FOXBORO -- Soon after Tom Brady, clad in what was probably a designer sweater, stepped down from the Gillette Stadium podium, Rob Gronkowski stepped up in a hooded Patriots sweatshirt. The Patriots tight end joked that he was dressed better than his quarterback.
While that might not have been the case, he certainly helped Brady look good during New England's 35-17 win over the Bengals.
Gronkowski caught seven passes on nine targets for a career-high 162 yards receiving and one touchdown, and Brady explained that Gronkowski -- now one of the team's longest-tenured players now in his seventh season -- has improved with age.
"Yeah, I mean he’s only gotten better as he’s gotten older and understood more about the game and what he needs to do to prepare himself," Brady said. "He just makes so many great plays. He’s a big target and he makes any quarterback look good. If he’s uncovered, you know he’s going to get it, and there were plenty of times where he was uncovered today, but all the other guys were making plays, too.
"That’s what makes a good offense. I said that on Wednesday. It’s finding guys that are running free in the defense and we do a lot of different things to try to create that. Gronk is in a lot of different places, but when his number is called, he makes the plays."
Gronkowski ripped off gains of 32, 38 (twice) and 29 yards in the win, but his best play might've been his four-yard score. It was a well-executed pitch and catch where Gronkowski posted up on the goal line and reeled in Brady's pass that was thrown low and away from the coverage.
"Rob was again a big factor in the game, a big target," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "[He] made a nice catch on the touchdown. I thought that was a good throw and a good catch. There wasn’t much space to get the ball in. Tom put it where they couldn’t get it. Rob made a real good catch. We got them on some seam routes. We got them on some overs and we got them against man coverage two or three times. He made some big plays."
Gronkowski now has put together two hyper-productive games in a row. He caught five passes for 109 yards last week in a win over the Browns and continues to be a matchup problem for teams forced to deal with both him and Martellus Bennett, who caught five passes for 48 yards on Sunday.
After Bennett went for three touchdowns against the Browns last week -- a career-high -- and Gronkowski's career day on Sunday, it's a wonder what teams will have to cook up in order to stop both on a weekly basis. Bennett says the two have tried to bring the best out in one another.
"That's what we try to do," Bennett said, "whether it's talking to each other, coaching each other up, 'Hey, what did you see, what did I see?' Pushing each other during practice and in games. It's a competition, but it's a friendly competition like, 'Hey, great play, now let me see what I can do.' When Gronk makes a play, it's like, 'I gotta make a play too.' We keep each other on our toes and bring out the best in one another."