FOXBORO — At this point in his career, Rob Gronkowski knows how teams will best try to defend him.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end will draw chips at the line, sometimes with bracketed coverage and all sorts of extra attention. More contact may come as Gronkowski runs his route, and definitely more will ensue just before and as the ball arrives. In the push-and-pull tussle to get free, Gronkowski will throw his weight around, too, and it varies from game to game how much officials will allow from either side.
In last Thursday night’s season-opening loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, that physical attention and a healthy dose of safety Eric Berry providing coverage for much of the game led to a slow start for Gronkowski. He caught just two passes for 33 yards on six targets from quarterback Tom Brady, an underwhelming stat line from the three-time All-Pro.
For a Patriots offense that is already lacking one Brady security blanket in injured wide receiver Julian Edelman (torn ACL), limited production like that simply won’t cut it. Gronkowski knows that, but he also knows that letting another team get under his skin by pushing the limits of illegal contact is wasted energy.
“I feel like whenever I think about that, like, ‘Oh, I can’t be physical because of the referee. I might get a penalty,’ I actually feel … off my game,” Gronkowski said Thursday. “So I feel like I should just play my game and just (not) worry about what the refs call and be physical. I don’t like thinking like that, like ‘Oh, I can’t be physical on this play, with this guy.’ You just don’t feel right. So I’m just going to stick to my game, do what I gotta do and do it better.”
Without question, when the Pats visit New Orleans on Sunday, the Saints will try the same methods to knock Gronkowski off his game. And when it’s someone of Gronkowski’s size against a defensive back, the latter will usually get the benefit of the doubt from the officials. The 2015 season was the zenith of Gronkowski’s frustrations in that respect, as he was flagged for a league-high five offensive pass interference calls, according to NFLPenalties.com.
“You see film over the last few years, I would definitely be doing that if I was a (defensive back), 100 percent,” Gronkowski said.
He maintains that his health is not an issue. A back injury and ensuing surgery ended his 2016 season, but he hasn’t said anything about lingering pain from that. He appeared slowed…