Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski says he still has a lot to show people this last quarter of the season and that he's focused on getting better every week. He's been showing a lot more consistency as he continues to grasp the Buccaneer offense. He's also started all 12 games for the Bucs this year, a testament to the year off he took in 2019 to get healthy. And while he may have needed an acclimation period to get back into the swing of things, he's sure coming on strong and consistent down the stretch. Just ask his coaches.
"He's played really well for us – blocking well, catching the ball [and] getting open," said Head Coach Bruce Arians about Gronkowski. "Just continuing to grow in the offense. I think everybody's numbers are being shared, so one guy's production isn't going to be as great as it has been in the past when there were no other guys. We've got a lot of guys and hopefully they'll all have production. The numbers won't be as great, but they'll be really good production."
Make no mistake, the numbers are still great. Gronkowski may not be on pace for 1,000 yards like he's done four other times in his career, or for double-digit touchdowns like he's done five times in his career but show of hands who knew that Gronkowski is currently third among NFC tight ends in receiving yards this season with 505? That's good for a top 10 ranking league-wide while also ranking in the top 10 for receiving touchdowns among NFL tight ends with four.
"I think it's gotten better over the last four or five games [and] I think that's good," tight ends coach Rick Christophel said of Gronkowski's progress. "I like some of the things they've done in the running game – [it is] important that we get the ball down field on the run game. For us to get the ball, it goes back to all the weapons we've got. You've got Mike Evans, you've got Chris Godwin, you've got A.B. (Antonio Brown), obviously, you've got Scotty Miller – there's only one ball and somebody's got to get the ball. We've been very fortunate to be in some of those one-on-one situations and some different situations where Tom [Brady] recognizes it and gets them the ball. We've been fortunate enough to make the plays and you create trust with the quarterback when you make those plays, so you get more chances. As long as you keep getting those opportunities and you make the most of them, you'll keep getting those targets."
"We've had our ups and downs throughout the year," admitted Gronkowski himself on Wednesday. "It's always better to have your ups, of course, but it's football, [so] you're going to always have downs throughout the weeks. It's a very competitive league. We've just got to stick together – that's what we've got to do. We've got to focus on the details. There are a lot of plays that I feel like we could take more advantage of and [we need to] go out there and take advantage of those plays because in order to win some games that we haven't won, you've got to make more plays than the opponent. In those cases, we've got to go out there and the plays we didn't make, we've got to find a way so that we can go out there and make those plays so we can win close games and win big games that will be coming up."
-Though the Buccaneers are home on Sunday, home will also be coming to rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. when the Vikings come to town. Winfield Jr. is the son of Antoine Winfield Sr., who played 14 years in the NFL – nine of which were in Minnesota. It's where Winfield Jr. considers home and where he attended college, playing four years as a Minnesota Golden Gopher.
"I was talking to my dad last night – we were watching film together – and I was like, 'Isn't it crazy that I'm playing against the Vikings?'" Winfield Jr. said on Wednesday, wearing a University of Minnesota hoodie during media availability. "We laughed about it. I grew up a Vikings fan, watching my dad play up there. I've always loved the Vikings – I watched pretty much all of their games when I was growing up – so it's going to be a cool experience being able to play against one of my favorite teams."
Winfield Jr. also has a relationship with Vikings' safety Harrison Smith, remembering fondly when his dad's teammates would come to the house growing up or when Winfield Jr. got to watch Smith play while attending Vikings games in college.
"Harrison is a stud," said Winfield Jr. "I remember watching him when I was in college at Minnesota. We went to a few Vikings games as a team and I remember watching him like, 'Man, this guy is crazy.' I'm watching how he disguises; he's showing down; he's playing deep middle third, it's crazy. He's a great player."
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