Rob Gronkowski stepped to the podium Sunday afternoon after scoring his franchise record 69th touchdown, and did none of the things the world expected him to do. There were no crude jokes. There were no awkward winks at any of the reporters standing in his line of sight.
Instead he credited his teammates. He thanked his mom. Maybe Gronkowski, now in his seventh season, really is maturing. Maybe?
"Definitely an honor to come home to my hometown and get that record to hold the franchise record for most touchdowns is just unbelievable," he said. "I gotta give a lot of credit to my teammates, my coaches, just always working together and making strides every single day that we step out on the practice field. Just seeing everyone, how they work, seeing all the opportunities the coaches gave me, and giving some credit to myself, working hard every single day to get to where I need to be, it's just an awesome experience."
He added: "I want to give a shout out to my mom, too. The first thing yesterday, we sat down, I saw her, she came to my hotel . . . She said, 'Rob, I'm so proud of you when you score your 69th touchdown. I was like, I gotta give her a shout out now for sure for letting me know she's super proud of me. So hi, mom. And thank you."
Gronkowski caught five passes for 109 yards on his record-setting day, and in the process he showed that there are multiple ways he can gash a defense. He caught an out-and-up for 18 yards on the sideline. He snared a back-shoulder throw and dragged multiple defenders for 33 yards. For the record, passing former Patriots receiver Stanley Morgan, he caught a 53-yard post in single-coverage.
"Stanley Morgan actually called me to congratulate me," Gronkowski said. "He was an awesome player, awesome guy, and he said congrautlantions, and it was pretty cool. To get a phone call from him already in the lcoker room right after the game, that's something special."
Gronkowski is in the middle of one of the most productive stretches of his career, blowing up on a weekly basis since Tom Brady's return in Week 5. He now has 22 catches for 484 yards this season for a whopping 22.0 yards per catch average.
"It's a great accomplishment," Brady said of Gronkowski's record, "and he's a dynamic player for us, there's no doubt. He makes great plays in the pass game, down the field, intermediate, short. He's tough to tackle. He's got a great enthusiasm about him. He's just done an amazing job since he's been here. It's a credit to him and his toughness, his mental toughness. I've always talked about that with him and his ability to overcome the things that he's faced in his career to get to this point."
Gronkowski's coach Bill Belichick was equally proud of his All-Pro tight end after the game.
"Love it," Belichick said with a smile when asked about Gronkowski's place in the record books. "Love to see those touchdowns . . . Does whatever you ask him to do. Very unselfish player. Great to coach. Given us great leadership as a captain. Something he hasn't done in the past. That's kind of been a new role for him, and he's embraced that. Done well for us there, too."
Gronkowski has come a long way from donning a Patriots helmet at the draft and partaking in a mini mosh pit after he was selected in the second round. He's one of the longet-tenured Patriots in the locker room, a leader, and now the all-time leader in touchdowns for one of the most storied franchises in league history.
If it seems to you like he's come a long way, imagine how he feels, returning to the place where he grew up going to games with his family and friends.
"We never envisioned it like that," Gronkowsk said. "I never envisioned it like that. Definitely envisioned big things, though. But nothing on a scale of being like this. It's just unbelievable. Coming back to my hometown where I grew up, watching all the Bills games versus the Patriots, it's just an unbelievable honor."