Super Bowl LV

By Terrance Turner

Feb. 7, 2021

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stand before the national anthem. (Kim Klement -USA TODAY Sports)

My television froze one minute before kickoff.

I tried turning it off and on. It came back on, but somehow CBS was the only channel my TV couldn’t tune to. I could watch the Australian Open on ESPN. I could watch Isaac Mizrahi discussing jewelry on QVC. But I couldn’t watch the Super Bowl.

I turned off my TV, reset my Xfinity cable box, and waited. An hour later, there was still no signal. So I missed the entire first half. I missed every first down and scoring drive. I missed the halftime show by The Weeknd. I missed the start of the second half. I missed 27 points worth of offense.

Xfinity ruined my Super Bowl.

When I finally got my signal back, I realized what I had missed — a record number of penalties by one team, a dominant performance by another. When the signal came on and the smoke cleared, the Buccaneers were ahead 21-6. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by quarterback Tom Brady, were incredible. The team’s explosive offense was powered by Brady and Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The Chiefs had 95 yards worth of penalties — a record for any Super Bowl team in the first half. They only managed a field goal before the two-minute warning. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers generated three touchdowns before halftime. Brady and Gronkowski shined, recreating the same chemistry that worked for years in New England. The two combined for two touchdowns, and the Bucs went up 14-3. The Chiefs put up another field goal before halftime. But the Bucs were up 14-6.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski celebrates a touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady.

Tampa Bay took advantage of two pass interference calls on the Chiefs to set up Brady’s 1-yard touchdown pass to receiver Antonio Brown with six seconds left in the opening half. That last-minute score gave the Buccaneers a 21-6 lead at the half.

The Chiefs launched an ultimately successful drive that resulted in a field goal. Harrison Butker’s kick was good, narrowing the score. It was 21-9. But the Chiefs had to contend with a red-hot Tampa Bay offense. Gronkowski had another huge gain before running back Leonard Fournette dashed into the end zone. The Bucs went up 28-9.

On the Chiefs’ drive, Mahomes was intercepted — and then there was a holding call on the offense. The Chiefs defense managed to stop the Bucs after another offensive surge. Brady had two incompletions in a row (for the first time all night). Then a snap was too high for Brady, flying over his head. He fell on it, but that made it fourth down. The Bucs settled for a field goal. Ryan Succop drilled a 53-yard field goal to make it 31-9.

The Chiefs were a had a dramatic gain down the field when Mahomes found Kelce. Then, when Mahomes was sandwiched by two Tampa Bay defenders, the Bucs were flagged. A roughing the passer penalty added 15 yards. (Mahomes was visibly shaken up after the play.) They got up to the red zone but were stymied by Tampa Bay’s defense. Chiefs turned the ball over on downs.

Mahomes got injured again on a blitz by Suh and another Tampa Bay defender. Limping even as he ran, Mahomes suffered a number of sacks and knockdowns that hampered his performance. The physical toll became more evident on what would be the Chiefs’ final drive.

As the fourth quarter ticked under two minutes, the Chiefs finally appeared to be putting together a successful drive. It was too late to mount a comeback. But by scoring their first touchdown of the game, the Chiefs could make the scoreboard look more respectable.

For a while, it looked as though they might. The Chiefs closed in, rushing into the red zone with about 1:45 to go. But Mahomes was picked off again, ending the game. The Buccaneers won, 31-9. Tom Brady wins his seventh championship. Gronkowski wins his fourth. Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Mike Evans earn their first Super Bowl rings. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers become the first team to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

UPDATE (Feb. 10): The Buccaneers celebrated their big win with a victory parade, a day after Gronk’s trip to Disney World. The team clearly had a great time, and spirits were high. At one point during the outing, Tom Brady tossed the Lombardi Trophy to Bucs tight end Cameron Brate, who made a perfect catch:

Tom Brady appears to be having a great time. He had to be helped off the party boat in Tampa:

Bucs Best Saints in Divisional Game

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 17, 2021

In what may be Drew Brees’ final game, his New Orleans Saints battled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the New Orleans Superdome. The Buccaneers cashed in on four turnovers to win out over the Saints, 30-20.

There wasn’t a ton of offense early on. Saints kicker Wil Lutz kicked two field goals for New Orleans. Bucs kicker Ryan Succop made a field goal to make it 6-3. After the field goal, Brees was intercepted by Bucs’ Murphy-Bunting. Murphy-Bunting returned the pick for 36 yards. That set up a touchdown pass from Brady to wide receiver Mike Evans. That gave Tampa Bay a 10-6 lead.

Taysom Hill tossed the ball to Saints quarterback Jameis Winston, who threw deep across the field to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith. That 56-yard touchdown made it 13-10. The Bucs got the ball back and settled for a field goal after a would-be touchdown by Chris Godwin got overturned. Succop nailed the field goal to tie the game. It was 13-13 at the half.

In the second half, turnovers made the difference. Brees found Tre’Quan Smith for the touchdown. The Saints had a 20-13 lead, but it was all downhill from there. On the Bucs’ drive, Ronald Jones too off; the Saints defense surrounded him, but he still pushed forward for the first down. Then Bucs running back Leonard Fournette ran in for the touchdown. The game was again tied, at 20-20.

The Saints went three-and-out. But the Buccaneers had a socring drive. An incredible 15-yard catch by Tyler Johnson wowed observers, and Scotty Miller had a big catch after that. A 29-yard completion on 3rd and 5 helped set up another Succop field goal. That made it 23-20.

On the Saints’ next drive, Brees was picked by Devin White. That was his third turnover of the game, and Tampa Bay cashed in. Tight end Rob Gronkowski caught a pass from Brady — his first catch of the postseason. Gronk’s 13-yard catch put the Buccaneers at 1st and goal. Then Brady scored with a 1-yard touchdown run! That extended the Bucs’ lead.

With the fourth quarter ticking away, the Saints had little time to mount a comeback. But Brees got picked off again — the fourth turnover by the Saints. The Bucs held on to the ball just long enough to last past the two-minute warning. They won, 30-20. Brady is now on his way to his 14th conference championship. The Buccaneers will play the Green Bay Packers in next week’s NFC Championship Game.

During the game, word broke that this will be the last game Drew Brees plays at the Superdome. NFL analyst Jay Glazer reported today that Brees will retire after the season concludes. Brees will retire as the all-time leader in passing yards and completions. He helped bring New Orleans a Super Bowl title after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. And as he left the Superdome, Brees turned back, giving his home stadium of nearly 20 years one last look.

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UPDATE: NFL reporter James Palmer shared a video of Brady and Brees chatting on the field after tonight’s game. The two quarterbacks were joined on the field by their kids. Brady even played catch with one of Brees’ sons. After he caught the ball in the end zone, Brady remarked: “We could’ve used you tonight!” Palmer captured a sweet moment:

Tyreek Hill Helps Chiefs (Barely) Beat Buccaneers

Terrance Turner

The offensive fireworks were in major supply as the Kansas City Chiefs played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today. At Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida, the two teams battled mightily for advantage in a hard-fought match. But it was the Chiefs who would prevail — barely.

The Chiefs scored first with a field goal. On a subsequent drive, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes stunned viewers with a 75-yard pass to wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Then Mahomes connected with Hill again! Hill made a huge catch, ran past defenders, and backflipped into the end zone for a touchdown that put Kansas City up 17-0.

But the Buccaneers weren’t going down without a fight. Mahomes hurled a pass to make it 1st and goal, but he fumbled the ball after a tackle by Berry. The Bucs recovered and launched their own drive. Holding penalties on both teams ensued. But the drive nonetheless generated four first downs. Bucs Tight end Rob Gronkowski made a pivotal grab near first down and then caught a dramatic 29-yard pass that set up 1st and goal. Then Ronald Jones scored a touchdown after a long-legged run to the end zone.

The Chiefs regained possession and got to business on a workmanlike drive. Demarcus Robinson gained 10 yards on one play and nine on another;; Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce had nine yards on one play and eight on the next. A field goal by Harrison Butker made it 20-7 at the half.

The Buccaneers got the ball to start the second half. They soon began a field-goal drive of their own. A highlight-reel completion by Gronkowski went 48 yards and enabled a chip-shot field goal. Bucs kicker Ryan Succop drilled a kick through the uprights to make it 20-10.

After a tense moment of jawing between Brady and Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, the Chiefs took over. After an improbable nine-yard run by running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Mahomes took off on a 17-yard run. That opened the door for a touchdown. Mahomes found Hill AGAIN for a 21-yard score. This was Hill’s third touchdown of the day.

Hill finished the day with 13 catches for three touchdowns and 269 yards — the most ever versus the Bucs, according to writer Greg Auman. Mahomes would finish with 462 yards and three touchdowns.

The Bucs had a feast-and-famine drive. Brady threw a stellar 46-yard throw to Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin — then threw an interception. But the Chiefs failed to capitalize on the takeaway; they went three-and-out on their drive. Brady was later intercepted again, by Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu. But once again, the Chiefs did nothing with the turnover, going three-and-out.

The Bucs took advantage of that offensive stagnation. On 4th and 3, Brady found Mike Evans for a 31-yard touchdown. They nearly got the ball back after Mahomes was intercepted. But Tampa Bay defender Jason Pierre-Paul was flagged for roughing the passer. That left Mahomes with no picks; today Mahomes threw for 462 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions.

A first-and-goal stand by the Chiefs was gradually undone by two holding penalties (both on lineman Eric Fisher). Then the Chiefs began racking up defensive penalties: Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark was penalized TWICE for roughing the passer, costing the team valuable yardage. Those fouls placed the ball near the goal line, and the Bucs cashed in when Brady located Evans for their second TD of the day.

The Chiefs took over with just four minutes left and deftly worked the clock. On 3rd and 7, Mahomes threw to Hill — who saved his team by making the catch for a crucial first down. The Chiefs let the remaining time run out, strategizing successfully to manage the clock. That helped them seal a narrow victory. The Chiefs won, 27-24.

The Chiefs improve to 10-1. The only team with a better record in the NFL is the 10-0 Pittsburgh Steelers (who play the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday night). The Buccaneers fall to 7-5 after losing their second straight game, according to USA Today.

Buccaneers Edge Giants In Dramatic Win

By Terrance Turner

“Monday Night Football” tonight was one for the ages. It was a lot closer than observers may have anticipated, but the result was exactly as expected. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers overcame a double-digit shortfall to run up the score and defeat the New York Giants, 25-23.

Things got off to a surprising start in the first half. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones hit Dion Lewis for a TD to make it 7-3 in the first quarter. Then he drove the team 77 yards, with Wayne Gallman running into the end zone from the 2-yard line with 1:46 remaining in the half. The Giants surprised viewers by scoring two touchdowns and stopping the Bucs from reaching the end zone. Brady was pressured and sacked, as drive after drive stalled. The Giants were up 14-3 early on, but Bucs kicker Ryan Succop nailed a field goal to make the score 14-6 at halftime.

In the second half, Succop drilled another field goal, making it 14-9. Then Brady found one of his favorite targets — Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski. With 6:05 left in the third quarter, Gronk caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Brady. The Giants defender punched the ball out after Gronk took a couple steps, but the refs upheld the TD. It’s the third week in a row that Gronk has caught a TD from Brady — and it’s their 93rd touchdown together.

This gave the Bucs their first lead of the game. The Buccaneers attempted a two-point conversion, but it was unsuccessful. That left the score 15-14. But Brady and Gronk have nevertheless accomplished a singular feat: they have now passed Steve Young and Jerry Rice in the record books. The only QB-WR duo with more TDs is Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.

In the fourth quarter, Jones threw yet another pick. (He has 13 interceptions for the season — more than any other quarterback besides Philadelphia’s QB Carson Wentz.) On the next possession, Brady launched a crucial connection with Tyler Johnson.

The Giants added a field goal in the fourth quarter. But the team later got flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit, putting the Bucs closer to the goal line with nine minutes left. Then Brady hurled the ball 8 yards to receiver Mike Evans, who made a highlight-reel catch for the go-ahead touchdown. That made it 22-17.

On their next drive, the Buccaneers moved down the field. Brady connected with Gronkowski for 18 yards. A would-be catch for Mike Evans got flagged for pass interference, helping the Bucs move forward. But they were again stymied by a stalwart Giants defense. Fournette was stuffed at the first-down line. Instead of going for it, Arians elected for a field goal, which Succop sent right through the uprights. It was now 25-17.

The Giants struggled after getting the ball back. Jones, under pressure, backed up and threw the ball on a prayer. The result was a miraculous catch by Darius Slayton. Later, Jones managed to convert on 4th and 16, keeping the drive alive. And out of nowhere, Jones launched a 19-yard touchdown to Giants receiver Golden Tate. With 28 seconds left, the New York Giants had sprung to life.

The score was now 25-23. All the Giants needed was a two-point conversion to tie the game. But it wasn’t to be. On the final play Jones’ pass to Dion Lewis hit Bucs player Antoine Winfield in the arm, bouncing off to land as an incomplete pass. The refs threw a flag, indicating possible pass interference. But the referees eventually decided there was no foul committed. “There is no flag for pass interference on the play,” the ref announced.

That sealed the deal. The Buccaneers won, improving their record to 6-2. This is Brady’s 30th win after trailing by 10 or more points — more than any other quarterback in the NFL.

National Tight Ends Day

By Terrance Turner

Oct. 25, 2020 (Updated Oct. 28)

Today is National Tight Ends Day. Although this may sound like a made-up holiday, San Francisco tight end George Kittle designated the day as the last Sunday in October. Kittle is one of the league’s leading tight ends, along with Chiefs TE Travis Kelce and Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski. Kittle explained the holiday in a video:

Kittle credited San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with the holiday’s genesis. “I’m pretty sure it was a day [that] all the tight ends were active, and so Jimmy G was like, ‘What is it, national tight end day’?” Kittle recalled. That moment sparked Kittle to establish the occasion for the last Sunday in October.

Famous for his aggressive, exuberant play, Kittle has become one of the league’s premier tight ends. He is frequently ranked among the league’s best at his position, along with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. (The two faced each other in this year’s Super Bowl, with Kelce’s Chiefs besting Kittle’s 49ers 31-20.) Both Kelce and Kittle are known for their fun-loving approach to the game of football: Kelce is known to celebrate touchdowns with funny dances; Kittle will laugh hysterically after pancake-blocking a defender.

Both of them noticed the other’s festive style. Kittle studied film of Kelce while in college at Iowa. “I think the thing that really kind of stands out the most is you see his personality when he plays and how much fun he has,” Kittle said. “Very similar to (Rob Gronkowski) and his personality, the way it shows. I think they just kind of opened the door for tight ends like me to be able to express ourselves on the football field.”

Kelce returned the compliment during Super Bowl media week. “George Kittle, man. I was just talking about his tenacity,” Kelce told the NFL Network. “How he runs routes. How he plays the game with a certain level of energy and enthusiasm. Man, you gotta love it.” Both Kelce and Kittle power their respective teams with energetic, enthusiastic play. And that similarity was not lost on Kelce.

“I think we’re both positive guys,” Kelce said with a big smile. “We both love to play the game and, at the same time, we both love life.”

But both match their appetite for fun with high-level play. Kelce is tied for the NFL record for the most seasons by a tight end with 1,000 or more receiving yards (four seasons and counting), according to FOX Sports. In 2018, Kittle broke the record for most receiving yards by a tight end, racking up 1,377 receiving yards (His 88 catches that season were also the most for his position.) Kittle broke the previous record of 1,327 yards, set by legendary tight end Rob Gronkowski. But that’s far from the only record Gronk has set.

While with the Patriots in 2011, Gronkowski racked up those 1,327 yards and 17 touchdown catches — the most ever by a tight end. He had 18 total touchdowns that year, also the most ever for a tight end in a season. (A pass Gronk caught for a score against the Colts was later ruled a lateral pass, making it a rushing TD. “My first rushing touchdown ever,” Gronk marveled after the game.) Gronkowski became the first tight end EVER to lead the league in receiving touchdowns, according to NFL.com.

Additionally, Gronkowski is the first player at his position to have 10+ touchdowns and 1000+ receiving yards in three different seasons (2011, 2014-2015). He had three consecutive seasons with 10 or more touchdown catches (2010-12). He has the most catches (23) and receiving yards (297) by a tight end in Super Bowl history, according to USA Today. His gloves are on display at the Patriots Hall of Fame.

And he’s not done yet.

Last week, Gronk caught his first TD of the season during a 38-10 win against the Packers. It was his first touchdown as part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — and his first in nearly two years. (Gronkowski retired briefly in 2019, citing health concerns.) On Sunday — National Tight Ends Day — he caught another touchdown from Tom Brady. That was the 92nd touchdown between them. Brady and Gronk are now tied for second place on the all-time list. The only quarterback-receiver duo to connect for more touchdowns is Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.

Like Kelce and Kittle, Gronkowski also likes to have fun — on and off the field. His parties are legendary: he had a traveling party bus in 2015 and a party boat in 2016. He even hosted a topless pool party in Vegas in 2012, as seen below.

Rob Gronkowski Hosts Topless Pool Party

Gronk has cemented his legacy as one of the league’s best tight ends. But the true GOAT may be Tony Gonzalez. The tight end played 12 seasons for the Chiefs and five more for the Atlanta Falcons between 1997 and 2013. In the process, he racked up a ton of dazzling stats. Gonzalez is the all-time leader for receptions (1,325) and receiving yards (15,127) at his position, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. He also has the most career touchdowns (76) in Chiefs franchise history. Gonzalez joined Gronk, Kelce and Kittle for a sitdown earlier this year, just before the Super Bowl. Gronkowski noted that “this is the first time in history, I would say, that the two top tight ends in the league are in the Super Bowl, facing each other. What’s that relationship like?”

Find out in the video below.

UPDATE: Tight end Hayden Hurst made a crucial catch tonight for the Falcons. Quarterback Matt Ryan threw the ball so low that it nearly hit the ground, but Hurst reached out his arms and caught the ball with his fingertips. The ball touched the ground as Hurst reeled it in, but upon further review the catch was upheld. The crucial catch eventually led to a field goal. The Falcons eventually won the game, 25-17.

Catch the crazy play below.

Buccaneers Steamroll Packers Amid Sports Frenzy in Tampa Bay

By Terrance Turner

The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup.

The Tampa Bay Rays are headed to the World Series.

And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 4-2.

The Buccaneers stunned the once-undefeated Green Bay Packers Sunday evening with a burst of offensive power. Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady shined, leading the team to its fourth win. According to UPI, Brady completed 17 of 27 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns in the 38-10 win on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers went 16 for 35 and threw two interceptions.

The Packers jumped out to a 10-point lead early, but then the Buccaneers scored 38 unanswered points. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers got picked off by Bucs cornerback Jamel Dean in the second quarter. Dean lit up the team with a 32-yard interception return to the end zone. That pick-six put the Bucs on the board.

Another interception by Rodgers opened the door to a TD rush by Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II. That touchdown put Tampa Bay up 14-10, its first lead of the day. It was a lead that the team would never let go.

Later, Brady slung another touchdown pass to Bucs receiver Tyler Johnson as the second quarter wound down. Then, with just over a minute left in the first half, Brady threw a laser-point pass to Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski. It was Gronk’s first touchdown of the season — and his first in nearly two years. The last time Gronkowski caught a touchdown, it was 2018 — 679 days ago — in a Patriots game versus the Miami Dolphins.

That added to an already commanding lead. The game was 28-10 at halftime.

Rodgers continued to struggle in the second half, contending with an aggressive Bucs defense that swarmed and sometimes sacked him. (Tampa Bay’s Ndamukong Suh was especially difficult to evade.) Rodgers’ woes continued when Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari suffered a chest injury and had to return to the locker room.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay continued to roll. Kicker Ryan Succop drilled a 50-yard field goal to give the Bucs a 21-point lead. And the team benefited from some costly mistakes by its opponent. A massive defensive pass interference call on the Packers was followed by a flag for having too many men on the field. Those penalties set up Tampa Bay’s next (and final) touchdown, courtesy of running back Ronald Jones. The Buccaneers defeated Green Bay handily, 38-10.

Notably, the Buccaneers were one of the most penalized teams going into this game. But they managed to play this game from start to finish without any penalties. The Buccaneers haven’t played a penalty-free game since 1983.

“… It was good. I think not turning the ball over helped a lot and I think not being behind on down and distance helped a lot,” Brady said after the win, per the team. “But certainly (there are) better things that we can do (and) things better than what we did today. We’re going to keep working at it.”

Gronk Comes Out of Retirement to Join Brady on Bucs — And Win! (UPDATED)

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By Terrance Turner

April 21, 2020

(updated Dec. 26; updated Feb.7)

Last night, former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski appeared on “Watch What Happens Live” (at Home). Host Andy Cohen said rumors were swirling that Gronkowski wanted to join ex-Patriots teammate Tom Brady on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cohen asked Gronkowski if he was considering coming out of retirement to join Brady on the Bucs.

Gronkowski (aka “Gronk” to fans and teammates) responded equivocally. “Andy, you wanna know what’s so great, man? The day that I retired — within 24 hours — there were already rumors that I was coming out of retirement,” Gronk said. “I’m feelin’ good right now; I’m happy where I’m at–“

“You’re done,” Cohen interjected.

“You just never know, man,” Gronk replied.

“Oh, you never know,” Cohen repeated.

“You never know,” Gronk said. “I’m not totally done.”

He isn’t. The next day, NFL reporter Ian Rapoport confirmed a stunning update:

Earlier this afternoon, NFL insider Ian Rapoport tweeted: “Retired #Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski has told New England that he’s interested in playing football again — and would want to do it with the Bucs and Tom Brady. A trade would have to be worked out for this to happen.” Rapoport later added that Brady was interested in such a deal, too. At 3:21 pm, Rapoport confirmed that the Patriots were trading Gronk and a seventh-round pick to Tampa Bay in exchange for a 4th-round pick.

Gronkowski, 30, played the entirety of his NFL career with the New England Patriots. During the 2011 season, Gronk had 17 touchdown catches — the most ever by a tight end in one season. A Week 13 score was classified as a rushing touchdown, giving him a total of 18 TDs. He became the first (and only) tight end EVER to lead the league in touchdowns. The next season, he tacked on 11 more touchdown receptions, making it his third season in a row with 10 or more TDs. (He would achieve that impressive touchdown feat again in the 2014 and ’15 seasons.)

He won three championships with the New England Patriots in 2015, 2017, and 2019. (He told Cohen that the last match — the 13-3 snoozefest vs. the Rams — was the easiest to win.) It was his 29-yard catch late in Super Bowl LIII that set up the game’s only touchdown (courtesy of teammate Sony Michel). That catch helped him set two more records. His 23 receptions and 297 receiving yards are the most by a tight end in Super Bowl history.

As news broke of the trade, Andy Cohen added another credit to his multi-hyphenate career:

Gronk’s return to the NFL was something of a surprise move, after a storied career riddled with injuries. “Since 2012, he has, among other things, fractured the same forearm twice, fractured a vertebrae, torn his A.C.L. and M.C.L., and suffered from a bruised lung, herniated discs, various ankle injuries, and at least two concussions,” wrote New Yorker columnist Ian Crouch in March 2019.

Gronkowski retired in 2019 after a painful quad injury sustained during the Super Bowl that year. An NBC Sports reporter spoke with Gronkowski after the game, and Gronk showed him the ugly aftermath of a second-quarter hit to the thigh. The reporter noted the swelling: “It looked stupidly big. Swollen from just above the knee for about 20 inches.” 

Gronkowski recounted the injury’s impact in August, at a press conference for CBDMedic. “I got done with the game; I could barely walk,” he told the audience. “I try to go to bed; I slept for five minutes that night. I couldn’t even think.”

“I was in tears, in my bed, after a Super Bowl victory,” Gronkowski recalled. “And then, for four weeks, I couldn’t even sleep for more than 20 minutes a night, after a Super Bowl win. It didn’t make much sense to me,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Damn, this sucks’.” During that period, he said, Gronkowski had 1,000 milliliters of blood drained from his swollen thigh.

It was that bruising physical toll that drove his retirement — along with the emotional toll. “I want to be clear to my fans: I needed to recover. I was not in a good place. Football was bringing me down,” Gronkowski said, choking up, “and I didn’t like it. I was losing that joy in life — like, the joy.

With the help of rest and CBDMedic, however, he began to recover. “I feel great, and I am pain-free. I truly believe I can get to another level with my body,” he said in August, “and I’m just in the first stage right now. And when that time comes down in the future, if I have the desire to play football again, if I feel passionate about football again, if I feel like I need to be out there on the field, I will go back to football. But as of right now, that is not the case. It could be the case in six months; it could be the case in two years. Could be the case in three years. Could be the case in three months.”

In the end, it took roughly eight months for Gronkowski to turn the corner. And today, the day after Christmas, Gronkowski gave fans a gift for the ages. The Buccaneers played the Detroit Lions today; QB Tom Brady opened the game by throwing a 33-yard touchdown to Gronkowski. It’s the 96th career touchdown between Brady and Gronk.

That score put the Buccaneers ahead 7-0. By halftime, it was 34-0! After throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns (!), Brady rested in the second half. Backup QB Blaine Gabbert took over — and opened the third quarter with a thrilling throw to Gronkowski. The ball sailed from the 30-yard line; Gronk caught it for his second touchdown of the day, to make it 41-0.

UPDATE: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski combined for two touchdowns tonight, fueling the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ dominant win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Buccaneers won 31-9 at Raymond James Stadium in Florida. 45% of the Buccaneers’ points tonight came from Brady and Gronkowski. They connected twice in the first half, setting an NFL record. The two have the most postseason touchdowns by a QB-receiver duo with 14 total, breaking the record held previously by Joe Montana and Jerry Rice (12).

Rob Gronkowski now has the most catches, most receiving yards and most receiving touchdowns of any tight end in Super Bowl history. And he’s earned his fourth Super Bowl ring. He celebrated his good fortune with Brady after their historic game:

UPDATE: Gronk’s coming back! The #Bucs are bringing back TE Rob Gronkowski, giving him a 1-year deal worth up to $10M, per @DrewJRosenhaus.