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Graham, Gronkowski go back and forth with tight end yardage mark

Rob Gronkowski

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski spikes the ball after his touchdown against the Buffalo Bills in the third quarter of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday Jan. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)


The next time a coach says that he doesn’t pay attention to the individual numbers of his players, roll your eyes. (If you weren’t already.)

With Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Saints tight end Jimmy Graham entering the day at 1,219 and 1,213 yards, respectively, both were gunning for Kellen Winslow’s single-season record of 1,290.

And they both got there, in unusual fashion.

Graham first set the record. Then, Gronkowski passed him, after Graham and other New Orleans offensive starters had been removed from the route over the Panthers.

So Saints coach Sean Payton put Graham back in, and Graham took the record back from Gronkowski.

And then Pats coach Bill Belichick put Gronkowski back in late, giving him the final record on a 22-yard catch that preceded three straight kneel downs by quarterback Brian Hoyer to end the game.

Gronkowski finished with 108 yards, and Graham had 97. For the season, Gronkowski ends with 1,327 and Graham petered out at 1,310.

Along the way, a 31-year-old record changed hands four times.

Some will say it was an unacceptable risk by both coaches -- and a display or less-than-stellar sportsmanship -- to put two key players back into games that had been decided for the sole purposes of bumping up their own numbers. Setting those opinions aside for now, the fact is that these coaches always know where their players stand statistically in game where those statistics are relevant.