Patriots

Great Patriots Debate: What's the best catch Rob Gronkowski ever made?

Great Patriots Debate: What's the best catch Rob Gronkowski ever made?

If Rob Gronkowski intends on staying retired, the best indication that he's holding to that plan is that he has visibly lost weight. He told NFL Media's Rich Eisen recently that he's down to 250 pounds from a playing weight that hovered in the 260-270 pound range. 

But you can't blame the people who believe Gronk will be back, eventually.

Soon after Gronkowski retired, his agent Drew Rosenhaus indicated that he wouldn't be shocked if his superstar client decided to return at Tom Brady's behest. And in his chat with Eisen, Gronkowski joked that if Brady asked him to return he'd tell him, "Call me when you get to the playoffs." (That'd be a little late since NFL rules say Gronkowski would have to make a decision by Dec. 1. But still.)

Then there's this: Gronkowski and Brady met at UCLA to throw the football around on Monday. Is that a telltale sign Gronkowski wants to take the early portion of the 2019 season off before making his way back? Not necessarily. Brady spends a fair amount of his time in Southern California. Gronkowski was in town for a charity event. They're pals. But their workout won't quiet the throngs of Patriots fans clamoring for the tight end's return. 

With Gronkowski's name in the headlines again, it makes sense for us to focus on him for our next Great Patriots Debate: What's the best catch he's ever made? 

Until he comes back — if he comes back — memories are all we'll have left of the guy's playing days, and there are a few that immediately spring to mind.

For me, if we're talking purely about the acting of catching the football, the first is a regular-season snag in Foxboro that had Brady cursing up a storm in disbelief. Call it The "How the [Bleep] Did You Catch That?" Catch. When Gronkowski left his feet for a pass over the middle, reaching back for the football with his left hand and deftly securing it, he put his next-level athleticism and hands on display. How many pass-catchers — never mind tight ends — could have pulled off a similar feat?

If we're adding Gronkowski's vicious running style after the catch to the equation, then the play he made in Washington in his second season has to be way up the list. That was a historic year for Gronk, and by the time he made his human-wrecking-ball catch-and-run in early December, he had already cemented himself as one of the best in the league at his position. On that particular snap, he made a diving grab, got up before being touched, carried two defensive backs like children for five yards, shook them off, took another hit, and somehow kept his balance long enough to pick up 15 additional yards. 

If we're talking about Gronkowski's ability to take over a game, and if we want to highlight his rare catch radius, then look no further than what he did during "The Gronk Drive" in Pittsburgh in 2017. It came toward the end of the regular season and looked like the game that would determine the AFC's top seed for the playoffs. We all remember Gronk's two-point conversion that he plucked away from poor Steelers safety Sean Davis. We remember him pointing and laughing at Davis as the young defensive back picked himself up off the ground. It was the exclamation point to a drive during which Gronkowski racked up 70 yards on three catches in addition to the two-point play.

But do you remember the shoe-string grab he made for 17 yards on that drive? That season was the one in which Gronkowski was very open about how he'd altered his training methods. He spent more time with Alex Guerrero. He believed he was more flexible, and he looked like Gumby when Brady dropped back from the Pittsburgh 25-yard line on first-and-10 and threw low to Gronkowski just beyond the sticks. The 6-foot-6 behemoth bent down and swallowed it up when it was just a few inches off the turf. CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz was in awe. "What an amazing catch. That size? C'mon!"

There are other catches worth noting, like when Gronkowski put the Bills on a poster late in 2017 with a one-handed touchdown catch in the front corner of the end zone. Or when he threw Bears defensive back Ryan Mundy off of him in the open field and rumbled for a 46-yard score in Week 8 of 2014.

But any conversation around the word "best," to me, has to account for the stakes. 

That's why his takeover in the 2015 AFC Championship Game against the Broncos stands out, despite the loss. Same goes for his performance in the second half against the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. His touchdown catch against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX has to be considered one of his best, as should the one when he "Mossed" Chiefs safety Eric Berry late in last season's AFC title game.

The No. 1 catch of Gronkowski's career, though? I'd argue it came with 7:46 left in Super Bowl LIII, at the Rams 31-yard line. That's when Brady looked to him for a diving 29-yard completion that set up an easy go-ahead touchdown to give the Patriots a 10-3 lead. 

"I just knew it was going to come to me," Gronkowski said after. "I just understand how we work as an offense, understand the play-calling. We've been together for how many years now? Tom and I, McDaniels and I. Everyone. I knew it was going to come to me, and I knew I had to make that play."

It wasn't the most athletic play of his career. It didn't involve him embarrassing anyone with his brute strength. It wasn't punctuated by a spike. But his last catch (for now, at least) was his best.

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NFL Power Rankings: How the AFC stacks up after Week 6

NFL Power Rankings: How the AFC stacks up after Week 6

I’ve always felt Columbus Day is the general line of demarcation in an NFL season. The sample size has gotten big enough so that teams know what’s an actual strength or weakness and not a false positive. Nobody’s a finished product by any stretch but this next stretch between now and Thanksgiving is when reality kicks in for pretty much everyone. For a lot of teams in the AFC, it already has.

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Patriots work out free agent receiver Quincy Adeboyejo and cornerback Lenzy Pipkins ahead of Week 7

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Patriots work out free agent receiver Quincy Adeboyejo and cornerback Lenzy Pipkins ahead of Week 7

Ahead of their Week 7 matchup against the Jets, the Patriots reportedly worked out free agent wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo and cornerback Lenzy Pipkins, according to Howard Balzer.

Adeboyejo, a 6'3, 197-pound wideout from Ole Miss, went undrafted in 2017 and spent a season on the Ravens practice squad before getting waived with a non-football injury designation.

He then caught on with the Jets late in training camp this year but was cut nine days after he signed. Adeboyejo played four seasons at Ole Miss, totaling over 1,400 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. His best season was his junior year in 2015, where he caught 38 passes for 604 yards and seven touchdowns. He did run a 4.43 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Draft Combine, so if the Patriots are looking for a speed threat on the outside, he could theoretically stretch a defense. 

Pipkins is another undrafted free agent from the 2017 NFL Draft. The 25-year-old corner played three seasons at the University of Louisiana Monroe before he transferred to Oklahoma State for his final collegiate season. 

Pipkins then spent the 2017 season on the Packers and recorded six tackles in his debut. He was then traded to the Colts, released and claimed off waivers by the Lions, waived again and then signed with the Browns practice squad at the end of the 2018 season. Pipkins was cut by the Browns at the end of this year's training camp. 

It's unlikely the Patriots sign either player, but they do have a need at wide receiver and Bill Belichick has a history of snagging former Browns players, so they're at least doing their due diligence to possibly find another diamond in the rough. 

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