-At the age of 31, Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski is about to start a full 16 games in a season for just the second time in his career. Gronkowski last played a full year in 2011, battling through injuries for most of his career in New England.
That hadn't precluded him from putting up big-time numbers, though. Gronkowski will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the tight end position and it seems Bucs fans are getting treated to 'vintage Gronk' more and more these days.
"[It's] him and everybody else," said Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich about Gronkowski's growth within the Bucs' offense. "We figured that hopefully we could be playing our best football in December, really. Especially with the type of year that we had, we knew early on that there may be some things where we just have to win football games. We need to do what we have to do to win football games until we can clean everything up because with having the summer that we had, you didn't really get real reps to learn from until you got in ballgames. That always made it tough [and] that always made it difficult. At the same time, everyone was learning each other – it wasn't just Tom [Brady] learning the guys, it was the guys learning where Tom is going to put the ball [and] how he's going to see a certain play. All that just took a little time for us to get to this level of where we think we're at. We still have a long way to go – there's things that we can correct – but we're just going to keep working on it [and] keep making these guys aware of what we need to do to play our best football."
One person that also probably saw this coming, especially from Gronkowski, is his old buddy Tom Brady. The Buccaneers' quarterback is the only quarterback Gronkowski has ever known and the two have been pals for a full decade now. They're especially close, not just on the field, but off of it, too. Brady reminisced on one specific story on Thursday and what followed was the greatest Gronk impersonation pretty much ever.
"I've got a lot of great stories with him," said Brady of Gronkowski. "There was one time he was getting ready for a GQ photo shoot and he didn't think he was in good shape. He called me up and it was a Wednesday. He's like, 'Hey, can we workout together? Can we throw a little bit?' We went out on this baseball field, it was raining, it was April [and] it was nasty weather. We hadn't thrown a pass since the end of the season. We threw probably 60 passes and we didn't drop a ball – the ball never hit the ground. He was like, 'Dude, that was great. That was perfect. That was just what I needed. I feel ripped now.' He was ready for his photoshoot because of one day of the two of us working out together. It was good execution, but I think for him it was more important that he felt like he was shredded now that he could get ready for his GQ photo shoot. That's one of the great stories – just him being Rob. That's why everyone loves him."
And Gronkowski gives that love right back to Brady – especially as a player and what he can do on the field. The two have played a lot of football together and Gronkowski has had a front-row seat for what will be one of the most storied careers in NFL history.
"As a player, he really hasn't changed," said Gronkowski of Brady, in turn. "From the second I first I met him, he's been all in – all in with practices, all in at meetings [and] all in trying to get better every single day. It has just totally continued throughout his whole career all the way up to this point. I wouldn't say, 'Oh, he's staying after practice this much longer to get better.' No, he's been always staying after practice. He's been always trying to work with players every practice, or whenever it is, to get better. I would just say that he's just been so consistent at such a high rate throughout the time I've [known] him."
And the player Brady is has now helped lead a team to their first postseason berth since 2007. And though Brady may have a lot of experience in the postseason (41 playoff games to be exact), t'll be the first taste of playoff football for veteran left guard Ali Marpet, among a host of other Buccaneers.
"It feels very good. I will say most seasons, I've kind of known that right after the season [ends] – next Tuesday, this is what I'll be doing, this is where I'll be going, and this is how I'll be recovering. It's really cool that [this year] I don't have a plan, and I love that. I'm kind of just excited – excited that we finally made the playoffs and excited for the opportunity that we're going to have. I guess excited is the only way to describe it."
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