This may come as no surprise, but Rob Gronkowski is having a good time in his return to football after his year of retirement failed to stick. Of course, it's pretty easy to enjoy a 38-10 victory over one of the last two undefeated teams in the NFC.
"It is a lot of fun, especially last night – that was a great example," said Gronkowski, a day after his Tampa Bay Buccaneers down the Green Bay Packers, 38-10. "It was just a lot of fun to be out there winning a big game, but also, just the atmosphere of football – being under the lights when the sun went down, the stadium was popping, the atmosphere just felt unbelievable. Just everything – there was a breeze, the fans, they were cheering loud, they were going wild and it was just super cool. It's a lot of fun to be back out there winning games and doing what we love to do."
Gronkowski helped Tampa Bay swamp the Packers with a 12-yard touchdown catch that completed a 28-point second quarter. It was his first touchdown as a Buccaneer and, even though he has the most touchdown catches in the NFL since he entered the league in 2010, it was his first trip to the end zone since December 9, 2018.
"It felt good to get back in the end zone," said Gronkowski. "It's been quite some time and it just feels real good to get my first with the Buccaneers. It was just cool to see my teammates excited and my coaches excited for me to get back in the end zone, which was something pretty cool."
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 6 matchup against Green Bay.
Gronkowski's touchdown grab was part of a five-catch, 78-yard day, his most prolific so far as a Buccaneer. He and long-time teammate Tom Brady hooked up on several downfield plays, including a 31-yarder that was the longest gain of the day for either team. But it was his touchdown catch that inspired visions of Gronkowski in his absolute prime.
On the play, Gronkowski lined up to the left, split away from the offensive line in the slot. Fellow tight end Cam Brate went in motion behind him. Safety Adrian Amos lined up across from Gronkowski and ended up in man-to-man coverage, which was what the Buccaneers were hoping would happen. Brady saw this and lofted a fade to his tight end, who ran up and out towards the left edge of the end zone. Amos maintained tight coverage and had a hand in Gronkowski's face but he couldn't stop the nimble tight end from making a spinning catch and tapping two feet in bounds.
According to Next Gen Stats, the play didn't have a high-percentage chance of being successful…or at least it wouldn't have if it wasn't Gronkowski on the receiving end. The former Patriot has 92 career touchdown catches, including the postseason, in part because he can come down with some passes that most pass-catchers wouldn't catch.
Considering a number of factors, Next Gen Stats gave that pass a 29.7% chance of being completed. It was considered a "tight window" throw because the defender, Amos, was only separated from Gronkowski by one yard. In addition, even though it was officially a 12-yard pass, the ball was actually in the air for 32.0 yards, given Brady's drop-back and the angle of the route.
Of course, Brady knows he doesn't have to be near the goal line to hook up with Gronkowski on a touchdown pass. Since 2016, the two players have connected on 15 touchdowns, and 10 of those have been from 10 yards out or more.
The Buccaneers did a good job of picking their spot with Gronkowski, as they have not lined him up away from the offensive line very often this year. Obviously, that has a lot to do with Gronkowski's excellent blocking ability. Overall, he has taken 90% of his snaps "tight" with the offensive line. Another 7% have come in the slot with just 3% with him split out wide.
Here are some additional observations gleaned from the updated Next Gen stats database after Week Four:
Head Coach Bruce Arians said that the Buccaneers made defensive adjustments on the sideline after the Packers went up 10-0 in the first quarter. The Next Gen numbers would indicate that one of those adjustments was deciding to come after Aaron Rodgers more aggressively.
Defining a blitz as five or more players rushing the passer, the Buccaneers only blitzed on two Rodgers drop-backs in the first quarter, or 16.7%. in the second quarter they blitzed on 46.7% of his drop-backs and in the third quarter that rate went up to 55.6%. The Buccaneers kept the heat on because it was working.
Rodgers attempted 12 passes against the blitz and only completed three of them for a total of 28 yards. He was also sacked three times on those blitzes. Overall, Rodgers' expected points added against the blitz on Sunday was negative 26, the lowest by any quarterback in a game against the blitz. Expected points added essentially describes how much a specific play improves a team's chance of scoring.
Overall this season, the Buccaneers have recorded 15 sacks and six interceptions on plays in which they sent more than four players at the quarterback. Both of those totals are first among all NFL teams.
Game in Hand
With 2:40 left in the third quarter, the Packers got the ball back, down by 28, and handed off to Aaron Jones on first down. He was stopped for a three-yard loss by Lavonte David. With 12:07 left in regulation, the Packers got the ball back again and handed off to rookie running back A.J. Dillon on three of the next five plays. If it seemed like Green Bay was conceding that a 28-point comeback at that point was next to impossible, they were probably right.
According to the Next Gen win probability chart, the game was all but decided with 2:54 left in the third quarter when Scotty Miller drew a pass interference flag on cornerback Josh Jackson in the end zone, resulting in the ball being placed at the two-yard line. Ronald Jones would scored two plays later on a one-yard run. After the Miller interception, the win probability chart gave the Packers less than a 1% chance of victory.
Tom Brady had an efficient game against Green Bay, completing 17 of 27 passes for 166 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 104.9 passer rating. At halftime, he had completed 14 of his 16 passes for 111 yards as the Bucs went up 28-10. He barely needed to throw it in the second half.
By far the most effective region of the field for Brady's passing was the intermediate range on the outside. Brady was 5-5 for 93 yards and two touchdowns on passes thrown 10 to 20 yard downfield. He was especially effective to the right, going 3-3 for 74 yards, though both touchdowns went to the left.