday's 37-31 overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

After playing a primary role as a blocker in the Divisional Round, the Patriots used Gronk as a matchup weapon against the Chiefs safeties, primarily Eric Berry down the stretch, in the AFC Championship tilt. Gronkowski finished the game with six receptions on a team-high 11 targets for 79 yards, including catches of 25 yards and 15 yards on the Pats final two possessions that set up go-ahead touchdowns.

"It's just basically what the doctor orders (laughing). Or what the coach orders--coach/doctor orders. Whatever it is," Gronk said of the change in his role from week to week, via the team's official website. "I have to block, I have to receive. It's crucial. The team depends on me in many situations in the run game and in the pass game. I've just been fighting all year long so when situations come like this I'm ready to go and ready to make some plays. So whatever coaches ask me to do I'm always down to try my best and give it my all."

Gronk might no longer possess the otherworldly traits to gain separation and blow past defenders in space, but he proved Sunday he can still provide the Patriots with a beastly mismatch. When Tom Brady needed a key play, it was Julian Edelman or Gronk on the other end.

"Yeah, huge," Brady said of Gronk's performance. "He caught the fade on Eric (Berry) and then caught the slant. He was playing his butt off. He has done that all year. He is out there, and whatever we ask him to do, he does with an enthusiasm about him. He is an incredible teammate and person. The kind of guy he is -- I know everyone doesn't know him personally -- but he is just a great man. Just so happy to have been able to play with him for as long as we have."

Heading into the Super Bowl, Gronk's performance against the Chiefs displayed that while he might no longer be the most dangerous tight end in the NFL on a play-in, play-out venture, he can still be devastating in certain matchups. Against a Los Angeles Rams defense that allowed the fourth-most yards to tight ends per game this season (67.0), per Football Outsiders, Gronkowski is sure to play another big role with a Lombardi Trophy on the line.

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