One week after making a series of ridiculous catches against the Steelers, Rob Gronkowski made a spinning, one-handed touchdown catch against the Bills at Gillette Stadium.
These were the kinds of catches that I thought, prior to 2017, were well in his rearview mirror. Before being forced to have another back surgery after a 2016 injury against the Jets, Gronk looked to be in decline.
He was lumbering. Robotic. He went to the ground with all the grace of a steel girder.
But the two-week span against the Steelers and Bills, in which he caught 18 of the 21 passes thrown his way for 315 yards, showcased the mobility and pliability work Gronk did with Alex Guerrero, Tom Brady’s body coach and Brady’s business partner at TB12 Performance Center.
I’ve seen -- and paid for -- Guerrero’s expertise at TB12. Two of my three sons have seen him for sports injuries as well and I recommend him freely. So there’s your disclaimer.
After the Buffalo game, I went to Gronk’s locker to ask him about the catches he’d made.
I mentioned Guerrero but, given the in-season swirl about Guerrero being exiled from the Patriots sidelines and team planes and player access to him being reduced to off-site visits, Gronk didn’t want to get into the training.
But when I asked him about the shoetop catch he made against the Steelers, Gronk stepped back from his locker bent forward and touched his toes. “I couldn’t do that before without stretching. I don’t hurt now.”
The inference was obvious. He moves better and feels better after spending more time on flexibility, diet, rest and nutrition than he previously had.
Gronk spent his life subscribing to the same training his father, Gordie, espoused, an approach that worked well enough to create a small fleet of NFL players.
The switch to Guerrero’s resistance-band based workouts was a sea change but Gronk bought in and the results by the end of the season were apparent.
They weren’t so apparent during training camp, though. That’s something I’ve alluded to during this offseason.
Gronk struggled early in camp. He played poorly and he knew he was playing poorly. His body didn’t feel right. During that period of time, Gronk was called out by Patriots coaches in front of teammates. His training switch was derided.
That didn’t go over well with him. And it still sticks in his craw. He was doing what he felt was best for him and his body and it was being mocked.
The Gronk dustup was part of the landscape which led to Guerrero being exiled. When two of the team’s most important players are eschewing the strength coaching that the rest of the team is required to do, that’s going to go sideways with the head coach. And it did.
But changing the rules surrounding Guerrero -- who’s been around the team since 2005, when he began training Willie McGinest -- didn’t sit well with Brady.
While Guerrero is at the center of this tug-of-war, what’s truly at issue is less about him and more about philosophy and control.
It’s old-school weight training vs. new-school pliability and flexibility.
It’s a soft-tissue expert (Guerrero) vs. on-staff strength coaches paid by the team that are working in concert with the trainers and medical staff.
It’s a player -- albeit a very, very important player -- wanting the latitude to do his training his way and the coaching staff pushing back, believing it’s a bad precedent to set having a few players doing their own thing.
The resolution from Belichick resulted in Guerrero being marginalized at precisely the time Brady and Guerrero were promoting the TB12 Method empire. And that resolution didn’t really resolve anything.