Rob Gronkowski admitted this past week that he's been limited by the hamstring injury that forced him to miss the first two games of the regular season, but he insisted that he was doing all he could to get better every day.
On Sunday, when he reeled in five catches for 109 yards, he seemed to be at his best. Or at least close to it.
"I felt a lot better out there this week," he said after the Patriots beat the Browns, 33-13. "Just throughout the weeks, just was improving every single day, every single week, so now I'm getting back to my old self. It feels great. Love going out there and love playing football where I'm back to myself. It feels great to be back out there with the boys, and doing what I have to do to help out the team."
Gronkowski made his impact felt early and in more ways than one. He helped spark his team's first drive of the game when he caught a 19-yard pass from Tom Brady over the middle. Moments later, he was rumbling down the field, leaving a trail of Browns defenders in his wake on a 34-yard catch-and-run that put the Patriots on the goal line.
To punch it in, the Patriots ran LeGarrette Blount right behind the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end for their first score.
The Patriots leaned heavily on their two-tight end sets throughout the game, and there were times where attention paid to Gronkowski clearly benefited fellow tight end Martellus Bennett, who ended up with three scores in the game, a career-high.
On Bennett's third touchdown, a 37-yarder, both Gronkowski and Bennett lined up as run-blockers to help set up a play-action fake. After Brady faked a hand-off to running back James White, both Bennett and Gronkowski had released into routes up the field. It seemed as though the Browns shaded their coverage to Gronkowski's side, leaving Bennett open along the sideline with no Browns safety over the top.
Brady made an accurate throw, and it didn't take long for Bennett to find the pylon.
"That's why it's such a team game," Gronkowski said. "Two defenders come to me, it leaves other guys, the receivers, it leaves Marty open in the end zone one-on-one. That's who you go to. It's [great] seeing people get opportunities and capilatizing on them. That's why it's such a great sport to play because it's such a team game overall."
"Depending on what the defense is doing, they double Rob, they try to jam me, and it's still man-to-man on different things," Bennett said. "Or they double me on a play. [It's] just finding the matchups and it opens it up a little bit for everyone."
Bennett, who returned to the game after suffering an ankle injury in the first quarter, acknowledged that the offense is "dynamic" when he and Gronkowski are on the field together.
"I love playing with Gronk," Bennett said. "I'm very excited for him, and it's pretty dynamic with both of us out there today. He played very well. I expect him to continue to play like that. That's what Gronk is, that's what Gronk does, and that's why he's the Gronkenator."