It took Rob Gronkowski a while to get involved on Sunday night, but when he did, his impact on the game reverberated around Lucas Oil Stadium.
Gronkowski was held without a catch on just one target in the first half of New England's 34-27 win over Indianapolis, but early in the third quarter, he rumbled into the end zone from 25 yards away to give the Patriots a go-ahead score and a 26-21 lead.
The touchdown was Gronkowski's 60th of his six-year career, and it came in his 70th regular-season game. That is the fewest number of games for any tight end to reach 60 touchdowns in NFL history.
After his slow start, Gronkowski finished the game with three catches for 50 yards and the score.
"It just is what it is," Gronkowski said of his usage early in the game. "When my number’s called, I just gotta make a play. If it’s not, I just gotta run a good route. That’s why it’s such a great game. It’s just a team game. Just gotta go out there and do my job, blocking, receiving, whatever it is."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained after the game that the Colts changed their defensive game plan somewhat in the second half, which may have helped Gronkowski get free.
"A little more man coverage in the second half than they did in the first half," Belichick said. "They started off in a lot of zone coverage, decent amount of three-man rush early in the game, and as the game went on, it seemed like they went to less three man rush and more man-to-man coverage."
Gronkowski's first catch in the game came on a slant when he was lined up as a wide receiver across from safety Dwight Lowery.
Two plays later, quarterback Tom Brady faked a handoff to get two Colts linebackers to attack the line of scrimmage. Gronkowski found the opening in the middle of the field, and Brady found him with a well-placed pass, allowing Gronkowski to run with a head of steam toward the goal line.
"We talked about that," Brady said of the touchdown play. "That was a good opportunity. It was a play-action fake and the linebacker bit up pretty good so Gronk was clean into the secondary. He's pretty dangerous because when he gets going in space, he's hard to tackle. Made a good play off the free safety and rumbled into the end zone. That was a big play in the game."
Gronkowski was the fifth tight end in league history to notch his 60th career touchdown, joining Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Shannon Sharpe and Jerry Smith. It took Gates -- who originally had the record as the quickest to 60 scores -- 110 games to reach the mark.
"He's a big part of our offense," Brady said. "Obvioulsy getting him going, he got in the end zone, which is good to see. It's been a few weeks for him so we'd like to get him in there more often."
Gronkowski has 23 catches for 425 yards and five touchdowns thus far this season. He has 59 career receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown since entering the league as a rookie second-round pick in 2010.