Former Arizona Wildcats tight end Rob Gronkowski spiked the ball and instantly realized his mistake. That was one football he wanted to keep.
He searched the sky for the bouncing football and then located it in the back of the end zone, marking the 14th time he scored on a reception this season, an NFL record for a tight end. Gronkowski, a second-year player for the New England Patriots, went on to catch another touchdown pass Sunday, part of an afternoon in which he had a career-high 160 yards on six receptions.
“It’s cool to get a record and everything, but it really (doesn’t) matter. We got the team victory,” he told reporters after a 34-27 victory at Washington.
He joked he would use the keepsake football in order to practice his spikes in the offseason.
Gronk should have a degree in spiking by now. He has 16 touchdowns this season, including one that was credited as a run because the pass was a lateral. He has 26 career touchdowns in 29 regular-season games with the Patriots.
He’s still so young — he’s 22 — he could have been a redshirt senior on this year’s Arizona team. (Sadly for Wildcats fan, his career never overlapped with that of record-setting quarterback Nick Foles.)
“He’s tough. He’s a good guy. He’s a strong runner and always makes that catch,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Sunday.
“There were some great catches and runs that he made today and he’s obviously a huge part of this offense. It’s great to see him make plays like that today. … He’s a big guy and tough to bring down. He’s a good route runner and good blocker and a smart player.
“(He’s) very dependable and consistent. He’s really been doing that all season.”
Gronkowski’s best play Sunday was one in which he didn’t score. He made a diving catch over the middle, got up, dragged a couple of Washington defenders for a few yards before shaking them off along the right sideline, and then he tight-roped the sideline for a 49-yard gain.
“I was just running,” he said. “When I don’t hear a whistle, I just keep playing.”
Gronkowski already has the second-most NFL touchdown receptions for an Arizona Wildcat. It took Vance Johnson 10 years and 128 games, all with the Denver Broncos, to accumulate 37 touchdown catches.
At his rate, Gronkowski will match that midway through his third NFL season.
He said Sunday he didn’t think he would have this kind of wild success after his Arizona days, when he had 16 touchdown receptions in 22 games before missing the 2008 season because of back surgery.
“I mean, you just go out to practice,” Gronkowski said. “You go out to work every single day. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”