TAMPA — One of the biggest mysteries of the new-look Bucs offense was why it was taking so long for Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to get their groove back.
After he started the season with just two catches in his first two games, Gronkowski joked he came out of his one-year retirement not to catch touchdowns from Brady — but to block.
Even Bucs coach Bruce Arians had to retreat from comments he made earlier in the season saying that the 31-year-old Gronkowski wasn’t going to “run 40 yards past people anymore.”
Ultimately, even in a new offense, there is no player Brady should be more comfortable throwing to. No pass-catcher has caught more from Brady than Gronkowski.
Then again, Gronkowski went into retirement because his body took a heavy toll from nine NFL seasons, and it’s never easy coming back to anything after taking a full year off.
But all is well now, as Brady and Gronkowski finally showed glimpses of their glorious Patriots past in Bucs uniforms Sunday in Tampa Bay’s 38-10 statement-making win over Green Bay at Raymond James Stadium.
Six games into their reunion, Gronkowski led the Bucs with 78 receiving yards on five catches, including his first touchdown pass from Brady since Dec. 9, 2018 against Miami — marking the 79th time they’ve connected for a regular-season score, tied for fourth-most of any pair in NFL history.
“I thought Tom and Rob had great connections,” Arians said. “We got the matchup we were looking for on the fade ball, and Gronk did a heck of a job adjusting to that ball and getting the touchdown.”
Gronkowski’s output came despite an injured right shoulder that prevented him from doing his trademark touchdown spike with his right hand.
So instead, Gronkowski spiked the ball with his left hand.
“I just wish he could have spiked it with his right shoulder, because his right shoulder is hurt,” Arians said. “So he missed his good spike, but he made some huge, huge plays.”
Gronkowski scored his first touchdown in 679 days, capping the Bucs' 28-point second quarter with a 12-yard touchdown catch from Brady with 62 seconds remaining in the first half.
On a third-and-six play from the Green Bay 12, Gronkowski lined up on the left side inside tight end Cameron Brate and streaked toward the far left pylon. Brady threw a ball toward his back shoulder, and Gronkowski made a pirouette to spin around and make the catch while shielding safety Adrian Amos as he fell back and kept his feet in bounds.
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Gronkowski also made a 31-yard catch on a deep route over the middle on the Bucs' first drive of the second half on a second-and-six play that drove the Bucs into Green Bay territory. The gain was Tampa Bay’s longest of the day.
Brady also found Gronkowski for an 18-yard gain in the third quarter.
“He played great today, and we’ve got to try to keep getting him and (tight end) Cam (Brate) the ball,” Brady said of Gronkowski. “The tight ends can really help us out, the backs can help us out to take pressure off the receivers.”
Of Gronkowski’s five catches, four resulted in first downs.
“It speaks volumes for him, and he’s playing with a bum shoulder,” Arians said. “The blocking, the receiving, he’s just one of the best all-around tight ends to play the game. He’s in good football shape right now. We’ve just got to continue to watch his snap count.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.